MOSCOW (Reuters) - A senior researcher for Human Rights Watch in Russia has received a series of threatening text messages, some implying her unborn child would come to harm, in what the group said was a reflection of an increasingly hostile climate for activists.
Many rights groups and other non-governmental organizations say they are facing increasing barriers to their work since President Vladimir Putin returned to the Kremlin in May.
Tatyana Lokshina, an expert on Russia's violence-plagued North Caucasus, received multiple texts last week that "made reference to (her) pregnancy and many other personal details" including her unlisted home address, Human Rights Watch said.
Some of the messages implied that she and her unborn child would come to harm in the near future. The authors said they were "nearby" and coming after her and predicted an "uneasy birth," the New York-based group said in a statement.
"These depraved threats are clearly designed to make people think twice about doing human rights work," the statement quoted Kenneth Roth, the organization's executive director, as saying. He called on the Russian authorities to investigate.
The federal investigative agency could not immediately be reached for comment.
A law Putin signed in July labels foreign-funded NGOs as "foreign agents", the U.S. Agency for International Development was ordered to stop operating in Russia this month and there are concerns about the effects of pending treason legislation.
"The hostile climate in Russia for human rights work is worsening," the Human Rights Watch statement said.
The threats to Lokshina came at "a time when legislative amendments impose new restrictions on civil society and the Russian government is seeking to marginalize human rights groups," it said.
(Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Janet Lawrence)