At least two dozen masked men broke into the Moscow office of one of Russia’s oldest human rights groups this week while it was screening a British-produced film about a Soviet famine.
Mr Jones, starring British actor James Norton and co-produced by Glasgow-based company Crab Apple Films, tells the story of a Welsh journalist who first exposed the Soviet-engineered Ukrainian famine of the early 1930s.
The unidentified thugs interrupted the public screening by rights group Memorial on Thursday and got on to the stage, chanting “Fascists!” and “Foreign agents!” at a mostly elderly audience.
The famine is a sensitive subject for Russia and Ukraine, which is fighting a war against Moscow-backed separatists in its east. Ukraine declared the 1930s famine as genocide against its people, a charge Russia rejects.
Members of the organisation said the attack was aimed at them, not the movie.
"Of course, it was against Memorial and not the film. The film was just a pretext," spokesperson Natalya Petrova told Reuters by phone.
Most of the men managed to escape before the police arrived, the NGO said.
Police later sealed the premises, not letting anyone out including audience members for about three hours while they collected testimony and inspected the office.
Irina Shcherbakova, a board member who was in the room during the attack, told the TV Rain channel on Friday that the masked attackers appeared to be young and well-organised.
She said Memorial, well-known for its work documenting the crimes of the Josef Stalin regime, had faced threats before but never at this level.
“This was scarier than what we have seen before,” she said. “What we’re witnessing is a purge of civil society.”
Memorial was one of the first Russian NGOs to be branded a “foreign agent”, a recent designation that requires the group to comply with complicated extra financial reporting or risk fines and even criminal prosecution.
When first introducing the new label a few years ago, Russian authorities assured the public the designation would have no bearing on the NGOs’ activities.
However, the Kremlin has used the designation, along with a similar “extremism” label, to unleash a targeted campaign against human rights activists and NGOs, portraying many of them as Western spies bent on undermining President Vladimir Putin and Soviet achievements.