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"Foreign Agents” Law Expands Crackdown on Civil Society in Russia
The passage of a law in Russia that will cause thousands of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to be labeled “foreign agents” if they receive financial support from abroad is the latest in a series of attempts by the Russian government to restrict civil and political liberties. The pernicious bill directly targets those organizations that are attempting to impact public policy, including GOLOS, the country’s only independent election monitor.
The bill, which was signed into law by President Vladimir Putin on July 21 was passed with overwhelming support by the upper house of parliament in mid-July. The bill was first introduced on June 29 by a group of deputies in the State Duma lead by Aleksandr Sidyakin, who was also instrumental in pushing through controversial amendments on the law against public events.
The law affects organizations that receive foreign funding and are thought to be engaged in political activities, forcing them to re-register within 90 days or face suspension. “Foreign funding” is a blanket definition that will include any type of funding that comes from abroad, including charitable donations, loans, and grants. The law will enforce frequent and heavy-handed financial disclosure requirements that could disrupt these organizations’ operations. Failure to comply could result in heavy fines of between 200,000-1,000,000 rubles ($6000-30,000), forced community work and prison sentences of up to four years.
Ludmila Alexeeva, head of leading human rights organization, the Moscow Helsinki Group, strongly opposed the bill, and asked Congress and the European Parliament to include the authors of the bill on the list of human rights offenders to be sanctioned with visa bans and asset freezes under the Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act. A public petition was also launched in early July by 44 NGO’s against the bill, and has received about 5,000 signatures.
This bill follows on the heels of a controversial bill passed in June 2012 that dramatically increases fines for protests and protest organizers who participate in “unsanctioned” public demonstrations. A bill also recently passed in both houses of Parliament that creates an “internet blacklist.”
Russia is rated Not Free in Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2012 and Freedom of the Press 2012 surveys, and Partly Free in Freedom House’s Freedom of the Net 2011 survey.
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