Kremlin proposal for tougher regulation of foreign groups
The Kremlin is coming under fire for pushing through an allegedly draconian new law that will introduce stringent checks for foreign-funded non-governmental organisations in Russia and oblige them to identify themselves as “foreign agents”.
Tom Parfitt in Moscow
5:52PM BST 02 Jul 2012
Critics say the bill, which was submitted to parliament last week, smacks of Soviet or McCarthyite paranoia about outside interference in domestic affairs.
Vladimir Putin, who returned to the presidency in May, has accused the US state department and other western governments of funding the popular protests against his rule that sprang up in December last year.
The new bill, initiated by a deputy from the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, proposes that non-governmental organisations supported by funds from abroad and which engage in “political activity” should be obliged to undergo extra financial checks, publish biannual reports on their activities and put labels on their material saying “foreign agent”.
“This is another attack on NGOs in Russia,” said Anna Sevortian, head of the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch. “It makes the whole climate for us much worse. We’re especially concerned that NGOs that receive foreign funding will be obliged to denounce and stigmatise themselves by saying that they are foreign agents, which in Russia definitely sounds like being a spy and doing something against the government.” She added: “These requirements feels like something from the 1930s.”
Mr Putin has consistently conflated NGO workers and espionage agents in his public statements and famously said in 2007: “Unfortunately there are still those people in our country who like to jackal around the foreign embassies… who count on the support of foreign funds and governments but not the support of their own people.”
Under the bill, NGO employees could face up to four years in jail or a heavy fine for failing to register their organisations’ status appropriately.
The author of the new law is MP Alexander Sidyakin who also initiated a new law earlier this year which introduced a 120-fold increase in fines for attending unsanctioned street protests.
“This is part of a wider effort to suppress alternative voices and make Russian society more manageable,” said Miss Sevortian.
Grigory Melkonyants, deputy director of Golos, an election-monitoring organisation that gets funding from USAID and Moscow’s British embassy, said the law was designed to “battle” against civil activism.
“The definition of political activity in the bill can be understood as anything which an NGO does to influence public opinion,” he said.
“That means any organisation working with ecological, social or human rights issues, even if they have no designs on power or involvement with political parties.” Mr Sidyakin has defended his bill, saying it will help clamp down on suspicious NGOs that foreign governments use to destabilise Russia or blacken its image.
Political analysts believe the legislation will be rushed through by the end of the month, before MPs leave for their summer break.