Russia NGOs Foreign Agents
Russian Law So Ambiguous That Church Runs Afoul

The United Russia Party believes it can choke off the protest movement with punitive laws

Amiel Ungar,

Putin and human rights ombudsman Lukin
Putin and human rights ombudsman Lukin

The Russian Duma, where the United Russia party of Vladimir Putin holds a majority, is taking action to combat the anti-government demonstrations that have persisted since Russia's December parliamentary elections.

The first measure was the law imposing severe fines on unauthorized demonstrations. Now according to a draft law, Russian NGOs that receive foreign funding will have to register as "foreign agents" if they engage in such issues as fighting corruption,monitoring election campaigning and defending the environment.

Under the law ,organizations will have to report to the authorities every 6 months with detailed information about funding. Incomplete reports will incur a fine of $30,000 and other violations can be punishable by a four-year prison term.

The objective of the law, according to Aleksandr Sidyakin, is to enable Russian civil society to know which NGOs are genuine products of Russia and which are foreign agents. In Russia a foreign agent essentially means a spy.

More than imposing a stiff fine, the law is meant to discredit the NGOs in Russian public opinion because compliance with the law will make it easy for state-controlled television to label the group as foreign agents.

In defending the measure, Sidyakin claims that the new regulations would actually benefit the NGOs since they would no longer have to work underground and could "disclose the true essence of their activities." In addition, he argues that similar laws existed in the United States, France and Israel.

Should the law be approved the mass media will be required to label the organizations as foreign agents.

A surprise critic of the law was Mikhail Fedotov, the head of a Kremlin-appointed human rights council, who warned that the legislation was too ambiguous and far-reaching. To demonstrate its absurdity, Fedotov claimed that the Russian Orthodox Church that works hand in glove with Vladimir Putin could run afoul of the law because it receives donations from abroad.

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