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Russia to enact law on non-governmental organizations as foreign agents

November 19, 2012, 17:06 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, November 19 (Itar-Tass) — On November 21, the Russian state authorities will enact a scandalous law, under which Russian non-governmental organizations, which are funded from abroad, should be registered as foreign agents. The law has splashed up an avalanche of criticism from human rights activists and the opposition. The largest human rights organizations stated that they will boycott the law. However, most Russians, support the law.

The law, which raised fierce protests from the human rights activists and the civil society, toughens the requirements to accountability and introduces the control over the incomes and expenditures of the non-governmental organizations, which are engaged in political activities and are receiving the financial aid from abroad. The Russian authorities will run a register of non-governmental organizations, which perform the functions of a foreign agent. Such non-governmental organizations produce a report over their activities and the personal composition of their governing bodies once in six months, the documents over the spending of the monetary funds and the use of other property, including that received from the foreign sources, -- once in three months and submit an annual audit report.

If the organization that is registered as a foreign agent failed to produce the required information within the deadlines or submitted it in the incomplete or distorted way, it could face a warning or a fine. If the non-governmental organization is a foreign agent, but is not put on the register of relevant organizations, it can be fined from 300,000 to 500,000 roubles.

The largest Russian human rights organizations stated before the enactment of the law that they will not fulfil the law and register as foreign agents. The human rights centre Memorial, the For Human Rights movement and the Moscow bureau of the Human Rights Watch organization and the Russian office of the anti-corruption organization Transparency International have already stated about their boycott of the law.

Memorial believes that the law is “unlawful and amoral,” “because it vests the executive authorities with the prerogative power of the court” and “stipulates a priori that the organizations, which are financed from abroad, operate on the instructions from their sponsors.” The organization “will not participate in an action, which is targeted at the ruining of the Russian society, and will not spread the deliberately false information about itself.”

The leadership of the Russian office of the international organization Transparency International noted, “Admitting itself as a foreign agent, the organization actually should acknowledge that it does not operate for the benefit of its homeland – Russia, but pursues the interests of a foreign country, a foreign or international organization.”

The political willpower will be needed to force a non-governmental organization to get on the register of foreign agents, chairman of the human rights association Agora Pavel Chikov warned, the Vedomosti daily reported. In this case the scandal will be high-profile, as Transparency International is not a radical organization, and the decision to sabotage the law was obviously taken with due account of an attitude of the international community to the law.

The Golos association, which is engaged in independent monitoring of the elections and the human rights of voters, is on the verge of shutdown, executive director of the organization Lilia Shibanova told the RBC daily. The activity of this organization was named as one of the main reasons for “a campaign against everything foreign” launched by the Russian state authorities. Golos had recently been seeking to raise donations, but managed to raise only 40,000 roubles for two months, Shibanova said.

The Movement for Human Rights is one of the most unappeasable opponents of Russian President Vladimir Putin in the sphere of human rights. Its leader Lev Ponomarev confirmed that tens of well-known non-governmental organizations intend to continue to receive the foreign funding, but not register, as they find the new law unlawful. Ponomarev noted that the human rights activists will soon address to the European Court of Human Rights, as in Russian courts they can challenge the law, only when it is applied against some non-governmental organization.

Chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group Lyudmila Alexeyeva told the RBC daily that this organization does not have any offices in the regions, but it has partner organizations and has divided the grants with regional partners since 1998. “If they deprive us of grants, Memorial, the Movement for Human Rights and Golos, who have offices in the regions, they will pull the plug almost on all human rights organizations,” she said.

“Until May we have some money from the foreign funds, but we will not be able to receive new funds over this law...I do not know any human rights organization, which states that it will register. This is not only because this law is unlawful and amoral. If someone dares to submit the false information and is registered as “a foreign agent” to preserve his organization, he will not be able to work all the same. No Russian official will deal with “foreign agents”, moreover, over the law on state secrets,” Alexeyeva said.

The foreign funds will not also deal with them, as “they are giving money so that we will work for our citizens, but not for foreign countries.”

Member of the Russian Presidential Human Rights Council Sergei Krivenko stated that the human rights activists will compulsorily seek to take advantage of Vladimir Putin’s statement that the law on foreign agents can be amended. Krivenko noted that the presidential council already has the package of alternative initiatives, which had been drafted during the period of time when the law on non-governmental organizations registered as foreign agents was being debated and approved in the State Duma.

On November 12, at a meeting with the members of the Presidential Human Rights Council Putin supported an initiative of several members of the council “to take a look again at the law on foreign agents.” “I believe that everything that is not directly related to politics should be excluded from the effect of this law,” the president said.

Meanwhile, representatives of the ruling party United Russia warned that “if some non-governmental organizations sabotage the fulfilment of the requirements of the law on foreign agents, their activities can be suspended,” deputy secretary of the General Council of the United Russia Party Olga Batalina said.

Recalling that the law will be enacted on November 21, she noted that “without waiting for this date, such non-governmental organizations as the Moscow Helsinki Group and Memorial, which are actually engaged in politics and are funded from abroad, will sabotage the fulfilment of the requirements of this law.” “The legal nihilism will make no good, as they will bear responsibility for violation of the law up to the suspension of their activities. They will bear this responsibility in any other country,” Batalina remarked.

Meanwhile, most Russians supported the law. This conclusion can be drawn from the VCIOM sociological survey conducted last July. 67% of respondents considered the new law as an attempt to protect the Russian home policy from the influence of foreign countries. Only 16% of pollsters found the law as the struggle against dissenterism.