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Term 'political activity' needs clarification for 'foreign agent' NGOs

July 10, 2013, 17:38 UTC+3

Federation Council Chairperson Valentina Matviyenko noted that there is no clear understanding of political activity, specified in law

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ST. PETERSBURG, July 10 (Itar-Tass) - The term “political activity” applied to NGOs having the status of “foreign agents” should be clarified legislatively to avoid its broad interpretation, Federation Council Chairperson Valentina Matviyenko said.

“There is no clear understanding of political activity, specified [in law], so as to avoid its different interpretation by different people. This is an essential point and we pointed out some time ago that it is necessary to clearly determine the term ‘political activity’,” she said after Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika’s report on NGO inspections, presented at the Federation Council on Wednesday, July 10.

“We [in the Federation Council] agreed that the law needs to be improved and we are ready to submit proposals to make corrections that would ensure its proper and logical application,” Matviyenko said.

“The purpose of specifying the term ‘political activity’ is not to enlarge [the list of] NGOs or shorten it. Its purpose is to ensure that everyone, including NGOs and those who oversee the application of the law, understands what political activity is,” she said.

The NGO Law was adopted last summer and concerns Russian NGOs that receive funding or other property from foreign countries, their governmental agencies, international or foreign organisations, foreign citizens, stateless persons or persons authorised by them or from Russian legal entities that receive funding or other property from abovementioned sources and also engaged, including in the interests of such foreign sources, in political activities in Russia.

If an NGO meets two conditions - gets foreign funding and is engaged in political activities - it will be required to be listed in the register of NGOs that perform the functions of “foreign agents”.

Foreign funding means “all money coming from abroad from governments, states, international or other organisations, individuals as well as Russian organisations with foreign capital with the exception of open joint stock companies with foreign capital.”

The law largely copies the rules of the American law on the registration of foreign agents. They have rather strict registration rules, the Kremlin official said.

Later, Russian legislation was amended to include fines for failure to comply with the NGO Law.

The law was severely criticised by Russian and international public organisations. They also voiced concern about mass inspections of NGOs in Russia started earlier this year.

Over 28 billion roubles have been transferred from abroad in funding for NGOs in Russia as has been borne out by documents, a spokesperson for the Prosecutor General’s Office, Marina Gridneva, said.

“During preparations for the inspections, we were informed that 654 NGOs had received over 28.3 billion roubles from abroad since the enactment of the law on NGOs that act as foreign agents, that is, from November 21, 2012 to March 26, 2013,” Gridneva told ITAR-TASS earlier.

“None of these NGOs was included in the register of non-profit organisations acting as foreign agents. Based on that the decision was made to carry out inspections in these organisations which receive foreign funding across Russia,” she said.

Gridneva stressed that there are no doubts about the correctness of the conclusions made by the authorised bodies with regard to the amount of foreign funding to NGOs. “These figures are borne out by documents,” she added.

“Even the statements made by experts from NGOs themselves indicate that NGOs received at least 19 billion roubles from abroad in 2011,” Gridneva said.

Prosecutors are carrying out routine inspections to very compliance by public, religious and other non-profit organisations with law. Initial plans called for running checks in 20 regions.

Gridneva noted that “the inspections are designed to make NGOs that act as foreign agents comply with law and submit applications for inclusion in the register.”

She stressed that some NGOs that receive foreign funding “are actively obstructing inspections despite the legitimate demands of the inspectors: they refuse to provide documents and avoid meeting prosecutors.”

President Putin also confirmed that the inspections were aimed at verifying the legality of NGOs’ activities in Russia. He asked Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin to watch the situation to avoid abuses.

The president stressed that NGOs “have to bring their operations in line with Russian laws.”

He noted that such inspections are routine. “This is a routine event connected with the wish of law enforcement agencies to bring the activity of organisations in line with law,” President Vladimir Putin said.

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