Putin signs law curbing the activities of human rights groups

VLADIMIR Putin has signed a law restricting the work of non-governmental organisations, it emerged yesterday.

The Russian president has faced a tide of Western criticism over the legislation, which was rushed through parliament late last year, and the Kremlin made no announcement about the president signing the measure into law. The government daily newspaper published the full text of the law yesterday, seven days after it was signed.

Angela Merkel, the visiting German chancellor, raised concerns about the legislation on Monday, and Mr Putin reassured her the law would not harm Russia's non-profit groups.

The United States government, among others, criticised the bill, which commentators say follows Kremlin displeasure at criticism from organisations that promote human rights and democracy, in the run-up to parliamentary and presidential elections in 2007 and 2008.

Human rights activists say it also reflects the Kremlin's "orange paranoia" - or fears of a repeat of the uprisings that brought opposition leaders to power in the former Soviet republics of Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. The protests in Ukraine were dubbed the "Orange Revolution".

The legislation provides for a new agency to oversee the registration, financing and activities of Russia's 400,000-plus NGOs, about 2,000 of which are involved in human rights.

It also allows the registering agency to ban financing of specific recipients if they are judged to threaten the country's national security or "morals", and to require foreign and domestic organisations to report in detail how much money they have received and from whom.

"Government officials would have an unprecedented level of discretion in deciding what projects, or even parts of NGO projects, comply with Russia's national interests, as required by the bill," the US-based Human Rights Watch has warned.

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