Clampdown on ‘foreign agents’ set to hit NGOs
Russia’s parliament has passed a law tightening controls on civil rights groups funded from abroad, a measure opponents of president Vladimir Putin said was part of a Kremlin campaign to stifle political protest.
Ignoring criticism of the bill by the United States, the Kremlin-controlled upper house, the Federation Council, yesterday rushed it through with just one vote against and one abstention in its last session before the summer recess.
Its rapid adoption signals the importance Mr Putin attaches to the law, which will force non-governmental organisations (NGOs) engaging in “political activity” to register with the justice ministry as “foreign agents” and to file a report every quarter.
The term “foreign agents”, which NGOs will be forced to print on all their publications, carries the same associations of Cold War espionage and treachery that it does in the West.
The penalties for failing to comply include six months’ suspension and, for individuals, up to three years in jail.
Those who risk being stigmatised include the human rights group Amnesty International, the corruption watchdog Transparency International and the election monitoring group Golos (Voice), which was instrumental in compiling and publicising allegations of fraud in December’s parliamentary election.
Opposition groups said Mr Putin was trying to silence groups whose criticism of his human rights record has undercut his credibility and helped to fuel seven-months of protests against his rule, the biggest since he came to power in 2000.
Mr Putin has said NGOs depend on foreign “jackals” and has accused Western governments of meddling in Russia’s domestic affairs.
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