New Bill Places NGOs Providing Vital Services at Risk; Threatens to 'Stifle' Development of Civil Society
Amnesty International called on Russian authorities to overturn a draft bill approved today by the Russian parliament that severely restricts the independence of all non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The planned legislation condemns the foreign funding that serves as a lifeline for many civil society organizations.
If the law is signed by President Putin -- expected as a formality -- it will place a significant financial and administrative burden on Russian NGOs, specifically those that receive funding from overseas. Failure to register as organizations "performing the functions of foreign agents" could result in fines of up to 300,000 rubles ($9,000) and/or a prison sentence of up to two years.
"This bill will stifle civil society development in Russia," said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s director for Europe and Central Asia. "Russian authorities are threatening the right to freedom of association, attempting to silence critical voices who often depend on foreign funding."
The term "foreign agent" (inostrannyi agent) carries negative connotations in Russian that suggest spying. The Kremlin says that measures are needed to protect Russia from outside attempts to influence internal politics. The authors of the bill argue it will provide transparency and "adequate public control" over foreign-funded NGOs involved in political activities in Russia.
However, all NGOs working in Russia are already subject to stringent regulations: they are required to report to the authorities on their activities and make information available on request, as well as submit detailed financial reports.
NGOs in Russia provide vital public services in a wide range of areas such as human rights, education, social support and environmental activism. Domestic sources of funding to civil society activities are sparse and unstable, in part due to the government's selective financial allocations to loyal or "non-political" NGOs.
It is the second time in Russia’s recent history that independent civil society has come under attack from the authorities, both instances occurring under Vladimir Putin’s leadership. The legislative changes currently proposed are even more restrictive than those initially introduced in 2006.
"This bill appears to have no other purpose than to set hurdles for many of the leading NGOs critical of the government," concluded Dalhuisen. "It should be repealed immediately."
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.