In July 2012 President Putin signed a new law obligating NGOs receiving overseas funding and involved in undefined “political activities” to register as “foreign agents”. As a result of this legislation, leading human rights NGOs, including Memorial, For Human Rights and Amnesty International itself have been subjected to unplanned inspections resulting in prosecutorial “warnings” and court cases. This particular brand of harassment can result in self-censorship, restriction of activities, or even flight. The conflation of NGOs with “foreign agents” or spies has also resulted in stigmatization and, in some cases, offices being vandalized. More than 200 Russian non-governmental organizations in 50 regions have already undergone inspections, often with devastating effects. The Association in Defense of Voters’ Rights Golos (Voice) was first NGO to face charges under the foreign agents law. Both the organization and its director now face exorbitant fines and Golos has been forced to close.
A law passed in late 2012 also provides for sentences of up to 20 years for individuals who “provide consultative assistance to a “foreign organization” if that group was involved in “activities aimed against Russia’s security.” This catch-all phrase can be used to criminalize almost any activity the government deems hostile.