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Russian HRC ask for NGO law reform
August 29, 2013, 9:10 am


Social activists want the term “foreign agent” to be removed from the NGO law []

Members of the Presidential Human Rights Council (HRC) in Russia will ask President Vladimir Putin to remove the term “foreign agent” from non governmental organisation (NGO) law at a meeting on September 4, Izvestia Daily reported on Wednesday.

Human rights activists have instead suggested that NGOs should provide detailed reports on spending sponsored from abroad in the event that it exceeds three million rubles ($93,000) a year.

“If we want to control foreign sponsorship of NGOs, including allocation of funds for political activities, there are other possibilities besides branding organisations. What is needed is the audit, transparency of those sponsored from abroad and whose funding exceeds some set sums,” Head of the NGO Development Commission Yelena Topoleva-Soldunova said.

“Obviously, if it is $1 or $100, nothing political can be done with that money. But if it is over three million rubles a year, it is a completely different situation,” Yelena added.

According to another member of the Presidential Human Rights Council, Mikhail Fedotov, sponsorship of Russian NGOs is commendable, but money from foreign countries should not be used as leverage in the country’s domestic affairs.

Most Russian activists have stressed that the amendments are urgently required as currently “foreign source” and “political activity” are not defined in concrete terms.

“Stemming from the federal law on constitutional court, political activity is a narrow category. In practice it is enormous,” Fedotov said.

However, the author of the controversial NGO law Alexander Sidyakin says it is too early to amend the law.

“For some a “foreign agent” is a label, for others – the proof of business reputation. The law has been in effect for less than a year,” Sidyakin said, adding that “it’s now about time for the law to work full scale. Maybe when it becomes clear that the term “foreign agent” is a label, we will start thinking about it.”

The Federal Law on NGOs dubbed the “Foreign Agents Law” was approved by the State Duma and signed into law last November.

The law labels politically-active non-profit organisations funded from foreign countries as “foreign agents” and imposes tighter regulations on them.

Russian lawmakers said branding NGOs this way would “give more information to Russian citizens”.

The law, however, spurred public outrage and 11 non-profit organisations applied to the European Court of Human Rights citing discrimination.

In July, President Putin asked for the law to be amended moderately.

“It’s necessary to separate (NGOs) involved in political and social issues and not to cause trouble to organisations that only deal with social and healthcare issues,” said Putin.

However, groups which fund political activity in Russia will still have to register and declare whether they receive foreign funding, said the president.

“If people are involved in domestic politics and receive cash from abroad, society has the right to know which organisations these are and who funds them,” he said.

US based Human Rights Watch said in a report released in April that Putin’s return to the presidency for a third term had seen Russian authorities introduce a string of restrictions putting the strongest pressure on civil society in the past two decades.

Last week, Izvestia reported that it had obtained classified instructions from the US State Department warning against mentioning politics in new programmes that offer grants to Russian NGOs.

The report suggested the instructions were received by the US-Russia Peer-to-Peer Dialogue Programme – a project the US Embassy in Moscow uses to distribute grants among Russian NGOs.

Daria Chernyshova in Moscow for The BRICS Post

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