Adoption of the Law on NGOs

Does the adoption
of the Law on NGOs mean the destruction of civil society?


On 13 July the
State Duma adopted at second and third readings the law on amendments to
legislation on” regulation of non-commercial organisations acting as foreign
agents”. The law introduces a new concept of the meaning of “foreign agent”. It
will apply to those NGOs which “take part in political activities” and receive
funding from abroad. An NGO will be considered such an organisation if it
participates in “organising political acts in order to exert an influence on
the taking of decisions by state organisations concerning changes in state
policy exercised by them” and influences public opinion “in those aims”. Such
NGOs will be entered in a special register. 374 deputies voted in favour, 3 –
against, one abstained, and 72 did not vote at all. The amendments were based
on proposals by President Putin. Religious organisations, state corporations
and companies and NGOs set up by them, are exempt. On 18 July the law was to
have been examined by the Council of the Federation (upper house).


The following  areas of activity are excluded from the
concept of  “NGOs’ political activity”:
science, culture, art, healthcare, preventative and protective work in health,
social support and protection, care of mothers and children, support for people
with special needs, information  on
healthy living, physical culture and sport, protection of flora and fauna, and charitable
activity, including involvement in charity work and volunteering.


Every six months
organisations involved in political activities and in receipt of foreign
funding are required to public reports; they are required to show in their
information on the media and the internet, that the information is publicised
by an organisation acting as a “foreign agent”. Such organisations are required
to submit to the Justice Ministry a request for their inclusion in the register
within 90 days. A federal agency will be formed to analyse the information
about “foreign agents” in the context of the Law on Investigating the proceeds
of Money Laundering, Criminality and Financing of Terrorism. Amendments
concerning fines for breaches of the new law will be considered in the autumn
session of the Duma.


“The adoption of
this law means the destruction of civil society”, said Valery Borshchev, head
of the Moscow Public Oversight Commission and member of the Moscow Helsinki
Group. He thinks that all the achievements in the sphere of human rights in
Russia in the past 20 years will be annihilated. “We had hoped that amendments
would be introduced into the law which precisely define political activity, but
they were not”,  he told ASI. He thought
it a mistake that the law does not exempt organisations active in protection of
the rights of prisoners, despite the fact that such work has a social
character. Oleg Smolin, Duma member and Vice-President of the All-Russian
Society for the Blind and Vice-President of the Paralympic Committee of Russia,
told ASI that the latest draft of the law was slightly better, since the first
draft included all organisations working with foreign citizens. At the second
and third readings amendments were adopted which state that political activity
does not cover activity connected with science, culture, social welfare etc.
“The amendment ensures that the law cannot be used against organisations
involved in charitable and other forms of social activity and receiving foreign
grants for this”, said Smolin. However, he added, political activity under the
new law will include education. Thus, organisations promoting inclusive
education in Russia, as provided for in the UN Convention on the Rights of
with Disabilities, will have to define themselves as foreign agents. Smolin
also observed that organisations involved in monitoring elections using foreign
funding will also be defined as foreign agents.


Pavel Chikov, lawyer and Chairman of the interregional human
rights protection organisation Agora, said to ASI that it is impossible to
comment seriously on the new law. He said one should take it into account and
just continue working. He considers the law an attempt by the authorities to
stigmatise certain types of Russian NGOs and burden them with additional
obligations. But it does not add anything positive to the NGO sector, he said.
Chikov said that for his organisation, which receives funding from foreign
donors, the prerogative of including it in a register of “foreign agents” lies
with the Ministry of Justice.  Agora will
be placed on the register if the Ministry so demands, he says. “Memorial”
considers that that the new law was adopted with one single aim – to maintain
the monopoly of power, and, as indicated in Memorial’s statements, it
completely ignores the opinions of civil society. 


Almost all Russian public organisations spoke out against
the law, as did the Presidential  Council
for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights, the Ombudsman for Human
Rights of the Russian Federation, and the Public Chamber.


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