Civil right organisations discuss the register of “political” NGOs

inter-regional association Agora has sent a questionnaire to the federal
ministry of justice, the response to which should clarify for Russian NGOs some
key concepts in the section of the Amendment
of Various Laws of the Russian Federation (RF) Federal Law No 121
the regulation of the activities of NGOs ‘carrying out the functions of a
foreign agent’. In particular, Agora’s lawyers ask for clarification of the
concepts of ‘political activity’, ‘formation of public opinion’, and ‘in the
interests of foreign sources’. The ministry should reply within a month.


Law, which was signed by President Putin 
on 21 July, comes into force in November. According to a press release
from the ministry on 24 July, if an NGO that is covered by the law does not
agree to call itself a foreign agent, its activities will be suspended for six
months. Furthermore, after the law has come into force, the department
will  maintain a register of NGOs
engaging in ‘political activity’.. NGOs whose work  is suspended will be forbidden to hold mass rallies or avail
themselves of money in their bank accounts (except for settling accounts for
economic activity, contracts of employment, payment of compensation for damage
caused by their activities, and payment of taxes, charges and fines).


legal analyst, Ramilya Akhmetgalieva, said that going by the association’s
interpretation of the terms used in the federal law, it did not consider itself
to be a ‘foreign agent’. He told ASI that if the ministry obliges the NGO to
apply to be included in the relevant register, the latter will have to comply
with that decision. However in that event, Agora staff intend to appeal to the
court. Overall a decision that the NGO should register would threaten the
continuance of its work, said the analyst.


society for the protection of consumer’s rights, Public Control, is content to
adopt the foreign agent label along with NGOs who get involved in elections,
the detection of corruption and similar, according to the society’s chair,
Mikhail Anshakov. ‘By doing this we want to display our solidarity with other
civil rights defenders’, he explained. His society does not receive grants from
abroad but does provide various programmes in co-operation with foreign
universities. As we understand the intention of the law, it should  not apply to us, he said.


the other hand, the way that the law is worded leaves its provisions open to
wide interpretation. Mr Anshakov said that the law is written in such a way
that even receiving money from people who possess dual nationality may be
construed as ‘receiving finance from abroad’. ‘But we do not know in whose
interests someone who has dual citizenship is acting when making payment for
our services’, he said. ‘The NGO accounts section cannot check whether someone
has dual citizenship and in whose interests the person placing an order is
acting. Does that mean we have to take a signed statement warranting that a
person has only Russian citizenship?’ wondered Mr Anshakov. In his opinion it
would be ‘simply impossible’ to comply with the requirements of the law.


Taubina, director of the foundation ‘Public Verdict’, said that the
organisation does not consider itself to be a ‘foreign agent’ working in the
interests of other countries. If the ministry of justice determined that the fund
is ‘performing the functions of a foreign agent’ then the organisation would go
to court with the aim of being allowed to get on with its work. ‘Everything we
do is done in the interests of Russians and not of foreign organisations’, she observed.


Orlov, chair of the council of the human rights centre Memorial, said that in
the autumn the ministry of justice was to develop regulations enabling the law
to be implemented. His organisation was not minded to reject grants from
foreign sources and was content to register as a ‘foreign agent’. He did not
consider the centre to be operating politically.


deputy director of the centre for anti-corruption research and initiatives
Transparency International Russia, Ivan Ninenko, said that if the grounds on
which an NGO could be threatened with suspension of its operations were not
clear from the documentation published by the ministry of justice, his
organisation would submit an appropriate questionnaire. The centre had not yet
made a decision about registering as a foreign agent. That would be taken in
September in the light of the proceedings of the NGO’s council.


activities are not political and we are ready to prove that in court if such an
accusation is made against us’, said Valery Borshchev, member of the Moscow
Helsinki Group and head of the  Moscow
Public Oversight Commission (MPOC). He thinks that civil rights activities
‘cannot in principle be considered political, so that applying the new
legislation on NGOs to the MPOC would not be lawful’.


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