Justice Minister denies ‘foreign agents’ law is oppressive
Alexander Konovalov, the Russian Government’s Justice Minister, has reported to the Federation Council on the legal status and activities of the NGO sector.
In his report to the Federation Council, Konovalov explained that more than 16,000 new NGOs were created and registered during 2015, representing a 6% increase on the previous year. According to the Minister, “This shows that claims that these organisations are fading away or are being weighed down by repressive legislation are not only wildly exaggerated but totally untrue”. According to the newspaper Kommersant, the Minister stated that if all NGOs had volunteered, rather than been forced, to be included on the “foreign agents” register “without creating such a fuss, much of society would have paid little attention to it”. Konovalov added that the hype and hysteria surrounding the implementation of this law was all part of a political struggle, Kommersant reported.
According to Justice Ministry figures, NGOs received 87.5 billion roubles from foreign sources during 2015, while “foreign agents” acquired almost 1 billion roubles from abroad. Konovalov has promised to “make life very uncomfortable” for organisations that engage in “political activity”, reported Vedomosti.
In a post on his Facebook page, Sergey Nikitin, Director of Amnesty International’s Russian Office, said “It is well known that safeguarding human rights is seen as a “political affair”, adding that the “statements made by the Justice Minister sound rather ominous”.
Konovalov also undertook to discuss the Justice Ministry’s Bill with human rights activists with a view to clarifying the definition of “political activity” under the “foreign agents” law, according to Kommersant. The Bill itself is now before the State Duma, having already come in for criticism from Russian scientists and cultural figures, as well as a number of prominent human rights activists and regional Ombudsmen. Ella Pamfilova, the Federation’s Human Rights Commissioner, has called for the amendments to be finalised, while the NGO community is fearful that the Justice Ministry’s amendments will hit charities hard. The Presidential Council on Human Rights has now submitted its own proposals for clarifying the meaning of “political activity”.
Konovalov also explained that there had been more than a 15% increase in the number of socially-orientated NGOs during 2015, which means that there are now more than 100,000 such organisations nationwide. The Minister also made reference to the lack of clear guidelines as to the meaning of “socially important services”. Konovalov added that the “Justice Ministry is of the view that more explicit criteria on what constitutes a socially-orientated NGO should be introduced, as well as creating a special register for such organisations”.
Author: Georgy Ivanushkin