Putin meets critics of NGO Law

Members of the HRC have
met with Vladimir Putin, following their presentation of possible amendments to
the NGO laws

On 4 September
members of the Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights (HRC)
met President Putin. Members of the HRC gave a number of presentations. These
related to the following: the Draft Law regarding Social Control, reform of the
prison system, state funding for Human Rights organisations, justice and civil
society and the possibility of amending the NGO legislation.


Members of HRC insist that the law on NGOs and its
many alterations and amendments is incorrect as far as the civil code is
concerned. They insist that it is time to rethink it and draft a new law. 


Elena Topoleva, a member of the HRC, gave a
presentation on the positions of NGOs. She commented on the pluses for the third
sector in today’s environment: the increase in financial support, the
distribution of additional funds, the introduction of tax incentives for
socially oriented NGOs, and the appointment of Elli Pamfilova, Chair of the
social organisation ‘Citizen Dignity’ as the new operator for presidential
grants. However, the main focus of the presentation was the demand for more
urgent measures to be taken regarding the law on ‘Foreign Agents.’ In
particular, this referred to the limitations of the law and its established
legal practice. 


The examples cited were: the case of the Muravevskii
Park for Sustainable Land and the Perm Centre ‘GRANI.’ A member of the HRC
informed the president that a broad interpretation of the law could jeopardise
the activities of organisations that receive a minimal amount of funding from
any foreign source, even if they are non-political.



Topoleva stressed that the meaning of the word ‘agent’
in Russian is uniquely associated with activities directed at someone else, on
someone else’s behalf, or worse, the activities of a spy. But Muravevsii Park
is only an ‘agent’ of cranes, an ‘agent’ of nature. NGOs will never agree to
label themselves ‘agents’, because they are not acting on someone else’s
behalf, but protecting the interests of Russian citizens, stressed Topoleva.


A member of HRC remarked that an NGO receiving foreign
funding was obliged to be accountable and transparent. ‘But you must not forget
that such charities are already obliged to submit annual accounts. This applies
to those organisations which receive a significant proportion of their budget
from a foreign source, for example, more that 3 million roubles per year.
Therefore they can be more carefully scrutinised. Also,
you can save the obligation to pass the annual audit.’


‘An NGO engaging in
‘political activity’ is a real concept, but the use of the term ‘foreign agent’
in an NGO context is totally inappropriate.’ Vladimir Putin agreed that the
implementation of the law ‘On Foreign Agents’ was ‘not totally
straightforward.’ ‘This is true, and it’s not the first time that I have heard
this from people who are involved in work of a similar nature’ said the
president. The president confirmed that even if an NGO is not politically
biased, it still falls under the law. Therefore it is worth considering how to
put this right.


The president continued to highlight that Russian
legislation on NGOs had been drafted so that politically motivated
organisations funded by foreigners should openly identify themselves as such.
‘In my opinion, this is a fair and totally honest approach; there is nothing
unusual about this’ Putin stated.







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