Duma considers changes to ‘foreign agents’ law
A Bill on the exclusion procedure from the ‘foreign agents’ register now before the State Duma
NGOs which do not use foreign funding, or engage in ‘political activity’ for one year prior to their ‘application for exclusion’ can be removed from the foreign agents register. Organisations which refuse overseas funding for 3 months from the date of them being included on the register may also be excluded. Human rights activists have reacted cautiously to the Bill, believing that the amendments don’t change the situation as regards ‘foreign agents’.
The Bill on excluding NGOs from the ‘foreign agents’ register, originally put forward by Vladimir Putin, was published on the State Duma’s website. Under the Bill, NGOs wishing to be removed from the register have to file an application with an authorised federal body, which, in turn, has to notify the Public Prosecutor’s office. The latter will then conduct an unscheduled audit of the organisation in question, the results of which will determine whether or not the applicant should be excluded from the register.
NGOs which return money to foreign donors within 3 months of being included on the ‘foreign agents’ register may also be excluded. The Bill also proposes penalties for those that go back on to the register. The time that such organisations will have to be on the register will be increased to a minimum of up to 3 years.
Decisions on individual NGO applications shall be made no later than 3 months from the date of receipt. Bodies that have gone into liquidation or been reorganised, which have ceased operating as a legal entity and been excluded from the State Register of Legal Entities may also be excluded from the ‘foreign agents’ list. Decisions on organisations falling into this category must be taken within 5 days.
The Bill only confirms the view that the ‘foreign agents’ law was originally created to cut foreign funding to the third sector, according to Ramil Akhmettaliev, lawyer and legal analyst at the Agora Association in an interview with Vedomosti. NGOs will have to do without funding from abroad or carry the stigma of a foreign agent”, he added. Pavel Chikov, Chair of Agora, said that being excluded from the register and retaining overseas funding will be difficult. The Prosecutor’s office, he believes, is aware of any “political” activity undertaken by NGOs. The Bill needs further work, he added.
Natalya Taubina, Director of the charity for the protection of the rights and freedoms of citizens Public Verdict told Russia’s Budget Commission that she has no intention of refusing overseas funding as such action is not illegal. She reiterated that Public Verdict is not engaged in any political activity and is prepared to defend its position in the courts.
Grigory Melkonyants, co-chair of the Council for the Protection of Voters’ Rights Voice believes that people need to see what form the final version of the Bill approved by the State Duma takes. Only by doing so, he added, will it be possible to make a judgement as to whether it’s worth NGOs being excluded from the register. Melkonyants is convinced that the inclusion of an organisation on the register should be on a permanent basis. Following the exclusion of an NGO, a note will be made next to the name of the organisation that it has been deleted from the register.
Earlier, Melkonyants explained that human rights organisations plan to prepare a consolidated report on the implementation of the ‘foreign agents’ law, which will examine the legal procedures involved and come up with a structured assessment.
Author: Gregory Ivanushkin