Wider definitions proposed under the ‘foreign agent’ law.
Ministry of Justice plans changes to the “foreign agents” law
The Justice Ministry has published a Bill amending, inter alia, the definitions of “political activity” and “an NGO that carries out the function of a foreign agent”. Under the Bill, the understanding of the term “foreign agent” includes the notion that taking part in political activity could be construed as “including in the interests of foreign sources”. The Bill’s authors suggest treating “political activity” as “taking part (including financially) in organising and carrying out political and other action intended to influence decision-making and to change policies of State agencies, and shaping public opinion to achieve these ends”.
Experts from the NGO partnership “Lawyers for Civil Society” have produced an information note on the Bill. In it, they draw attention to a significant change to the definition of political activity, which now includes taking part in the organisation and implementation of “other actions”, which, in their view, opens up an even broader interpretation of the law.
The experts also explain that, although the definition of “foreign sources” is unchanged, the Bill proposes an important clarification to its meaning. The text states that “in the event of the transfer (virement) of cash (or other assets) by an NGO, a Russian legal entity that receives in the year prior to the transfer, cash or other assets from foreign sources ,will inform said NGO of its receipt of the cash and other assets from foreign sources”. This will allow NGOs to keep clearer records of cash and other assets received from foreign sources, and to demand that donors and other benefactors (Russian legal entities) provide the necessary supporting documentation. This will help both sides to plan properly and reduce the risks of undue spotlight being focused on an NGO in the event of any erroneous instruction given to foreign sources.
The Bill makes reference to the possibility of excluding NGOs from the “foreign agents” register. Three options are given including: if an NGO ceases its activity; if an NGO during the year prior to its application for exclusion from the register did not receive funds and (or) did not engage in “political activity”, or in line with a court’s decision.
The Bill, among other things, suggests a change to the presentation format of NGO reports, and also introduces new grounds for random inspections. Now, an NGO can expect such an inspection in the event of “income receipts submitted to the authorising agency as part of their application to be excluded from the register of NGOs that have carried out functions of a foreign agent”.
Public discussions on the Bill are being held from 9-24 July.
Author: Gregory Ivanushkin