Russian Draft Law Seeks to Label NGOs and Activists ‘Foreign Agents’
First protestors, now activists: Russian President Vladimir Putin is working on a yet another way to go after his opponents. Deputies in his party have proposed a new law that will force human rights and environmental activists receiving support from abroad to submit to audits and publicly acknowledge their status as “foreign agents.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has never made a secret of what he thinks about non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Whether they fight for human rights or environmental protection, he views them all as enemy elements controlled from abroad. Already in 1999, when Putin was still head of Russia’s FSB domestic intelligence agency, he accused foreign intelligence services of “very actively” using environmental and civil society organizations for their own purposes.
Today, 13 years later, nothing has changed about how he sees NGOs. In fact, now they might even have to pay legal consequences for their work. On Friday, the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, will hold the first of three readings of a proposed amendment to the country’s NGO law. The draft bill vilifies organizations like the Russian branch of Transparency International as hotbeds of “foreign agents.”
Among other things, the draft bill calls for heightened monitoring of groups receiving foreign funding that have an “influence on public opinion.” If the bill were to take effect in the fall, as planned, environmental organizations like Greenpeace and election monitors like the Golos organization (meaning “vote” or “voice”) will be forced to allow government inspectors to examine their books on a quarterly basis as well as to provide an accounting of how foreign funds have been put to use. The bill also calls for punishing non-compliance with fines of up to 1 billion rubles (€25,000/$30,000), or up to four years in jail.