Proposed legislation in Russia would redefine NGOs operating in Russia as “foreign agents.” This new classification would apply to any group that receives funding from any source outside of Russia, even if the NGO is based and operated within Russia.
The law, which passed in the lower house of parliament this Friday, would force all NGOs to submit activity reports to officials at least twice a year, revealing who provided funding for the groups. Reuters emphasizes that groups, such as Amnesty International, could be at risk of suspension if they do not submit to the new guidelines. Smaller opposition and human rights groups that work in Russia would also be at risk of paying huge fines and imprisonment if they do not submit to rigorous inspection.
The law was written by members of President Vladimir Putin’s party, United Russia, and would still require three readings in the Duma and one reading in the upper house to pass. Just Russia, an opposition party, boycotted the vote this week, Reuters reports.
United Russia members and President Putin argue that the law would increase transparency and honesty within NGOs operating in Russia. As Irina Yarovaya, an author of the bill, stated, “As one says one’s name when introducing oneself to others, NGOs should in the same way be saying who they are when they introduce themselves.”
Critics fear that the title of “foreign agents” reinstates Cold War language that pits Russia against the rest of Europe and the United States. And critics of the legislation are not only based in Russia. The Moscow Times reports that members of the Solidarity movement met with U.S. Congress officials this week to discuss possible legislation that limits travel for the authors of the NGO bill.
As Solidarity activist Boris Nemtsov stated, “It is essential to include the initiators and authors of the bill in a list similar to the Magnitsky list and to limit their access to countries that sponsor, in their opinion, ‘foreign agents.’”
Champions of the possible travel ban legislation hope to include every person involved with drafting and voting for the NGO law so that they cannot travel to E.U. countries or the United States. Many opponents also want to block these same lawmakers from getting involved in the European Parliament.
Earlier this year LGBT activists in Russia urged foreign leaders to impose travel bans on Russian lawmakers that passed anti-gay legislation.
Putin and United Russia seem determined to pass the law within the next month and move swiftly in order to crack down on movements that oppose the current government. The new legislation has the potential to allow the government to censor the activities of NGOs and criminalize human rights activities in the very near future.