Justice Minister on the "law" and NGOs

17 January 2013 

Source: HRO.org (info
Justice Minister Aleksandr Konovalov has said that the law requiring non-profit organisations to register as "foreign agents" goes against the spirit of the legislation on NGOs. This is what the minister announced when he addressed parliament, writes State Duma Deputy Ilya Ponomarev. 

Konovalov stated, however, that the law is not repressive. "This is not a question of Justice Ministry powers proposing stringent checks, harassment, and, excuse the term, the formulation of huge lists and terrifying sanctions," the minister said.

In addition, according to Lenta.ru, Konovalov said that his office is not in a position to explain whether or not non-commercial organisations are being funded from abroad, nor can they say whether an NGO is engaged in political activities. He said that the Justice Ministry could obtain information about financing from the inspection authorities. On the question of political activity, Konovalov said: "It's possible that the arguments and debates could go as far as the Constitutional Court."

The law on "foreign agents" came into force in November 2012. According to this law, all NGOs who receive funding from abroad are obliged to voluntarily label themselves as "foreign agents." Many leading human rights organisations, including the Moscow Helsinki Group, who theoretically fall under the law have boycotted it.

The Agora Human Rights Association, in turn, has asked the Russian Justice Ministry to clarify how the new law will work. They declined to do this, so the human rights activists took them to court for failure to act. Agora employees also tried to get the Justice Ministry to tell them whether or not their association was in fact a "foreign agent." The Ministry of Justice was unable to give an unequivocal answer to this question.