New bill on "foreign agents" proposes cosmetic changes

posted 14 Dec 2014, 11:34 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 14 Dec 2014, 11:37 ]
8 December 2014

Source: (info
The Ministry of Justice is proposing to amend the law on "foreign agents" to enable NGOs to be removed the register of "foreign agents" if they make an application to do so and undergo an unscheduled inspection. For a year afterwards, these NGOs must not receive support from abroad for their projects or "engage in political activity".

The Russian President asked the Ministry of Justice to draw up legislative proposals for removing NGOs from the register of NGOs which fulfil the functions of a "foreign agent".

In a statement, the Ministry of Justice said: "The proposal is that NGOs that wish to be excluded from the register of NGOs which fulfil the functions of a foreign agent must make an application to do so".

In order for an NGO to be removed from the register, the Ministry of Justice will have to carry out an unscheduled inspection and make a decision within three months of receiving the NGO's application., citing RIA Novosti, reports that the Ministry of Justice considers that the legal grounds for such inspections will have to be set out in the “Federal Law on NGOs”.

In November 2012, the law obliged political NGOs financed from abroad to register as foreign agents. In June 2013 the Ministry of Justice gained the right to label NGOs as foreign agents at its own discretion and thereafter added a series of organisations onto the “foreign agent“ register.

Prior to the announcement about a possible revision to the law, the Soldiers' Mothers organization of Petersburg, which is on the Ministry of Justice's list of foreign agents, had asked the ministry to take it off the list, on the grounds that there are no foreign citizens among the founders of the organisation, which is funded by a presidential grant, and that it was therefore put on the list illegally. The Ministry of Justice refused the NGO's request on the grounds that, at present, the legislation does not provide for the removal of an NGO from the list of "foreign agents".

According to Oleg Orlov, member of the board of the Memorial Society, "The Ministry of Justice's draft bill only contains cosmetic changes. Essentially, nothing will change. We insist that NGOs have the right to receive funding from all possible legal sources, and that this behaviour on the part of officials is intended to oppress human rights activists". Oleg Orlov stressed that activists will continue to assert their position in the courts, Kommersant newspaper reports.

The head of the commission of the Presidential Human Rights Council, Elena Topoleva-Soldunova, has suggested completely suspending the law on so-called "foreign agents".

Translated by Suzanne Eade Roberts