22 January 2016
Source: HRO.org (info)
The Russian Ministry of Justice has prepared amendments to the law on non-profit organizations which, according to its officials, ‘clarify the concept of political activity’. In brief, they want practically all and anything undertaken by activists in the public sphere to be classified as ‘political’. But this is the way the law is presently being interpreted, with no need of these amendments. The document is available on the government’s website for draft legislation.
Polit.ru reports that the draft amendments refer to seven ways that NGOs, functioning as ‘foreign agents’, could be considered to be engaging in ‘political activity’.
The amendments, drawn up by the officials, include the following as spheres in which political activity takes place: building state and federal structures, guaranteeing the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country, guaranteeing law and order, the defence of the country, foreign policy, the preservation and stability of the political system, and the socio-economic and national development of Russia. The actions of government and local self-governing institutions, and the regulation of the human and civil rights and freedoms also constitute political activity.
NGO activity in the spheres of science, culture, the arts, and health does not, in the officials’ view, come within the category ‘political’.
The draft legislative proposals also include, as political activity, participation in the organizing and carrying out of public events, rallies, demonstrations, actions or pickets, and the organizing and holding of public discussions and speeches. Participation in the organization of elections and referenda, acting as electoral observers, and participation in political parties can also be a forms of political activity.
The Ministry of Justice also proposes that public appeals to state institutions or officials should be classified as political actions.
It is further proposed that distributing evaluations of current decision-making by state institutions and of their policies should be classified as political activity; as should engaging in activity aimed at influencing opinions or convictions about social and political affairs, and this should include the carrying out and publication of public opinion surveys or other sociological data.
In October 2015, following a session of the Presidential Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights, Vladimir Putin instructed the presidential administration to prepare, within three months, amendments to the NGO law which would clarify the concept of political activity in Russia.
Russian NGOs have repeatedly voiced their disagreements with the law and have appealed against it, including to the European Court on Human Rights. Human rights activists have emphasized that the law is ‘of a clearly discriminatory character and reflects a very negative historical context.’
The International Memorial Society emphasized, in a special statement that ‘…The conceptual framework of the law on “foreign agents” is not based on the principle of the rule of law. The law does not provide an answer to a single problem. The aims of its initiators were highly political and opportunistic, and its formulation remains, deliberately, legally vague and opaque…. The law on “foreign agents” in effect lays the presumption of guilty on an artificially singled out group of organizations….’
Translated by Mary McAuley
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