Putin signs law on "political activity" of NGOs

posted 13 Jun 2016, 02:50 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 13 Jun 2016, 02:59 ]
3 June 2016 

Source: HRO.org (info
On 2 June 2016 President of Russia Vladimir Putin signed into law the bill on the "political activity" of NGOs. The law will allow the authorities to hang labels on almost any active NGO, and to designate as "foreign agents" NGOs that take part in the international grant competitions of philanthropic foundations. According to the law, activities of NGOs in the following areas should be considered as “political”:

· State-building;
· Protection of the foundations of the constitutional system;
· Federal structure of Russia;
· Defence of the sovereignty and protection of the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation;
· Protection of law, administration of justice, security; · National defence; 
· Foreign policy; 
· Socio-economic development of Russia; 
· National development of Russia; 
· Development of the political system; 
· Activities of government bodies, bodies of local self-government; 
· Legislative regulation of human and civil rights and freedoms. 

The law establishes that political activity, in the opinion of government officials, can be carried out by the following means: 

· Public appeals to government bodies, local self-government bodies and their officials. 
· Participating in organising and implementing public events in the form of gatherings, rallies, demonstrations, marches or picketing; 
· Any combination of these forms; 
· Organising and implementing public debates, discussions, speeches; 
· Participating in activities aimed at generating specific results in elections, referendums; 
· Monitoring elections, referendums; 
· Forming electoral commissions, referendum commissions; 
· The activities of political parties; 
· Other activities, exerting influence on the work of public officials, including those intended to secure the adoption, amendment, repeal of laws or other normative acts of law; 
· Disseminating opinions on decisions made by government bodies and government policy, including using modern information technology 
· Forming of views about society and politics and convictions, including by means of conducting and publicizing public opinion polls or other social research; 
· Involvement of citizens, including minors, in the aforementioned activities; 
· Financing the aforementioned activities. 

At the urging of major and politically-loyal philanthropists, provisions were introduced into the bill that exclude certain areas from being classified as ‘political’, namely: activities in the fields of science, culture, art, healthcare, preventive healthcare, social services, social support and protection of citizens, the protection of motherhood and children, social support for persons with disabilities, promotion of healthy lifestyles, physical activity and sport, protection of fauna and flora, activities in the field of philanthropy and volunteering. 

In the opinion of experts of major Russian NGOs, the adoption of a law of this kind allows the authorities to declare any NGO that they do not like as a “foreign agent” irrespective of the group’s actual activities. Adoption of the law is a serious step towards the destruction of civil society in the country. 

In 2015 the witch-hunt against “foreign agents” in Russia’s non-profit sector entered an active phase. By the end of 2015 there were already 109 organisations on the list of “foreign agents.” The organisations, which Ministry of Justice officials defined as “agents” were subject to disproportionately large fines, faced significant damage to their reputations and finances and a number were forced to close down. Environmental and human rights groups have been the at the forefront of this persecution. At the 70th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2015, a resolution recognising the importance of human rights advocates and the necessity of defending them was adopted. The resolution was supported by 117 countries. 

In 2015 the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, stressed in a special Report that “new regulations have led to the closure of a series of human rights organisations, and now other NGOs are engaging in self-censorship, taking extra precautions, and avoiding participation in activities which could be deemed “political”. 

The International Memorial Society has stated in a special announcement: “[…] The main idea of the law on ‘foreign agents’ is essentially not based on the principle of the rule of law. There is no problem which this law would solve. The goals of its initiators were fundamentally political and opportunistic, and its formulation intentionally introduces evident legal uncertainty. The law on ‘foreign agents’ to all intents introduces a presumption of guilt for an artificially defined group of organizations. […]” 

Amnesty International, the largest international human rights organisation in the world, has emphasised that “the law on so-called ‘foreign agents’ is one of a series of measures aimed at suppressing civil society and freedom of expression in the country.” 

Russian NGOs have repeatedly expressed their disapproval of the law and appealed against it including in the European Court of Human Rights. 

Human rights advocates underline that the law is evidently discriminatory and has extremely negative historical connotations. 

90 members of the Russian PEN Centre, which brings together historians, members of the Free Historical Society, as well as Russian academics, have called on the Minister of Justice to put an end to the arbitrary treatment of NGOs that are being classed as “foreign agents”. 

Translated by Kate Goodby