Russia targets foreign funded NGOs


RUSSIAN NGOs with funding from abroad could be labelled “foreign agents” and face jail terms and fines for failing to register on a special government list, under plans from the ruling party.

Campaigners say the proposals flout democratic standards and are aimed at discrediting non-governmental organisations.

The law could see 1,000 organisations, including anti-corruption group Transparency International and Russia’s only independent vote-monitoring group, Golos, required to sign on to the register, an unnamed Kremlin source told Ria Novosti news agency.

Transparency International is a dogged critic of graft and bribes in Russia, while Golos logged thousands of alleged vote-rigging complaints in recent parliamentary and presidential elections.

Aleksandr Sidyakin, a deputy for the ruling United Russia party and co-author of the Bill, said it would force foreign-funded NGOs to “reveal the true nature of their activities”.

Mr Sidyakin’s draft, due to have its first reading in the State Duma (parliament) on Friday, would require all NGOs funded by foreign doners and involved in “political activity” to submit to tougher financial audits and put the label “foreign agents” on their websites and publications.

“This is done with one sole objective – to discredit our organisations in the eyes of citizens,” said Ludmilla Alekseeva, a former Soviet dissident who leads the Moscow Helsinki human rights group.

Anna Sevortian, director of Human Rights Watch Russia, said the plans reminded her of the 1930s: “To be called a foreign agent, that is against freedom of expression and freedom of operation . . . We don’t think this should progress in the state Duma because this is against Russia’s commitments in the Council of Europe.”

The crackdown on NGOs follows a hastily drafted law agreed in June that hiked fines for taking part in unsanctioned demonstrations to over one year’s salary.

Mr Sidyakin, who drafted both laws, has proposed that NGOs failing to register as foreign agents should face up to four years in jail and one million roubles (€24,360) in fines. “Get your cash ready, foreign agents!” he wrote on Twitter.

Russia’s elite has long been convinced western governments are trying to stir up change. When thousands took to the streets to protest electoral fraud last December, Vladimir Putin accused US secretary of state Hillary Clinton of inciting unrest.