Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed into law a bill that critics say will restrict the activities of domestic and international non-governmental organizations, or N-G-Os, in Russia.
The law provides for a new agency to oversee the registration, funding, and activities of Russia's more than four-hundred thousand N-G-Os, about two thousand of which are involved in human rights-related activities. The new law also allows the registering agency to ban funding of specific recipients if they are judged to threaten Russia's national security or "morals," and to require foreign and domestic organizations to report how much money they have received and from whom.
Russian and international human rights organizations, including the Moscow Helsinki Group, Memorial, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch, have said that the law will thwart Russia's democratic development. Tatyana Kasatkina, Memorial's executive director, told the Associated Press that the law would "mean the destruction of civil society in Russia."
U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States is urging the Russian government to ensure that the law on non-governmental organizations does "not restrict the space for civil society in Russia":
"We have repeatedly conveyed our serious concerns about the legislation to the Russian government and will continue to monitor implementation of the law and its impact on Russian civil society closely. In accordance with the Russian government's international commitments concerning freedom of assembly and freedom of association, we urge it to enact regulations that eliminate the possibility for arbitrary implementation and facilitate rather than hinder the vital work of N-G-Os."
Mr. McCormack said that the United States is committed to promoting democracy in Russia:
"We certainly encourage freedom of the press, expanding rather than contracting the political space so you have greater investment and greater dialogue and debate within the political space."
Ultimately, said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, "the course of democracy in Russia is going to be determined by the Russian people."
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.