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Unease Over New Russian Law

The State Duma, the Russian Parliament's lower house, in Moscow, Russia. (file)
The State Duma, the Russian Parliament's lower house, in Moscow, Russia. (file)

New law could severely impact a number of important non-governmental institutions.

The United States is concerned about the effect on Russia’s civil society and democratic institutions of a new law that could severely impact a number of important non-governmental institutions.

Unease Over New Russian Law
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Civil society is invaluable to building and maintaining a free, stable and functional society capable of supporting it as it strives toward fulfilling its potential. Civil society is comprised of organizations and institutions which operate independently of the government. We refer to non-political, non-profit civil society organizations that act for the common good as non-governmental organizations, or NGOs.

Some examples of NGOs include think tanks, charities, religious groups, educational societies and civic groups, and trade and professional organizations. Typically, their members share common interests such as exposing corruption, or registering people to vote, or pushing for laws to keep the streets safe. They may help monitor and steer the development of a country moving toward democracy. Their work benefits society as a whole.

The new law, if enforced to its fullest extent, would virtually paralyze non-governmental organizations that receive any part of their funding from abroad and are involved in activities deemed political by the Russian Government. This includes NGOs such as the election monitor Golos, the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International and Russia's largest human rights group, Memorial.

Even if the law is not enforced to its fullest extent, though, but instead used to target a select set of organizations, the law’s implementation could have a great chilling effect on NGO activities, further stifling civil society.

The law allows authorities to carry out continuous audits. It obliges these NGOs to report on their expenses every quarter and on their activities every six months, instead of submitting annual reports as done previously.

These NGOs must register as "foreign agents", an expression synonymous in Russia with the word “spy”. And it compels them to ensure that materials they distribute carry a label informing the public that the material was written by a “foreign agent.”

Failure to comply with the law could result in jail sentences and enormous fines for NGO members, as well as termination of operations for up to six months.

“The United States,” said U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Ian Kelly, “strongly urges Russian authorities to consider carefully Russia’s international human rights obligations and OSCE commitments on human rights, fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law as they begin to implement and enforce this law.”