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Russia: Activists Denounce NGO Bill

Moscow, 23 December: Representatives of leading non-governmental organizations are criticizing the law on non-government organizations adopted by the State Duma in its third (and final) reading on Friday (23 December).

"The law is aimed not at helping the civil society but at creating additional obstacles," the executive director of Greenpeace in Russia, Sergey Tsyplenkov, told Interfax on Friday.

"It is possible that the authors of the law never clarified for themselves what the civil society is and do not understand that it is the task of the civil society to control the authorities and not the other way round," the environmentalist said.

Tsyplenkov said that the adoption of the law on the NGOs represented "unwillingness of the authors of the draft law to see in Russia a strong civil society, which could control the authorities and point out their mistakes".

A member of the board of the Memorial human rights centre, Aleksandr Cherkasov, agreed with him.

"This law is definitely not making anything better," he told Interfax.

"This law will strengthen regulation where it is not necessary. Until now there were already sufficient levers to regulate the activities of the NGOs. This introduces control mechanisms that will kill the very essence of NGOs - the society's control over the authorities," Cherkasov said.

"Russians will experience the thrill of this law on their own skin after a while. The recipients of assistance from NGOs include millions of people. In the future it will transpire that because of this law, at best, a certain bureaucratic barrier will hang over NGOs and strongly slow down their work and, at worst, the law brings about corruption and will drive underground some NGOs that never even thought of themselves in terms of opposition," Cherkasov thinks.

For his part the deputy head of the Moscow bureau of Human Rights Watch, Aleksandr Petrov, told Interfax that despite the amendments made, "the repressive nature of the law was preserved".

"Many unclear matters remain in it - in particular, regarding the reporting on funds received and on their application. This could hinder the implementation of some programmes carried out by Russian and foreign human rights organizations," the Human Rights Watch representative said.

According to him, provisions of the law are open to interpretation. "For example, the programme to protect human rights in Chechnya could easily be interpreted as protecting the interests of separatists," Petrov said.

"I hope that we will manage to adapt to this law, but we have to be alert so that the implementation of the law would not inflict damage on Russian and international NGOs," Petrov said.

For his part Steven Solnick the head of the Russian office of the Ford Foundation, which is among the larges international charitable organizations, told Interfax that some aspects of the NGO law are not clear.

"We understand the desire of Russia to have a transparent system and speaking of the Ford Foundation, we work transparently and provide information about all grants," he said.

"But we are somewhat concerned that when reading the law, one doesn't quite understand which actions the law is trying to ban. There is no clear definition of which actions are allowed and which are not," Solnick noted.

"The provisions of the law are so vague that they could provoke violations," the Ford Foundation representative said.

At the same time, human rights activists are prepared to take a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, protesting against the law on NGOs.

"We will continue to fight this law. It impinges on our constitutional rights", the head of the Moscow Helsinki group, Lyudmila Alekseyeva, told the agency yesterday.