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New bill labels NGOs as 'foreign agents'

Duma Session file photo
file photo
A new bill soon to be introduced to the State Duma will label all NGOs with foreign finances that work in politics as "foreign agents," United Russia's press-service announced on Friday.

"One of the authors of the bill, deputy Alexander Sidyakin, stresses that the proposed changes to the law on NGOs do not ban them in any way and do not limit their rights, but are aimed at providing public scrutiny for their functions as a foreign agent and to make this data open knowledge for Russian citizens," Interfax quoted United Russia's press-release as saying.

United Russia member Sidyakin was also one of the authors of the new rally fines bill.

Foreign agents with a political agenda

Russian NGOs that receive funding and property from foreign states, international and foreign organizations, foreign nationals will be recognized as "foreign agents" in the new bill. NGOs that "take part in political activity in Russia in the interests of foreign sources" will be also be considered agents.

United Russia explained that NGOs that take part in Russia's political life are the ones that "regardless of declared aims and tasks, finance and hold political campaigns in order to influence the decision-making by the state organs, aimed at changing state policies," as well as participating in forming public opinion with said aims.

Sidyakin said "foreign agents" will be recorded in a special register. They will have to have an accounting audit once a year, and once in every six months will have to publish reports about their activity.

Those who do not comply with the rules could see their operations in Russia stopped or they could incur fines.

Defense of Russian society

When publishing material online or in other media, they will have to state that they were published by an NGO acting as a foreign agent.

"We must provide Russian society with the necessary elements of control for activity of NGOs financed from abroad and pursuing their own political aims, including in the interests of their financial donors," Sidyakin wrote.

He said there is a whole network of NGOs in Russia,the paid-for activity of which causes suspicions regarding the aims of the patron.

"There are two options: to guess and be outraged by multi-million payments from state departments for, allegedly, developing democracy, or to legalize foreign agents and clearly perceive them as conductors of other states' interests," Sidyakin said.

"Many NGOs will like this name and they will finally stop hiding and show the real essence of their activity," he said, adding that it will help develop Russia's civil society.

A source in the Kremlin said the new law could be a response to the Magnitsky list, Vedomosti reported.

Human rights groups not happy

Human rights activists see it as a hit on Russian civil society and will call for the bill to be vetoed.

"A crazy law," said the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Lyudmila Alexeyeva. "Deputies from United Russia want to call us agents, those who receive grants for protecting our citizens' interests. We do not lobby foreign interests. It is an ugly law."

"It is an attack on civil society and democracy. They want to make us look like some sort of traitors in the eyes of our citizens," Alexeyeva said, adding that many independent NGOs have to work with foreign grants in Russia because the Russian state and businesses do not donate willingly.

Keywords: Russia, Nonprofits, Activists - Russian News - Russia

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