A draft Russian law banning “undesirable foreign organizations” is another troubling sign of the authorities’ vigorous measures to restrict any public space for criticism, Amnesty International said today after the Duma (Parliament) passed it on a first reading.
The bill will go through two more readings before being sent to President Vladimir Putin to be signed into law, which may be only a formality.
“This law is another sobering sign of how the Russian authorities are quickly closing in on fundamental freedoms and the work of independent civil society groups in the country,” said Sergei Nikitin, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director.
“We’ve seen time and again how ideas which threaten fundamental freedoms get railroaded through the Duma and make their way into draconian laws that snatch away the space for dissenting views and independent civil society activism. Sadly, these freedoms can no longer be taken for granted in Russia.
The law would introduce the vague notion of “an international organization which poses a threat to the defence capacity and security of the state or to public order, or to public health”.
The draft law purports to defend “the foundations of the constitutional order, morality, rights and lawful interest of other persons”.
“Given the Russian authorities’ recent track record, there is every reason to expect that this law will be adopted and applied to clamp down on international civil society and undermine the independence and freedom of action of national human rights groups carrying out critical work in Russia,” said Sergei Nikitin.
The law would enable the Office of the Prosecutor General to decide which organizations are “undesirable”, and effectively criminalize their activities. The way the law is formulated leaves a lot of space for its arbitrary application.
Penalties under the law include making it illegal for such organizations to open an office. Russian residents working for the organizations would face hefty fines and up to eight years in prison for consecutive violations. Foreign staff members could be denied entry to the country.
“The law doesn’t specifically single out NGOs, inter-governmental organizations, or commercial organizations for scrutiny. But the fear is that it will be arbitrarily applied to any of them and they could be forced to close their doors in Russia,” said Sergei Nikitin.
The new law follows on the heels of a draconian “foreign agents law” passed in July 2012 and amended last year. The authorities’ ever-more restrictive implementation of that law has forced some Russian NGOs to curtail their activities or even shut down for good.