Duma to debate bill on nonprofit organizations on Friday [updated]

The Russian State Duma has entered the bill on non-profit organizations with foreign agent status, submitted by lawmakers of the United Russia faction, on its Friday agenda, in accordance with the decision made by the Duma Council.

The Duma's Committee for Public and Religious Organizations earlier urged the lower house to debate the bill on Friday and to adopt it in its first reading.

The bill, which formally makes all politically active non-commercial organizations "foreign agents," was drafted by the author of the latest edition of the bill on rallies, Deputy Alexander Sidyakin of the United Russia faction.

The amendments proposed have to do only with non-commercial organizations that receive funding from foreign organizations, or from citizens engaged in political activities. Such non-commercial organizations will have to be registered by the Justice Ministry in a special register, and they will be given the status of organizations "fulfilling foreign-agent functions."

Meanwhile, the Kremlin Human Rights Council urged the State Duma not to hear the bill and officially launch its public debates "in order to rule out the application of unconstitutional regulations and practices."

The Russian Public Chamber said that the procedure for adopting the bill on non-commercial organizations is at variance with the Constitution, while the term "foreign agent" runs counter to the current legislation.

"The procedure for adopting the bill on non-profit organizations that have the status of foreign agent "is at variance with Article 72 of the Russian Constitution, since amending the Code of Administrative Offenses (the bill's Article 4) is within the joint competence of the federation and its territories," the Public Chamber said after scrutinizing the bill regulating the work of non-profit organizations with foreign-agent status.

The recommendations provided are of "conceptual nature." The bill cannot be passed if they are disregarded, the Public Chamber said.

The Public Chamber's statement on Thursday was referred to State Duma Speaker Sergei Naryshkin, the Public Chamber's press service told Interfax.

"While acknowledging that non-profit organizations' activities should be regulated more effectively, the Public Chamber nevertheless thinks that some of the provisions of the bill go against this basic goal," the statement says.

 The concept "foreign agent" which the bill introduces does not correspond to the current legislation, it says.

The term "agent" in the current legislation stands for a party that assumes the obligation to perform legal or other actions for a reward, on its own behalf and on commission from another party (principal), but at the expense of the principal, or on behalf and at the expense of the principal," the Public Chamber said.

Non-commercial organizations, in accordance with the current legislation, cannot be formed for the purpose of fulfilling another party's will, it said.

"Therefore, the use of the term 'agent' in relation to non-commercial organizations goes against the current legislation," it said.

 Another serious flaw uncovered is an unjustifiably liberal interpretation of the term "political activities," as well as wordings devoid of a legally confirmed content, such as "political action," or "the formation of public opinion," the Public Camber said.

The definition of "political activities" must be detailed if liberal interpretations are to be avoided after the bill goes into effect.

"The provisions of the bill, in accordance with Federal Law No. 40, must not apply to socially-orientated non-commercial organizations," it said.

A bill classifying Russian non-governmental organizations financed from abroad as 'foreign agents' is aimed at discrediting and ruining civil organizations independent of the authorities, says a statement signed by leading human rights organizations circulated before a press conference at the Interfax main office on Thursday.

"The true goal of this bill is to discredit and effectively ruin major civic organizations independent of the authorities in our country," the statement says.

The organizations that signed the document called on the State Duma members to abandon attempts to limit activities of civil society institutions and unconstitutionally discriminate against and persecute human rights and civil activists and so destabilize the social atmosphere.

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