Duma has passed bill on foreign agent NGOs which fuelled opposition's indignation

The State Duma passed in the second and third (final) reading a bill assigning "foreign agent" status to Russian non-governmental organizations (NGO) engaged in politics and funded from abroad at its last meeting of its spring session on Friday.

Such NGOs must be registered by the Justice Ministry in a separate roster and will be assigned the status of an organization "performing the functions of a foreign agent."

The bill was favored by 374 deputies, opposed by three, with one abstention.

Under the bill, a non-governmental organization performing the functions of a foreign agent is one that receives financial and other assets from foreign states, their public agencies, international and foreign organizations, foreign nationals, non-citizens or their authorized representatives, or from Russian legal entities, which receive financial and other assets from such sources (except for open joint-stock companies with a state stake, and their subsidiaries) and is involved in political activities, including in the interests of foreign sources, in the Russian territory.

A non-governmental organization, except for a political party, is deemed to be one involved in political activity on Russian territory, if regardless of its goals and objectives stated in its by-laws such organization is involved in organizing and holding (and financing) political demonstrations with the aim to press authorities into making decisions aimed at changing their state policy, and in forming a public opinion for such purposes.

During the first reading, the document envisaged administrative sanctions for failure to comply with the requirements of this bill. However, these rules were removed in the second reading and will be passed in a separate bill this fall. The effective date of the foreign agent bill has therefore been postponed: 120 instead of 90 days after its publication, to ensure that both documents take effect simultaneously.

At the same time, the bill preserves the provisions imposing criminal liability for failure to comply with the requirements of this document.

For example, if an NGO is maliciously dodging its duty to submit documents required to be added to the register, its representatives will be facing a fine of up to 300,000 rubles (about $ 9,000) or up to 480 hours of compulsory labor. A more severe punishment can be imposed: up to two years of correctional labor or imprisonment.

The formation of an NGO (including those which perform the functions of a foreign agent) or a structural unit of a foreign non-governmental organizations, whose activities involve inciting citizens to abandon their civic duties or commit other unlawful actions, will entail a fine of up to 200,000 rubles (about $ 6,000), or up to three years of incarceration, forced labor or imprisonment. A similar penalty will be imposed for managing such an organization.

Formation and management of a religious or social organization, whose activities involve violence against citizens or other infliction of bodily harm, will be penalized by a fine of up to 300,000 rubles (about $ 9,000), or up to four years of incarceration, forced labor or imprisonment.

The bill drew strong criticisms from many Russian NGOs. Lyudmila Alexeyeva, head of Russia's oldest human rights organization, Moscow Helsinki Group, has called the document "despicable."

The adoption of the bill will negatively impact the development of civil society in Russia, liberal Yabloko party leader Sergei Mitrokhin told Interfax on Friday.

"It is a repressive step intended not simply to subdue the activities of NGOs, but to humiliate people who work in these organizations," he said.

This bill is aimed at suppressing civil society's activity in Russia, he said.

"The state will never fund the work of organizations that combat corruption, campaign for human rights and protest against the destruction of the environment. Domestic business will not do so either because it fears reprisals on the part of the state. All this made foreign funds, which were quite transparent, the only source of financing. This law will practically stop these activities today," Mitrokhin said.

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