The Kremlin’s announcement last week that it was kicking USAID out of Russia is the latest step in a crackdown on foreign-funded civil society groups. It’s a trend that has intensified since Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency in May, with the parliament hastily adopting new restrictive rules for non-governmental organizations. Groups that get even a kopeck of foreign money in their budget will be required to officially register as “foreign agents.” In Russian, that is pretty much understood to imply “foreign spies,” making many here in Russia believe the law aims to marginalize and discredit groups that advocate policy change.
The new law won’t enter into force until late autumn, but you can already see it in action. At least, I did, during a recent trip to Russia’s provinces. While the Justice Ministry is still working out the new law’s implementing regulations, regional officials are apparently already trying to please their federal bosses by exhibiting exemplary exuberance for the new provisions.
The series of laws that restrict the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly significantly hindering the operation of national non-governmental organisations (NGOs) as well as international NGOs supporting them, should make other countries react against the limitations of freedom which come onto the Russian people again.
The United Nations, the United States and other democratic countries will need to ponder the issues which could suppress the people of Russia again. They should send a strong message about the need to assist Russia’s vibrant civil society and ensure that the support to organizations which provide a lot of services that the regions want, from collecting diapers and pacifiers for orphanages to helping hospitals with supplies to rehabilitating under-aged prisoners or helping people in dire need of legal aid, will continue. It is needed now more than ever. The threshold for prosecuting any human rights activist has now been lowered. The prosecutions have not started, but the threat is now there.
It looks like ‘father Putin’ who knows when the end of the world is coming (according to himself 4,5 Bn years from now) we saw crying on the television last night when he said he wanted all the best for ‘his’ country has chosen repression and is wanting to see the country back in the grid of an authoritarian dictatorship and everything deciding government . I liked the boards with the texts “Put – in” and “Put – Out”.
The passage of a law in Russia that will cause thousands of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to be labeled “foreign agents” if they receive financial support from abroad is the latest in a series of attempts by the Russian government to restrict civil and political liberties. The laws have created a difficult environment for civil society in Russia where activists now face significant risks in carrying out their work. The pernicious bill directly targets those organizations that are attempting to impact public policy, including the in 2000 established GOLOS Association (ГОЛОС, meaning “vote” or “voice”) to protect the electoral rights of citizens and to foster civil society, the country’s only independent election monitor. In November 2011 they were already accused of cooperation with the CIA and of making propaganda paid for with foreign money, in particular from the United States.
On 12th December 2012, twelve civil society organisations supporting or conducting citizens’ election observation in the states of the Eastern Partnership, the Russian Federation and the European Union have launched the “European Platform for Democratic Elections” (EPDE) in Warsaw.
The Russian Association ‘Golos’ was presented the Sakharov Freedom Award at a ceremony which also marked Norwegian Helsinki Committee 35 years’ anniversary on 23 October. Lilya Shibanova accepted the award on behalf of the organisation she leads. “It is a great honor to receive the Sakharov Freedom award. The recognition comes at a very important and suitable time for us, were Russian democracy is dwindling and organisatons like ours are under fierce attack from the authorities. The anniversary was also celebrated by a well attented seminar opened by Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide.”
“Foreign funding” is a blanket definition that will include any type of funding that comes from abroad, including charitable donations, loans, and grants. In case those who receive such funds do not register within 90 days they would face suspension and could result in heavy fines of between 200,000-1,000,000 rubles ($6000-30,000), forced community work and prison sentences of up to four years.
This bill follows on the heels of a controversial bill passed in June 2012 that dramatically increases fines for protests and protest organizers who participate in “unsanctioned” public demonstrations. A bill also recently passed in both houses of Parliament that creates an “internet blacklist.”
A group of international non-governmental organizations, including the World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Freedom House, Front Line Defenders, Greenpeace, Human Rights Watch, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint program of the World Organization Against Torture and the International Federation for Human Rights and Transparency International have called on European Union leaders to urge Russian President Vladimir Putin to end what they call his crackdown on Russian civil society.
They call for the repeal of recently adopted laws that contain provisions inconsistent with Russia’s international and constitutional commitments on human rights and good governance. These include:
- Non-profit and non-government organisations receiving funds from foreign organisations must now register with a special governmental agency and publicly identify themselves as “foreign agents” – a pejorative label signifying spy and traitor – if they engage in so called “political activities”, which include advocacy and influencing public opinion. Such organisations must also put “foreign agent” on all publications. Failure to respect the provisions can be punished by a prison sentence.
- A new, broad legal definition of “treason” could potentially criminalise human rights and political activism.
- Exorbitantly high penalties of up to $32,000 have been introduced for violating restrictive rules on public protests creating a chilling effect on the right to peaceful assembly.
- The government now has the power to shut down websites without a court order if they are considered to be publishing “prohibited” information, a term that is not clearly defined. This could curb freedom of expression and increase internet censorship.
- Libel is once again a criminal offence, punishable by increased fines of up to $61,000, which is likely to inhibit criticism by the media and NGOs of public officials and policies.
They believe the new restrictive laws, particularly the definition of treason, could threaten Russia’s membership in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), its accession to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials and its relationship with the European Court of Human Rights.
They call on the European Union to join them in urging the Russian government to bring its laws into line with Russia’s international obligations and rights guaranteed under the Russian Constitution, repeal restrictive new laws and guarantee a safe environment for civil society.
- Amnesty International
Lydia Aroyo, Press Officer
Phone: +44 (0) 20 7413 5599; +44 (0) 7771 796 350
Mandeep Tiwana, Policy and Advocacy Manager
Phone: +27 11 833 5959 ext. 110
- Freedom House
Susan Corke, Director for Eurasia programs
Phone: +1 202 296 5101
- Front Line Defenders
Jim Loughran, Head of Communications
Phone: +353 1 212 3750
Ivan Blokov, Campaign Director, Greenpeace Russia
Phone: +7 495 9887460 ext. 332
Daniel Mittler, Political Director, Greenpeace International
Phone: +49 160 94676589
- Human Rights Watch
Rachel Denberr, Deputy Europe and Central Asia director
Phone: +1 917 916 1266
- International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
Arthur Manet / Audrey Couprie, Press Officers
Emails: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
Phone: + 33 1 43 55 25 18
- Transparency International
Chris Sanders, Manager, Media and Public Relations
Phone: +49 30 3438 20 666
- World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
Delphine Reculeau, Coordinator
Phone: + 41 22 809 49 39
- Russia’s civil society crackdown continues By Tanya Lokshina, Special to CNN
- Electoral Code of the Russian Federation, proposed and developed by GOLOS.
- NTV journalists at GOLOS headquarters on November 28, 2011
- GOLOS website
- Article: Civil Society Is the Kremlin’s Worst Nightmare (Moscow Times)
- Freedom in the World 2012: Russia
- Freedom of the Press 2011: Russia
- Nations in Transit 2012: Russia
- Freedom on the Net 2011: Russia
- Blog: Freedom at Issue
- Panelists Call for Mounting Pressure on Russia’s Illusory Democracy
- Putin’s repressive regime has frozen Russia’s heart | David Hearst (guardian.co.uk)
One year on from the mass demonstrations, Russia is a changed place. Vladimir Putin has chosen repression over reform and it shows in small ways and in remote parts of Russia as well as in the big cities.
The new officially inspired mood of xenophobia has frozen the entire food chain of Russian bureaucracy right to the regional director of health of a remote part of Siberia. Get a foreign visitor who wants to research a good news story about a Russian hospice, and the safest thing to do is to chase her away.
- Russian Duma back adoption ban in row with US (worldbulletin.net)
Russia’s lower house of parliament approved a law banning Americans from adopting Russian children on Friday, in retaliation for U.S. human rights legislation which Vladimir Putin says is poisoning relations.
Last year, 962 Russian children from orphanages were adopted by Americans while over 45,000 have found homes in the United States since the 1991 Soviet collapse. Their parents are either dead or unable to care for them and some have complex medical needs.
The spat is overshadowing efforts to improve relations with U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration.
Signalling Moscow is worried about long-term damage to trade and diplomatic ties, Lavrov has taken the rare step of appearing to stake out a view that differs from the Kremlin line. The Kremlin hopes Obama will visit Russia for a summit in 2013.
- Thorny issues in India-Russia engagement (thehindu.com)
Russia was unhappy with India’s refusal to waive civil liability for units III and IV of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP) and failure to secure Russian telecom company Sistema’s massive investment in the joint venture, Sistema Shyam TeleServices Ltd (SSTL), while India was concerned over a year-long delay in the delivery of the Vikramaditya aircraft carrier.
Russia remains India’s most trusted and valuable defence partner. It reaffirmed its readiness to share cutting-edge weapons technologies, leasing out the nuclear submarine Chakra and offering to jointly develop the fifth-generation fighter aircraft. The coming summit may see the two sides seal multi-billion deals for the supply of Su-30MKI fighters, Mi-17 helicopters, aircraft engines and tank missiles.
- Russian parliament considers anti-US adoption bill (kansascity.com)
All 143 members of the Federation Council present voted to support the bill, which has sparked criticism from both the United States and from Russian activists who say it victimizes children by depriving them of the chance to escape often-dismal orphanages.
The bill is one part of a larger measure by angry lawmakers retaliating against a recently signed U.S. law that calls for sanctions against Russians deemed to be human rights violators. Putin hasn’t committed to signing the bill, but has referred to it as a legitimate response to the new U.S. law.
- Russian parliament endorses anti-US adoption bill (hosted.ap.org)
Some top government officials, including the foreign minister, have spoken flatly against it, arguing the measure would be in violation of Russia’s constitution and international obligations.
But Senator Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the Council’s foreign affairs committee, referred to the bill as “a natural and a long overdue response” to the U.S. legislation.
“Children must be placed in Russian families, and this is a cornerstone issue for us,” he said.
- Russia senators back adoption ban (bbc.co.uk)
The rate of adoption in Russia is low. Some 3,400 Russian children were adopted by foreign families in 2011, nearly a third of them by Americans. The number of children adopted by Russian citizens was 7,416.
There have been high-profile reports in Russia about some adopted children who were mistreated by their new American parents.