Russia
06.07.12
Urgent Interventions

Proposed bill on Non-Commercial Organisations: open letter to State Duma members

Mr Sergey Naryshkin

Chairman of the State Duma

Okhotnyi Ryad Street, Building 1

103265, Moscow

Russia

06 July 2012

Open Letter

To: Members of the State Duma of the RussianFederation

Re: IntroducingAmendments to Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation in Part RegulatingActivities of Non-commercial Organizations, which Carry Functions of ForeignAgents

We, theundersigned organisations, call on you and your colleagues in the State Duma toreject in first reading the bill on the above draft legislation onnon-commercial organisations (NGOs), which is scheduled for today, Friday 6thJuly.

The proposedamendments would characterise any NGO involved in ‘political activities’ thatreceives funds from abroad as a ‘foreign agent’, and they would be required toregister separately with the Ministry of Justice. Such NGO’s would have tocomply with stringent audit and reporting requirements or face severe financialpenalties, six month bans and even custodial sentences for their employees.There is significant potential for arbitrary and selective restrictions to beplaced on the activities of Russian civil society at large.

Within less than a week after being proposed, onFriday 29th June, this bill has been put on your agenda, withoutconsultation amongst those stakeholders that will be most affected. If adopted the Russian Federation would be in clear breach of its international human rightscommitment and specifically the rights to freedom of association and freedom ofexpression. The State Dumamust allow for a longer period of discussion and reflection, both for itsmembers as well as of civil society and government agencies alike.

Our main concerns with regards to the draftlegislation are the following:

· Theconcept of ‘foreign agent’ solely being linked to its source of funding,without merit or acknowledgement of the nature of the activities carried out bya non-governmental organization.

· The overbroad definition of politicalactivities as included in the amendments, allowing for arbitrary and selectiveuse of the proposed legislation.

· Thestrict control as proposed over any activities by non-commercial organizationsconsidered ‘foreign agents’, with additional audit and reporting requirements. If an organisation fails to comply its executive manager can besubject to a 300.000 RUR (EUR 7.300) fine or up to three years in prison.

As partners of Russian non-commercial organizationswe condemn the proposed changes, which would indiscriminately brand thoseorganizations that receive foreign funding as ‘foreign agents’. Their work inpromoting international standards for example in the area of human rights anddemocracy would be particularly affected by the negative connotation of thisterm and we urge you to reject the changes proposed today.

Yours sincerely,

ARTICLE 19

Civil Rights Defenders

Frontline Defenders

Human Rights House Foundation

Norwegian Helsinki Committee

The Observatory forthe Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of theInternational Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World OrganisationAgainst Torture (OMCT)

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