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article imageHuman Rights Groups critical of Russian 'foreign agents bill'

By Ken Hanly     Jul 15, 2012 in Politics
Moscow - A new bill passed by the Russian parliament requires NGOs(Non-government Organizations) that receive foreign funding to be registered as foreign agents. Human rights groups have been critical of the legislation.
The Russian State Duma(Parliament) approved a bill, nicknamed "the foreign agents bill" that would label NGOs that are politically active and funded from abroad as foreign agents. The bill passed with overwhelming numbers in spite of criticism by human rights groups. The final tally was 374 for the bill, 3 against and one abstention.
Supporters of the bill claim that it will give more information to Russian citizens about foreign-funded NGOs. They point out as well that other countries lncluding the U.S. have had similar legislation for years.
Many Human Rights groups both in Russia and elsewhere are very critical of the bill. For example Lyudmilla Alexeyeva head of the Moscow Helsinki group said: "They may close us down if they want,”... "As a founder and chairman of the Moscow Helsinki Group, I declare that the Moscow Helsinki Group will not get registered as a foreign agent under any circumstances."
Alexeyeva said that the group would not accept foreign donations once the bill was passed into law. She said her group would be forced to lay off staff and also carry out fewer projects. She also said that some NGO's would simply shut down since they would not be able to survive on Russian donations alone. The Moscow Helsinki group was able to survive even through the Soviet era.
Another NGO called Memorial said the aim of the bill was to label opponents of the government as enemy hirelings. The Committee Against Torture said it would refuse to register as a foreign agent unless forced to do so by the courts. Even a group of UN experts called upon the government not to pass the bill.
One group Fair Russia did not take part in the voting on the bill but a member of the group said that the bill would split Russian society. The member noted that under the bill he would become a foreign agent since he collected donations from over a thousand foreign citizens to help victims of the recent flood in the southern Krasnodar region.
Activists from the liberal Yabloko party protested the new bill. Party leader Sergey Mitrokhin said that the repressive law is attempting to humiliate people who work for foreign-funded NGOs. Mitrokhin insists that the Russian government will never fund organizations that champion human rights or fight against corruption, and Russian business will not do so either. Such organizations depend upon the generosity of foreigners to survive.
While there is little doubt that there are some foreign funded NGO's whose primary role is to advance the agenda of foreign interests others are trying to advance human rights, stop torture, and help flood victims. These groups support and strengthen universal values.
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