Russia’s largest grassroots election watchdog, Golos, has been almost driven out of existence by a law passed three years ago that saddled it with a “foreign agent” label – which connotes “spy” in Russian. But a new law to curb ‘undesirable’ NGOs could prove fatal, writes CSM’s Fred Weir:
This may not just shutter Golos, but could silence a whole range of Russian civil society for merely communicating with groups that the prosecutor feels pose a threat to Russia’s constitutional order, defense, or national security. The draft blacklist prepared by the State Duma last week includes a who’s who of major international nongovernmental institutions, including the Moscow Carnegie Center, the corruption watchdog Transparency International, the New York-based Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International.
“If any Russian is invited to a conference abroad, authorities can scan the list of sponsors and block that person if an ‘undesirable’ group is involved,” says Nikolai Petrov, a professor at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. “Any foreigners trying to come to Russia for any reason can be refused if they have links to such groups.”
“This law is much more dangerous, and has far wider applications, than the previous ones,” he says. “It’s not just aimed at shutting up people inside the country, but anyone, anywhere.”
Meanwhile, Lyudmila Alekseyeva (right), one of Russia’s most outspoken and widely respected rights advocates, has returned to President Vladimir Putin’s council on human rights and civil society three years after quitting the advisory body, RFE/RL reports:
Alekseyeva, 87, says she wants to defend nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) against what she called the “outrageous” abuse of a controversial law that has branded many NGOs as “foreign agents.”…She quit the council in June 2012 in protest over Kremlin interference in the process of selecting new members, becoming one of several activists to leave amid anger over Putin’s return to the presidency, the “foreign agents” legislation, and restrictions imposed on the Internet and public demonstrations…..
But she told RFE/RL that the Presidential Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights was one of the most reliable links with the authorities and “cannot be ignored during these difficult times.”
‘Nobody is safe anymore’
“There are such outrageous things happening there,” Russian media quoted her as saying…”All hell has broken loose in the regions” …. Authorities across Russia “are simply setting scores with organizations that are unfavorable to them, stripping them this way of their right to operate.”
Russia’s human rights ombudsman Ella Pamfilova ombudsman this week slammed the controversial law approved by Putin that allows the authorities to ban international NGOs deemed “undesirable.”
“We can prove that we now exist only on Russian money, but we are still on the list of ‘foreign agents,’ and all we still face all sorts of official interference,” says Grigory Melkonyants, deputy director of Golos. “I guess we have to wait and see how this new law will be applied. But it looks like nobody is safe anymore.”