Lawmakers from Russia’s ruling party have introduced a reform proposal that some experts and nongovernmental organizations fear would have harsh implications on civil society operations there.
The draft law would require foreign-funded NGOs involved in political activities, such as election monitoring, to register as “foreign agents” and use the label on their website and publications, according to The New York Times. The groups would also be subject to tougher auditing and reporting requirements, including unannounced reviews of their publications for “extremist” language. The proposal sets a 1 million rubles ($30,000) fine for violators.
NGOs and experts have criticized these requirements as an attempt by Russian authorities to discredit the work of civil society groups that receive foreign assistance. Some experts have also said the proposal is an attempt to discourage dissent, especially since it was introduced shortly after the parliament passed a law penalizing participation in protests.
Prominent Russian nonprofit leader Lyudmila Alexeyeva has said she would prefer to shut down her organization than be labeled a “foreign agent,” The New York Times reports.
Proponents of the draft law, on the other hand, argue that it is similar to the United States’ Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires registration and financial disclosure from organizations or individuals acting on behalf of foreign governments, parties or organizations. But as The New York Times points out, the U.S. law applies to agents directly representing foreign interests while the Russian proposal reportedly covers any instance of receiving foreign funding.
Russia is the not the first country to seek more requirements out of foreign-funded NGOs. Egypt, for one, has made it to world headlines for detaining members of some international aid groups while the Cambodian government is also considering a draft law that local and foreign NGOs have described as restrictive.
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