Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Russia Set To Limit Foreign Nonprofits

Russia has introduced a bill that, if approved, would label all nonprofits with funding from outside of the country as "foreign agents." The law would also put numerous financial burdens on foreign organizations.

According to a report in The New York Times, the country's ruling party, United Russia, has scheduled the first three readings of the bill on Friday. In addition to the "foreign agent" label, which critics say is an attempt to discredit organizations' work, the law would also subject nonprofits to annual audits and random checks for "extremist speech" in their materials. Organizations that are found to be in violation would be fined up to 1 million rubles ($30,000).

Critics of the proposed law say that it is yet another attempt by the Russian government to silence dissent. The law would come after a recent bill pushed through parliament that would subject Russian citizens to heavy fines for participating in "unauthorized" protests.

Free speech activists say that if the bill is passed, Russian donors will be afraid to give money to organizations that are seen to be criticizing the government. The bill's sponsors brushed off criticism, saying that the law is on par with the United States' Foreign Agents Registration Act, a law that requires nonprofits to reveal any foreign support they receive. The main difference with that law, however, is that it only applies to organizations that directly represent governments; the Russian law applies to individual and financial support in addition.

"The ultimate goal of funding nonprofit organizations, as a form of ‘soft power,’ is a colored revolution," wrote Aleksandr Sidyakin, a United Russia deputy and sponsor of the bill, on his blog last week. "This is not a myth of government propaganda, it is objective political reality. The United States is trying to affect Russian politics." Sidyakin also made specific references to organizations that monitor elections, such as Golos. The agency, which is financed by two American organizations, has monitored Russian elections for 11 years, and recently came under pressure by the Russian government following disputed elections last December.

You can read the full story in The New York Times.

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