Putin signs bill on ‘undesirable foreign groups’ into law
The Russian president has signed a bill banning the activities of foreign groups that pose a threat to national security or defense capability, and to punish those who continue to cooperate with such groups.
The bill, initially drafted by two opposition MPs, was passed by both chambers of the Russian parliament last week. It tasks the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Foreign Ministry with creating a proscribed list of “undesirable foreign organizations” and to outlaw their activities in the country. The main criterion for putting a foreign or international NGO on the list is a “threat to the constitutional order and defense capability, or the security of the Russian state.”
Once the group is recognized as undesirable, all its assets in Russia must be frozen, its offices closed and distribution of any of its information materials must be banned.
If the group does not comply with the ban, its leaders and members would face punishments ranging from administrative fines to prison sentences of up to six years for repeated and aggravated offenses. Russian citizens and organizations that continue to work with banned groups would face administrative fines only.
The new law faced criticism from foreign NGOs and the Russian rights community when it was first drafted. The chairman of the Presidential Council for Human Rights, Mikhail Fedotov, described the new law as “exotic,” and said that many foreign groups were “shocked” by it. Another member of the council, lawyer Aleksandr Brod, said in comments to the media that the new law was redundant, as there were enough ways in existing legislation to ensure national security and prevent foreign interference with Russian domestic politics.
The European Union and the United States have officially expressed their concern over the new Russian law. The US State Department said in a statement that the move banning cooperation with various foreign groups could bring about the isolation of the Russian people from the outside world.
Russian officials have not yet reacted to these accusations. Previously, the sponsors of the bill, however, have described it as a preventive measure and denied that it was targeting any specific foreign organizations.
The new law is in line with the “Foreign Agents Law” introduced in Russia in late 2012. That law specifies that all NGOs who receive funding from abroad, and that are even partially engaged in political activities, must register as foreign agents or risk substantial fines. Groups with “foreign agent” status are banned from sponsoring Russian political parties, but otherwise their activities are not restricted.