Parliament to label externally-funded NGOs as foreign agents
The suggested legislative changes would require that all NGOs registered within Russia but receiving money or property from foreign sources, state and private alike, be considered “foreign agents” once they get involved in political activities, one of the amendments’ initiators, United Russia State Duma deputy Aleksander Sidyakin, said.The head of the anti-corruption committee of the Lower House, Irina Yarovaya, told the press that the bill with the amendments had already been submitted to parliament and she personally saw no obstacles to its adoption.In press comments Sidyakin added that the new norms contain no obstructions to the NGOs work, but would require the full disclosure of their functions to Russian citizens. Speaking about the impetus behind the new bill, the MP cited international experience, saying that similar laws exist in such countries as the USA, France and Israel.He added that NGOs would, in his opinion, favor the new regulations as they will be allowed to stop working underground and “disclose the true essence of their activities.” On the other hand, when Russian citizens see how many agents are working in their country, they will become more active in developing civil society on the basis of national sovereignty and the domestic interests of the Russian Federation. Sidyakin also said that organizations’ participation in the political life would be determined not by their declared goals and activities, but by the actual facts of financing and organizing political events that can influence the state bodies and change their policy. Influencing public opinion for political goals will also be considered political activity, he added. Once the amendments are approved, the mass media will be obliged to mention the foreign agent status in all reports and quotes from NGOs that are recognized as such. Such NGOs will also be put into a special register with a complete, obligatory audit every year. They will also have to publish reports on their activities every six months. Those organizations that fail to warn the state about their foreign funding could have their registration suspended.If the regulatory body tasked with overseeing such groups finds that their reports were false, the guilty NGO can be fined and its activities suspended for up to six months. Sidyakin said that he expected the parliament to vote on the amendments in the current Spring Session so that the bill could come into force on January 1, 2013.