Week-ending 13 November 2020
On 19 November 2020 a bill was introduced into the State Duma that would impose additional restrictions on civil society organisations designated as ‘foreign agents,’ increasing reporting requirements and giving the Ministry of Justice additional powers to ban specific activities and to close organisations down.
Human Rights Watch, Thursday, 12 November 2020: A bill introduced in Russia’s parliament on November 10, 2020 would further restrict the ability to function of independent groups that are already suffocating under the restrictive “foreign agents” law and other legislation, Human Rights Watch said today. The bill, submitted by Russia’s Cabinet of Ministers, would expand reporting requirements for independent groups tagged as “foreign agents” and would allow the Justice Ministry to ban any planned or ongoing activity by those groups. Failure to comply would serve as grounds to close down the organization. It also introduces additional grounds for unscheduled government inspections of these groups. “This bill would create yet another repressive tool the government can use to harass independent groups, interfere with their work, and ultimately shut them down,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “This bill should be dropped immediately, and the other repressive laws need to go.” Existing legislation allows the Justice Ministry to ban a foreign group’s activity or project, in part or in whole. The new bill expands this authority to allow the ministry to ban activities and projects of Russian organizations designated “foreign agents.” The bill would also allow unscheduled inspections of a group if the authorities receive allegations that it participated in events organized or conducted by a foreign organization listed in Russia as “undesirable.” The draft does not clarify what constitutes “participation,” does not differentiate between allegations that a group member “participated” personally in such events or as a representative of the group, and does not limit such events to those in Russia. The draft includes no qualifying criteria requiring the allegations to be credible before they trigger an inspection, nor any cap on the number of these inspections. The bill also imposes an obligation on domestic nongovernmental groups designated “foreign agents” and foreign groups represented in Russia to submit documentation in advance to the authorities for any project they are planning and then report on its implementation or provide an explanation if it fell through.
RAPSI, Monday, 9 November 2020: Russia’s Government has brought a bill toughening requirements to the activities of foreign NGOs and organizations acting as foreign agents before the State Duma. The draft law extends the concept of foreign sources, prohibits registration of structural divisions of foreign NGOs in households, introduces additional basis for unscheduled inspections and obliges noncommercial organizations functioning as foreign agents and their units to submit programs and documents constituting grounds for running events and performance report to the Justice Ministry of Russia, an explanatory note to the document reads. The initiative’s authors believe the proposed amendments will protect human rights and freedoms as well as state interests.
RFE/RL, Thursday, 12 November 2020: Human Rights Watch (HRW) warns that the Russian government has submitted a bill to parliament this week that the New York-based watchdog said would further restrict the ability of independent groups in Russia to function. “This bill would create yet another repressive tool the government can use to harass independent groups, interfere with their work, and ultimately shut them down,” Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at HRW, said in a statement on November 12. The draft legislation “should be dropped immediately, and the other repressive laws need to go,” he added. The bill, introduced to parliament on November 10, would expand reporting requirements for independent groups designated as “foreign agents” and would allow the Justice Ministry to ban any activity by those organizations, according to the statement. Failure to comply would serve as grounds to close down the groups, it added.
Human Rights in Ukraine, Thursday, 12 November 2020: New plans are underway to further stifle Russian human rights organizations and other NGOs whom the authorities have labelled ‘foreign agents’. These include the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre which plays a crucial role in monitoring Russia’s mounting repression in occupied Crimea, The law on so-called foreign agents has enabled the regime to place independent NGOs under serious pressure since 2012, and the new legislation will give the Justice Ministry the right to prohibit specific programs, without any clearly defined list of reasons. Draft bill № 1052523-7 was submitted by the Government on 10 November, and it adoption by the State Duma is almost certainly merely a question of time. Tatyana Glushkova from Memorial HRC notes that the key change proposed and, she believes, almost certain to be passed, is the imposition of preliminary control over the activities of the specific NGO, NGOs labelled ‘foreign agents’ will be forced to send the Justice Ministry programs and other documents for carrying out events in advance of the launching of such programs and holding of the events. If the programs have not been prohibited, the NGOs will later have to report on their implementation and on whether the planned events were held. The Justice Ministry will have the power to prohibit any particular program, and while it is stated that a reason must be provided, no exhaustive list of potential grounds is given. It seems likely, therefore, that any reason will be treated as sufficient. Failure to comply with such a ban will lead to the NGO’s dissolution. “We are thus looking at what are effectively the gates to a hell of unlimited arbitrary will”, Glushkova writes.