Week-ending 27 November 2020
A bill introduced last week into the State Duma that introduces many new restrictions on civil society groups in Russia has continued to attract strong criticism from human rights groups inside and outside Russia. This week Human Rights Watch called the bill ‘a potentially very dangerous addition to a growing body of oppressive “foreign agents” laws.’ Last week, Amnesty International condemned the bill for signalling ‘a new witch hunt of civil society groups and human rights defenders standing up for justice and dignity. It exposes the Russian authorities’ belief that civil society actors are destructive ‘agents of the West’ bent on destabilizing the government.’
Human Rights Watch, 23 November 2020: A new bill introduced in Russia’s parliament on November 18, 2020 is a potentially very dangerous addition to a growing body of oppressive “foreign agents” laws, Human Rights Watch said today. The bill drastically expands the scope of individuals and groups that can be designated “foreign agents,” introduces new restrictions and registration and reporting requirements, and obliges the media to note the designation whenever they mention these individuals or groups. The 2012 “foreign agents” law applied to organizations but was expanded in 2019 to certain individuals – journalists and bloggers. Now it could include almost anyone. “In less than two weeks, two bills have entered the legislative pipeline that shamelessly encroach on the minuscule space left for civic activism in Russia,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “For now, human rights defenders, environmentalists, and other activists can avoid the unwarranted and toxic ‘foreign agent label,’ by shutting their organizations and continuing their activism as individuals, but under this draft, they would have to end their work entirely, or assume for themselves the ‘foreign agent’ label that would isolate them from Russian society.” The bill introduces the designation of individuals as “foreign agents” through an amendment to the 2012 law “on measures of influence against persons involved in violating basic human rights and freedoms, violating Russian nationals’ rights and freedoms.” This law was adopted to retaliate after the United States and the European Union adopted sanctions against individuals responsible for human rights violations in Russia. For years, Russian authorities have used the “foreign agents” law to suppress independent groups. Under the new bill, a person of any nationality can be designated a “foreign agent” if they receive money from a foreign state, international or foreign organization, or even a foreign or stateless person, and engage in “political activity” or are deemed to gather information on Russian military activities that “can be used against Russia’s security or interests.” The bill enables the Federal Security Service (FSB) to determine what information would fall into that category. Given that information on FSB decisions tends to be classified, there is serious concern that grounds for this classification would be arbitrary. This could jeopardize human rights groups’ reporting on human rights violations by Russian forces in armed conflicts in Ukraine, Syria, and elsewhere. Consistent with other categories of “foreign agents,” the bill requires designated individuals to register with the authorities, who publish an official list online. The authorities can also forcibly include individuals on the list. Contesting the designation is tedious and rarely successful. Designated individuals would not be able to run for elected office or hold government positions.
‘Quote for the Week. Natalia Prilutskaya, Amnesty International’s Russia Researcher: “The Russian authorities have already starved civil society financially and forced many organizations to close. Now, they are further demonizing individual activists,’ Rights in Russia, 20 November 2020
RFE/RL, Monday, 23 November 2020: Human Rights Watch (HRW) has joined other nongovernmental organizations in slamming a bill circulating in the lower house of Russia’s parliament, calling it “a potentially very dangerous addition to a growing body of oppressive ‘foreign agents’ laws.” Many independent groups in Russian have seen their funding shrink and their staff intimidated or prosecuted since Russia’s “foreign agents” law targeting organizations came into force in 2012. The legislation was expanded last year to journalists and bloggers and, if the new bill introduced in the State Duma last week is adopted, it would include “almost anyone,” HRW warned in a statement on November 23. The draft law “drastically expands the scope of individuals and groups that can be designated ‘foreign agents,’ introduces new restrictions and registration and reporting requirements, and obliges the media to note the designation whenever they mention these individuals or groups,” according to the New York-based watchdog.