Week-ending 4 December 2020
Following condemntion of the new bill on so-called ‘foreign agents’ by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, this week Russian human rights activists also condemned the draft legislation. Meanwhile, the State Duma Committee on Security and Combating Corruption has recommended that the bill be passed in first reading by the State Duma.
The Moscow Times, Wednesday, 2 December 2020: Russia is seeking to label any politically active individual a “foreign agent” in the latest move to broaden a law that critics say curbs free speech. Under current law, the “foreign agent” label may be extended to civil society groups, media outlets, as well as individual journalists and bloggers in Russia. The latest flurry of proposed legislation would expand the definition of “foreign agents,” ban them from running for office and allow authorities to dissolve them.
The Moscow Times, Thursday, 3 December 2020: Russian rights activists on Thursday condemned draft legislation including a significant expansion of who can be labelled a “foreign agent” as a new clampdown on dissent. Lawmakers in Russia’s lower-house State Duma last month proposed a series of bills that would give authorities sweeping powers to designate individuals as foreign agents and further limit public gatherings and content posted online. Critics say the new legislation is meant to further limit Russia’s opposition ahead of next year’s elections for the Duma. “It’s an unprecedented restriction of our civil political rights,” activist Alexander Verkhovsky, who sits on President Vladimir Putin’s human rights council, said during an online press conference hosted by several of Russia’s top rights groups. “This is all a rather serious restriction on free speech,” he said. “And this is of course a clear restriction on the right to be elected.”
RAPSI, Thursday, 3 December 2020: The State Duma Committee on Security and Combating Corruption has recommended that the lawmakers should pass in the first reading a draft law envisaging that individuals engaged in political activities or collection of information in the military-technical sphere may be granted the foreign agent status if receiving financing from abroad. The respective amendments are to be made as to a federal law setting enforcement actions to be used with respect of persons involved in violations of basic human rights and liberties of citizens of the Russian Federation. The changes are to include the introduction of a mechanism for the registration of physical persons taking part in political activities within the territory of the Russian Federation in favor of foreign interests, and (or) purposefully gathering certain important intelligence in the sphere of military and military-technical activities of the state.
Human Rights in Ukraine, Wednesday, 2 December 2020: A record four draft bills are currently awaiting ‘consideration’ in Russia’s State Duma with all evidently aimed at crushing the activities of Russian NGOs and further stifling freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly. The human rights situation in Russian-occupied Crimea is already significantly worse than in Russia, but these bills, if adopted, will prove that it can get significantly worse. As reported, the bill on so-called ‘foreign agents’, tabled in November, seems almost certain to be adopted. Draft bill № 1052523-7 on amendments to the Law on Non-Commercial Organizations, would force NGOs labelled ‘foreign agents’ to provide the Justice Ministry with all programs etc in advance, with the ministry able to prohibit them and dangerously extend who the state brands a ‘foreign agent’. The other three are: № 1057914-7 on something termed ‘additional measures for countering threats to national security; № 1057895-7 on changes to the Law on Education; and № 1057230-7 on amendments to the Law on Meetings, Rallies, etc. 50 Russian NGOs have signed an urgent appeal to the UN over this offensive against civil society. In addition, 20 major Russian NGOs, including the Memorial Human Rights Centre, the Moscow Helsinki Group, and others, have addressed an appeal to the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović and to Russia’s Human Rights Ombudsperson, Tatiana Moskalkova. The latter is known for having denied that there are political prisoners in Russia, only ‘extremists’, and for having justified the persecution of Crimean Tatar lawyer Emil Kurbedinov, so it is, unfortunately, hard to imagine her defending civil society now.