Law of the Week: Bill further restricting right of association passes in first reading

Week-ending 11 December 2020

On Tuesday, 8 December 2020, the State Duma passed in first reading a bill expanding the application of the so-called ‘foreign agent’ designation and the restrictions imposed under this legislation. Criticism of the bill in Russia and abroad continues.


The Moscow Times, Tuesday, 8 November 2020: Russian lawmakers on Tuesday passed in its first reading controversial draft legislation including an expansion of who can be labeled a “foreign agent” amid an unrelenting clampdown on dissent. Lawmakers in Russia’s lower-house State Duma last month tabled legislation that would give authorities sweeping powers to designate individuals as foreign agents and further limit public gatherings and content posted online.

RFE/RL, Wednesday, 9 December 2020: Russia’s lower house of parliament has approved the final reading of a bill that would grant sweeping lifetime immunity to former presidents. The legislation approved by the State Duma on December 9 is part of a package of constitutional amendments approved in a referendum earlier this year that could potentially see President Vladimir Putin stay in power until 2036. The draft stipulates that any former head of state and their families automatically obtain lifetime immunity from criminal or administrative charges. They also cannot be detained, arrested, searched, or interrogated. The only exception is for treason, which must first be approved by the State Duma and the Supreme and Constitutional courts.

Meduza, Friday, 11 December 2020: A group of Russian State Duma lawmakers have submitted a draft law toughening penalties for individuals and media outlets recognized as “foreign agents” that fail to comply with the stipulations of that status.  In accordance with the bill, individuals considered foreign agents can face criminal liability for failing to apply to be included in the relevant database or failing to submit reports on their activities to the authorities. The proposed punishments include fines ranging up to 300,000 rubles ($4,100) or up to two years annual salary, community service or force labor, or up to five years in prison. The lawmakers proposed similar penalties for media recognized as foreign agents that violate operational procedure, albeit a lighter prison sentence — up to two years behind bars (or a fines ranging up to 300,000 rubles or up to two years annual salary, or community service or forced labor).

EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, Tuesday, 8 December 2020: The Board of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum finds the new package of bills submitted to the Russian State Duma in November 2020 alarming. There is no doubt that these initiatives represent yet another coordinated attack on Russian civil society. Now the state is targeting not only non-governmental organisations as such but also individuals, representation offices of international organisations, educators and, potentially, commercial companies. Many proposals are connected with the so-called ”foreign agents” legislation. On 8 December 2020, the bill No. 1057914-7 has passed the first reading at the Russian Parliament. The bill introduces the notion of a “natural person – foreign agent“ and makes possible the persecution of Russian citizens, also those who have been working or connected with an NGO – “foreign agent“. Inclusion of commercial companies in the list has been postponed ’for the future’, as a Deputy Minister of Justice mentioned.

Civil Rights Defenders, Monday, 7 Saturday 2020: Civil Rights Defenders expresses grave concern over proposed package of draft laws to Russian legislation regulating association. The amendments could mean a death sentence for unregistered initiatives and independent non-governmental organisations. In November 2020, the Russian government proposed amendments to broaden its notorious 2012 ‘foreign agents’ legislation, which concerns domestic organisations and branches of foreign NGOs operating in Russia. The amendments will 1) increase the burden on organisations as well as the government’s control over their operations; 2) increase the risk for individual activists; and 3) contravene Russia’s constitution and its international obligations to ensure freedom of association.

Caucasian Knot, Saturday, 5 December 2020: The bills on the work of non-commercial organizations (NCOs) will make it almost impossible to work in Southern Russia, human rights defenders believe. The “Caucasian Knot” has reported that bills had been brought to the State Duma on toughening control over the NCOs financed from abroad; on the ban to be engaged in enlightenment activities without authorities’ permission; and on new restrictions on protests. In 2014, the Russian Constitutional Court (CC) ruled that the organizations recognized as “foreign agents” should not be discriminated as compared to other NCOs, Natalia Evdokimova, the head of the Saint Petersburg Human Rights Council, has recalled. However, as a result, they are prohibited from supporting political parties, delegating their representatives to public oversight commissions (POCs), and engaging in anti-corruption expertise. Alexander Verkhovsky, Director of the “Sova” Information-Analytical Centre, has treated the bills as “an unprecedented attack on civil and political rights.” The main essence of these changes is the establishment of full state control over the educational sphere and a ban on the dissemination of “incorrect” information, Sergey Lukashevsky, Director of the Sakharov Centre, believes. Irina Protasova, a co-chair of the organization “Person and Law” from the Republic of Mari El, has noted that severe restrictions against objectionable NCOs “will kill the activities of human rights organizations in the regions.”

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