Large NGOs Say No to Russia’s “Foreign Agent” Registration

September 28, 2012; Source: CBS News

Nine of the largest and most prominent of Russia’s non-government organizations have declared that they will ignore a new law requiring NGOs with funding from abroad to register as “foreign agents.” Their refusal will bring fines of “up to 5,000 rubles (about $150) for members, 50,000 rubles ($1,150) for the heads of these organizations and up to 1 million rubles ($31,000) for the organizations themselves. Anyone who continues to participate in organizations that violated the rules can be fined up to 300,000 rubles ($9,000) or sent to prison for two years,” according to CBS News. The law is one of a number of actions taken in the wake of protests about perceived electoral fraud in the December elections and is widely seen as a Soviet government attempt to reduce the influence of foreign money on the country’s political life and, more generally, to squelch dissent.

In late September, the Kremlin expelled the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) after two decades of work in the country. U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland acknowledged that USAID would cease its operations in Russia but said, “The AID budget for fiscal year 2012 is about $50 million, in addition to the civil society programs. We will look for ways to continue with those members of Russian civil society who want to continue to work with us.” Two weeks ago, the Russian parliament gave preliminary approval to a new treason bill that would, CBS News reports, expand “the definition of treason to include such activities as financial or consultative assistance to an international organization.”

In the wake of the Pussy Riot trial, the parliament is also weighing legislation that would make actions that offend religious tenets a crime that could result in up to five years in prison. Meanwhile, Pussy riot has been nominated for the European Parliament’s 2012 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. –Ruth McCambridge