Putin rules out delaying Russia campaign group law

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 10, 2012 12:50 PM
Putin rules out delaying Russia campaign group law

By Nastassia Astrasheuskaya

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday dismissed calls to delay legislation that would force rights and campaign groups funded from abroad to register as "foreign agents" and is seen by the opposition as intended to stifle protests.

Russia's lower house of parliament gave the draft law initial approval on Friday after Putin's United Russia party said it was needed to ensure openness by foreign-funded non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The head of Putin's advisory human rights council says the law could be applied too broadly and wants its passage halted or delayed while the legal language is reviewed.

But Interfax news agency quoted Putin as telling human rights activists: "I am not sure that by postponing it longer and longer we will come to perfect legislative clarity."

The law would tighten controls on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that receive foreign funding by forcing them to submit reports on their activity twice a year. NGOs are also worried because the term "foreign agents" has a hostile ring, reminiscent of the Cold War.

Among the groups that will be affected is Golos (Voice) which compiled allegations of fraud in December's parliamentary elections.

At that time, Putin called NGOs that count on foreign support "jackals" and accused Western governments of funding them in order to influence the vote.

Golos plans to seek donations from Russians, hoping to end its reliance on grants from abroad, mainly the United States and Europe.

The bill is expected to go through a second reading in the state Duma on Friday, and if passed, to be reviewed by the Federation Council upper house on July 18.

United Russia says the bill matches similar legislation in the West and is not part of a broader crackdown.

To balance out the impact that the law would have on foreign-sponsored NGOs, Putin called for a tripling of annual state financing of Russian non-government organizations from 1 billion roubles ($30.40 million) to 3 billion.

Human rights activists expect quick passage of the law, underlining its importance to Putin as he faces the biggest protests against his rule since he first rose to power in 2000.

The proposed legal change follows rapid passage of a law increasing fines for protesters as well as raids on the homes of protest organizers after Putin's return to the Kremlin on May 7 after four years as prime minister. ?($1 = 32.8940 Russian roubles)

(Editing by Timothy Heritage and Robin Pomeroy)