WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said on Wednesday it was concerned by Russian legislation that would force rights and campaign groups funded from abroad to register as foreign agents, saying it would impose tough new limitations on pro-democracy organizations.
State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the United States had communicated "deep concern" to Moscow after the Russian lower house of Parliament gave initial approval to the bill, which is supported by President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party.
"We believe that people everywhere should enjoy the same fundamental freedoms and universal human rights," Ventrell told a news briefing.
"The Russian people like people everywhere deserve the right to be heard and have a voice in government. That's why we are raising our concern about the potential passage of this NGO legislation."
The draft law would tighten controls on nongovernmental organizations 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.
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.
The United States places its own limits on foreign-funded groups through the Foreign Agents Registration Act. It requires groups acting as the agents of foreign governments in a political capacity to disclose their activities and finances.
But Ventrell said the Russian legislation would go further by requiring the registration of NGOs engaged in a raft of nonpartisan activities to promote democracy and good governance.
"NGOs that may be nonpartisan and who receive funding from all sorts of difference sources, and who are working in a transparent and nonpartisan manner are being asked to register all as foreign agents, so it's a different standard," he said.
The United States has protested limits on U.S.-funded NGOs in several countries this year, most notably in Egypt where Washington and Cairo clashed over the activities of the National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute as the country readied for democratic elections.
(Reporting By Andrew Quinn; Editing by Xavier Briand)