Russian parliament passes NGO "foreign agents" law

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 18, 2012 7:56 AM
Russian parliament passes NGO "foreign agents" law

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's parliament approved a law on Wednesday to tighten controls on civil rights groups, branding those funded from abroad as "foreign agents", in a measure that foes of President Vladimir Putin say is meant to stifle the opposition.

Snubbing criticism of the bill by the United States, the Kremlin-controlled upper house of parliament overwhelmingly backed the bill, with just one vote against and one abstention, speeding its passage in its last session before a summer break.

Its rushed adoption signals the importance Putin attaches to the law, which will force non-governmental organizations (NGOs) receiving foreign funding that engage in "political activity" to register with the Justice Ministry as foreign agents and to file a report on their operations to officials every quarter.

Under the controversial bill, which only needs Putin's endorsement before becoming law, any NGO failing to comply with the new rules could face higher penalties, including six months' suspension without a court order and up to three years in jail.

Critics say the term "foreign agents", which NGOs will be forced to print on all of their publications, harks back to the Cold War. Those who risk being branded, such as human rights campaigner Amnesty International and corruption watchdog Transparency International, will be seen by many Russians as traitors.

They say it is being used by the Kremlin to tar and silence organizations whose criticism of Putin's human rights record has undercut his credibility and helped fuel the biggest protests against his rule since he first rose to power in 2000.

(Reporting by Nastassia Astrasheuskaya; Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Douglas Busvine)