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Duma Bill to Clamp Down on Non-Government Organizations

Published: December 26, 2012 (Issue # 1741)


MOSCOW Amid thepublic furor over theState Dumas proposed ban onU.S. adoptions, many seem tohave overlooked thefact that theso-called anti-Magnitsky act, which passed thelower house ofparliament onFriday, would also place harsh new restrictions onnon-governmental organizations.

Unlike theadoptions ban, thenew restrictions onU.S. funding forcertain groups havent sparked pickets outside theDuma, andtens ofthousands havent signed online petitions opposing them.

But human rights leaders say therules are afurther tightening ofthe screws oncivil society organizations, which have been pressed inrecent months bynew laws that expanded thedefinition oftreason andrequired certain groups toclassify themselves as foreign agents, which all major NGOs boycotted.

It feels like war has been declared, said Alexander Cherkasov, head ofthe Memorial human rights organization. Nobody sewed onthe yellow star. Thenew law, toextend themetaphor, says: Well shoot you even if youre not wearing ayellow star.

Theproposed rules would make it illegal forNGOs that receive funding fromU.S. citizens or organizations toparticipate inpolitical activities or otherwise threaten Russias national interests.

They would also ban Russian citizens who hold American passports frombeing members or leaders ofpolitical NGOs, including local branches ofinternational groups, which could see their assets seized forbreaking thelaw.

Civil society leaders worried that thebills vague language meant it could be used selectively.

Theres no established legal definition ofa threat against Russian interests, forinstance, therefore theanti-Magnitsky act is not alaw, concluded Transparency Internationals Yelena Panfilova.

Therestrictions onRussians who hold American passports seemed tobe aimed atveteran human rights leader Lyudmila Alexeyeva, Panfilova said, referring tothe head ofthe Moscow Helsinki Group, Russias oldest human rights watchdog.

Alexeyeva, 85, was forced toemigrate fromthe Soviet Union in1977 andreceived U.S. citizenship in1982. She returned toRussia in1993 andreceived aRussian passport as well.

Last week, Irina Yarovaya, head ofthe Dumas Security Committee, lashed out atAlexeyeva byquestioning her loyalty ina statement carried onthe partys website.

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