Duma Bill to Clamp Down on Non-Government Organizations
Published: December 26, 2012 (Issue # 1741)
MOSCOW — Amid the public furor over the State Duma’s proposed ban on U.S. adoptions, many seem to have overlooked the fact that the so-called “anti-Magnitsky act,” which passed the lower house of parliament on Friday, would also place harsh new restrictions on non-governmental organizations.
Unlike the adoptions ban, the new restrictions on U.S. funding for certain groups haven’t sparked pickets outside the Duma, and tens of thousands haven’t signed online petitions opposing them.
But human rights leaders say the rules are a further tightening of the screws on civil society organizations, which have been pressed in recent months by new laws that expanded the definition of treason and required certain groups to classify themselves as “foreign agents,” which all major NGOs boycotted.
“It feels like war has been declared,” said Alexander Cherkasov, head of the Memorial human rights organization. “Nobody sewed on the yellow star. The new law, to extend the metaphor, says: ‘We’ll shoot you even if you’re not wearing a yellow star.’”
The proposed rules would make it illegal for NGOs that receive funding from U.S. citizens or organizations to participate in “political activities” or otherwise threaten Russia’s national interests.
They would also ban Russian citizens who hold American passports from being members or leaders of “political” NGOs, including local branches of international groups, which could see their assets seized for breaking the law.
Civil society leaders worried that the bill’s vague language meant it could be used selectively.
There’s no established legal definition of a “threat against Russian interests,” for instance, therefore the anti-Magnitsky act “is not a law,” concluded Transparency International’s Yelena Panfilova.
The restrictions on Russians who hold American passports seemed to be aimed at veteran human rights leader Lyudmila Alexeyeva, Panfilova said, referring to the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Russia’s oldest human rights watchdog.
Alexeyeva, 85, was forced to emigrate from the Soviet Union in 1977 and received U.S. citizenship in 1982. She returned to Russia in 1993 and received a Russian passport as well.
Last week, Irina Yarovaya, head of the Duma’s Security Committee, lashed out at Alexeyeva by questioning her loyalty in a statement carried on the party’s website.
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