Putin: NGO 'foreign agent' law needs to be adjusted
SELIGER, August 2 (RAPSI) – Russian president Vladimir Putin doesn’t see any point in toughening or liberalizing the federal law which brands NGOs funded from abroad and engaged in political activities as foreign agents, but stands for putting things in order.
“Does it (the law) need to be updated? Probably. But not in terms of toughening or liberalizing; things just need to be put in order,” Putin said at the youth forum at Lake Seliger, an annual gathering in Russia’s Tver Region, some 380 kilometers northwest from Moscow. “Some clear criteria for political activity should be set,” he added.
Putin further explained that authorities are not going to put NGOs under control by means of financing them from the federal budget. “We agreed that the human rights organizations will establish by themselves an entity which the government will give the money to and which will be tasked with distributing among the human rights organizations regardless of whether they get some grants from abroad or not,” Putin said. But those NGOs which get such grants and are involved in political activities should register as foreign agents, he added.
“We want human rights organizations to work and be as independent as possible from the government, but have an opportunity to enjoy support,” Putin said.
A federal law was passed last November requiring all NGOs engaged in political activity, and receiving finance from abroad, to register as a "foreign agents," or face fines of up to 500,000 rubles (app. $16,000). In February eleven Russian NGOs, Moscow Helsinki Group among them, lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) protesting the law.
Inspections of NGOs began in late March 2013 when the Justice Ministry said its goal was to check that these organizations' activities corresponded with the objectives of their charters and Russian legislation. Up to 2,000 rights groups and NGOs in Russia have been raided by prosecutors and other officials, according to some estimates. State officials have come under fire from international human rights groups and Western governments for carrying out unannounced and lengthy inspections.
As of May 15 not a single Russian NGO financed from abroad and engaged in political activity has registered as a "foreign agent".
Independent election watchdog GOLOS Association was the first NGO to be fined on the basis of the new law.