MOSCOW, July 13 (RAPSI) – The Council of Europe (CoE) Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, has criticized Russian “foreign agents” law noting that it hindered human rights in the country and had a profoundly negative impact on related organizations, according to the CoE document published on Thursday.

The law adopted in Russia in November 2012 requires that all NGOs engaged in political activity and receiving foreign funding register as “foreign agents”.

The Commissioner intervened as the third party in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) case over the law between number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and Russian state authorities. This right of the Commissioner is reflected in the Declaration on Council of Europe action allowing him to fulfill his duties of providing protection for human rights defenders.

According to Muižnieks, the law is “incompatible with international and European human rights standards” and leads to a major “chilling effect” on the work of civil society organizations in Russia. In the Commissioner’s opinion, the law does not provide adequate definition of the “political activity” forcing civil society institutions in the same broad category leading to overzealous enforcement by authorities and infringement on the rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression.

The Commissioner also noted that Russian NGOs were stigmatized as a result and that the law was a major blow for their reputation. This resulted in worsening of relationships between NGOs and other organizations as well as complications of their members’ lives. Muižnieks believes that NGOs should enjoy the presumption of lawfulness of their activities in law and practice.

Under the amendments to the law adopted in 2016, political activity is linked to such fields as state-building, securing Russia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, enforcement of law, order and security, national defense, foreign policy, political system integrity, social and economic and national development of the country, regulation of rights and freedoms of man and citizen.

Russian Constitutional Court found the “foreign agents” law to be in line with the Constitution. Several Russian politicians and lawmakers publicly supported the law as well.