MOSCOW, February 5 - RAPSI. Saratov's regional branch of the Russian Justice Ministry must coordinate with the ministry's federal branch before categorizing a local drug-free advocacy NGO as a "foreign agent" in accordance with a controversial law passed last summer, according to Russian news outlet Vedemosti, citing a letter attributed to Justice Ministry Commissioner for NGOs Vladimir Titov.

Pavel Chikov of human rights organization Agora, which is representing the Saratov NGO Say No to Alcoholism and Drugs, told Vedemosti that he had received a letter from Titov declaring the regional branch's decision to warn the NGO "not fully legitimate." Titov stated that Saratov's Justice Ministry branch had been instructed as such by the federal branch.

Chikov added that it is very important point that all regional Justice Ministry branches should consult with the federal branch first, as NGOs fear that the law could be applied in the regions indiscriminately.

The NGO law, which entered into force in November, relegates politically active NGOs receiving funding from abroad to a registry of "foreign agents."

Once registered, these NGOs will face heightened scrutiny. They will be required to file regular disclosures with the government and to label all materials disseminated through major channels with their "foreign agent" status.

Those found in violation of the law will face large fines and potential prison time.

The Justice Ministry's regional Saratov branch had previously issued a warning to NGO Say No to Alcoholism and Drugs in light of its purported failure to report foreign funding.

With this, the Say No to Alcoholism and Drugs foundation became the first NGO to which the controversial "foreign agents" law was applied.

The Saratov branch had issued the warning as soon the NGO law entered into force.

The charity's managers claim that they did not receive any money from foreign sources and that they had submitted a simplified financial report in 2011 simply because their budget is small at only 3 million rubles ($100,235). The ministry, to which the NGO then complained about the warning, confirmed that this statement had been posted on its website.

Justice Ministry Commissioner for NGOs Vladimir Titov writes in his letter to foundation that the warning issued by the Saratov department of the Russian Justice Ministry to local charitable foundation Say No to Alcoholism and Drugs for failing to report its 2011 receipts from foreign sources is not fully legitimate. He added that the ministry's regional department had been instructed "to take measures to prevent further violations of the law."