ST. PETERSBURG, April 8 (RAPSI) – Russia’s Constitutional Court on Tuesday recognized the constitutionality of a legal provision that obligates NGOs to register as foreign agents, according to court documents.
The court did, however, lower the minimum fine for violations of the law.
A federal law passed in November 2012 requires 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. $14,000).
The Constitutional Court ruled that the contested provision was constitutional, as it was not retroactive and incurs liability only if the NGO did not file an application to register as a foreign agent.
The court added that the provision does not intrude on the NGOs’ activities and foreign financing, and only sets up the orderly process of registration. The term “foreign agent” does not imply a threat to the state or society and any attempts to assign negative context to it are outside the legal field.
The original complaint with the Constitutional Court was lodged by the Kostroma Center for Civic Initiatives Support which was fined last May 300,000 rubles (app, $9,000) for breaching the law. Alexander Zamaryanov, executive director of the NGO, was personally fined 100,000 rubles (app. $3,000) in the case.
The prosecutors claimed that the NGO received funds from abroad and was engaged in political activities, but failed to duly enter the list of foreign agents. According to prosecutors, the organization held a round table panel in February which was attended by an American diplomat.
The NGO filed an application with the local court protesting the fine, but the decision was upheld.
The organization complained in its application to the Constitutional Court that the unclear explanation of “political activity” in the law’s text leads to ambiguity and, consequently, to constitutional rights abuse.