Press release

Russia: Dangerous new measures on ‘foreign agents’ come into force controlling political and human rights work

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21 Nov 2012


Dangerous changes to legislation come into force in Russia today which threaten freedom of expression. A new Federal Law requires all non-governmental, non-commercial organisations (NCO’s) that receive foreign funding and are engaged in ‘political activities’ to register as a ‘foreign agent.’ Failure to do so could result in fines, bans or imprisonment. ARTICLE 19 is calling for this law to be scrapped, as it could be used to attack the important work of human rights organisations. ARTICLE 19 finds this to be the latest addition to a long list of repressive measures by the Kremlin which curtail freedom of expression in Russia.

“Following Putin’s return to the Presidency earlier this year, we have witnessed an increasingly repressive political climate emerge in Russia. The tide has turned and fundamental rights to freedom of expression and political association, which were hard won in the Russian Federation, are now being swiftly and seriously undermined.,” said Agnes Callamard, ARTICLE 19’s Executive Director.

“There are serious questions about the rule of law in Russia, we know of a great many cases where power has been used in arbitrary ways to suppress criticism. The definition of ‘political activities’ in this new legislation is unclear and will allow attacks on legitimate human rights organisations, simply because they are critical of the Russian authorities. It’s not difficult to see that this law could result in a slide towards greater restrictions on their work and damaging attacks to their credibility,” she added.

The Federal Law ‘Introducing Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation Regarding the Regulation of Activities of Non-commercial Organizations Performing the Function of Foreign Agents’ introduces amendments to the Law on Public Associations; the Law on Non-Commercial Organisations; the Criminal Code; and the Law On Combating Money Laundering and the Financing of Terrorism. It was rushed through the Russian Parliament (State Duma) this summer, without due process to allow time for scrutiny and review. The law will apply to all ‘non-commercial’ organisations receiving funding from abroad and who are deemed to be working in ways to influence political decision making or public opinion.

The legislation requires all ‘foreign agents’ to register as such, submit detailed reports about their planned activities’ and to mark any publications they distribute as being created by a ‘foreign agent.’ Those who do not comply with the law face fines of up to 300,000 rubles (7,500 EUR; 9,500 USD; 6,000 GDP). Organisations can also be suspended for up to 6 months and the directors of those organisations could face up to 2 years in prison.

ARTICLE 19 notes that this ‘foreign agent’ law is part of a worrying wider trend. A series of laws have been passed by the State Duma in the past few months which leave human rights activists and those critical of the government vulnerable, and give license for the arbitrary restriction of their important work in the country. Greater controls over the internet; increased restrictions on the freedom of assembly; and the re-criminalisation of libel all pose dangerous threats to the ability of people in Russia to exercise freedom of expression. Last week saw the expansion of Russia’s treason law, to include a vague and broad definition of the word ‘treason’. This legislation, drafted by the Federal Security Service (FSB), is open to be used to target anyone engaged in the exchange of information with international organisations and representatives of foreign governments, seen by the authorities to be ‘harming Russia’s security’. ARTICLE 19 is concerned that people working in the field of human rights could be specifically targeted by the arbitrary and repressive use of this law.

Taken together, all of these actions threaten freedom of expression in Russia.

“Russia has enormous influence in the region. A raft of legislation imposing greater restrictions to freedom of expression presents a real and serious threat to fundamental human rights both within Russia and for her neighbours. We have already seen attempts to replicate some of the laws passed in Russia in places like the Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan” added Callamard.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Russian authorities to repeal the Federal Law ‘Introducing Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation Regarding the Regulation of Activities of Non-commercial Organizations Performing the Function of Foreign Agents’. This law violates Russia’s international commitments to respect the right of freedom of association and for people to participate in political affairs.

ARTICLE 19 urges the Russian authorities to abide with well established international standards on freedom of expression.