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Russia17 January 2006

Putin promulgates controversial law on NGOs

The Russian official gazette, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, today published the controversial legislation on NGOs which President Vladimir Putin signed into law on 10 January. It will take effect in 90 days.

Despite amendments to the original version as a result of energetic protests from the international community, the law still places considerable constraints on the freedom of action of both Russian and foreign NGOs, which will henceforth be subject to control by the president’s office.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also voiced concern about the law during a meeting with Putin yesterday.

26 December 2005

Reporters Without Borders urges President Putin to cancel Soviet-style law to monitor NGOs

Reporters Without Borders called today on President Vladimir Putin, in an open letter, not to sign into law in its present form a proposed measure to monitor the activities of non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

The measure was given a final reading by the Russian parliament on 23 December and now has to be approved by the upper house of parliament and promulgated by the President. Despite more than 62 amendments to the original draft, the proposed law allows complete surveillance of the activity and workings, especially financial, of all NGOs operating in Russia.

They will have to go through a lengthy and painstaking registration procedure after examination of their statutes by an administrative body not specified in the law. The prosecutor-general will be able at any time to ask the NGOs to explain their financial situation and will have the power to dissolve them.

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Letter in Russian

23 December 2005 Reporters Without Borders outraged by adoption of law on NGOs

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Reporters Without Borders described a law passed by the parliament, the Duma, tightening the authorities’ grip on all non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in Russia as “unworthy of a country that calls itself democratic”.

The new law received its third and final reading on 23 December, despite a wave of international protest and unanimous objections from within Russian civil society.

The worldwide press freedom organisation said the law was particularly revealing of the climate of suspicion hanging over every human rights organisation, whether foreign or Russian. It urged President Vladimir Putin not to sign the law, which it said posed a particular danger to free expression in Russia.

The law has been approved after more than six months of haggling between the parliament and the Kremlin, which initiated it, shrewdly insisting that the Russian deputies agree more than 62 amendments as a result of the general outcry provoked by some of its measures. At the outset, top government officials and the intelligence services of the FSB (formerly the KGB) had lambasted humanitarian organisations and NGOs, accusing them of being spies in the service of foreign interests.

The Russian president at the start declared himself totally opposed to funding of any national or international NGO by non-Russian organisations, suspecting them of carrying out subversive political activities.

Putin finally backed down on a ban on foreign NGOs having permanent representations in Russia. However a new article specifies that any NGO’s operations could be halted if it represented a threat to “Russian sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, national unity and origin, cultural heritage or national interests”.

Russian NGOs have condemned the fact that the law has been drawn up in a deliberately vague way so as to allow the justice ministry to step up a crackdown against them.

The law will now have to be approved b

y the upper house of parliament and promulgated by the head of state next week.

9 December 2005

Plea to parliamentary speaker Boris Gryzlov to block a draft law to crack down on NGOs

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Reporters Without Borders has urged parliamentary speaker Boris Gryzlov in an open letter to reconsider a harsh law on Russian Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) passed on its first reading before parliament on 23 November 2005.

The law is likely to be adopted at its second reading on 9 December.

Paris, 9 December 2005

Dear Mr President,

Reporters Without Borders, an international organisation that defends press freedom, is particularly concerned about a draft law on NGOs which is due to have its second reading before the Duma on 9 December 2005.

The law would compel all human rights NGOs to register with the Russian authorities, the practical details of which seem to us particularly hazardous.

Most seriously, it bans Russian NGOs from receiving money from foreign donors and prevents foreign organisations from having representatives in Russia. It would also seriously compromise the NGOs’ independence, since they will have to explain their work and reveal their sources of funding and their spending to the State.

We fear the application of these particularly restrictive measures would certainly entail a dramatic weakening of Russian civil society. It is not acceptable to bring an entire sector of the country’s activities under control on the pretext of the fight against terrorism and money-laundering.

Reporters Without Borders is currently experiencing serious problems in Russia getting its correspondents registered and has been unable, for the same reasons, to set up a representative office.

However, the state of Russia’s media fully justifies the need for our work since many journalists are suffering censorship or have been pushed into self-censorship. In the latest case, Olga Romanova, has been forced to resign from Ren-Tv after being ousted from her political analysis programme.

US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Terry Davis, and former President of the Soviet Union, Mikhaïl Gorbachev and many other figures have already expressed their deep concern about this law.

We urge you, Mr President, to take our request into consideration and to allow us to continue to defend human rights in Russia. We hope you will be able to intervene in time with the deputies before this law goes into force that could have such harmful and lasting consequences for Russian civil society.

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