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NGO Bill
April 3, 2006 13:07

Russia’s Federation Council, the upper house of the parliament, has approved one of the most controversial bills this year to step up control over non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Earlier this month, the bill was passed by the State Duma, the lower house of the parliament. 357 deputies voted for and 20 against the bill, with 7 abstentions.

President Vladimir Putin is expected to sign the bill into law.

Human rights groups and western states claim the government may use the provisions to hamper NGO activities by closing an opposition organization down. They say the bill gives the powers that be too much control. The White House has even urged the Russian Parliament to revoke the bill. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice strongly objected to it: "We would certainly hope that the importance of nongovernmental organizations to a stable democratic environment would be understood by the Russian government," Rice said at a news conference with Ukraine's West-leaning president, Viktor Yushchenko.

The Daily Telegraph has produced an analysis of the implications and a look into the bill in context of the recent changes in political and economic policies.

The paper reads the provisions of the bill will “saddle NGOs with burdensome bureaucratic reporting requirements and face them with the threat of closure if they compromise Russia's "sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, national unity and originality, cultural heritage and national interests".

“Such sweeping terms are classic instruments of authoritarian rule,” it concludes.

Russian parliamentarians argue such suggestions pointing out that it is a widespread practice to protect the state from those who foment discord and track down spies working under the cover of NGOs. Other claims include money laundering and terrorist activities.

The first draft was heavily reworked before the second reading and, as the deputies say, turned into a totally new bill. It now includes most of the ideas voiced by the president, the Public Chamber and the Council of Europe. Communists spoke against the bill and moved to wait until the Public Chamber files an official review but the proposal was rejected.

The first draft disallowed foreigners working with NGOs. This was scrapped, together with the requirement for the existing organizations to re-register their branches as local entities. The president suggested NGOs should rather inform the Federal Registration Service no later than 6 months after the bill has taken effect.

The key provisions feature the requirement to register (valid for newly set up NGOs) and possibility for the government to control their finances.

The Federal Registration Service cannot conduct any checks on its own but can request tax or law enforcement or other financial bodies to do it. Such checks shall be carried out no oftener than once a year. NGOs must also provide confirmation the funding they allocate is received by the corresponding natural persons and legal entities.

NGOs are not authorized to register in closed administrative territories. If their application to register is rejected, they can appeal the decision in court.



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