Individuals who receive money from outside Russia will also be branded ‘Foreign agent’ under draft law presented in the Russian Parliament. Currently, the proposed amendment will extend the definition of ‘Foreign agent’ to include citizens and groups in Russia that are involved in political activities and receive financial support from abroad.
Foreign Agent Law
Following the 2011 parliamentary elections in Russia, there was a surge in public anger. Primary sites in Moscow were frequently clamped by protestors who claimed the election was rigged and wanted Putin to leave the office. People who hold absolute power are often surprised when they see their subjects rising against them, so naturally, the Russian government was shocked into action.
A wave of new legislations, targetting freedom of assembly, independence of media, and public image of NGOs, were implemented. It was a measure taken to prevent the growing influence of the West on the delicate political situation of Russia.
‘Foreign Agent’ Law or as it is officially called ‘On Amendments to Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation regarding the Regulation of the Activities of Non-profit Organisations Performing the Functions of a Foreign Agent.’
This 2012 legislation requires non-profit organizations to declare themselves in the official address as ‘ Foreign Agent’ if they receive money from outside Russia, or are engaged in activities linked to Russian politics.
When an NGO specifically integrates the term Foreign agent in an official dissertation, it is linked with the idea of espionage and deceit. The general population losses faith in the reliability of the service, such non-profits provide.
Furthermore, the legislation dictates extensive audits and complete disclosure of the financial statements, along with special supervisory powers of the state to closely monitor the NGO’s functioning and disrupt any unfavorable internal affairs. Foreign inhabitants and people without a state find it considerably hard to seek the NGO’s services, and the NGOs themselves get subjected to frequent raids and harassment.
A Notable case to cite is of the GOLOS Association (The Movement for Defence of Voters’ Rights), a Russian organization founded in 2000 to preserve the electoral rights of citizens and to nurture civil society. In 2011, GOLOS election observation monitors registered more than 4,500 reports asserting illegal campaign methods, extortion, bribery, and harassment.
In 2012, GOLOS received the Andrei Sakharov Freedom Award of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee but turned down the prize money. Russian Ministry of justice twisted the facts of the award ceremony and labeled GOLOS as the first Foreign agent under the new legislation which was in effect from earlier that year.
After two years, police raided Golos offices in lieu of a tax investigation against the head of the group’s branch in Samara and finally, in 2016, the court ordered an indefinite suspension of the organization accompanied by another ruling to liquidate its assets within the next six months.
The New Bill
The new law draft will extend the Foreign Agent law to ‘individuals’ who are receiving money from abroad. They will be forced to refer to themselves as Foreign agents in official letters and interaction with authorities. Civil service and municipal government jobs will be unavailable to all labeled as Foreign agents, this law will mark the beginning of a witch hunt for civil society groups and human rights defenders.
After independent NGOs, the Russian government is all set to demonize activists and people who stand up for justice and liberty. The Russian government, by this law, defines all those who strive for the preservation of human rights as evil “agents of the West” conspiring to destabilize the government.
YouTube and Facebook block is also a part of the proposed regulation under the guise of alleged discriminatory practices committed by western internet platforms and media against Russians.
Putin is hell-bent on tightening his grip on the country with laws that selectively target freedom of assembly and expression in the name of propagating nationalism. Even the education sector is not spared as more initiatives are likely to be employed to combat “anti-Russian propaganda” among students.
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