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Russian lawmakers may restrict groups
(AP)
Updated: 2005-11-24 09:18

Russian Lawmakers moved to clamp down on foreign funded groups Wednesday amid growing Kremlin unease with organizations that promote human rights and democracy. Critics called it an effort by President Vladimir Putin to broaden his power.

The proposal to severely restrict foreign-funded nongovernment organizations gained approval in the Russian parliament's lower house on the first of three readings.

Russian Lawmakers moved to clamp down on foreign funded groups Wednesday amid growing Kremlin unease with organizations that promote human rights and democracy. Critics called it an effort by President Vladimir Putin to broaden his power.
Russian police work to detain environmental protesters near to the State Duma, lower parliament house, in Moscow on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2005. [AP]
 

The bill requires local branches of foreign NGOs to reregister as Russian entities subject to stricter financial and legal restrictions. It also further increases government control of NGOs, allowing official oversight of their finances and activities.

Foreign-funded groups say the bill, approved by a 370-18 margin, could effectively terminate their Russian operations if it is eventually enacted.

"The express purpose of this law is to emasculate the NGO community," said Holly Cartner, regional director of U.S.-based Human Rights Watch.

The group said the bill would "eviscerate" civil society in Russia if passed.

The Kremlin has shown increasing displeasure with nonprofit groups that criticize the government and advocate democracy. Such groups played significant roles in the mass demonstrations that brought opposition leaders to power in the former Soviet republics of Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.

Putin told human rights experts at a Kremlin meeting this summer that Russia would not allow foreign organizations to finance political activities. In May, the head of the Federal Security Service, the main successor agency to the KGB, accused U.S. and other foreign intelligence services of using NGOs to spy on Russia and foment upheaval in ex-Soviet republics.

Authors of the bill say the measure will make the NGOs' work more transparent. Critics, however, say it is meant to silence Russia's remaining voices of opposition.

The bill gives Russian authorities the right to conduct yearly checks at NGO offices and issue warnings if they are found in violation of regulations including fire codes, health rules and environmental laws.

A court could close down a nonprofit group if its activity violates the Russian constitution, or if it is linked to extremist activity or money laundering.

The new restrictions include a tax on contributions from donors not on a government list of tax-exempt sponsors and a requirement for founders and managers to be Russian citizens or permanent residents. For example, the rules would bar Human Rights Watch's Western leadership from setting its policy and agenda in Russia, which would likely lead to its closure there, a spokesman said.

Alexander Cherkasov of the Memorial rights organization a highly respected Russian group that receives foreign funding said the law could lead to the closure of Western donors' local offices, thus stripping the group of its funding.



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