[JURIST] The Russian Federal Council [official website], the upper house of parliament, approved a bill on Wednesday that labels nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that accept international funding as "foreign agents." Critics of President Vladimir Putin [official website, in Russian] argue that this is another piece of legislation that is intended to curb free speech [RFE/RL report] and the right to assembly. Also on Wednesday UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile; JURIST news archive] stated that Putin's new regime is taking steps backward [Reuters report] into a more restrictive, Soviet-style type of government where freedoms are not recognized. In Russia the term "foreign agents" is often associated with "spies." The legislation has already been approved [JURIST report] by the State Duma [official website, in Russian] and now awaits Putin's signature.
This bill is viewed by critics as being part of a continuing effort to crackdown on the freedom of speech and assembly in Russia. Earlier this month the State Duma approved [JURIST report] the third reading of a controversial Internet regulation bill. The online encyclopedia Wikipedia had shut down its site [JURIST report] on earlier this month in a one-day protest of the legislation, which it said in an article "may become the basis for real censorship on the internet." In June Putin signed into law a controversial bill which greatly increases penalties for protesters [JURIST report] who violate demonstration regulations. Critics of the bill stated that the new penalties, which included a 150-fold increase in the fine for participating in an unsanctioned rally, were draconian. In May prominent Russian gay rights activist Nikolai Alekeyev became the first to be convicted [JURIST report] under a St. Petersburg city ordinance that prohibits the spreading "homosexual propaganda" to minors. People who oppose the new law, which was introduced in November and signed into law [JURIST reports] in April, claim it will prevent gay rights groups from being able to assemble in public.