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Putin urged not to implement NGO 'foreign agents' law

Executive Director of Greenpeace International [advocacy website], Kumi Naidoo, on Tuesday called on Russian President Vladimir Putin [official website, in Russian; JURIST news archive] to refrain from implementing a new law [materials, in Russian] that labels rights groups that receive overseas funding as "foreign agents," a term often associated with "spies" in Russia. The law, already passed by both houses of Russia's parliament and signed by Putin, provides that foreign-funded non-governmental organizations dealing with "political activity," such as Greenpeace Russia, must register with the Ministry of Justice [official website] as "foreign agents," and that they must also file quarterly reports with Justice officials. Penalties for an organization's noncompliance include six months' suspension without a court order and, for individuals, up to three years in prison. Naidoo criticized the law [Reuters report] as both "backward-looking" and "anti-democratic," sentiments that have not been uncommon since the president's reelection in May. Russia, on the other hand, has parried criticisms by labeling them a "gross interference" in its domestic affairs.

Greenpeace International is not alone in its views of Russia's new "foreign agents" law. Last month the US State Department [official website] claimed [Reuters report] it had "deep concern" about the new bill, but was likewise reminded by Moscow that such an issue involves domestic rather than international policy. Russia's Federal Council [official website], the upper house of parliament, approved the bill [JURIST report] last month much to the dismay of Putin's critics, who consider the bill an effort to curb free speech [RFE/RL report] and the right to assemble. Additionally, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] has stated [Reuters report] that Putin's recent regime is regressing into a more restrictive, Soviet-style type of government where freedoms are not recognized. The legislation was approved [JURIST report] by the State Duma [official website, in Russian], the lower house of parliament, only a few days prior. Three UN experts urged Russia to reject the bill [JURIST report] prior to its passage.

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