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Russia enforces NGO 'foreign agents' law

Russia, pursuant to its attempt to crack down on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) within its borders, on Wednesday raided the Moscow headquarters of Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Transparency International [advocacy websites]. The most recent seizure [Guardian report] came two days after the government raided [NYT report] the local office of Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website]. The raids are based on the NGO 'foreign agents' law that was signed [JURIST report] by President Vladimir Putin [official website, in Russian] last year. The law labels all NGOs that accept international funding as "foreign agents" and requires them to register with the Ministry of Justice [official website]. They are also obligated to file quarterly reports with Justice officials. In case of failure, fines of over USD $15,000 are imposed. Russia's enforcement of the law has been heavily criticized by the international community as undermining freedom of speech and civil society within the country. The US has expressed its concern over the systematic unannounced inspections of NGOs. Germany and France have summoned Russian diplomats in their country for an explanation. Russia stated they are ensuring NGOs are complying with the law. It was reported that the government already has conducted unannounced searches on more than 80 organizations across the country.

The legislation became effective in November after it was approved by the Russian Federal Council [official website, in Russian; JURIST report], the upper house of parliament, and by the State Duma [official website, in Russian; JURIST report]. Since then, activists have vowed to challenge it. They appealed [JURIST report] to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] claiming that the law contains errors and thus, must be amended. The word "foreign agent" in Russia is nearly synonymous with the word "spy" and many observers believe the law is intended to discredit the works of NGOs. In August, Executive Director of Greenpeace International Kumi Naidoo called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to refrain from implementing [JURIST report] the new law. Three UN experts urged Russia to reject the bill [JURIST report] prior to its passage.

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