Three UN independent experts on Tuesday urged authorities in Russia to revise a law [press release] that is having "obstructive, intimidating and stigmatizing effects" on the country's non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and non-commercial organizations (NCOs) [JURIST op-ed]. The law, adopted in November, requires NGOs and NCOs to register as "organizations performing the functions of foreign agents" if they want to engage in any sort of political activity and receive foreign funding. Under this registration, the government can closely monitor them and impose severe penalties. Special Rapporteur on the rights to peaceful assembly and of association Maina Kiai noted that according to international human rights law, this close monitoring by the government lacks any appropriate legal basis. Moreover, human rights defenders could be considered to engage in "political activity," and the law could infringe on their ability to advocate and raise human rights issues. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Margaret Sekaggya stressed:
We already warned against the extensive requirements contained in this law for NCOs allegedly "engaging in political activities," which could infringe on the right of human rights defenders to publically raise human rights issues and conduct advocacy work. Defenders should be able to participate in public affairs by raising issues of public interest in a critical way, irrespective of where their funding comes from. This type of work should not been seen as a political activity but as an essential component of an open and democratic society.The Special Rapporteurs urged Russia to amend the law to comply with international law standards, ending the adverse effects on hundreds of organizations and human rights defenders.
The Russian Parliament approved the law [JURIST report] last July, with many critics arguing that President Vladimir Putin [official website, in Russian] is taking steps backwards toward a more restrictive government. Putin signed the bill into law a week later amongst opponents' claims its purpose is to curb free speech. The government has enforced the law [JURIST report] despite criticism, raiding the Moscow headquarters of Human Rights Watch (HRW), Transparency International and Amnesty International [advocacy websites] in March. Last month, HRW and AI released reports criticizing the limiting of free speech since Putin's return to the presidency.