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Russia court receives first official complaint against new NGO law

Russia's Constitutional Court [official website] on Tuesday received the first official complaint against the country's new law [JURIST report] which requires political non-governmental organizations (NGOs) receiving funding from abroad to register as "foreign agents." Kostroma Center was fined 300,000 rubles (USD $9,000) for organizing a roundtable with US diplomats, which investigators said counted as "political activity." The Center filed the complaint after the Sverdlovsk regional court upheld the fines. Critics of President Vladimir Putin [official website, in Russian; JURIST news archive] say the new law is aimed at discrediting organizations that have spoken out against Russia's leader and have helped provide support to the biggest protest movement against his nearly 13-year rule. Russian lawyer Ramil Akhmetgaliev said that the law violates at least five articles of the Russian Constitution, and "forces people and organizations to give up their beliefs and violates the equality of citizens' rights regardless of their belonging to this or that organizations and the right to participate in managing state affairs." Kostroma Center has since elected to close and operate as an unregistered public movement. Human rights activists hope that the court's decision will also explain the term "political activity" because they say almost any NGO may be subject to prosecution given a loose interpretation.

Russia's Federal Council [official website], the upper house of parliament, approved the law [JURIST report] last July 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. Since the NGO law took effect last November [JURIST report], Russian activists have vowed to challenge it. Leading rights groups, including Memorial [official website], election-monitoring body Golos [official website, in Russian] and the Moscow Helsinki Group [official website] have all chosen to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website]. 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. In April 2013, Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] released a report [text, PDF] analyzing the law and calling for its repeal.

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