[JURIST] The Constitutional Court of Russia [offical website] on Tuesday upheld [press release, in Russian] the constitutionality of a law requiring non-government organizations (NGOs) to register as “foreign agents” if they accept foreign funding. The law [materials, in Russian], passed in 2012, requires that all NGOs that accept foreign funding and engage in “political activity” must register as “foreign agents,” or face potential fines of up to 500,000 rubles (USD $14,000). The court noted in its ruling that there are no legal grounds in which to contend that the term “foreign agents” has a negative connotation dating back to the Soviet era, when the term was resonant with espionage and treason. The court also lowered the fine to 300,000 rubles (USD $8,400). Backers of the law, including President Vladimir Putin [official website], claim that the law is in the public interest and the interest of state sovereignty. Critics believe that the law violates fundamental human rights and has the potential to lead to abuses of other basic rights due to its lack of a clear definition for “political activity”.
This law and others have recently caused much controversy over human rights in Russia. In July 2012 this law was passed by the Russian Federal Council [JURIST report], causing a great deal of debate and opposition. Earlier that month the online encyclopedia Wikipedia shut down its website [JURIST report] 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 2012 Putin signed into law [JURIST report] a controversial bill which greatly increased penalties for protesters who violate demonstration regulations. In May 2012 prominent Russian gay rights activist Nikolai Alekeyev became the first to be convicted [JURIST report] under a St. Petersburg city ordinance that prohibits spreading “homosexual propaganda” to minors.