Proposed Russian Bill on “Undesirable Foreign and International Organisations” One Step Closer

In January of this year Russian authorities took new steps to further shrink the space that civil society can operate in by proposing a new law on “undesirable foreign and international organisations”. The lower house of the Russian parliament, the Duma, adopted the bill on 20 January in its first reading with only two deputies voting against it.

If passed any foreign or international organisation “who poses a threat to the defence capacity and security of the state or to public order, public moral or to public health” can be designated as undesirable by Russia’s Prosecutor General.

The trajectory of the bill had stalled over recent months until 15 May when an overwhelming majority of Russian lawmakers voted in favour of the bill in its second reading. Only three of the 445 lawmakers involved in the decision making process voted against it. Four days later on May 19th lawmakers once again voted in favour by a large majority achieving the prerequisite of three readings before the bill is passed on for finalisation.

The bill will now be forwarded to the Upper House of Parliament for approval and from then on, to the President, who has the power to sign or veto the law.

“In yet another move to muzzle all civil society voices in Russia this proposed law will effectively sever the essential ties between Russian activists and international human rights organisations. We urge the Russian authorities to immediately halt the progression of this law and respect its international human rights obligations,” said Joanna Kurosz, Programme Director for Eurasia, Civil Rights Defenders

The bill if passed will make it harder for local human rights defenders to continue their vital work because the law essentially cuts off human rights activists from international civil society.

Violation of the law would land any offending Russian NGO or human rights defender involved with foreign civil society organisations with a fine of up to 600,000 Roubles ($10,000) or up to six years in prison.

Over the past year Civil Rights Defenders has seen several of its longstanding partner organisations in Russia registered under the Foreign Agents Law, which forces them to call themselves “foreign agents” – a term that is widely interpreted to mean spy or traitor.