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Russia: Orthodox Church concerned about anti-foreign NGOs bill

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.asianews.it/news-en/Orthodox-Church-concerned-about-anti-foreign-NGOs-bill-25181.html 07/03/2012 16:23 Orthodox Church concerned about anti-foreign
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      http://www.asianews.it/news-en/Orthodox-Church-concerned-about-anti-foreign-NGOs-bill-25181.html

      07/03/2012 16:23

      Orthodox Church concerned about anti-foreign NGOs bill
      by Nina Achmatova

      Foreign-funded Russian NGOs involved in political activities must
      register as foreign agents. Since the Orthodox Church receives funds
      from its foreign dioceses, it is concerned it might come under closer
      scrutiny. Failure to register could mean fines and up to four years in jail.

      Moscow (AsiaNews) – The Russian Orthodox Church could be affected by a
      controversial bill that requires foreign-funded NGOs involved in
      “political” activities to register as “foreign agents” or risk hefty
      fines and imprisonment, this according to Mikhail Fedotov, head of
      Russia’s Presidential Council on Human Rights. The latter is currently
      vetting the draft law, set to be introduced in the Duma (Russian
      parliament) next Thursday, but which could become law as early as this fall.

      According to the bill, Russian NGOs that engage in political activities,
      act for foreign powers or foreign donors, or receive foreign funds must
      be register as “foreign agents,” display the label “foreign agent” on
      their website and publications and subject themselves to closer
      government scrutiny. If an NGO fails to register within 90 days of the
      law’s coming into force, members could face four-year prison terms and
      300,000 ruble (US$ 9,300) fines.

      “The proposed legislation is too wide in reach,” Kremlin human rights
      chief Mikhail Fedotov told Russian news agencies. “The law could even
      concern the Russian Orthodox Church, as the law relates to any
      non-commercial organization that receives funds from foreign citizens,”
      he noted. “And, of course, the Orthodox Church receives donations from
      abroad.”

      NGOs now fear a government crackdown. For the Kremlin, they have always
      been a destabilising factor in Russia.

      United Russia Deputy Alexander Sidyakin, who drafted the bill, the goal
      is to prevent foreign governments from interfering in Russian domestic
      affairs. He insists that his bill is inspired by international practice,
      citing the United States.

      The bill has Kremlin support, the Vedomosti newspaper wrote. In
      December, when protests broke out following allegations of fraud in the
      presidential election, then Prime Minister and frontrunner Vladimir
      Putin accused US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of instigating unrest.

      Civil society groups, from WWF to Golos, a vote-monitoring organisation,
      have warned that the draft law would violate “democratic standards.”

      For Human Rights Watch, the measures are “clearly excessive and
      unnecessary,” pointing out that all Russian NGOs already publish
      financial reports, as required by Russian law.

      Elena Panfilova, of Transparency International Russia, calls the bill
      “psychological terrorism”. In her view, “they want to breathe down our
      neck, but we are used to it and have nothing to hide. Our work will go
      ahead without foreign funds if need be.”
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