Russia begins blacklisting “undesirable” organizations
Russian authorities today used a draconian new law on “undesirable” foreign organizations for the first time to blacklist the US-based charity National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in an attempt to cut a funding lifeline to Russian NGOs, said Amnesty International.
Using the law, which came into force in May this year, the Office of the Prosecutor General announced that NED’s work in the country is now effectively illegal and asked the Ministry of Justice to register it as an “undesirable organization”.
“This reprehensible move to blacklist so-called ‘undesirable organizations’ marks another low point for Russian authorities that have systematically sought to slash and burn the country’s civil society in recent years,” said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International.
“The new law targeting foreign organizations working in Russia is expressly designed to curtail freedom of expression and association. Its continued use will have a devastating impact on the work of national organizations that defend human rights of ordinary Russians and keep the authorities in check.”
The Office of the Prosecutor General today announced that NED’s activities “pose a threat to ‘constitutional order of the Russian Federation, defence potential and security of the state’”.
Among NED’s alleged infractions were its donations to commercial and non-profit organizations that independently monitor elections, as well as for undefined “political activities” and “discrediting service in the [Russian] armed forces”.
Over the years, NED’s funding has supported frontline human rights and other civil society activities in Russia.
Other international organizations with Russian offices targeted in the near future.
Since 21 July, at least two of those earmarked, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation, have announced decisions to close down their philanthropic work in Russia to avoid the prospect of being targeted.
“Sadly with the ‘undesirables’ law, its bark is proving as bad as its bite, and the mere threat of being targeted is already having a stigmatizing effect on human rights defenders, NGOs and charities doing vital and legitimate work in Russia,” said John Dalhuisen.
The crackdown on foreign organizations follows in the footsteps of a separate 2012 law aimed at stopping the work of so-called “organizations performing the function of foreign agents”, Russian NGOs which receive foreign funding and engage in loosely defined “political activities”.
Under the law, NGOs labelled “foreign agents” must be registered as such. At the same time, there is an unprecedented smear campaign waged against NGOs in the government-controlled media.
In all, 81 NGOs have been listed in the Ministry of Justice’s register of “foreign agents”, seven of which have later been declassified as such. Five new NGOs were added to the list only this month, including “Golos-Ural”, part of a country-wide network of election watchdogs, and two human rights NGOs.
Among the listed “foreign agents”, at least 24 have benefitted from NED’s funding in the past.
“The direct targeting of foreign funders is calculated to dry up philanthropic support to Russian NGOs that the authorities deem a threat,” said John Dalhuisen.
“The authorities should move to repeal the insidious laws on ‘foreign agents’ and ‘undesirable’ foreign organizations without delay.”
Many organizations blacklisted as “foreign agents” have engaged in lengthy legal battles against the authorities, while others have chosen to shut down in protest at the smear campaign against them and their work.
In the past week, the Interregional Committee against Torture became the latest organization to do so. This award-winning NGO was set up by Russian human rights defenders in 2000 to investigate and denounce torture and other ill-treatment in police custody and prisons.
The NGO, which has a current caseload of around 200 allegations of abuses in detention, announced at a Moscow press conference today that it will keep on doing its crucial work under a new name, the Committee to Prevent Torture.