The Law on “Foreign Agents” and the Views of Kremlin Officials

posted 8 Dec 2016, 01:52 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 8 Dec 2016, 02:01 ]
6 December 2016


At a meeting with members of the presidential Human Rights Council [on 5 December], first deputy head of the Presidential Administration Sergei Kirienko discussed the situation regarding the Law on "Foreign Agents."[1] The Kremlin believes that, while the law cannot be repealed, it could be improved. Specifically, this might mean amending the law to specify that “political activity” does not include making appeals to the state authorities.

This was reported by Radio Liberty on 6 December.

Also discussed at the meeting was the exclusion of a number of human rights defenders from working both in the Public Oversight Commissions [2] and on the case of Il’dar Dadin.[3]

A meeting is expected to take place shortly between President Vladimir Putin and members of the Human Rights Council.

The period 2015-16 has seen a tightening of (often arbitrary) state control over NGOs in Russia and the creation of new legal problems threatening their existence. As pointed out in a study entitled “Contrary to the Development of Civil Activism: Russian NGOs Following the Adoption of the ‘Foreign Agents’ Law,” this has put in jeopardy both the legal existence of NGOs and their activities as an essential element of an independent civil society.

By the end of 2015, 109 Russian NGOs had been registered as “foreign agents." Organisations named by Justice Ministry officials as “agents” have been ordered to pay disproportionately large fines. They have faced reputational and financial costs, and some have been forced into liquidation.

The NGOs most likely to be targeted and persecuted are those working on environmental and human rights issues. At its 70th session in 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution recognising the important role played by human rights defenders and their need for protection. The resolution was supported by 117 UN member-states.

In a special report published in 2015, the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner, Nils Muiznieks, noted that “the new regulations have led to the closure of a whole number of human rights organisations, while other NGOs are now engaging in self-censorship, protecting themselves by refusing to take part in actions that might be defined as political.”

The international human rights organisation Memorial underlined in a special report [4] that “…the conception of the Law on ‘Foreign Agents’ is not based on the principle of the rule of law. There is no problem that this law would resolve. It is clear that the intentions of those who initiated this law were purely political and that the law’s wording is deliberately ambiguous. The Law effectively introduces the presumption of guilt for an artificially selected group of organisations...”.

The world’s largest human rights organisation, Amnesty International, has argued that “the ‘so-called’ Law on Foreign Agents is one of a series of measures aimed at suppressing civil society and freedom of expression [in Russia].”

Russian NGOs have repeatedly expressed their opposition to the law and appealed against it, including to the European Court of Human Rights.

Human rights defenders argue that the law is clearly discriminatory and has an extremely negative historical context. Ninety members of the Russian PEN Centre,[5] together with historians, members of the Free Historical Society and other Russian academics have appealed to the Ministry of Justice demanding an end to the arbitrary treatment of NGOs listed as "foreign agents."


[1] See also: 'Kremlin Official Admits Problems With Foreign Agent Law,' The Moscow Times, 6 December 2016. The "Law on 'Foreign Agents'", signed into law in July 2012 and officially entitled “On Amendments to Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation Regarding the Regulation of the Activities of Non-Governmental Organisations Performing the Functions of a Foreign Agent,” requires NGOs that receive foreign funding and engage in vaguely defined “political activity” to register with the Justice Ministry and declare themselves “foreign agents,” a term that carries highly negative connotations in Russia.

[3] Set up in 2008, Public Oversight Commissions monitor the conditions in Russian penal institutions. See 'Общественная наблюдательная комиссия,' Wikipedia.

[4] In 2015, Il’dar Dadin became the first Russian citizen to be jailed for participating in more than two unsanctioned public gatherings in 180 consecutive days under a law adopted in 2014. His case attracted fresh attention in November 2016 when he complained that he had been tortured in prison.

[5] See: 'Statement by Memorial: The Law on "Foreign Agents" is too bad to be amended,' in English, 15 November 2013.

[6] An organisation of writers dedicated to promoting literature and freedom of expression. See PEN International

Translated and annotated by Elizabeth Teague