On June 4 President Vladimir Putin signed a law which gives the Ministry of Justice the right to add non-commercial organizations that receive financial support from abroad in the register of foreign agents.
In the six days since the law came into force, five NGOs have been registered as foreign agents by the ministry. This includes the election watch dog “Golos”, which received the first warnings that it would have to register after it won the prestigious Andrey Sakharov prize, given by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.
The law on foreign agents was introduced in June 2012. Until the new law was signed last week, NGOs themselves were responsible for submitting their own applications for the registry, or pay a fine if they failed to do so. Only one organization had registered – the NGO “Promoting Competition in the CIS”.
Court hearing about Humanist Youth Movement Also organizations in Murmansk have started to feel the pressure on civil society. On June 16 there will be a court hearing in Murmansk where the prosecutor will demand that the Murmansk-based youth organization “Humanist Youth Movement” should be registered as a foreign agent.
The reason for the demand is that the organization is receiving financial support from the German Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and the General Consulate of the Netherlands in St. Petersburg for publication of the “Youth Human Rights Paper”, which comes out once a month and has a circulation of 500 copies in addition to being available on-line.
The prosecutor’s accusations are based on a “scientific consultancy study” of five issues of the paper made by a linguistic expert, who states that that the paper has “hidden calls for actions against the ruling party,” Tatiana Kulbakina from “Humanist Youth Movement” writes in 7x7. According to the organization itself, it is not involved in any political activities. “We don’t consider cultural and educational activities, even if they contain critical remarks about the social and economic development, to be politics,” leader of “Humanist Youth Movement” Zhanna Ponomarenko says to 7x7.
“I do not know how we can explain such a clear increased interest in our work – maybe it is just a need to practice the law on foreign agents. But now the situation is that we don’t know what the status will be after the trial. Perhaps if we are compelled to register as a foreign agent, we will have to close the organization.”
Nature and Youth under investigation Also the environmental organization “Nature and Youth” (Priroda i Molodezh, PiM) in Murmansk is under investigation. “We are still undergoing testing by the Ministry of Justice so it is too early to say what the results will be,” leader of Nature and Youth Naylya Ibragimova says to BarentsObserver via social media. “This testing takes place once every three years and concerns all NGOs. Certainly within this they will also check us on the “foreign agents” regulations.”
Nature and Youth is cooperating closely with its Norwegian sister organization “Natur og Ungdom” and gets most of its funding from Norway. “We have feared this development for a long time,” Dagny Hovind, coordinator of Nature and Youth’s cooperation with Russia says to BarentsObserver. “PiM has been our close partner for 15 years, and we have been following the development following the law on NGOs closely. We have seen that the demand for reporting and the pressure that has been put on PiM has only intensified.”
According to Hovind, the pressure has almost crushed PiM. They have been threatened to be thrown out their office, they have had razzias and are burden with so many administrative tasks just to be able to keep the office that is affects their capacity to work on environmental issues.
“The job ‘Priroda i Molodezh’ does in Russia is extremely important,” Hovind says. “By virtue of being an independent democratic organization for youth working on environmental issues, they have a unique position in the Russian society, especially in the Murmansk region.”