Russian FlagNGO Law Monitor: Russia

Introduction | At a Glance | Key Indicators | International Rankings
Legal Snapshot | Legal Analysis | Reports | News and Additional Resources
Last updated 22 January 2016

Update: On January 21, 2016, the Russian Ministry of Justice (MoJ) posted a draft amendment to the Russian Federal Law on Non-commercial Organizations (Law on NCOs), and specifically to the provision regarding how NCOs can be qualified as NCOs carrying out the functions of a foreign agent (Article 2 of the NCO Law). The draft contains a definition of “political activity”, which is relevant because “[c]onducting political activity” is one of the criteria which is required for an NCO to be qualified as an organization carrying out the functions of a foreign agent under Russia’s Law on NCOs. The definition contained in the draft amendment remains vague and may make it even easier for the government to qualify an activity as “political.”

Please see the "Pending Legislative Initiatives" below in this report for more details on draft laws.

Introduction

Since President Vladimir Putin’s re-election in 2012, a number of restrictive laws have been enacted in Russia. For example, on July 20, 2012, Russia enacted the Federal Law Introducing Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation Regarding the Regulation of Activities of Non-commercial Organizations Performing the Function of Foreign Agents, which came into effect on November 21, 2012. The law requires all non-commercial organizations (NCOs) to register in the registry of  NCOs, which is maintained by the Ministry of Justice, prior to receipt of funding from any foreign sources if they intend to conduct political activities. Such NCOs are called "NCOs carrying functions of a foreign agent." In addition, Russia ordered the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to halt its work in Russia by October 1, 2012, alleging that USAID was meddling in domestic politics by providing grants for election monitoring and other programs. By October 1, 2015, the Registry of NCOs Carrying Functions of Foreign Agents included 94 NCOs, with only seven of them registered voluntary (including three under pressure from considerable administrative penalties). 

The Federal Law of March 8, 2015 specified the grounds and procedure for exclusion from the register of NCOs performing functions of a foreign agent. As of October 1, 2015, six NCOs were excluded from the Registry because they had been liquidated. Four NCOs which submitted the application for withdrawal from the Registry on the grounds of the absence of foreign funding were also excluded from the registry (nevertheless they remain in the Registry with their changed status).

On December 21, 2012, the Duma adopted Federal Law 272-FZ on Measures of Influence of Persons Relating to Violation of Basic Human Rights and Freedoms of Citizens of the Russian Federation. This law was designed as a countermeasure to the U.S. Magnitsky Bill and sets restrictions for American citizens, who violated human rights and/or rights and freedoms of Russian citizens, on their entry to Russia, possession of property in Russia, and adoption of Russian children. The law also contains a number of provisions further restricting activities of NGOs, including the following:

  • Activities of NGOs participating in political activities or implementing other activities constituting a threat to the interests of Russia and receiving funds from US citizens or organizations shall be suspended and their assets seized (The Ministry of Justice may issue a decision to restart activities of an NGO whose activity was previously suspended after the NGO stops receiving funding from US citizens or organizations. ).
  • Citizens with dual US-Russian dual citizenship are prohibited from membership or participation in the management of Russian NGOs or registered offices of foreign NGOs that participate in political activities in Russia.
  • In case of the seizure of assets of an NGO, the NGO also has its rights suspended to found mass media outlets and is prohibited to conduct mass and public events and use bank accounts, with a few exceptions outlined in Federal Law on NCOs.

Other restrictives measures enacted since 2012 include:

  • In June 2012, 150-fold and 300-fold increases to existing fines for violating rules on the participation in and organization of public protests for individuals and organizations, respectively, were enacted.
  • In July 2012, defamation was reintroduced as a criminal offence, which mandates fines on media outlets of up to two million rubles (approximately $40,000) for producing “defamatory” public statements.
  • In July 2012, changes introduced to the Law on Information, Information Technologies and Information Protection increased Internet censorship and curbed the freedom of expression.
  • In October 2012, the Law on Amendments to the Criminal Code was adopted, which expands the definition of treason, making it so vague as to enable the government to brand a critic as a traitor.
  • In July 2014, amendments to legislation on public actions came into force, which affect the freedom of assembly as they introduce criminal penalties for repeated violations of public order during organized rallies as well as new administrative sanctions for violating the rules of assembly. The law also requires that journalists participating in public events have journalistic credentials and clearly visible identification. It also broadens rights of police during mass events.
  • In October 2014, changes to the Federal Law on Mass Media were introduced, which provide that a foreign state, an international organization or any organization under its control, a foreign entity, a Russian legal entity with foreign participation, a foreign citizen, a stateless person, or a citizen of the Russian Federation who is also a citizen of another state may not act as the founder of a media company. In addition, federal law prohibits any group in these categories to act as a media outlet or organization (legal entity) or to broadcast. These persons are also prohibited from owning, managing, or controlling, directly or indirectly, more than 20% of the shares or capital of a media entity.

In addition, on May 23, 2014, President Putin signed the Federal Law No. 129-FZ on Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation, which affects foreign and international NGOs and their partners in Russia (“the Law on Undesirable Organizations”). The Law on Undesirable Organizations introduced changes to a number of Russian laws, including the Law on Measures of Affecting Persons Related to Violation of Basic Human Rights and Freedoms of the Citizens of the Russian Federation (sometimes called the “Dima Yakovlev Law” or the “Anti-Magnitsky Law”), the Code of Administrative Offenses, Criminal Code, Criminal Procedure Code, and the Law On the Procedure of Exit from the Russian Federation and Entry into the Russian Federation.

According to the Law on Undesirable Organizations, a foreign or international NGO can be declared “undesirable” by the Prosecutor General or the Prosecutor General’s deputies if they decide that the NGO is a threat to national security. Activities of “undesirable” organizations in Russia are prohibited, and all persons participating in such activities are subject to administrative and criminal penalties. At this time, it is difficult to forecast all of the possible issues that will arise under the law, which entered into force on June 3, 2015.

Back to Top

At a Glance

Organizational Forms (1) Corporate entities, which are those where founders (participants, members) have the right to participate in their management (that is, they gain the right of membership), including consumer cooperatives, public organizations, associations (unions), political parties, and trade unions.

(2) Unitary entities are those where founders may not become participants (they do not acquire the right of membership), including public charitable funds, private institutions, autonomous non-commercial organizations, and religious organizations.
Registration Body Ministry of Justice
Approximate Number 227,196 as of October 1, 2015 (according to Ministry of Justice)
Barriers to Entry Certain persons, including foreign persons and stateless persons, may not become founders, members, or participants.

Registration procedures are overly bureaucratic, with excessive documentation requirements. Expanded justifications for unscheduled state audits. Compulsory inclusion into the Registry of NCOs Foreign Agents by the Ministry of Justice.
Barriers to Activities Burdensome reporting requirements. Supervisory power allowing for interference with internal affairs of public associations and NCOs.

Expanded justifications for unscheduled state audits.

Compulsory inclusion into the Registry of NCO Carrying Out Functions of Foreign Agents by the Ministry of Justice.

Activities of NCOs participating in political activities or implementing other activities constituting threat to the interests of Russia and receiving funds from US citizens or organizations shall be suspended and their assets seized.

Prohibition of all transactions involving finances or other assets to which an “undesirable organization” is party.

Prohibition on distributing information materials issued by an undesirable organization, and/or disseminated thereby, including through the media and/or with the use of the Internet and telecommunication network, as well as to produce or possess them for purposes of distribution.

Prohibition for an undesirable organization to implement programs (projects) in the territory of the Russian Federation, and for individuals and entities to engage in such activities on the territory of the Russian Federation.
Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy Potential restrictions against NCO advocacy activity may arise through application of criminal or administrative penalties codes.

Advocacy activities often are considered to be equal to political activities, which may lead to their inclusion on the foreign agents registry.
Barriers to International Contact Criminal responsibility for “state treason” has been introduced. The term is defined as “a deed, carried out by a citizen of the Russian Federation, damaging to the security of the Russian Federation, including espionage or passing to a foreign state, international or foreign organization or their representatives information that contains a state secret that has been entrusted and became known to the person through service, work or studies or other cases determined by Russian legislation, or providing financial material, technical, consultative or other assistance directed against security of the Russian Federation."

Administrative and criminal penalties for participation in activities of undesirable organizations on the territory of the Russian Federation
Barriers to Resources Foreign or international organizations wishing to make tax-exempt grants to Russian citizens or NCOs must be on a list of organizations approved by the Russian Government; access to this list is severely limited.

NCOs that carry out political activities and receive foreign funding are labeled "NCOs carrying functions of a foreign agent." The Ministry of Justice provides no process for an NCO to remove the label even if the NCO stops receiving funding from foreign sources.

Individuals and entities are prohibited from receiving assets from “undesirable” organizations
Barriers to Assembly

Excessive force used against peaceful protesters.

Strict regulation of public mass events.

Back to Top

Key Indicators

Population 146,400,000 (August 1, 2015)
Capital Moscow
Type of Government Federation
Life Expectancy at Birth 65,13 years (male), 76.30 years (female)
Literacy Rate 99.50%
Religious Groups According to an August 2012 survey, Russian Orthodox represent 52%, Muslim 6.5%, 4.1% are unaffiliated Christians, 1.5% adhere to other Orthodox Churches, 1.2% are Pagans, 0.5% are Buddhists, 0.2% are Orthodox Old Believers, 0.2% are Protestants, 25% are "spiritual but not religious" people, 13% are atheist and non-religious people and 5.5% of the total population have deemed themselves "undecided".
Ethnic Groups Russian 80.90%, Tatar 3.87%, Ukrainian 1.41%, Bashkir 1.15%, Chuvash 1.05%, other or unspecified 12.1% (2010 census)
GDP per capita US$ 18,670.53 (2013); US$19,829.49 (2014 est.)


Back to Top

International Rankings

Ranking Body Rank Ranking Scale 
(best – worst possible)
UN Human Development Index 57 (2014) 1 – 182
World Bank Rule of Law Index 26.4 (2014) 100 – 0
World Bank Voice & Accountability Index 20.2 (2014) 100 – 0
Transparency International 136 (2014) 1 – 176
Freedom House: Freedom in the World Status: Not free
Political Rights: 6
Civil Liberties: 6 (2015)
Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index
65 (2015) 178 – 1

Back to Top

Legal Snapshot

International and Regional Human Rights Agreements

Key International Agreements Ratification* Year
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Yes 1973
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1) Yes 1991
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) Yes 1973
Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention Yes 1956
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) Yes 1969
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Yes 1981 (as Soviet Union)
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women Yes 2004
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) Yes 1990
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW) No  --
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) Yes  2012
Regional Treaties    
European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms Yes 1998
Document of the Copenhagen Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the CSCE Yes 1990

* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty
** Country is a signatory to the agreement, but has not formally ratified it

Constitutional Framework

The Constitution of the Russian Federation (as amended December 30, 2008) includes the following relevant provisions:

Article 19 
1. All people shall be equal before the law and courts. 
2. The State shall guarantee the equality of rights and freedoms of man and  citizen, regardless of sex, race, nationality, language, origin, property and official  status, place of residence, religion, convictions, membership of public  associations, and also of other circumstances. All forms of limitations of human  rights on social, racial, national, linguistic or religious grounds shall be banned.
3. Men and women shall enjoy equal rights and freedoms and have equal  possibilities to exercise them.

Article 28: Everyone shall be guaranteed the freedom of conscience, the freedom of religion, including the right to profess individually or together with others any religion or to profess no religion at all, to freely choose, possess and disseminate religious and other views and act according to them. 

Article 29 
1. Everyone shall be guaranteed the freedom of ideas and speech.
2. Propaganda or agitation instigating social, racial, national or religious hatred  and strife shall not be allowed. The propaganda of social, racial, national,  religious or linguistic supremacy shall be banned.
3. No one may be forced to express his views and convictions or to reject them.
4. Everyone shall have the right to freely look for, receive, transmit, produce and  distribute information by any legal means. The list of data comprising state  secrets shall be determined by a federal law.
5. The freedom of mass communication shall be guaranteed. Censorship shall be  banned.

Article 30 
1. Everyone shall have the right to association, including the right to create trade  unions for the protection of his or her interests. The freedom of activity of public  association shall be guaranteed.
2. No one may be compelled to join any association and remain in it.

National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector

Relevant national-level laws and regulations affecting civil society include:

  • Constitution of the Russian Federation, December 12, 1993.
  • Civil Code of the Russian Federation, Part I, Federal Law No. 51-FZ, November 30, 1994 as amended.
  • Civil Code of the Russian Federation, Part II, Federal Law No. 14-FZ, January 26, 1996, as amended.
  • Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, July 13, 1996 N 63-FZ as amended
  • Code of Administrative Penalties, December 30, 2001 N 195-FZ, as amended
  • Tax Code of the Russian Federation, Part II, Federal Law No. 118-FZ, August 5, 2000, as amended.[Excerpts]
  • Federal Law No. 7-FZ, "On Non-Commercial Organizations," January 12, 1996, as amended (NCO Law).
  • Federal Law No. 135-FZ, "On Charitable Activities and Charitable Organizations," August 11, 1995, as amended (Charities Law).
  • Federal Law No. 82-FZ, "On Public Associations," May 19, 1995, as amended (Law on Public Associations).
  • Federal Law No. 95-FZ, "On Gratuitous Assistance," May 4, 1999, as amended (Law on Gratuitous Assistance).
  • Federal Law No. 54-FZ “On Assemblies, Meetings, Demonstrations, Marches and Picketing”, July 19, 2004, as amended.
  • Federal Law No. 275-FZ, "On the Procedure of Establishment and Use of Endowments of Non-commercial Organizations," December 30, 2006.
  • Resolution of the Government of the Russian Federation # 212, “On measures aimed at implementing certain provisions of the federal laws regulating activities of non-commercial organizations,” April 15, 2006.
  • Resolution of the Government of the Russian Federation# 485, June 28, 2008, Regarding the list of international organizations whose grants (free aid) obtained by Russian organizations shall be tax exempt and shall be accounted for as taxable income of taxpayers – recipients of such grants    
  • Decree of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation #222, "On the Procedure of State Control of NCO activity (including Spending of Resources)," June 22, 2006.
  • Order of the Ministry of Justice of Russia dd. November 30, 2012 № 223 "On procedure of maintaining Registry of Non-commercial Organizations, Carrying Functions of Foreign Agent
  • Federal law No. 139-FZ “On Amendments to Federal Law On Protecting Children from Information Harmful to Their Health and Development and Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation", July 28, 2012.
  • Federal Law No. 121-FZ "On Introducing Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation Regarding the Regulation of Activities of Non-commercial Organizations, Performing the Functions of Foreign Agents," July 20, 2012
  • Federal Law No.149-FZ "On Information, Information Technologies and Information Protection," as amended on July 30, 2012
  • Federal Law No. 272-FZ “On Measures of Influence of Persons, Relating to Violation of Human Rights, Rights and Freedoms of Citizens of the Russian Federation,” December 28, 2012
  • Federal Law of February 21, 2014 No. 18-FZ on Introducing Changes into Article 32 of the Federal Law on Non-Commercial Organizations.
  • Federal Law of May 5, 2014No. 99-FZ on Amendments to Chapter 4 of Part One of the Civil Code of the Russian Federation and Invalidation of Certain Provisions of Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation. 
  • Federal Law of June 4, 2014 No. 147-FZ on Introducing Changes into Article 32 of the Federal Law on Non-Commercial Organizations.
  • Federal Law of July 21, 2014 No. 212-FZ on the Basics of Public Control in the Russian Federation.
  • Federal Law of July 21, 2014 No. 236-FZ on Amending Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation related to Symbols of Non-Commercial Organizations.
  • Federal Law of July 21, 2014 No. 221-FZ on Amendments to Chapter 25.3 of Part Two of the Tax Code of the Russian Federation.
  • Federal Law of July 21, 2014 No. 242-FZ on Amending Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation in terms of Clarifying the Order of Personal Data Processing in Informational and Telecommunication Networks.
  • Federal Law of July 21, 2014 No. 258-FZ on Introducing Changes to Some Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation (making amendments to legislation on public actions).
  • Federal Law No. 303-FZ of October 14, 2014, Amendments to Article 31.1 of the Federal Law on Non-Commercial Organizations.
  • Federal Law of November 4, 2014 No. 327-FZ on Patronage of Arts.
  • Federal Law No. 329-FZ of November 4, 2014, Amendments to Article 31.1 of the Federal Law on Non-Commercial Organizations.
  • Federal Law No. 36-FZ of November 4, 2014, Amendments to Articles 1 and 4 of the Federal Law on National Cultural Autonomy.
  • Federal Law No. 440-FZ of December 22, 2014, Amendments to Article 31.1 of the Federal Law on Non-Commercial Organizations.
  • Federal Law No. 43-FZ of March 8, 2015, Amendments to Articles 27 and 38 of the Federal Law on Public Associations and Article 32 of the Federal Law on Non-Commercial Organizations.
  • Federal Law No. 67-FZ of March 30, 2015, Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation in Terms of Ensuring the Reliability of Information to be Submitted for State Registration of Legal Entities and Individual Entrepreneurs.
  • Federal Law No. 80-FZ of April 6, 2015, Amending the Federal Law on Freedom of Conscience and on Religious Associations and Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation. 
  • Federal Law No.76-FZ of April 6, 2015, on Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation in order to Improve the Activity of Ombudsmen.
  • Federal Law of May 2, 2015 No.117-FZ on Introduction of Amendments in Item 4 of Part 2 of Article 28.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses of the Russian Federation.
  • Federal Law of May 2, 2015 No. 115-FZ on Amendments to Article 31.1 of the Federal Law on Non-Commercial Organizations.
  • Federal Law No. 129-FZ of May 23, 2015 on Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation (on Undesirable Organizations)

Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives

  1. The draft Federal Law No. 300326-6 on Volunteering, which would create a legal framework for volunteering in Russia, was submitted by the Federation Council (the Upper Chamber of the Russian Parliament) in June 2013. If the existing version is adopted, volunteerism will be defined as an activity implementing state policy—not as any activity for public benefit or in pursuit of broader social goals. There will be a registry of volunteers, and anyone who wants to volunteer must have a special registration card which includes their personal information. Volunteering without being registered might be considered illegal.  Registered volunteers would enjoy benefits such as priority tickets to places they want to volunteer. The draft law also proposes to separate acts of charity (i.e. giving money) from volunteerism (i.e. providing volunteer services, for the purpose of implementing state policy). If adopted, the law would have a negative effect on the legal environment for volunteering. There is no assigned date yet for the first reading in the State Duma.
  2. A draft Federal Law Introducing Changes to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation, Improving the Legislation on Non-commercial Organizations Performing the Functions of Foreign Agents was posted by the Ministry of Justice on a special web portal on July 9, 2014. The original draft included more detailed reporting requirements for NCOs listed in the Foreign Agent Registry, authorized the MoJ to conduct audits of NCOs deemed foreign agents without prior notification, and made the definition of “political activities” even broader by adding “other actions” to the existing definition. The one positive change was to the ways that an NCO can be removed from the Foreign Agent Registry. The original draft law stated that if an NCO has not received foreign funding for one full year, as confirmed by Ministry of Justice audit, the NCO will be removed from the Registry. On September 30, 2014, the draft law was sent to the government commission for final review and approval before submission to the Duma. On February 24, 2015, the draft law passed the first reading in the State Duma.
  3. The draft Federal Law No.735304-6 on Amendments to Articles 4.5 and 23.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses of the Russian Federation was presented to the State Duma in March 2015. The draft law proposes to extend the period from three months to one year for the Prosecutor’s office to apply administrative penalties to NCOs for violations of the rules applied foreign agents (e.g. voluntary refusal of registration). In the explanatory note to the draft law, its initiators justify the need for this increase based on the time and expertise needed to confirm the presence of political activity. The draft law would also transfer cases of administrative offenses from the magistrate to federal judges. (Magistrates have relatively limited powers over cases of administrative offenses.) There have been several cases when NCOs which were included by the Ministry of Justice in the Foreign Agents Registry avoided penalties because the Prosecutor’s Office did not apply to the court for the administrative offense in time. A one-year period of limitation would permit even the “laziest” bureaucratic system to achieve administrative punishment for NCOs recognized as FAs. On June 16, 2015, the draft law passed the first reading. No developments were registered since then.
  4. A draft Federal Law No.750443-6 on Amendments to Some Legislative acts of the Russian Federation proposes to introduce into Russian legislation the notion of criminal liability of legal persons for certain types of crimes (in particular, for the legalization of property acquired through criminal activity, public calls for extremist activities, etc.). In addition to Russian legal entities, it proposes to consolidate the possibility of criminal prosecution of foreign legal entities, international organizations and their separate subdivisions. Introduction to Russian law of the notion of criminal liability of legal persons can be considered a negative development for because, first, it allows one to be charged for the same crime twice (a manager can be charged as a physical person and a legal entity can be charged as such); and, second, it allows termination of activities of a legal entity as one type of penalty for some crimes. The date of the first reading is not defined.
  5. A draft Federal Law No. 740480-6 on Amendments to Article 31.1 of the Federal Law on Non-Commercial Organizations (submitted by State Duma deputies) would expand the list of activities of SONCOs to include "the promotion of economic, social, cultural development of the far North and equated localities, including the development of tourism, popularization of historical and cultural heritage, natural sites". The date of the first reading is preliminary planned for November 2015.
  6. A draft Federal Law No. 766322-6 on Amendments to Article 31.1 of the Federal Law on Non-Commercial Organizations (submitted by Tambov Regional Duma deputies on April 10, 2015) expands the existing type of SONCOs’ activity, namely, “development of territorial public self-government and support of civic initiatives”. It was planned to begin consideration of this draft law in September 2015, but it was not discussed.
  7. On January 21, 2016, the Russian Ministry of Justice (MoJ) posted a draft amendment to the Russian Federal Law on Non-commercial Organizations (Law on NCOs), and specifically to the provision regarding how NCOs can be qualified as NCOs carrying out the functions of a foreign agent (Article 2 of the NCO Law). The draft contains a definition of "political activity", which is relevant because "[c]onducting political activity" is one of the criteria which is required for an NCO to be qualified as an organization carrying out the functions of a foreign agent under Russia's Law on NCOs. The definition contained in the draft amendment remains vague and may make it even easier for the government to qualify an activity as "political." The unofficial translation of the definition of "political activity" is included in the following:

    "A non-commercial organization, with exception of a political party, is recognized as conducting political activity, carried on the territory of the Russian Federation, irrelevant what goals and purposes are stated in its bylaws, if it carries out activities in the area of state-building and of the basics of the constitutional order of the Russian Federation, federal governance of the Russian Federation, ensuring the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Russian Federation, ensuring lawfulness, law order, state and public security, national defense, foreign policy, the socio-economic and national development of the Russian Federation, the functioning of the political system, bodies of state power and of local governance, legal regulation of the rights and freedoms of a person and citizen, with the purpose to influence the development and implementation of state policy, and the establishment of state bodies, local governance bodies, their decisions, and actions.

    These activities are carried out in the following forms:

    1. Participation in the preparation and conduct of public events, meetings, demonstrations, processions, or picketing, or in different compilations of these forms, in organizing and participating in public discussions and presentations;
    2. Participation in activity directed to achieve a specific outcome in elections and referenda, in monitoring the conduct of elections and referenda, in the establishment of elections commissions and commissions on referenda, and participation in activities of political parties;
    3. Public appeals to state bodies, local governance bodies, and their officials, as well as other actions influencing their activities, including on decision making, changing decisions, repealing laws, and other legal acts;
    4. Dissemination, including with the use of modern informational technologies, of evaluation of decisions made by government bodies and of policies implemented by these bodies;
    5. Carrying out activity directed at establishing public-political views and beliefs, including by conducting and making public the results of surveys of public opinion or other sociological research;
    6. Engaging citizens, including under-aged persons, in the activities described;
    7. Financing of the activities described. The following activities are not recognized as political: activity in the area of science, culture, art, health care, preventative care and the protection of public health, social services, social support for the protection of citizens, protection of mothers and children, social support for the disabled, propaganda advocating for a healthy lifestyle, physical culture and sport, defense of flora and fauna, and charitable activity, as well as activity in the area of promotion of charity and volunteering under the condition that such activity will not be carried for purposes provided in paragraph 2 section 6 of this article and are outside of these areas of activities."

  8. A draft Federal Law No. 781271-6, Amending Federal Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations and Other Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation (submitted by the Government). The draft law defines the powers of the Ministry of Justice to exercise control over the activities of religious organizations. The Ministry of Justice would be entitled, in particular, to inspect the activities of religious organizations for compliance with the law, including the receipt and disbursement of charitable donations. The draft law proposes to establish grounds for unscheduled inspections of religious organizations, which are largely identical to those for inspections of NCOs carrying out functions of a Foreign Agent (e.g. failure to eliminate previously-issued violations, reports of extremism, and orders of the President, the Government, or the public prosecutor). The draft law also proposes to establish a special procedure and deadlines for reporting by those religious organizations that have received money or property from international and foreign organizations, foreign citizens and stateless persons, as determined by the Ministry of Justice. The draft law passed its first reading on June 30, 2015. It was also included in preliminary program of the State Duma for October 2015.
  9. A draft Federal Law No. 849777-6 on Amendments to Article 29 of the Federal Law on Non-Commercial Organizations (in part of making the decision of the supreme management body of the non-commercial organization by voting in absentia) was presented to the State Duma by senator A.Klishas on July 27. It was included in the plan of consideration in November 2015.
  10. A draft Federal law No. 865550-6 on Amendments to Federal Law on Prosecutor’s General Office of the Russian Federation was presented to the State Duma on August 20, 2015. The draft law was prepared by Ministry of Justice in accordance with the legal position of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation stated in the Decision of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation from February 17, 2015 No. 2-P. The essence of the draft law is legal regulation of the powers of the Prosecutor in conducting inspections of NCOs and other regulated bodies and organizations. The changes introduced by the draft law (all of which are novellas of the Federal Law on Prosecutor's office) are the following:
  • Deadlines for submission of the information, materials and documents by the audited organizations on the request of the Prosecutor – 10 working days (to perform Prosecutor's functions, without inspection), checking the execution of the laws (on the basis of the Prosecutor received information about violations of the law) – 5 working days, with the threat of hazardous effects during the day.
  • Fixing the list of information and documents that the Prosecutor is not entitled to require from the audited organization.
  • Clarifying that audits relatedto the control over the execution of the laws are held only if the prosecutorial authorities receive information about violation of laws that cannot be confirmed or refuted without such checks.
  • When deciding about carrying out checks of executions of laws the Prosecutor has the obligation to set targets and verify and communicate the decision to the supervisor or other authorized representative of the audited entity not later than the day before the audit starts.
  • Regulating the timing of the Prosecutor's inspections. The review period should not exceed 30 calendar days, but in exceptional cases it may be extended for not more than 30 calendar days, subsequent renewals are possible only with the consent of the Prosecutor General. In exceptional cases, the inspection may be suspended for up to 6 months (the Prosecutor General may extend this period for another 6 months). In the case of suspension of the term of inspection the originals of documents seized from the controlled organization are returned. The head or any other authorized representative of the audited entity is notified of the extension (suspension, resuming) of the verification within 2 days from the date of adoption of the relevant decision.
  • It is prohibited to conduct follow-up inspections of law implementation in the absence of new or newly discovered circumstances.
  • Specifying the order of participation in the inspection of representatives of different public bodies; it is prohibited to conduct inspection of the activities on behalf of and under the purview of the relevant state agencies.
  • Giving the Prosecutor the duty of compiling the inspection report within 10 days from the date of its completion and in the absence of violations of laws (identification of violations of the laws implies the application of appropriate measures of prosecutorial response) sending a copy of the act in the audited organization.
  • Further reaffirming the right of the audited organizations to appeal against actions (inaction) of the Prosecutor during inspections.
  • All the drafted amendments related to supervision of the execution of the laws, also apply to the supervision of the rights and freedoms of man and citizen.

Prior to the adoption of the draft law during inspections, prosecutors are obliged to follow the Orders of the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation dated May 28, 2015 No. 265 Regarding the Order of Execution of the Decision of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation dated February 17, 2015 No. 2-P.

11. On July 27, 2015 Ministry of Communications and Mass Media prepared and posted on http://regulation.gov.ru/projects#npa=38252 for public discussion the draft Federal Law on Amending the Russian Federation Law on Mass Media (regarding improvement of the procedure of registration of mass media) which provides in particular prohibition for NCOs-FAs to establish media.

12. A new draft Federal Law on Introducing Changes in Articles 83, 84 and 85 of the Tax Code of the Russian Federation (in the part of settlement of the procedure of removing from the tax registry offices  the tax authorities of the structural units of foreign non-profit non-governmental organizations, representations of foreign religious organizations in case of their removal from the register of affiliate and representative offices of international organizations and foreign non-profit non-governmental organizations, the registry of representative offices of foreign religious organizations opened in the Russian Federation) was prepared by the Ministry of Justice and posted online on September 11, 2015. It will pass through the process of public discussion now.

13. The Ministry of Justice drafted and posted online the Decree on the Procedure of Maintaining the List of Extremist Materials. This draft decree is technical and describes the procedure of publishing the list of extremist materials after court decisions.

14. On August 26, Ministry of Justice posted online text of the draft of Federal Law on Amendments to the Federal Law on Noncommercial Organizations (in terms of harmonization with the new provisions of the Civil code of the Russian Federation). The purpose of this draft law is to bring the NCO Law in compliance with the amended Civil Code, it has not changes regarding foreign agents or undesirable organizations.

Please help keep us informed; if you are aware of other pending initiatives, write to ICNL at infoicnl@icnl.org.

Back to Top

Legal Analysis

Organizational Forms

As of September 1, 2014, the amendments to the Civil Code entered into force, introducing a closed list of eleven organizational forms of NCOs (Item 3 Article 50 of Civil Code of Russian Federation). This list includes: consumer cooperatives, public organizations, associations, organizations of realty owners, Cossack communities, communities of indigenous small population groups, foundations, institutions, autonomous non-commercial organizations, religious organizations, and public legal companies. Article 65.1 of the Civil Code divides legal entities into corporate entities, which are those where founders (participants, members) have the right to participate in their management (that is, they gain the right of membership), and unitary entities which are those where founders may not become participants (they do not acquire the right of membership).

Public Benefit Status

NCOs may register as a charity pursuant to the Charities Law.  Federal law, however, does not provide any benefits that are particular to registered charities.  Although legislation at the regional and local levels offers tax benefits to charities, they do not necessarily require the organization to be registered as a charity at the federal level.  Tax benefits under Russian law are primarily tied to the support or performance of particular activities specified in the Tax Code. Registration of an NCO as a charity pursuant to the Charities Law provides the organization with a particular status and subjects the organization to heightened scrutiny, but this status does not in itself provide any unique tax benefits.  

Amendments enacted to the NCO Law in April 2010 introduced the status of “socially oriented” organizations (“SOOs”). Under the new law, SOOs are potentially eligible for governmental support. SOOs engage in a broad range of activities, including traditional charitable work, the provision of free-of-charge legal aid and the protection of human rights. The list of the types of "socially oriented" activities as of as of October 2015 consisted of 17 types, with a list that is constantly expanding.

Barriers to Entry

Russian law defines certain restrictions regarding potential founders of NCOs. Regarding non-citizens, only those foreign nationals and stateless persons who are “legally domiciled in the Russian Federation” may be founders, members, or participants in public associations or NCOs.  Certain persons may not become founders, members or participants, including:

  • Foreign nationals or stateless persons whose stay is deemed “undesirable”;
  • Persons appearing on a money laundering and anti-terrorist financing watch list maintained by the Russian government;
  • Organizations that have been suspended under the Law Countering Extremist Activities;
  • Persons found by court decision to show signs of participating in extremist activity; and
  • Persons who are currently incarcerated as a result of conviction of a crime. 

Public associations, such as public organizations and public foundations, by definition can be created only by natural persons. These organizations cannot be founded by legal persons, but other public organizations may join as members (Articles 18 and 19, Law on Public Associations). By comparison, legal persons, including commercial entities, may found all other forms of NCOs.

A non-commercial organization shall be subject to state registration in compliance with the NCO law. Public associations shall be subject to state registration in compliance with the Law on Public Associations. The registration process for all types of NCOs is overly bureaucratic, with a long list of documents required to be submitted to the authorized governmental body. The same is true for foreign NCOs seeking to establish a branch office.

Barriers to Operational Activity

Non-commercial organizations, as a rule, have virtually no restrictions on the activities they may pursue as their primary objectives  including mutual benefit activities (Article 6(1), NCO Law, and Articles 5, 8, Law on Public Associations).  

All foundations are required to engage in public benefit activities (Article 118(1), Civil CodeArticle 7(1), NCO Law, and Article 10, Law on Public Associations).  The primary activities of institutions are broadly defined as any managerial, socio-cultural or other activities of a not-for-profit nature (Article 120, Civil Code, Article 9, NCO Law, and Article 11, Law on Public Associations).  Charities are required to promote at least one of the enumerated charitable activities indicated in the law (Article 2, Charities Law).  Certain restrictions apply to activities of certain specialized organizations, such as political organizations and labor unions.    

Articles 29 and 38 of the Law on Public Associations (PAs) impose burdensome reporting requirements on PAs by requiring them to submit information about the funding and property they receive from foreign and international organizations and foreign persons to the registration authority. Article 32 of the NCO Law imposes reporting requirements for NCOs and requires NCOs to report on their use of funds and other assets received from both foreign and local sources. Repeated failure on the part of a PA or an NCO to provide the information required in a timely fashion is grounds for the registration authority to bring a claim in court requesting a ruling that the organization terminate its activities as a legal entity, which then leads to its exclusion from the Unified State Register of Legal Entities. More recently, new electronic reporting forms for NCOs, prepared by the Ministry of Justice, have substantially simplified the reporting process. 

Articles 29 and 38 of the Law on PAs and Article 32 of the NCO Law authorize governmental registration authorities to engage in highly intrusive means of scrutiny of public associations and NCOs without appropriate procedural protections.   The registration authority may use the following tools to interfere in the internal operations of a PA or NCO:

  • The power to summon resolutions of the organization’s governing body.  The registration authority has the ability to demand documents dealing with the details of an organization’s governance, including day-to-day policy decisions, supervision of the organization’s management, and oversight of its finances.
  • The power to send representatives to an organization’s events.  The Law allows the government to send a representative to all of an organization's events, without restriction, including internal strategy sessions and grant selection meetings, for example.  
  • The power to review the extent to which an organization’s activities comply with its statutory goals, including review of its expenditures and property management.  The registration authority has authority to review the compliance of organizations with their goals – even though the registration authority itself lacks expertise needed to judge whether particular activities are designed to meet an organization’s goals. 
  • The power to conduct scheduled or unscheduled state audits. Amendments to the NCO Law adopted on February 21, 2014 expanded the list of reasons for unscheduled audits of NCOs. An NCO now may be audited if it fails to eliminate a violation identified in a written notification within the required time, if the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) issues an order to conduct an audit, or if a government body files an application indicating that an NCO violated the law or engaged in terrorism or extremism.

The Federal Law on Changes to Article 32 of the NCO Law from June 4, 2014 went into effect on June 6, 2014. This law added new powers to the governmental bodies:

  • If the state body authorized to conduct audits [MoJ] receives information from another state body, a citizen, or an organization that suggests an NCO is engaging in activity that would qualify it as a foreign agent but is not registered as such, the state body may conduct an unscheduled audit of that NCO.
  • If MoJ determines that an NCO is functioning as a foreign agent, but is not on the registry of foreign agents, MoJ may unilaterally place the NGO on the registry. MoJ will interpret the law and make decisions about who is a foreign agent at its own discretion. NCOs may appeal MoJ’s decision in court.

Article 23 of the NCO Law also provides the registration authority with two additional intrusive supervisory powers over the branches, representative offices, and affiliates of foreign NCOs. The government can issue a written decision banning the implementation of any existing program of a branch office of a foreign NCO.  The Law does not provide any guidance with respect to the grounds on which the government may make this decision, which appear to be entirely discretionary.  Upon receipt of a decision, the office of the foreign NCO must terminate the activity, and if it fails to do so, it risks exclusion from the register and liquidation of the office.  The Law also allows the registration authority to issue a written decision banning the transfer by an foreign NCO’s branch, representative office, or affiliate of funds or other resources to particular recipients for the purposes of protecting the basis of the Constitutional system, morality, health, rights and lawful interests of other persons, and with the aim of defending the country and the state security. The Law does provide foreign NCOs the right to appeal against actions taken against them by the government.

According to Federal Law of May 2, 2015 No.117, the Ministry of Justice may now draw up reports on the administrative offenses of the activities of not-for-profit organizations, including the structural units of international organizations and foreign non-profit organizations, public associations, political parties, and religious organizations. This law expanded the Ministry of Justice’s authority to penalize managers of representative offices and branches of foreign NCOs for violating provisions of the NCO law.

Changes to the NCO Law and to the Law on Public Associations in 2014, which relate to NCOs performing functions of “foreign agents,” further increase the administrative burden on NCOs by requiring NCOs designated as “foreign agents” to: 1) maintain separate accounting of funds and other property generated through local and foreign sources; 2) submit activity reports on a biannual basis; and 3) submit reports on expenditures of funds and other property on a quarterly basis (unlike other Russian NCOs which are required to submit activities and expenditures reports annually). NCOs that are foreign agents are also required to pass through an annual independent audit. Reporting forms are to be determined by the authorized government agency and could be burdensome if overly complex. In addition, the Law gives to the government invasive powers to interfere in the internal operations of an NCO and even to suspend their activities. These include that:

  • The government will conduct scheduled and unscheduled audits of NCOs-foreign agents annually and will have additional the grounds to conduct additional audits of activities of NCOs.
  • The authorized government agency (which we expect will be Rosfinmonitoring) will review an NCO’s activities and expenditures reports and may require submission of additional information if a NCO receives a transfer above the 100,000 ruble threshold (Item 1.6 article 6 of Federal Law of August 7, 2001 No. 115-FZ on Counteracting Legalization (Money Laundering) of Incomes Received by Criminal Means and of Financing Terrorism amended by Federal Law of May 5, 2014 No.110-FZ). (Article 32.3, NCO Law)

Under the NCO Law, foreign organizations operating in Russia through registered offices are subject to the following new requirements:

  • They must undergo an annual independent audit by a Russian auditing company and submit the resulting audit report to an authorized government agency (MoJ);
  • The authorized government agency will post all such reports as well as reports on the finances and activities of foreign organizations operating in Russia on its website and provide them to the media;
  • In addition to the mandatory independent audit, the authorized government agency will also have the authority to conduct its own audits of the registered offices of foreign organizations.

Barriers to Speech / Advocacy

Neither the Civil Code nor the NCO Law limits the ability of NCOs to engage in advocacy or political activities.  All forms of public associations may participate in advocacy and lobbying activities.  Under the law, NCOs generally may also engage in election campaigns for federal and local elections, subject to federal election laws (Article 27, Law on Public Associations).

Recent amendments to the NCO Law, relating to NCOs performing functions of a foreign agent, may potentially restrict political activities of NCOs. According to these amendments NCOs carrying political activities and receiving foreign funding, or, even intending to do so, are required to register in a special registry, maintained by the Ministry of Justice.  Such registration, and, especially, labeling as “foreign agent” may result in additional administrative burdens for NCOs, as well as in damaging reputation of NCOs ( i“foreign agent” in Russian translation is perceived by general public as a “foreign spy).  The threat of being labeled a “foreign agent” may discourage many organizations to carry political activities.

An NCO is considered to carry out political activity, if, regardless of its statutory goals and purposes, it participates (including through financing) in organizing and implementing political actions aimed at influencing the decision-making by state bodies intended for the change of state policy pursued by them, as well as in the shaping of public opinion for the aforementioned purposes. Such activities are considered political, regardless of whether a NCO is conducting them in the interest of foreign funding sources or without such purpose.  A NCO carries political activities for the purpose of the Law if such activity takes place on the territory of the Russian Federation.  (Article 2, NCO Law). An  NCO is considered to be carrying out political activity if it even participates in such activities organized and financed for by other organizations.

Charities are expressly prohibited from using their assets to support political parties, movements, and campaigns (Article 2(2), Charities Law). In addition, religious organizations, governmental and municipal institutions, international public associations, and international movements are prohibited from making donations to candidates (Article 58 (6), Federal Law No. 19-FZ "On RF President elections," January 10, 2003, and Article 66 (7), Federal Law No. 175-FZ "On RF State Duma deputies elections," July 20, 2002, as amended). However, these prohibitions do not appear to extend to involvement in lobbying or other politically-related activities.

In June 2012, increases to existing fines for violating rules on participation in and organization of public protests were enacted when President Putin signed into law amendments to Code of the Russian Federation on administrative violations and to the Federal Law "On Assemblies, Meetings, Demonstrations, Marches and Picketing on June 8. These fines have a deterrent effect on the right to peaceful assembly. Fines for breaching provisions on holding public assemblies were increased by 150 times for individuals and 300 times for organizations. The new maximum penalty for participation in a protest that is not in accordance with government regulations is up to 300,000 rubles (approximately $9,000) for individuals and up to one million rubles (approximately $32,000) for organizations.

In July 2012, defamation was reintroduced as a criminal offence in Russia. The law was likely enacted to inhibit media criticism of Russia's leaders since media outlets can be fined up to two million rubles (approximately $61,000) for producing defamatory public statements.

Also in July 2012, changes introduced to the Law on Protecting Children from Information Harmful to Their Health and Development mandated the creation of a registry of websites that contain information which has been prohibited by a court order. Once a website is placed on this registry it can then be shut down without a court order. Government officials can interpret the law in a way that would increase Internet censorship and curb the freedom of expression of organizations that hold views that are different from the government’s or the majority’s views.

Finally, in May 2014, President Putin signed the Internet Law (commonly known as the "Bloggers Law"), which stipulates that any website with more than 3,000 visitors daily will be responsible for the accuracy of all information published and that search engines and social networks maintain computer records on Russian soil of everything posted for the previous six months, with fines for violators that can reach up to $142,000.

Barriers to International Contact

The Amendments to the Criminal Code define some criminal offenses in such a way that NCOs interacting with foreign organizations will be especially vulnerable to criminal penalties for such offenses. Specifically, “State treason” is defined as “a deed, carried out by a citizen of the Russian Federation, damaging to the security of the Russian Federation, including espionage or passing to a foreign state, international or foreign organization or their representatives information that contains a state secret that has been entrusted and became known to the person through service, work or studies or other cases determined by Russian legislation, or providing financial material, technical, consultative or other assistance directed against security of the Russian Federation.”

From June 3, 2015, when Federal Law No. 129-FZ on Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation (Law on "Undesirable Organizations") came into force, new administrative and criminal penalties applied to entities in violation of the Law. The administrative penalties apply if an "undesirable organization" implements its activities (Article 20.33), or if other entities participate in such activities in the territory of the Russian Federation. With regard to other entities, penalties apply if they violate restrictions established under “Anti-Magnitsky Law”. The administrative penalty for citizens is five to fifteen thousand rubles (currently $100-$300); for officials, twenty thousand to fifty thousand rubles ($400-$1000); and for legal entities, fifty thousand to one hundred thousand rubles ($1000-$2000). After the entity has been charged with penalties for administrative offense twice in one year, it can be charged with criminal penalties. Criminal penalties can include: a fine from three hundred thousand to five hundred thousand rubles ($6000-$10000) or in the amount of the salary or other income of the offender for a period from two to three years; compulsory work for up to three hundred and sixty hours; forced labor for up to five years with or without restriction of liberty for up to two years; deprivation of liberty from two to six years with or without deprivation of the right to occupy certain positions or engage in certain activities for up to ten years. A person who has voluntarily terminated his or her participation in the activity of the undesirable organization shall be exempted from criminal liability, unless his or her actions contain a different corpus delicti.

Barriers to Resources

Foreign Funding

Russia enacted the law On Introducing Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation Regarding the Regulation of Activities of Non-commercial Organizations, Performing the Functions of Foreign Agents in November 2012. According to these amendments, NCOs carrying out “political activities” and receiving foreign funding, or, even intending to do so, are required to register in a special registry maintained by the Ministry of Justice.  Such registration, and, especially, being labeled as a “foreign agent” may result in additional administrative burdens for NCOs, as well as in damaging the reputation of NCOs. The threat of being labeled a “foreign agent” discouraged many organizations from seeking foreign funding.

Initially, it was nearly impossible for an NCO to engage a legal process to remove itself from the "foreign agents" registry. However, on March 8, 2015, Federal Law No. 43-FZ specified the grounds and procedure for exclusion from the register of NCOs Carrying Out Functions of a Foreign Agent (FA Registry). Upon receipt of an application for exclusion from the registry, the Ministry of Justice would be able to conduct an audit of activities of an NCO applicant and notify the Prosecutor's Office about such an application. An NCO would be excluded from the registry if it met the following conditions: 1) if an NCO terminated its activity in case of liquidation, reorganization or exclusion from the Unified Register of Legal Entities; 2) if an unplanned inspection identifies the lack of foreign funding for a year before the submission of application and/or did not conduct political activities; 3) if an unplanned audit of the NCO which had been earlier excluded from FA Registry identifies the lack of foreign funding and/or political activities during three years before the submission of application; 4) if an unplanned audit demonstrates that NCO included into FA Registry not later than in three months after the date of inclusion rejected the receipt of foreign funding and returned the money or other property to a foreign source from which they had been obtained. The Ministry of Justice would also be bound to make a decision on whether to exclude an NCO from the registry within three months after the date of receipt of the application.

Another formidable legal barrier against foreign funding relates to the giving of tax-exempt grants. Foreign or international organizations wishing to make tax-exempt grants to Russian citizens or NCOs must be on a list of organizations approved by the Russian Government. Such grants may be made only for purposes specified by Russian Tax Code: for the implementation of specific programs in the sphere of education, art, culture, health care (AIDS, drug addiction, children oncology, including oncohematology, children endocrinology, hepatitis, tuberculosis) environmental protection, protection of human and civil rights, social services of the disadvantaged and vulnerable groups of citizens, as well as for holding specific scientific research.

In June of 2008, the Russian Government adopted Decree #485, regarding the Government’s pre-approved list of foreign grantors (hereinafter referred to as the “List”).  Decree #485 contained a reduced number of approved international organizations and made clear that as of January 1, 2009, only international organizations mentioned in the Decree could remain on the List.  Grants from foreign organizations not included on the List are considered taxable income for Russian recipients, unless they otherwise qualify as donations under Russian law. (The current regulation is applicable only to grants; donations, including those from foreign organizations to non-commercial organizations are tax exempt.) On March 24, 2009, Prime Minister Putin signed Decree #252, amending Decree #485. Decree #485 empowered the Ministry of Finance to make changes and additions to the List. Decree #252 instead authorizes interested ministries – and not solely the Ministry of Finance – to initiate changes and additions to the List. In addition, NCOs must provide information regarding donations obtained from foreign organizations to the Ministry of Justice. 

Domestic Funding

An NCO may engage in economic activities to the extent they advance the purposes for which the organization was created, but may not pursue the generation of profit as its primary purpose (Article 50(3), Civil CodeArticles 2 and 24(2), NCO LawArticle 37, Law on Public Associations, and Article 12, Charities Law).  Profit from the economic activities of NCOs, including charities, is generally taxed in the same manner as for commercial organizations.  Lower tax rates may be offered by regional or local authorities for qualifying NCOs.  Registration as a charity does not affect or limit the right of an NCO to engage in economic activities (Article 12, Charities Law).

In July 2011, the Russian Parliament adopted amendments to the Russian Tax Code that substantially improve the taxation of NCOs. For example, NCOs no longer have to pay profit tax or value added tax (VAT) on the value of in-kind contributions (services or property rights) they receive. Moreover, the amendments extend VAT exemptions previously applied to state budget funded institutions providing social services (i.e. in the areas of culture, art, health care, education, and services to the needy) to NCOs providing the same services.

Barriers to Assembly

The Constitution of the Russian Federation guarantees the freedom of assembly in Article 31: “Citizens of the Russian Federation shall have the right to assemble peacefully, without weapons, hold rallies, meetings and demonstrations, marches and pickets.”

Federal Law of June 19, 2004 #54-FZ “On meetings, rallies, demonstrations, marches and pickets” (hereinafter – FZ “On Meetings”) is the key law governing the freedom of assembly.  In addition, several other laws address specific kinds of assemblies, including Federal Law of May 18, 2005 #51-FZ “On election of deputies of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation;” Federal Constitutional Law of June 28, 2004 #5-FKZ “On referendum of the Russian Federation;” and Federal law of January 10, 2003 #19-FZ “On elections of the President of the Russian Federation. The holding of religious rites and ceremonies is regulated by the Federal law of September 26, 1997 #125-FZ "On freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations."

Limitations on Eligible Organizers
Russian law allows only citizens of the Russian Federation to act as event organizers; foreigners and non-citizens do not have the right to organize assemblies. In addition, the law prohibits the following from serving as organizers: persons recognized as incapable or partially incapable by a court and persons in a place of confinement after being convicted by the court; persons who have not been expunged of committing a crime against the foundations of the constitutional system, national security or public security and safety, or who have more than twice received administrative penalties; and political parties, other public or religious associations, their regional branches or other subdivisions.

Advance Notification
Organizers of a public event must file advance notification with the government. The notification must contain the organizers’ full names, addresses and phone numbers; those persons authorized by the organizer to perform regulatory functions while holding the public event; the goal and form, date, start and finish times, and the route of movement (including information about vehicles); the projected number of participants; the methods planned for ensuring public peace; the need for medical assistance; and whether or not loudspeakers will be used.

Written notification for a public event must be submitted by the organizers no sooner than 15 days and no later than 10 days before holding the event to an executive body of the territorial subdivision of the Russian Federation, or to a local self-governance body. The law provides for two exceptions: first, when holding a picket by a group of persons the notification must be submitted no less than 3 days before the event; and, second, notification of a picket held by one participant is not required.

The executive body or the self-governance body is not obligated to reply to any notification; it is only obligated to confirm the date, time and receipt of the notification. However, if the body requests that the organizer change the place or time of the event, then the body must communicate this information to the organizers within three days from the date of receiving the notification. The organizer must inform the executive body or the local self-governance body whether the organizer accepts the offer to change the place or time of the event no less than three days before the event date. A refusal of the offer to change the place or time of the event is illegal, however, thus rendering the opportunity for appeal useless.

Time, Place, and Manner Restrictions
Public events can be held in any location suitable for the purposes of the event as long as the location does not pose a threat to buildings or structures or other threats to the safety of the participants. However, locations where holding a public event are forbidden include: territories adjacent to hazardous production facilities; elevated roads, long distance railway lines and oil, gas and product pipelines; territories adjacent to residences of the President of the Russian Federation, courts, and correctional institutions; and borderlands, unless a special permit from the authorized border control body is obtained.

When several notifications are received for different public events and different organizers in the same location, then the order of holding such events is determined based on the time of submission of said notifications. Therefore, it would seem that counter-demonstrations can be held in sequence, but not simultaneously in the same place.

Responsibilities of Organizers and Participants
Russian law holds organizers and participants responsible for actions that lead to the “creation of impediments to pedestrian traffic,” the “involvement of additional police personnel and equipment,” or that “exceed the norms of occupancy of a territory.” In case of failure to satisfy obligations provided by the law, the organizer of a public event also bears civil liability for harm caused by event participants.

Enforcement
Law enforcement authorities have used excessive force to disband peaceful demonstrations. As but one example, activists from the protest group, Pussy Riot, were attacked in February 2014 in Sochi by plainclothes police officers who used pepper spray and horsewhips to disperse the group. The Pussy Riot members were wearing fluorescent outfits and singing by the city’s seaport when the attack occurred.

Back to Top

Reports

UN Universal Periodic Review Reports National Report
Compilation of UN Information
Corrigendum

Summary of Stakeholders' Information

Questions submitted in advance

Report of the Working Group
Decision on the Outcome
Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai
USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country Notes

Russian Federation Country Information current as of December 2012

U.S. State Department

Advancing Freedom and Democracy Report 2010: Russia

Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2011: Russia

Fragile States Index Reports Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index
IMF Country Reports

Concluding Statement of 2009 Article IV Consultation Mission: Russian Federation

IMF Russian Federation: Selected Issues Paper, 2011

Asia Pacific Philanthropy Forum Reports Not available
NGO Regulation Network Reports

Not available

CIVICUS Civil Society Index (CSI) Country Reports Not available
International Commission of Jurists Not available
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library Russia

Back to Top

News and Additional Resources

While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change.  If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at ngomonitor@icnl.org.

General News

Targeting of NGOs Ensnares Journalist Associations (October 2015)
There are currently eight organisations advocating for media freedom and journalists' rights included on a black list of 86 NGOs. Among them are organisations fighting for access to information (Freedom of Information Foundation), providing legal support to journalists (Rights of the Media Defence Centre and Media Support Foundation (Sreda)), organising education for regional reporters (Press Development Institute – Sibir in Novosibirsk and Regional Press Institute), an information agency (Memo.ru) and others. Some of the media freedom organisations are in the process of shutting down, including Sreda and Freedom of Information Foundation, while others, such as the Regional Press Institute (RPI) in St Petersburg, continue their activities but are forced to pay large fines.

A Cloud over Russian Civil Society (March 2015)
In December 2014, the Ministry of Justice, acting on an anonymous denunciation, carried out an unscheduled inspection of the Sakharov Center, one of the oldest and most respected nongovernmental organizations in Russia. Along with 16 other independent NGOs, the center was required to register as a "foreign agent" under a law passed in 2012. Some NGOs have decided to shut down rather than admit to or challenge this designation, which in Russian carries clear connotations of "spy" and "traitor." The Sakharov Center is contesting its designation as a foreign agent and, in the meantime, faces heavy fines that could endanger its survival.

"Memorial" and other groups forced to register under "foreign agents" Law (November 2014)
NCOs designated as "foreign agents" may be stuck with the label permanently after the Justice Ministry said it had no plans to amend the law and write up a procedure for removing the tag. Even if NCOs stop receiving the funding from abroad that caused their initial registration as a "foreign agent," there is no existing procedure for removing the label, nor are there plans to introduce one, the ministry said in a statement. "Currently, the Justice Ministry of the Russian Federation is not developing any bill that would envisage a mechanism for striking NCOs from the registry of organizations that fulfill the functions of a foreign agent," the ministry was quoted as saying. The statement followed an unsuccessful appeal earlier this week by the St. Petersburg branch of Soldiers' Mothers to remove its "foreign agent" label.

"Memorial" and four other groups forced to register under "foreign agents" Law
(July 2014)
On 21 July, the Russian Ministry of Justice registered five more organisations, including Memorial Human Rights Centre, as "foreign agents" under controversial legislation aimed at suppressing civil society. Although these organisations to date had strongly lobbied against the registration through the courts, a recent amendment gives the Ministry of Justice the power to unilaterally register an organisation as a "foreign agent" without sanctioning from the Court. The Ministry of Justice also decided to unilaterally register Human Rights Association "AGORA" (Tatarstan); "Ecodefence – Women's Council" NGO (Kaliningrad); Fund for Protection of the Rights and Freedoms of Citizens "Public Verdict" (Moscow); "Lawyers for Constitutional Rights and Freedoms" NGO (Moscow).

News archive

Russia Quietly Tightens Reins on Internet With a 'Bloggers Law' (May 2014)

Law on 'foreign NGOs an agents' does not contradict Russian Constitution
(April 2014)

First Ruling on Civil Suit Under 'Foreign Agents' Law (December 2013)

Russian General Prosecutor, Yury Chaika, Speaks on NGO inspections in St. Petersburg (July 2013)

Russian court fines NGO $13,000 under 'foreign agent' law (May 2013)

Kremlin Promises Information on $1B in NGO Funding (April 2013)

Leading Russian Human Rights NGOs launch challenge at European Court to ‘Foreign Agent’ Law (February 2013)

Freedom House Condemns New Restrictions on Freedom of Assembly in Moscow (January 2013)

Russia criticizes EU on human rights ahead of summit (December 2012)

Medvedev convinced civil society developing in Russia (December 2012)

USAID exit hurts Russian election watchdog  (December 2012)

Internet restriction law comes into force (November 2012)

Russia's 'Foreign Agents' law hit by paperwork pile-up (November 2012)

New EU Rights envoy promises to raise issues with Russia, Kazakhstan (November 2012)

Russia warns U.S. over human rights bill (November 2012)

Russia: leading NGO set to close due to funds shortfall (November 2012)

Merkel Questions Russia’s Human Rights Record (November 2012)

Transparency International refuses to comply with NCO law (November 2012)

Putin suggests some flexibility on anti-dissent laws (November 2012)

Another law in blatant violation of basic international human rights standards (October 2012)

Russia's upper house approves law on fines for foreign agents (October 2012)

Russia's NGO Law will inevitably result in a contraction of space and opportunity for NGOs (October 2012)

Rights group says its researcher in Moscow is threatened (October 2012)

Russia's troublesome "traditional values" resolution (October 2012)

USAID shutdown in Russia will hurt civil society (September 2012)

Kremlin evicts USAID from Russia in blow to ‘reset’ (September 2012)

Russia demands USAID halt work (September 2012)

European Parliament concerned over worsening civil society climate in Russia (September 2012)

Russian regional administration forbids employees contact with ‘foreign agents’ as new NGO law gains traction (September 2012)

Human-rights organizations to boycott new law on NGOs (September 2012)

Russian rights groups taking ‘multi-step’ approach against NGO law (September 2012)

Beyond text, few parallels between new Russian and existing U.S. CSO laws (August 2012)

Clinton affirms Russian human rights activists are not U.S. agents (August 2012)

"A kind of Soviet flavor": Putin taking lessons from Lukashenko? (August 2012)

Assembling to promote a positive attitude proscribed (August 2012)

Two years in prison for Pussy Riot (August 2012)

Russia needs Human Rights Ombudsmen in every region – Putin (August 2012)

Russia’s law on volunteering can be adopted in autumn (August 2012)

NGO law affects Russia's civil society (August 2012)

Blogger and leader of protest movement Aleksei Navalny charged with embezzlement after labeling an official a “foreign agent” (August 2012)

New amendments on volunteering to be developed (July 2012)

Details of "Foreign Agents" Law (July 2012)

"Foreign Agents" Law modeled after US law, says Putin (July 2012)

Russians Support Recent Laws Restricting Freedoms - Poll (July 2012)

Russian rights activists refuse to comply with NGO law (July 2012)

Drive to give legal status to volunteers (July 2012)

The Internet law: A good bad example of Russia's backsliding (July 2012)

Russian parliament approves restrictions on foreign-funded NGOs (July 2012)

Secretary of State Clinton discusses “disturbing” Russian NGO Law in CoD Governing Council remarks (July 2012)

EU High Representative “highly concerned” about amendments to Russia’s NGO law (July 2012)

PACE Rapporteur Slams Russian Slander Bill As 'Invitation to Punish' Kremlin Critics (July 2012)

Russia's Ruling Party Seeks ‘Foreign Agent’ Media Bill (July 2012)

UN human rights experts warn of potential damage by Russia’s draft law to civil society (July 2012)

Parties Ask Russian Constitutional Court To Review Demonstrations Law (July 2012)

Looking for Foreign Agents in All the Wrong Places (July 2012)

NGO laws indicate Putin’s strategic failure, political frailty (July 2012)

Russia's Internet blacklist looms in freedom crackdown (July 2012)

Transparency International calls on Russia to reject draconian amendments to laws governing NGOs (July 2012)

Putin signs draconian law restricting freedom of assembly (June 2012)

New Russian bill aims to brand NGOs as 'foreign agents' (June 2012)

Parliament to label externally-funded NGOs as foreign agents (June 2012)

Law on rallies awaits Putin’s signature (June 2012)

Putin signs law with new restrictions on peaceful assembly (June 2012)

Russian President Putin defends Russia’s human rights record after EU meeting (June 2012)

Russia's civil society 'beats authorities' in tackling corruption (May 2012)

Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor meets civil society advocates from Russia (April 2012)

Freedom of speech concerns arise as protest singers face seven-year jail sentences (April 2012)

Nonviolent protests in Russia: About the elections or also for the future? (March 2012)

International NGOs urge authorities of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia to take measures to protect journalists (January 2012)

Why Russia’s democrats need West’s support (October 2011)

Government to increase support for NGOs - Medvedev (September 2011)

Arkhangelsk NGOs adapting to Russian reality (September 2011)

Russian court makes foreign donations to NGOs tax free (September 2011)

The Rebirth of Russian Civil Society (July 2011)

Medvedev urges development of endowment funds (June 2011)

Putin's Russia could face revolt - whistleblower (June 2011)

European Court Rebukes Law on Parties (April 2011)

U.N. says Russian efforts on human rights fall short (February 2011)

Back to Top

The foregoing information was collected by the ICNL NGO Law Monitor partner organization in Russia.