Russian FlagNGO Law Monitor: Russia

Introduction | At a Glance | Key Indicators | International Rankings
Legal Snapshot | Legal Analysis | Reports | News and Additional Resources
Last updated 23 July 2014

Update: In April 2014, the Constitutional Court ruled that the "foreign agents" law does not contradict the Russian constitution and that labelling NGOs as foreign agents is aimed at "important public interests." In November 2013, a court also ruled that an organization that researches social issues must register as a "foreign agent" organization. That was the first time a court required any independent group to register under the "foreign agents" law adopted by Russia's parliament in 2012.

In May 2014, the draft law amending the Law on Non-commercial Organizations (NCO Law) was adopted by the Duma and sent to the Soviet of Federations. Changes to Article 32 of the Law were signed by the President on June 4 and came into effect on June 6. The key changes to the NCO Law include:

1) The list of reasons for unscheduled audits is expanded to allow the state body authorized to conduct audits (Ministry of Justice (MoJ)) to receive information from other state bodies, citizens, and organizations about an NCO conducting activities of a foreign agent without being registered in the registry of a foreign agent; and

2) In case it is determined by the MoJ that an NCO carrying functions of a foreign agent did not apply to be included in the registry of organizations carrying functions of a foreign agent, then the MoJ has authority to do so by a unilateral decision. The MoJ will interpret the law and make decisions on who is a foreign agent at its own discretion.  It will be possible to appeal the decision of the MoJ to court.

The new law was immediately enforced by the MoJ. On June 9, MoJ announced inclusion into the Registry of NCOs Carrying Functions of Foreign Agents of five NCOs. Also in June 2014, the MoJ proposed to reduce the minimum penalty for committing this offence for managers of NCOs from 100,000 to 50,000 rubles and for legal entities from 300,000 to 100,000 rubles.  The maximum penalty remains the same: respectively 300,000 for managers and 500,000 for legal entities.

Lastly, 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. Besides registering, bloggers can no longer remain anonymous online, and organizations that provide platforms for their work, such as search engines and social networks, must maintain computer records on Russian soil of everything posted for the previous six months. The law, which will go into effect in August 2014, also includes fines for violators that can reach up to $142,000.

Introduction

Russian government regulation of civil society has been much in the spotlight since January 2006, when Russia enacted the Russian Federation Law on Introducing Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation (the 2006 Russian NCO Law). The 2006 Russian NCO Law introduced burdensome and difficult-to-meet reporting requirements for NCOs, accompanied by severe penalties for non-compliance; new and similarly burdensome registration procedures for Russian and foreign NCOs operating in Russia; and new broad powers of the registration bodies to audit the activities of NCOs. The legislation raised special concerns because it allowed for broad and restrictive interpretation. Some reporting requirements are not only difficult and costly to comply with, but also hard to understand, leaving excessive room for government officials to exercise discretion in determining whom to target when enforcing these rules. 

The election of President Dmitry Medvedev in 2008 fueled hopes that the legal framework for civil society would improve. In June 2009, the State Duma adopted amendments to Russian Federal Law No. 7-FZ of January 12, 1996, “On Non-Commercial Organizations” (NCO Law)[1] that came into force on August 1, 2009, after President Medvedev signed the amendments on July 17, 2009.These amendments included a number of positive changes.[2]

However, in May 2012 Vladimir Putin regained the presidency, and in July 2012 he signed a 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. The law requires all 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." On November 27, 2013, a court ruled that the Center for Social Policy and Gender Studies (CSPGS), which does research on social issues, must register as a "foreign agent" organization. It was the first time that a court required any independent group to register under the "foreign agents" law. Moreover, in April 2014, the Constitutional Court ruled that the "foreign agents" law does not contradict the Russian constitution and that labelling NCOs as foreign agents is aimed at "important public interests." In June 2014, the Ministry of Justice announced inclusion into the Registry of NCOs Carrying Functions of Foreign Agents of five NCOs, including the election monitoring organization GOLOS, which showed the government was immediately enforcing the law.

Other restrictive laws have been enacted since Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency. 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 in Russia, which mandates fines on media outlets of up to two million rubles (approximately $61,000) for producing “defamatory” public statements. Also in July 2012, changes introduced to the Law on "Information, Information Technologies and Information Protection" increased Internet censorship and curbed the freedom of expression. On October 23, 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.     


[1] On July 17, 2009, Russian President Medvedev signed amendments to the NGO Law.

[2] A Russian version of the amendments is available at http://www.icnl.org/research/library/.

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At a Glance

Organizational Forms Non-commercial organizations: public associations, foundations, institutions, non-commercial partnerships, autonomous non-for-profit organizations, state corporations, state companies, religious organizations, national cultural autonomies etc.
Registration Body Ministry of Justice
Approximate Number Of 220,000 NCOs, 50% are public associations
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.
Barriers to Activities Burdensome reporting requirements.

Supervisory power allowing for interference with internal affairs of public associations and NCOs
Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy Potential restrictions against NCO advocacy activity may arise through application of criminal or administrative penalties codes
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."
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."
Barriers to Assembly Excessive force used against peaceful protesters.

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Key Indicators

Population 143, 657, 134 (2014 est.)
Capital Moscow
Type of Government Federation
Life Expectancy at Birth 64.56 years (male), 75.86 years (female)
Literacy Rate 99.46%
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 est.)

Source: The World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency.

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International Rankings

Ranking Body Rank Ranking Scale 
(best – worst possible)
UN Human Development Index 55 (2012) 1 – 182
World Bank Rule of Law Index 24 (2012) 100 – 0
World Bank Voice & Accountability Index 20 (2012) 100 – 0
Transparency International 127 (2013) 1 – 176
Freedom House: Freedom in the World Not Free 5.5 (2014)
Free/Not Free
Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index 2014
85 (2014) 178 – 1

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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) No**  --
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

Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives

1. The Draft Federal Law No. 304073-6 “On Introducing Changes into Article 32 of the Federal Law On Non-Commercial organizations” was adopted and signed by the President on February 21, 2014. The newly adopted law expands the justifications for unannounced inspections of NGOs. The draft law passed the first reading on October 9, 2013; the second reading will be in 2014.

2. The Draft of the Federal Law “On Volunteerism” prepared by the Council of Federation was presented to the State Duma in June 2013. The date of the first reading has not yet been specified.

3. Media outlets have reported that there will be new changes to the "Regulation on Federal State Control over Activities of NCOs," which was approved by the Government of Russia on July 11, 2012. There is speculation that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) wants such changes to have authority to suspend the activities of NCOs that do not want to register as foreign agents (FA). There was, however, no legislation proposed that would regulate anything new. The MoJ already received authority to suspend activities of NCOs according to the original FA law (adopted on July 20, 2012). With this being said, there is another initiative not from the MoJ, which would change the NCO law and authorize the MoJ to enter NCOs into the registry of FAs by its own decision. This draft law may be submitted to the Parliament anytime in or after May 2014.

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

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Legal Analysis

Organizational Forms

The Russian Federation (Russia) recognizes a large number of organizational forms of non-governmental, non-commercial organizations (NCOs), resulting in a complex and oftentimes contradictory regulatory framework.  The Civil Code and the Federal Law on Non-commercial Organizations (NCO Law) establish the primary NCO legal framework and define a variety of NCO forms (approximately 27), including public organizations, foundations, institutions, non-commercial partnerships; and autonomous non-commercial organizations.  The primary requirements are that NCOs, whatever their type, do not have the generation of profit as their primary objective and do not distribute any such profit among their participants (Article 50(1), Civil Code).  The Federal Law on Public Associations builds upon this framework and carves out a sub-category of NCOs called "public associations" which consist of public organizations, mass movements, public foundations, public institutions, and several other forms.  Some 220,000 NCOs are registered in Russia; approximately 50% of them are public associations.

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,.

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 impose burdensome reporting requirements on public associations (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 Law on NCOs 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 Public Associations 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. 

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.

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:

  • The government will conduct scheduled audits of NCOs-foreign agents annually and will have additional the grounds to conduct additional audits of activities of NCOs.
  • The government will have the authority to suspend the activities of an NCO-foreign agent for up to six months if the NCO failed to register as a foreign agent but was receiving foreign funding and conducting political activities.
  • 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 200,000 ruble threshold. (Article 32.3, NCO Law)

The MoJ has the discretion to decide whether an NCO qualifies as a “foreign agent” (i.e. whether an NCO received or has the intent to receive funding from foreign sources and whether a NCO conducted or has the intent to conduct political activities). An authorized government official, at his/her discretion, can decide to suspend the activities of any NCO, if, according to his/her opinion, the NCO carried out the functions of a foreign agent but failed to apply for registration in the registry of NCOs carrying out the functions of foreign agents. In June 2014, the Ministry of Justice announced inclusion into the Registry of NCOs Carrying Functions of Foreign Agents of five NCOs, including the election monitoring organization GOLOS, which showed the government was immediately enforcing the law.

An NCO whose activities have been suspended has the right to appeal the MoJ’s suspension decision to either the highest body of the MoJ or to a court. The NCO  Law does not determine what will happened to a NCO if, after the suspension of its activities, it does not apply for registration within the timeframe set by the MOJ.  The NCO Law also provides an unclear description of legal consequences of suspending an NCO’s activities. An NCO whose activities have been suspended will also be prohibited from conducting mass actions and public events and making bank deposits, with the exception of settling accounts related to economic activities and labor contracts, paying assessed damages, resulting from its activities, and paying taxes, dues and penalties.

Under the NCO Law, foreign organizations operating in Russia through registered offices will be 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.

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.”

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” may discourage many organizations to seek foreign funding. On November 27, 2013, a court ruled in a civil suit brought by a local prosecutor's office that the Center for Social Policy and Gender Studies (CSPGS), an independent group that does research on social issues, must register as a "foreign agent" organization. This was the first time a court has required any independent group to register under the "foreign agents" law.

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.

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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 2014
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

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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

"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).

Russia Quietly Tightens Reins on Internet With a 'Bloggers Law
'
(May 2014)
President Vladimir Putin quietly signed a new law requiring popular online voices to register with the government, a measure that lawyers, Internet pioneers and political activists said would give the government a much wider ability to track who said what online. Widely known as the "Bloggers Law," the new Russian measure specifies that any site with more than 3,000 visitors daily will be considered a media outlet akin to a newspaper and be responsible for the accuracy of the information published. Besides registering, bloggers can no longer remain anonymous online, and organizations that provide platforms for their work such as search engines, social networks and other forums must maintain computer records on Russian soil of everything posted over the previous six months.

Law on 'foreign NGOs an agents' does not contradict Russian Constitution
(April 2014)
The Constitutional Court ruled that labelling NGOs as “foreign agents” is aimed at important public interests and observance of state interests, but that fines under the law should be changed.

First Ruling on Civil Suit Under 'Foreign Agents' Law
(December 2013)
On November 27, 2013, the Kirovsky District Court in Saratov, 725 kilometers southeast of Moscow, ruled in a civil suit brought by a local prosecutor's office against the Center for Social Policy and Gender Studies (CSPGS), an independent group that does research on social issues. According to the ruling, the CSPGS must now register as a "foreign agent" organization. It is the first time a court has required any independent group to register under the "foreign agents" law adopted by Russia's parliament in 2012.

Russian General Prosecutor, Yury Chaika, Speaks on NGO inspections in St. Petersburg (July 2013)
According to Russian General Prosecutor, Yury Chaika, there are no obstacles for government cooperation with the NGOs – “foreign agents” – if they comply with Russian legal requirements. He mentioned that representatives of “foreign agents” are very active within the Scientific and Advisory Council under the Prosecutor General. Mr. Chaika said that state support of these NGOs is possible, but priority should be given to “socially-oriented” non-commercial organizations.

Russian court fines NGO $13,000 under 'foreign agent' law (May 2013)
A Russian court imposed $13,000 worth of fines on the election monitor Golos in the first ruling under the new "foreign agent" law that observers say will lead to closures of many organizations across the country. The move comes amid mounting criticism from activists that Moscow is cracking down on NGOs with repressive laws and a wave of raids on their offices by prosecutors. Golos (Voice), a group that monitors Russian elections for violations, and its director Liliya Shibanova, were ordered to pay the fine by Moscow's Presnensky district court for failing to register as a "foreign agent" as required by new legislation.

Kremlin Promises Information on $1B in NGO Funding (April 2013)
Prosecutors will publish information on NGOs' funding once checks on the organizations are completed, President Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said."The checks into NGOs that the Prosecutor General's Office is conducting will continue; we expect the information [on their funding] to be made public after the checks are concluded," Peskov said in comments carried by Interfax on Thursday.

Leading Russian Human Rights NGOs launch challenge at European Court to ‘Foreign Agent’ Law (February 2013)
An application is being lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of eleven leading Russian human rights NGOs to contest the recently introduced ‘Foreign Agent’ Law. They allege that this Law violates their rights to freedom of association and expression (Articles 11 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)), and request that the European Court gives urgent priority to their case. The case is being brought by the Russian NGO ‘Memorial’ and the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC), based at Middlesex University.

Freedom House Condemns New Restrictions on Freedom of Assembly in Moscow (January 2013)
Freedom House condemns new, severe restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression passed on December 26 by the Moscow City Council. The new legislation broadly bans vigils by individuals - so-called "single-person pickets" - if they are "united by a common organizer and goal." The legislation also bans using vehicles in a demonstration, including driving within the city center while displaying political or protest symbols. These restrictions, which apply only to Moscow, explicitly target protest tactics which have become popular as authorities have restricted or removed opportunities for public criticism of the government or its policies. Single-person pickets have been adopted to evade restrictions on large-scale rallies, while "motor rallies" of cars decorated with white ribbons have demonstrated citizens' outrage at election violations and other issues in the past year.

Russia criticizes EU on human rights ahead of summit (December 2012)
Russia said respect for human rights was declining in the European Union, as part of a campaign to turn the tables on the West's criticism of Moscow's rights record. "We are seeing a certain deterioration in regard to safeguarding human rights in the EU member states," Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian Foreign Ministry's special representative for human rights, told a news conference.

Medvedev convinced civil society developing in Russia (December 2012)
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev believes that the Russian civil society is maturing and becoming more open. The PM voiced the opinion in an interview for Kommersant.

USAID exit hurts Russian election watchdog  (December 2012)
Russia's main independent voting watchdog said it has been forced to lay off nearly all its staff after the bulk of its funding dried up when the government ordered its main backer, the U.S. Agency for International Development, to cease operations in the country.

Internet restriction law comes into force (November 2012)
The law giving government agencies the power to order Internet companies to block material the state deems illegal has come into force. Officials refused to amend the language in the legislation about the government's "blacklist," or registry of illicit material, ignoring recommendations to narrow it from Internet service and content companies and free-speech advocates. Instead, the current wording leaves the door open to shutdowns of entire websites, even if the offending material is just one of thousands of pages on the site. Reporters Without Borders condemned the law, saying, "We are forced to conclude that no political will exists to resolve the law's contradictions and to eliminate those that pose threats to freedom."

Russia's 'Foreign Agents' law hit by paperwork pile-up (November 2012)
Russia's insistence that NGOs of a "political" nature funded from abroad register as "foreign agents" has been tied down in paperwork - or, rather, the lack of it. The NGOS affected by the controversial law were required by law to register their new legal status with the Justice Ministry by November 21, but the form for them has

New EU Rights envoy promises to raise issues with Russia, Kazakhstan (November 2012)
The new EU special representative for human rights, Stavros Lambrinidis, has vowed to raise rights issues in his meetings with Russia and Kazakhstan. Lambrinidis told members of the European Parliament that in the three months since he took over he has already been in touch with counterparts in both Moscow and Astana and promised to continue to engage in dialogue.

Russia warns U.S. over human rights bill (November 2012)
Russia increased pressure on the U.S. Congress on Friday not to pass legislation that would punish Russian officials for human rights violations, warning Washington that it had prepared tough retaliatory measures.

Russia: leading NGO set to close due to funds shortfall (November 2012)
The instigators of Russia’s punitive NGO law argue that civil society groups should seek domestic funds instead of overseas backers. But, Interfax reports: One of Russia’s leading human rights organizations, the Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers, might have to close its Moscow office and stop operation due to the lack of funds. “We haven’t paid for rent and utilities since 2010. We just have no money,” executive secretary of the Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers Valentina Melnikova told Interfax.

Merkel Questions Russia’s Human Rights Record (November 2012)
Russian President Vladimir Putin has dismissed criticism from German Chancellor Angela Merkel on his country's human rights record. Putin met with Merkel Friday at a Russian-German business forum in Moscow.  Before Merkel traveled to Russia, Germany’s parliament passed a resolution that linked a crackdown on freedoms here to Putin’s unprecedented third term as president. As a result, parliament asked Merkel to take a tough stance with Putin on Russia's human rights record.

Transparency International refuses to comply with NCO law (November 2012)
The Moscow office of the anti-corruption coalition Transparency International has issued a statement announcing its refusal to comply with the recently passed law on foreign agents. “By agreeing to the status of foreign agent, any organization effectively admits that it is pursuing the interests of a foreign state, or a foreign or international organization, rather than working for the benefit of its own country – Russia,” the statement reads. “We do not believe that efforts to achieve our organization’s main objective – to fight corruption – damage, or even fail to benefit, our country.”

Putin suggests some flexibility on anti-dissent laws (November 2012)
Vladimir Putin said he was ready to reconsider the law on high treason, which human rights campaigners say could mean that any Russian citizen who had contacts with a foreigner could be accused of trying to undermine the state. Putin also offered to rephrase wording in another bill that envisages stiffer punishments for defamation, and said parliament should not rush to adopt a law that would introduce jail sentences for offending religious feelings. He also said he would "look again" at legislation signed in July that requires foreign-funded non-governmental organisations to register as "foreign agents", saying its main aim was to prevent foreign meddling in Russia's domestic affairs.

Another law in blatant violation of basic international human rights standards (October 2012)
On October 23, 2012, the Russian Duma (the lower chamber of Parliament) adopted a series of amendments to the law on treason and espionage, introducing new provisions into the Criminal Code. The new version of the law is now expected to be examined by the Council of Federation of the Russian Federation (the upper chamber) and, if adopted, to be signed by President Vladimir Putin. The new text expands the definition of treason to “providing financial, technical, advisory and other assistance to a foreign State or international organisation (…) directed at harming Russia’s security”, criminalising de facto any contact with any foreign entity by an extremely elevated and disproportionate sanction up to 20 years’ imprisonment. The vague terms used open the path to discretionary interpretations by the authorities, raising further concerns on how the law will be enforced.

Russia's upper house approves law on fines for foreign agents (October 2012)
The Federation Council, Russia's upper house of parliament, approved a law imposing administrative fines for violating the provisions on the foreign agent status for non-profit organizations. The corresponding amendments have been introduced to the Code of Administrative Offenses. The amendments to the code served as an integral part of the draft law assigning a foreign agent status to Russian NGOs financed from abroad and involved in politics.

Russia's NGO Law will inevitably result in a contraction of space and opportunity for NGOs (October 2012)
Boris Pustyntsev, Director of the Russia-based Citizens' Watch, speaks to CIVICUS about the impact of the new 'NGO Law' and recent restrictions on civil society activism in Russia.

Rights group says its researcher in Moscow is threatened (October 2012)
A researcher in Human Rights Watch’s office in Moscow received repeated threats this week of an attack focused on her pregnancy, the rights group said, calling it the latest example of escalating pressure against rights and civic groups in Russia.

Russia's troublesome "traditional values" resolution (October 2012)
Article 19 urges the UN Human Rights Council members to reject a draft resolution proposed by Russia on “traditional values” as the concept may be abused to legitimize discrimination against minority groups, to silence dissent, and violate human rights. Increasing dialogue on the role of traditional values in society and raising understanding of the many different values held by people is positive where done within a framework of respect for human rights. However, the draft resolution fails to recognize that traditional values are not always invoked positively and have often been abused to legitimize discrimination against marginalized and minority groups, to silence dissent, and violate people’s human rights.

USAID shutdown in Russia will hurt civil society (September 2012)
The United States says it will comply with Russia’s request to end all programs of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which the U.S. describes as “regrettable.” Experts believe that the action will hurt Russian NGOs that deal with democracy and human rights.

Kremlin evicts USAID from Russia in blow to ‘reset’ (September 2012)
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is ending pro-democracy and civil society programs in Russia at the insistence of the Kremlin, according to reports from U.S. officials close to the situation.

Russia demands USAID halt work (September 2012)
The Kremlin sounded its stiffest rebuke to U.S. democracy-building efforts in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union, ordering the U.S. to halt the work of the U.S. Agency for International Development in Russia by Oct. 1. Since 1992, USAID has distributed $2.7 billion for projects in Russia ranging from election monitoring and prisoners' rights to tuberculosis prevention and education for the handicapped. It had planned to spend $50 million in Russia in 2012, more than half of it on democracy and civic programs—a shift from funding in the 1990s, which had focused more on economic development.

European Parliament concerned over worsening civil society climate in Russia (September 2012)
The human rights situation in Russia has deteriorated drastically in the last few months, with the adoption of a series of laws that could be used to further restrict opposition and hinder freedom of expression, the European Parliament stated in a resolution. A press release said MEPs were gravely concerned about "the deteriorating climate" for the development of civil society in Russia, pointing to the recent legislation on demonstrations, NGOs, defamation, and the Internet.

Russian regional administration forbids employees contact with ‘foreign agents’ as new NGO law gains traction (September 2012)
The Administration of the Mari El Region 850 kilometers east of Moscow has issued a directive to its officials to refrain from participating in social or political activities organized by foreign nongovernmental organizations or Russian NGOs receiving funding from foreign sources.

Human-rights organizations to boycott new law on NGOs (September 2012)
Two of Russia’s oldest human-rights organizations have announced their intention to boycott a law on “foreign agents.” Duma deputies have said that non-compliance with the new federal law could result in the forcible closure of organizations.

Russian rights groups taking ‘multi-step’ approach against NGO law (September 2012)
Russian civil society groups are developing a diverse range of strategies in response to a new law classifying non-government organizations as “foreign agents.”

Beyond text, few parallels between new Russian and existing U.S. CSO laws (August 2012)
On August 14th, the Woodrow Wilson Center hosted a lecture called “Understanding and Responding to Attacks on Civil Society: The Rule of Politics and Law.”  Panelist Carl Gershman, President of the National Endowment for Democracy, qualified new Russian legislation as an “attack” on the freedom of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). The UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai and the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law's Nilda Bullain also spoke on the panel.

Clinton affirms Russian human rights activists are not U.S. agents (August 2012)
Moscow Helsinki Group leader Ludmila Alexeyeva and Movement For Human Rights Director Lev Ponomarev have received from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton an answer to the question they posed to President Barack Obama relating to the foreign-agent status of US-funded Russian NGOs. Clinton stated clearly that the United States does not control their activities, nor does the US have any wish to do so.

"A kind of Soviet flavor": Putin taking lessons from Lukashenko? (August 2012)
The Pussy Riot case “reveals as much about the nature of Russian politics as it does about Russia‘s problems with foreign policy and its image abroad,” says a leading opposition activist. Activists suggest Russia is learning from Belarus, not the other way around. 

Assembling to promote a positive attitude proscribed (August 2012)
In Saint Petersburg, activists were promoting a positive attitude by wearing funny vintage costumes, sharing chocolates and standing in the subway with signs greeting people saying "Good morning, Good day." However, police warned them that this activity is subject to the law on mass gatherings. It seems that almost any public gathering can be an unauthorized assembly in Russia today.

Two years in prison for Pussy Riot (August 2012)
In a sign of the current state of the Kremlin’s thinking, a two-year prison term is perhaps a compromise. In a packed courtroom in Moscow, with hundreds of protestors in the street outside, Judge Marina Syrova read out the verdict in the case against three women—Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina, and Ekaterina Samutsevich—from the punk-art collective Pussy Riot: they were guilty of hooliganism inspired by religious hatred and sentenced to two years each in a Russian prison colony.

Russia needs Human Rights Ombudsmen in every region – Putin (August 2012)
Russian President Vladimir Putin lauded the independence of his country’s Human Rights Ombudsmen, and suggested making the post obligatory for every region of the Russian Federation.

Russia’s law on volunteering can be adopted in autumn (August 2012)
A law on volunteering may be adopted in Russia this autumn, the deputy speaker of the Federation Council, Yuri Vorobyev, said. “Possibly, this law can be adopted in autumn. Different public organizations, including the Public Chamber, are drafting this law,” he told Itar-Tass.

NGO law affects Russia's civil society (August 2012)
Hundreds of Russian civil society organizations will not receive foreign grants anymore because of new restrictions placed on them, despite the fact they depend on such funding to survive. Some organizations have decided to try to focus on domestic funding.

Blogger and leader of protest movement Aleksei Navalny charged with embezzlement after labeling an official a “foreign agent” (August 2012)
Russian prosecutors charged the blogger and anticorruption activist Aleksei Navalny with embezzlement, a statute that carries a sentence of five to 10 years in prison, the Kremlin’s most direct measure to date against a leader of the protest movement that erupted in December. Mr. Navalny said he believed the case had been revived in the wake of an unexpectedly large demonstration on May 6, on the eve of Mr. Putin’s inauguration. One week prior to his arrest, he accused Russia’s chief federal investigator, Aleksandr I. Bastrykin, of secretly owning real estate and other investments in the Czech Republic. Mimicking accusations against NGOs, Navalny referred to the official as a “foreign agent.”

New amendments on volunteering to be developed (July 2012)
The draft Law on Volunteers, prepared by the Public Chamber with participation of the ICNL Moscow Office, will not be adopted. The draft was considered controversial by some CSOs and rendered much discussion. One of the CSOs’ arguments was that the draft could result in more burdensome administrative procedures and delays in the implementation of activities. This was substantiated by examples from the town of Krymsk that recently suffered from flooding. The town attracted hundreds if not thousands of volunteers who were distributing aid to the local people. As a compromise, new amendments on volunteering will be incorporated into the Law on Public Associations and the Tax code to ensure the NGOs’ right to involve volunteers in their activities and to prevent taxation on the reimbursement of volunteering related expenses.

Details of "Foreign Agents" Law (July 2012)
President Putin signed a high-profile bill that will relegate politically active NGOs receiving funding from abroad to a registry of “foreign agents.” Once registered, these NGOs will face heightened scrutiny. They will be required to file regular disclosures with the government and to label all materials disseminated through major channels with their “foreign agent” status. Responding to critics, Duma legislator and bill co-sponsor Alexander Sidyakin pointed to the similarities between the law and the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), a similarly worded US statute.

"Foreign Agents" Law modeled after US law, says Putin (July 2012)
President Putin says that by adopting the law labeling foreign-funded nonprofits involved in politics ‘foreign agents’, Russia, just like the US, wants to protect itself from external influence. The Russian leader sees nothing wrong in requiring organizations that get funding from other countries to be registered as foreign agents. “If foreigners pay for political activity, apparently they are expecting to get some result from that,” he noted at an annual pro-Kremlin youth forum. “This rule applies only to organizations that are involved in politics and get financing from abroad,” he stressed.“I believe that in Russia we can have a law similar to that adopted in the United States back in 1938. Why have they protected themselves this way from external influence and have been using this law for decades? Why can we not do the same in Russia?” Putin pointed out.

Russians Support Recent Laws Restricting Freedoms - Poll (July 2012)
Russians generally support a number of recently passed laws that impose restrictions on the freedoms of speech and assembly and on access to information, according to a poll released Thursday by the Levada Center.

Russian rights activists refuse to comply with NGO law (July 2012)
Russia’s two largest human rights organizations will not comply with the law that labels them as "foreign agents,” the NGOs’ heads said just hours after President Vladimir Putin signed the controversial new NGO bill. Putin signed on Saturday a law forcing non-government organizations engaged in political activities with foreign financing to be branded as "foreign agents."

Drive to give legal status to volunteers (July 2012)
As volunteerism soars to new highs with the recent Krasnodar region flooding, policymakers are hammering out the country's first bill that would give legal status to volunteers. A draft of the bill says volunteers would be obliged to sign cooperation agreements with organizations, according to a copy published by State Duma Deputy Ilya Ponomaryov of “A Just Russia” on his blog.

The Internet law: A good bad example of Russia's backsliding (July 2012)
Duma Bill 89417 is a proposed Internet statute that, among other provisions, would create a blacklist of websites that all Russians Internet service providers (ISPs) would have to block and refuse to host. The bill was hurried through the legislature in one week. (The defamation bill was approved in the Duma's third and final reading; jail terms were eliminated from an earlier draft, but fines were allowed reaching as high as 5 million rubles or about US$153,000). Both bills now await President Vladimir Putin's signature.

Russian parliament approves restrictions on foreign-funded NGOs (July 2012)
Russia’s lower house of parliament passed a bill imposing new restrictions on non-governmental organizations that receive funding from abroad. Although the bill, which is almost certain to pass the upper house and be signed into law by the president, does not prohibit any organization from operating, it is likely to create a chilling effect on CSO activities. It reflects the suspicion of the West and the fear of rising opposition sentiment held by President Vladimir Putin and his backers in the governing United Russia party.

Secretary of State Clinton discusses “disturbing” Russian NGO Law in CoD Governing Council remarks (July 2012)
In her Remarks at the Community of Democracies Governing Council, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton stated that “the new legislation being passed in the Russian Duma not only goes after foreign NGOs and funding from foreign NGOs, but goes after local, national NGOs and civil society, which is really a great disturbance to the brilliance and the creativity of the Russian people, who have so much to contribute.” She said she thinks “the Community of Democracies needs to speak out, because whenever a reporter is silenced or an activist threatened or a civil society organization shut down, it really weakens the social fabric of a nation.

EU High Representative “highly concerned” about amendments to Russia’s NGO law (July 2012)
The spokesperson of Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the Commission, issued a statement on July 10 saying that Ms. Ashton is “highly concerned by amendments to the Russian NGO law that were adopted … against the advice of the Russian President’s Council on Human Rights and the Development of Civil Society.” The statement notes that these amendments would force Russian NGOs that receive foreign funding “to present themselves as ‘foreign agents’ in all their activities” and that this “cannot be compared to any legislation or practice existing in the EU or the US.” According to the statement, “The adoption of this NGO law comes amidst several developments that limit the space for a vibrant civil society in Russia, such as the arrests of opposition figures as well as a new law that stipulates excessive fines for administrative violations during authorised demonstrations.”

PACE Rapporteur Slams Russian Slander Bill As 'Invitation to Punish' Kremlin Critics (July 2012)
A prominent member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has criticized a move by the Russian State Duma to reintroduce slander as a criminal offense. Switzerland's Andreas Gross said the new legislation joins a group of harsh new restrictions on everything from Internet use to foreign funding for nongovernmental organizations that have been whisked through the Russian parliament in the early weeks of Vladimir Putin's second presidency.

Russia's Ruling Party Seeks ‘Foreign Agent’ Media Bill (July 2012)
Ruling United Russia party lawmakers are planning to put some media outlets on the list of “specially monitored” organizations, the Izvestia daily reported.

UN human rights experts warn of potential damage by Russia’s draft law to civil society (July 2012)
A group of United Nations independent experts today warned that a draft law being considered by Russia could adversely impact civil society and urged on the Government not to adopt this legislation. “These amendments constitute a direct affront to those wishing to freely exercise their right to freedom of association,” the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, said in a news release.

Parties Ask Russian Constitutional Court To Review Demonstrations Law (July 2012)
Two Russian political parties have appealed to the Constitutional Court to rule on the legality of a recently adopted law mandating heavy fines for organizing or participating in unsanctioned demonstrations. More than 100 lawmakers from the A Just Russia and Communist parties signed the appeal, which argues that the massive increase in fines and the introduction of mandatory public-service sentences for some violations are unconstitutional.

Looking for Foreign Agents in All the Wrong Places (July 2012)
For more than a year, the Kremlin has been promising that there would be a "symmetric response" to the U.S. Magnitsky act. The problem, though, was that a strictly symmetric response would require freezing the Russian-based assets of U.S. government officials who are implicated in human rights abuses. Since few would qualify for this blacklist, the Kremlin resorted to an asymmetric response — a United Russia proposal to amend the law regulating nongovernmental organizations.

NGO laws indicate Putin’s strategic failure, political frailty (July 2012)
Russia’s lower house of parliament today passed a bill imposing new restrictions on foreign-funded non-governmental organizations.  The regulations are reminiscent of Soviet secret police methods, the head of the Council of Europe said yesterday.  “Although the bill, which is almost certain to pass the upper house and be signed into law by the president, does not prohibit any organization’s operation, it is likely to create a chilling effect on groups’ activities,” reports suggest.

Russia's Internet blacklist looms in freedom crackdown (July 2012)
The United States had SOPA, and Britain has the Digital Economy Act. China is -- well, in a league of its own. Russia is next on the list of developed nations pushing for widespread website blocking and censorship capabilities in the wake of an online uprising prior to the inauguration of Russian president Vladimir Putin. Thousands of protesters took to the streets, set up blogs, and disseminated demands for a fresh ballot over social networks following claims of rigged votes and electoral corruption in the recent presidential elections.

Transparency International calls on Russia to reject draconian amendments to laws governing NGOs (July 2012)
Transparency International calls on the Russian parliament to reject the proposed amendments to the law governing non-governmental organizations. The new regulations, if passed, would severely limit civil society’s ability to hold governments to account and would misrepresent what non-governmental organizations do. “Singling out organizations that work on legitimate public issues, such as access to information, the rule of law and whistle-blower protection, and labeling them “agents of foreign influence” is completely wrong and sends an ominous message to the people of Russia who took to the streets more than 20 years ago to fight for their freedoms,” said Huguette Labelle, Chair of Transparency International.

Putin signs draconian law restricting freedom of assembly (June 2012)
The Russian State Duma voted in favor of a bill to increase the fees for unsanctioned meetings one hundred and fifty-fold. The legislature’s upper house signed the bill after which President Putin signed it into law. Supporters of the law argue that it is an attempt to bring Russian legislation in compliance with European standards. In a letter to the Financial Times, for example, Putin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov wrote that in introducing the law the Russian government is “striving for legislation that is comparable to the regulation of political protests in the west” and is “inspired by the European example.”

New Russian bill aims to brand NGOs as 'foreign agents' (June 2012)
Nongovernmental organizations operating in Russia on grants from abroad could soon be officially branded as "foreign agents." Under a new bill submitted to the State Duma by deputies from the ruling United Russia party, the requirement would apply to foreign-funded NGOs deemed to be engaged in political activities. "I've prepared a draft law on introducing amendments to the NGO law. We'll submit it soon," Aleksandr Sidyakin, one of the bill's authors, wrote on Twitter. "Prepare your cash, foreign agents! :)"

Parliament to label externally-funded NGOs as foreign agents (June 2012)
The Russian State Duma is pondering legislative amendments that would rename all NGOs that receive funding from abroad into ‘foreign agents’ with obligatory mentioning of this status in all media reports. The suggested legislative changes would require that all NGOs registered within Russia but receiving money or property from foreign sources, state and private alike, be considered “foreign agents” once they get involved in political activities, one of the amendments’ initiators, United Russia State Duma deputy Aleksander Sidyakin, said.

Law on rallies awaits Putin’s signature (June 2012)
Following 12 hours of tense debate, Russia's State Duma has adopted amendments to the law on rallies, slapping harsher penalties on participants and organizers alike.

Putin signs law with new restrictions on peaceful assembly (June 2012)
President Putin signed into law the new restrictive amendments to the law on public rallies and the administrative code, which had been adopted by the lower chamber of the Russian Parliament on June 5 and endorsed by the upper chamber on June 6. President Putin dismissed the concerns of numerous Russian and international human rights groups and told the news media that the new law was to protect Russian nationals from radicalism. He said that the law imposed no more restrictions on freedom of assembly than is permitted under prevailing European norms.

Russian President Putin defends Russia’s human rights record after EU meeting (June 2012)
Under pressure from the West, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday defended his country’s human rights record, claiming that Russia has no political prisoners and dismissing criticism of a draconian bill that increases fines for unsanctioned street rallies.

Russia's civil society 'beats authorities' in tackling corruption (May 2012)
Russia's civil society has made a dramatic leap forward over the past three years and is doing much more to curb corruption than the authorities. Yelena Panfilova, a prominent, outgoing member of the presidential anti-corruption and human rights council, said on Wednesday.

Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor meets civil society advocates from Russia (April 2012)
Thomas O. Melia, who serves as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, welcomed to the State Department a dozen inspiring civil society advocates from Russia. He noted that civil society is an essential driver of progress and accountability on an array of important issues, including prison reform. Over the past year, Russian civil society advocates, including some of the activists who took part in the meeting, have been working to prevent another tragedy like that of Sergei Magnitsky, who dies from abuse and neglect in a Moscow pre-trial detention center.

Freedom of speech concerns arise as protest singers face seven-year jail sentences (April 2012)
A court rejected calls to free imprisoned members of a feminist punk band that performed a protest song against Vladimir Putin inside Moscow's main cathedral. Three members of Pussy Riot had their detention extended until June 24 in a case that has provoked disputes over freedom of speech and the close relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Kremlin. They face jail sentences of seven years if convicted of hooliganism for the "punk prayer" against Mr. Putin sung from the pulpit of Christ the Saviour Cathedral, in Moscow on February 21.

Nonviolent protests in Russia: About the elections or also for the future? (March 2012)
Only two years ago, civil protests would have been of marginal interest to most Russians. Citizens would not even dare cross a boulevard carrying banners in their numb hands. The author of this article - a young, independent writer – discusses the change in Russians’ mentality about civil protest and shares her views on the structure of the protest movement.

International NGOs urge authorities of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia to take measures to protect journalists (January 2012)
The international human rights organizations Article 19 and International Media Support (IMS) have called on the authorities of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia to take every legal and political measure needed to protect journalists and defend the right to freedom of expression in these countries. "We recommend establishing effective cooperation between human rights organizations and journalist organizations for the provision of mutual support," Senior Communications and Advocacy Officer at Article 19 Oliver Spencer said at the presentation of the recommendations to the report "No Justice for Journalists in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia" in Kyiv on Monday.

News archive

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)

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