Tuesday, 3 July 2012

An orthodox paranoia?- The 'foreign agents' in Russia

Even the Russian Orthodox Church could be considered a 'foreign agent' under the wording of this law, said Fedotov.


The Chairman of Russia’s Presidential Council on Human Rights, Mikhail Fedotov, has hit back at a proposed law which would crack down on Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and force them to describe themselves as ‘foreign agents’.

Speaking to the Interfax news agency Fedotov, a former lawyer famous for writing Russia’s media law after the fall of the Soviet Union, that the proposed new legislation is, “extremely dangerous.”

Under the new law any NGO which receives foreign funding and engages in ‘political activity’ would have to register and from then on describe itself as a ‘foreign agent’.

They would have to publish reports on their activities every six months and undergo a compulsory audit once a year.

If the law is passed failure to do this would result in heavy fines and imprisonment.

Human rights groups are shocked by the proposed law, calling it a violation of democratic standards. Human Rights Watch in Russia remarked that this new law is reminiscent of state paranoia in the USSR in the 1930s.

The problem with the bill is in wording, Fedotov told reporters. The definitions can be used to target whoever the state wants. Under the new law, he pointed out, even the Russian Orthodox Church should rightly be considered a ‘foreign agent’. They receive money through foreign diocese and have church ecclesiastics who are responsible for interaction with the authorities. That is what would enable the law to be used to suppress human rights and NGOs, warned Fedotov.

The Russian Duma Deputy who drafted the law, Aleksandr Sidyakin, is the same man behind recent legislation which raised the fines for violations in public protests from around 100 euros up to 7000 euros and even more for protest organizers. That legislation caused outrage from human rights groups and furious arguments in parliament.

Sidyakin says the law would promote the, “national interests and sovereignty of Russia.” In the wake of protests against alleged mass vote rigging in Russian parliamentary elections in 2011, Vladimir Putin lashed out at US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, saying she was to blame for instigating protests deigned to destabilize Russia. Clinton and other US officials repeatedly denied any involvement.

Groups within Russia and around the world take this as a sign of official suspicion of the West and its motives.

Sidyakin says that’s about right, seeing it as, “obvious that in Russia there is a whole network of non-governmental organizations whose paid activity raises suspicions about the aims of the client.”

Mikhail Fedotov says the Presidential Council on Human Rights will scrutinize the bill, but warns that the group has been much weakened after half its members left in disgust after more accusations of electoral fraud. The Council can only make non-binding recommendations on law and human rights and its findings have been largely ignored in the past.

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