12/04/2020, 16.54
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Individuals, associations and journalists as 'foreign agent’ suspects

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Anyone who receives money from abroad is a suspect. For Duma official, “Anyone who receives money from foreigners will have to explain to the citizens of Russia whose interests they are promoting.” The bill is meant as a “clean-up” job before next year’s election.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – Individuals, associations, and journalists who receive money from abroad could be suspected of conspiracy to harm Russia.

Yesterday, the Committee on Security and Corruption Control of the State Duma (picture 1) approved the first reading a bill that expands the notion of "foreign agent" to include individuals and organisations that do not have legal personality.

Registered associations already came under legislation adopted two years ago that limits the activities of organisations that receive funding from abroad.

The Commission on the Investigation of Foreign Interference (picture 2), a joint body of the two houses of the Russian parliament, contributed to the bill.

The declared aim is to "increase the transparency of foreign funding dedicated to supporting political activities in Russia,” said Committee chairman Vasily Piskarev.

For the latter, the bill is meant to introduce new rules in the Russian Constitution to defend Russian sovereignty. “Anyone who receives money from foreigners will have to explain to the citizens of Russia whose interests they are promoting,” Piskarev said.

Russian citizens who pass on news and information from media deemed foreign agents, i.e. that receive foreign money, could also be defined foreign agents.

Senators and Duma Members also propose adding to the list "those who engage in political activity that favours the interests of a foreign state, or who collect information from foreign sources, so that it can be used against the security of the Russian Federation.”

These new rules would apply under different articles than those already contained in Russian legislation against treason and espionage.

Regardless of citizenship or nationality, the status of foreign agent can be applied to any individual or group, even informal, that meets the criteria laid out in the draft law.

Anyone defined as a foreign agent will be required to report their activities to the Ministry of Justice every six months, especially with regard to foreign funding.

Furthermore, by passing on any information through social media, such people must make clear their status as a foreign agent. As such they cannot engage in any activity for any level of government.

Foreigners living outside Russia who conduct activities that come under the law must inform in advance the appropriate authorities upon their arrival in the country, with the exception of members of diplomatic representations and accredited journalists in Russia, and other similar individuals.

Deputy Justice Minister Oleg Sviridenko said that the government backs the bill. Over the past three years alone, more than 2 billion rubles (US$ 27 million) have come from abroad to finance non-profit organisations.

For Sviridenko, "The problem is not only the money. Potential agents receive not only direct financing, but also many other material goods, so we should further expand the terms of the law”.

A member of the Social Chamber, Maria Butina also proposed not to limit the activities of foreign agents to politics, but to "indicate all the activities except religious and cultural ones, as in the United States, and analyse each case separately”.

According to many observers, the new restrictions are part of a “clean-up” job before next year’s Duma election.

Since the end of the Soviet Union, many organisations have received foreign funding, starting with humanitarian groups and religious associations with ties to foreign countries, like Catholics, which are engaged in religious and pastoral activity.

Now many publishing, academic, cultural and educational organisations will also find it increasingly difficult to maintain their autonomy and activity in Russia.

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