Moscow (AsiaNews) - The Russian Orthodox Church could
be affected by a controversial bill that requires foreign-funded NGOs involved
in "political" activities to register as "foreign agents" or risk hefty fines
and imprisonment, this according to Mikhail Fedotov, head of Russia's Presidential
Council on Human Rights. The latter is currently vetting the draft law, set to
be introduced in the Duma (Russian parliament) next Thursday, but which could
become law as early as this fall.
According to the bill, Russian NGOs that engage in
political activities, act for foreign powers or foreign donors, or receive
foreign funds must be register as "foreign agents," display the label "foreign
agent" on their website and publications and subject themselves to closer
government scrutiny. If an NGO fails to register within 90 days of the law's coming
into force, members could face four-year prison terms and 300,000 ruble (US$
"The proposed legislation is too wide in reach,"
Kremlin human rights chief Mikhail Fedotov told Russian news agencies. "The law
could even concern the Russian Orthodox Church, as the law relates to any
non-commercial organization that receives funds from foreign citizens," he
noted. "And, of course, the Orthodox Church receives donations from abroad."
NGOs now fear a government crackdown. For the Kremlin,
they have always been a destabilising factor in Russia.
United Russia Deputy Alexander Sidyakin, who drafted
the bill, the goal is to prevent foreign governments from interfering in
Russian domestic affairs. He insists that his bill is inspired by international
practice, citing the United States.
The bill has Kremlin support, the Vedomosti newspaper wrote. In December, when protests broke out
following allegations of fraud in the presidential election, then Prime
Minister and frontrunner Vladimir Putin accused US Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton of instigating unrest.
Civil society groups, from WWF to Golos, a vote-monitoring
organisation, have warned that the draft law would violate "democratic
For Human Rights Watch, the measures are "clearly
excessive and unnecessary," pointing out that all Russian NGOs already publish
financial reports, as required by Russian law.
Elena Panfilova, of Transparency International Russia,
calls the bill "psychological terrorism". In her view, "they want to breathe
down our neck, but we are used to it and have nothing to hide. Our work will go
ahead without foreign funds if need be."