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Russian Laws Pressuring NGOs To Close

  • RFE/RL

Russia's crackdown on nongovernmental groups that receiving funding from abroad is forcing groups to shut down or abandon their work in the country.

The U.S.-based MacArthur Foundation announced on July 22 that it was stopping its work in Russia, saying laws restricting foreign organizations had made it "impossible" to continue.

Meanwhile, a Russian court in Siberia on July 22 fined Perm-36, a nongovernment group that previously managed the only gulag museum in Russia, for failing register as a "foreign agent" under a strict Russian law.

The law requires any NGO that receives funding from abroad and engages in political activity to formally register as a "foreign agent."

These changes "make it clear that the Russian government regards MacArthur's continued presence as unwelcome," the foundation said in a statement.

The MacArthur foundation has provided more than $170 million in grants since 1992 to Russian groups in fields such as higher education and human rights.

Perm-36, meanwhile, was fined 300,000 rubles (about $5,250). The Prikamye district court also fined Tatyana Kursina, the group's former director, 100,000 rubles (about $1,750).

The group created the Museum of Political Repressions in 1992 near Perm on land that formerly had been a gulag prison camp known as Perm-36.

In March, Perm-36 announced it had started the dissolution process after regional officials seized control of the museum.

The Justice Ministry ruled in April that Perm-36 was considered a "foreign agent" because it had received funds from abroad.

On July 21, Russia's Justice Ministry issued warnings to 12 NGOs that the Kremlin has deemed "foreign agents," saying the groups face "administrative liability measures" – fines severe enough to shut down almost any Russian NGO.

A ministry statement on July 21 said all nongovernmental organizations receiving funds from abroad must indicate on all printed or distributed materials that the group "performs functions as a foreign agent."

It said the warnings were issued to the Memorial human right center, Memorial's information center, the Sakharov Center For Human Rights, Transparency International's Russian research center, the Committee Against Torture, and the Civil Assistance charity for refugees and internally displaced persons.

It said warnings were also issued to the Siberian Press Development Institute, the Bellona-Murmansk environmental group, the Maximum support center for discrimination victims, the Resource Human Rights Center, and the St. Petersburg-based Civil Control rights group.

Earlier in July, Russia's upper house of parliament asked the authorities to scrutinize the operations of 12 foreign organizations, including the MacArthur Foundation, with a view to possibly declaring them "undesirable foreign agents" and shutting them down.

Russia has been widely criticized for its crackdown on civil society since street protests broke out in Moscow against Vladimir Putin's 2012 election to a third presidential term after a gap of four years.

With reporting by TASS, Interfax, AFP, and Reuters