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Russia's Justice Ministry has submitted draft changes to the country's controversial law on "foreign agents" that are intended to define more specifically what the phrase "political activities" means.

Under the 2012 law, nongovernmental organizations that receive foreign funding and engage in political activities must register with the government as "foreign agents."

The legislature's online resource for draft laws published a description on January 22 saying that the bill would define "political activities" as holding public gatherings or rallies, issuing public appeals to state authorities, issuing public assessments of official decisions, issuing assessments of elections or their outcomes, or the distribution of such assessments by any means.

Under the changes, an NGO is engaged in political activity if it tries "to influence the development or implementation of state policy or the formation of state bodies and local self-government organs." Monitoring elections or calling for referendums are also listed as political activities.

Activities in the areas of science, culture, art, health care, sports, and social aid are specifically defined as nonpolitical activities.

The Duma must now consider and vote on the proposed amendments.

With reporting by TASS and Interfax

The U.S. announced on January 21 that it has begun implementing new visa regulations under which European Union citizens who are dual nationals of Iran, Iraq, Syria, or Sudan, or who have traveled to those countries since March 2011, need to apply for a visa.

The new rules include some limited exceptions for those who have visited the targeted countries as journalists, during government duty, official humanitarian work, and legitimate business purposes.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said waivers and exemptions would be applied "on a case-by-case basis."

The changes to the visa-waiver program, passed by the U.S. Congress in December and signed into law by U.S. President Barack Obama, have been criticized by civil rights groups and others as discriminatory.

"It is wrong and un-American to punish groups without reason solely based on their nationality, national origin, religion, gender, or other protected grounds," the American Civil Liberties Union said in a letter in December.

The restrictions were passed in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California.

U.S. officials have said the changes are designed to keep the United States safe from terrorist attacks.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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