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Russia's Medvedev Acts To Relax NGO Laws

Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev (file photo)
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- President Dmitry Medvedev acted on June 17 to ease restrictions on the activities of nongovernment organisations operating in Russia which human rights groups have criticised as repressive.

The Kremlin chief proposed amendments relaxing laws on NGOs brought in during the presidency of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, but they covered only about a third of Russian NGOs and rights groups said more needed to be done.

Earlier this year Medvedev ordered a working group of parliamentarians and activists to consider laws on NGOs.

"The existing regulation on registration is a burden," Medvedev said after announcing he would send draft amendments to parliament.

Lawmakers originally defended new rules on NGOs as necessary to restrict terrorists, money launderers and spies using NGOs as cover.

Rights activists said the 2006 laws were designed to hinder their work because it forced NGOs to wade through far more paperwork and enabled the authorities to close down organisations.

The draft amendments to the NGO laws cover some aspects of laws covering those Russian NGOs which do not require a membership fee -- around a third of all Russian NGOs.

Allison Gill, head of the Moscow branch of the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said the amendments were a start but much more had to be done.

"What they need to do is completely revamp it, what they done here is tinker with it," she said of the NGOs laws.

Since becoming president a year ago, Medvedev has often spoken about encouraging freedom of speech and clamping down on corruption. Critics, though, have said his actions often failed to match his words.