Amnesty International has slammed a bill circulating in the lower house of Russia’s parliament that would identify individuals receiving funds from abroad as “foreign agents,” saying the proposed legislation signals a “new witch hunt of civil society groups and human rights defenders.”
Under the bill introduced in the State Duma on November 18, individuals labeled as “foreign agents” would be banned from joining the civil service or holding a municipal government position.
They would also be forced to mark their letters to authorities and other material with a “foreign agent” label.
"If adopted, the bill will drastically limit and damage the work not only of civil society organizations that receive funds from outside Russia but many other groups as well," Amnesty International’s Russia Researcher Natalia Prilutskaya said in a statement on November 19.
“The bill signals a new witch hunt of civil society groups and human rights defenders standing up for justice and dignity,” Prilutskaya charged.
“It exposes the Russian authorities’ belief that civil society actors are destructive 'agents of the West' bent on destabilizing the government -- not as key allies to address challenges and seek to bring positive change," Prilutskaya said.
Russia’s “foreign agents” law came into force in 2012. Since then, hundreds of organizations have seen their funding shrink, and their staff intimidated or prosecuted.
Critics say the law has been arbitrarily applied to target Russian civil society organizations, human rights defenders, and political activists, including outspoken Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation.
Under the current proposal, the “foreign agents” label would be obligatory for publications and other materials issued by public associations and their members, as well as for NGO staff deemed to be in that category.