Russia's lower house of parliament has given final approval to a bill on so-called "undesirable organizations" that critics say will deal a fresh blow to a nongovernmental sector that already faces considerable pressure.
In a third and final reading on May 19, the heavily pro-Kremlin State Duma overwhelmingly approved the legislation, which would give Russian prosecutors the right to list as "undesirable" foreign organizations "posing a threat to Russia's defense capabilities, security, public order, [or] public health."
It must now be approved by the upper house in what precedent suggests will be little more than a formality, and then sent to President Vladimir Putin to be signed into law.
Under the bill, which the Kremlin's own human rights ombudsman has opposed, individuals who work for such organizations inside Russia could be slapped with hefty fines or handed prison sentences of up to six years.
Human rights watchdogs have denounced the legislation. In a joint statement last week, when the Duma passed the bill in a crucial second reading, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said it would "bolster an ongoing draconian crackdown which is squeezing the life out of civil society."
In 2012, Russia passed legislation that grants broad leeway for authorities to define nongovernmental groups that receive foreign funding as "foreign agents."
The law on "undesirable organizations "puts those who don't fall under the 'foreign agents' law on a knife edge," veteran Russian human rights activist Lyudmila Alekseyeva told the Russian website Snob.ru.
Putin, who is accused of clamping down on NGOs with restrictive laws during his third term, recently repeated his accusation that Western secret services use nongovernmental organizations to "destabilize Russia."
"The attempts by the Western secret services to use public, nongovernmental organizations and nonpolitical bodies to discredit the authorities and destabilize Russia's internal situation continue," he said at a March 26 meeting with senior officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the domestic successor of the Soviet KGB.
Under the legislation passed by the Duma on May 19, the decision to deem a foreign organization undesirable must be coordinated with Russia’s Foreign Ministry on the basis of materials and documents obtained from the Interior Ministry and security agencies.
The Justice Ministry would be tasked with compiling the "blacklist."
Aleksandr Cherkasov, the head of Russia's Memorial human rights center, told Snob.ru that the bill was written in such a "blurry" fashion that foreign organizations, media outlets, and NGOs already deemed "foreign agents" could be impacted.
"This law allows you to declare McDonald's an 'undesirable organization' and fine anyone who cooperates with it, anyone who eats hamburgers," Cherkasov said.