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Russian 'Undesirable' NGOs Bill Clears Vote

Russian State Duma lawmakers have passed in the second reading a bill on "undesirable organizations" that critics say will deal a fresh blow to a nongovernmental sector that is already under considerable pressure.

The bill, initiated by Russian lawmakers Aleksandr Tarnavsky and Anton Ishchenko, would give Russia's prosecutor-general the right to list as "undesirable" foreign organizations "posing a threat to Russia's defense capabilities, security, public order, [or] public health."

The decision to find a foreign organization undesirable must be coordinated with the Foreign Ministry on the basis of materials and documents obtained from the Interior Ministry and security organs.

The Russian Justice Ministry would be tasked with compiling the "blacklist."

The bill also proposed punishment for individuals linked to the activities of such organizations on Russian territory in the form of a fine between 10,000 and 100,000 rubles ($200-$2,000).

Violation of the ban on the activities of such "undesirable" organizations in Russia could be punished with a fine of 300,000-500,000 rubles ($6,000-$10,000) or imprisonment of up to eight years.

During debate of the bill in its first reading earlier this week, the Duma committee on constitutional legislation and state construction requested that the bill be softened.

Ahead of the second reading, the text stipulated that international and foreign organizations may be deemed "undesirable" only if they are nongovernmental.

In a joint statement, Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the law, if adopted, would "bolster an ongoing draconian crackdown which is squeezing the life out of civil society."

HRW Europe and Central Asia Director Hugh Williamson said the primary targets of the proposed legislation are "Russian activists and Russian independent organizations," not international nongovernmental organizations.

In 2012, Russia passed legislation that grants broad leeway for authorities to define nongovernmental groups that receive foreign funding as "foreign agents."

"These new harsh restrictions are part of an ever rising repressive tide which is stifling free speech, denying the space for debate and suffocating free expression in Russia," said John Dalhuisen, AI's director for Europe and Central Asia.

Based on reporting by TASS and Interfax