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Russian Rights Group Fined 15th Time For Breaking 'Foreign Agent' Rule

For Human Rights' Executive Director Lev Ponomaryov (file photo)
For Human Rights' Executive Director Lev Ponomaryov (file photo)

A Russian court has fined For Human Rights, a federation of regional and local rights groups, for the 15th time for breaking the country's "foreign agent" law, which requires civil society organizations to disclose foreign funding.

On October 10, a Moscow court fined the group the equivalent of $4,650 and its executive director Lev Ponomaryov an additional $1,550.

The court ruled that the group's Vologda division in northwestern Russia made a post on social media which stated that Ponomaryov had visited the site of a future landfill in the Arkhangelsk region without identifying the nonprofit group as a "foreign agent."

The group's lawyer, Olga Zhukova, told the Interfax news agency that the court had ignored the fact that the Vologda division doesn't officially exist because the Justice Ministry had previously denied it registration.

It was the 15th case in which the group and Ponomaryov had been fined for a total of more than $46,500, of which only $9,300 has been paid.

"There are no overdue fines," Zhukova said.

More than half of Russians say they have a negative association with the term "foreign agent," according to a survey carried out in December 2016 by the independent pollster Levada Center.

Russia passed the "foreign agent" law -- which requires all NGOs receiving foreign funding to register -- in 2012 following the biggest wave of anti-government protests since Vladimir Putin came to power.

Putin blamed Western influence and money for those protests.

In 2017, Human Rights Watch, a U.S.-based rights group, called the law "devastating" for local NGOs, saying that more than a dozen had been forced to close their doors.

Opposition activist Aleksei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation was fined the previous day for the same violation.