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Amnesty urges Russia to abolish ‘foreign agent’ law

Amnesty International on Friday called on Russia to abolish a law targeting overseas-backed campaign groups, which has been used to crackdown on more than 100 organisations labelled “foreign agents.”

Days ahead of the fourth anniversary of the law coming into force, the rights watchdog urged Russia to reverse the “devastating consequences” for activist groups and “repeal the ‘foreign agents’ law.”

The law obliges groups with so-called “political” activities and international funding to call themselves “foreign agents,” a term redolent of Stalin-era repressions and Cold War espionage.

The rules have seen some organisations reject much-needed funding from abroad, while others have closed down since it took effect on November 21, 2012

Those branded “foreign agents” are required to submit documents every three months outlining details of their funding.

President Vladimir Putin approved the law shortly after his reelection, following a wave of huge public protests against his return to power. It has ushered in a massive crackdown on civil society.

Amnesty warned of a “very grave risk for the future of civil society” when “only those NGOs that support government policy without question” will survive.

It called on Russia to cancel the law and meanwhile immediately suspend its use and cease adding new groups to the list.

In the last four years, 148 non-governmental organisations have been included on the list of “foreign agents” in Russia, of which 27 have closed down altogether, Amnesty said.

Russia has used the law to label the most prominent groups that criticise government policy, including the leading Memorial rights organisation and Golos election observer group as well as HIV-prevention groups, ecological activists and those who work with victims of torture.

The law “was designed to shackle, stigmatise, and ultimately silence critical NGOs,” Amnesty’s Russia director Sergei Nikitin was quoted as saying in a statement.

“The ultimate losers are not just NGOs but Russian society.”

The measure comes as Russian officials have accused the West of trying to undermine the country and view internal criticism as the work of spies and traitors while de-emphasising the horrors of Stalin’s rule.

The organisations branded “foreign agents” are required to submit documents every three months outlining details of their funding.

They are also obliged to carry the “foreign agent” tag on materials they publish, among a number of other requirements.