Russian senators propose first batch of 'undesirable' NGOs

8th July 2015, Comments 0 comments

Lawmakers in Russia's pro-Kremlin upper chamber called on authorities Wednesday to blacklist 12 foreign NGOs as "undesirable", the first proposals under a new law critics say is part of a clampdown on civil society.

An aide to senator Andrei Klishas confirmed that 12 organisations, including US-based Freedom House, the National Endowment for Democracy and the Ukrainian World Congress, have been included on a proposed "patriotic stop list."

Russia passed a controversial law in May allowing authorities to ban foreign organisations they say pose a threat to national security.

Senators have now sent their list to the general prosecutor, who is responsible for determining which organisations are branded "undesirable".

Seven of the 12 organisations proposed are based in the United States, three work on Ukraine and two are Polish-based.

Supporters of President Vladimir Putin claim that the law, which can punish Russian activists with up to six years in jail for cooperating with these groups, is needed to thwart Western attempts to brew revolution in the country.

"This issue is directly related to the protection of our constitutional system," senator Konstantin Kosachev said at a session of the upper house of parliament on Wednesday, RIA Novosti news agency reported.

"Those who give money to these NGOs aren't interested in the number of trees or animals saved. They are interested in how many people they can bring to the street at a given 'X hour,'" he said, referring to Russia's claim that the West is supporting regime change in the country.

Russia has upped pressure on NGOs since President Vladimir Putin's reelection in 2012, including with the adoption of a law that allows authorities to brand groups that receive funds from abroad as "foreign agents."

Seventy-seven organisations, including prominent human rights group Memorial and elections monitor Golos, currently feature on the list of "foreign agents."

Dynasty, a leading scientific foundation, announced Wednesday it was closing after having been branded a "foreign agent" in May.

Its founder, telecommunications mogul Dmitry Zimin, said at the time he would be withdrawing his financial support from the organisation in light of its new legal status.

The closure of Dynasty, which offered grants to up-and-coming scholars and worked to popularise science, represents a huge blow to Russia's scientific community, its supporters have said.

The president of the US philanthropic MacArthur Foundation, Julia Stasch, said in a statement e-mailed to AFP that the organization was "disappointed" to learn it was on the Russian senators' list and that its inclusion rested on a "serious misunderstanding" of its activities in Russia.

The organisation has an office in Moscow, and supports charitable and civic organizations working in the fields of human rights and education.

"The MacArthur Foundation is entirely independent of and receives no funding from the United States government. We do not engage in or support political activities," the statement read. "We are hopeful that, upon review, the Prosecutor General will conclude that our activities have always been in compliance with Russian law."

© 2015 AFP

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