MOSCOW, April 26 (RIA Novosti) – Several environmental groups in Russia have been classified as “foreign agents” by prosecutors for alleged political activity, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said on Friday.
Four WWF partner organizations in the Amur, Chelyabinsk, Khabarovsk and Irkutsk Regions were targeted under new controversial legislation on NGOs, WWF Russia head Igor Chestin said.
Another victim was a Moscow Region-based group helping people with mucoviscidosis, a rare and dangerous genetic disorder, he said.
“We’ve been warning about possible abuse ever since the law’s coming into force [last July],” Chestin told RIA Novosti.
The NGO bill requires all non-governmental organizations in Russia to register as “foreign agents” if they are involved in “political activity” and receive foreign funding.
Organizations classified as a “foreign agent,” a derogatory term in Soviet times with connotations of espionage, are subject to punitive levels of extra supervision under the new law.
The bill was pushed through by the Kremlin despite vocal criticism from NGO representatives, including Chestin, who said “political activity” had no clear legal definition.
President Vladimir Putin said earlier this month that Russian NGOs received almost $1 billion in foreign funding in 2013, though the Kremlin has so far failed to name these groups when requested to do so by several prominent NGOs.
Though environmental NGOs are supposed to be exempt from the law, prosecutors still insisted the WWF partners, as well as the mucoviscidosis group, were technically politically active, according to official papers concerning one of the targeted groups, copies of which were obtained by RIA Novosti.
A sweeping check was launched into Russian NGOs in March, with hundreds of organizations subjected to exhaustive examinations by prosecutors and various other state agencies.
Golos, an independent electoral watchdog, was the first NGO in Russia to be formally declared a “foreign agent” in court on Thursday, when it was also fined 300,000 rubles ($9,670) and its director fined another 100,000 rubles.
Golos, which appealed the ruling, accused the ruling United Russia party and Putin of rigging millions of votes in their favor during the parliamentary vote of 2011 and last year’s presidential elections.