MOSCOW, June 28 (RIA Novosti) – The state roster of “foreign agents” among Russian nongovernmental organizations finally added its first entry on Thursday, a year after it was established, the Justice Ministry said Friday.
The first organization to voluntarily sign up as a “foreign agent” was the Supporting Competition in CIS Countries noncommercial partnership, which had not made any national headlines since its inception in 2009.
The organization would not comment on its decision to register as a “foreign agent,” a spokeswoman said by telephone Friday.
Since July 2012, Russian NGOs that receive foreign funding and are involved in vaguely defined “political activity” are obliged by law to register as “foreign agents.” Critics of the law argue that the term carries connotations of Cold War propaganda, and that the status requires organizations to deal with extra paperwork and regular checks that many NGOs said would completely cripple their operations.
The law was slammed by Amnesty International and many prominent Russian NGOs, including the Moscow Helsinki Group and elections monitor Golos, which earlier accused the Kremlin of rigging the federal elections in 2011-2012.
No NGOs have voluntarily registered as “foreign agents” until this week. The government launched a nationwide crackdown on NGOs this spring, ordering dozens to register under the controversial law. Targets included Golos, whose operations were suspended this week following a lawsuit by the Justice Ministry.
President Vladimir Putin claimed in April that Russian NGOs received a combined $1 billion in foreign funding in 2013 alone, though Golos and several other NGOs called the figures grossly overstated. The Justice Ministry, which Putin said provided the figure, refused Friday to reveal the sources for its data.