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Russian rights official says NGO law could be amended

STRELNA, July 17 (RIA Novosti) - One of Russia's leading human rights activists said Monday that a controversial law on nongovernmental organizations could be amended.

The April NGO law, which set more stringent and complicated financial reporting and registration requirements for NGOs, has been criticized in the West and liberal groups in Russia for being too restrictive. The controversy has contributed to accusations that Russia is backsliding on democracy.

Ella Pamfilova, the head of the presidential council on civil society institutions and human rights, said amendments were possible: "Many public organizations are monitoring the way the law is being enforced and we will try to sum up the monitoring results and convey them to the president."

Meeting with members of the world's leading rights and environmental organizations in July ahead of the Group of Eight summit, President Vladimir Putin admitted the law was flawed and promised that it would be reconsidered. He also invited NGO to make comments on the law and pledged they would be taken into consideration.

The Federal Registration Service has said that none of the 40 foreign NGOs that applied for registration after the introduction of the law had managed to complete the process. It said there were between 500 and 2,000 foreign NGOs operating in Russia, and that all of them had to re-register by October 18.

But Putin said NGOs in Russia must not be financed from abroad, which was tantamount to meddling in domestic affairs.

"I personally - I will speak completely openly and honestly - have only one concern," Putin told the meeting. "I will always speak and fight against foreign governments financing political activity in our country, just as our government should not finance political activity in other countries."

Russian politicians have consistently defended the legislation, saying that NGOs had helped "color revolutions" in neighboring ex-Soviet countries, particularly Ukraine and Georgia, which swept away the ruling elite in favor of West-leaning authorities in 2004 and 2003.

Pamfilova also suggested that political and public activities should be set out as separate notions in the law.

"The notion 'political activity' has not been laid out in legal terms in Russia so far. I believe this is the main source of, so to say, arbitrariness," Pamfilova said.

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