MOSCOW, July 1 (RIA Novosti) – A Russian justice ministry official on Monday claimed that controversial spot checks on NGOs are needed as many operate as a “front” for illicit activity.
Anna Kotova, deputy head of the Russian Justice Ministry’s NGO affairs department, said that “a huge number of NGOs” operate outside the law, although she did not give any concrete statistics.
She gave the example of a veterans’ association in Russia’s western exclave of Kaliningrad that engaged in commercial activity and had a turnover of billions of rubles but, she said, did not pay tax.
Kotova added that this organization’s activities had been uncovered during a spot check carried out by the ministry in conjunction with the tax authorities.
Since March, NGOs across Russia have been subject to random inspections or spot checks which observers link to a law introduced in November obliging NGOs that engage in “political” activity and receive foreign funding to register as “foreign agents.”
On June 26, the international advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement saying that Russia’s authorities are using the law to "curtail a broad range of work by independent organizations.”
The New York-based group said “at least 62 groups have received warnings or orders to register as foreign agents” or have faced legal action since the inspection campaign started in March.
Of the seven groups already taken to court, five have been ordered to pay fines and register and another 15 organizations may face administrative charges if they fail to register, HRW said in the statement.
Although the Russian government maintains that the law is designed to prevent foreign interference in the nation's political life, NGOs involved in activities that do not seem expressly political, such as public health and wildlife conservation, have already been held to account under it.
On June 26, the Justice Ministry suspended the activity of independent election monitor Golos, prohibited it from holding public events and advised it that its bank accounts would be frozen.
However, the deputy executive director of Golos, Grigory Melkonyants, told RIA Novosti that these measures will not interrupt the organization’s activities, that Golos would formally dissolve and a new election monitoring association will be created.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev last month said that, if needed, it can be adjusted.
Mikhail Fedotov, head of the Kremlin human rights council, in April proposed that it is scrapped and that NGO activity should come under the Civil Code.