MOSCOW, February 14 (RIA Novosti) – Only a single NGO has registered as a foreign agent under a hotly contested 2012 Russian law to regulate the activities of foreign-funded organizations, the Justice Ministry said on its website Friday.
The law, widely denounced by human rights organizations as an attempt to suppress political opposition in the country, obliges organizations receiving foreign funding that are in any way involved in politics to register as foreign agents and include that label on all of their publications, among other requirements.
The Justice Ministry said the non-profit organization Supporting Competition in the CIS Countries, which according to its website promotes business interests in economic policymaking in former Soviet countries, voluntarily registered as a foreign agent in June.
It has not been joined by any other organizations, although prosecutors ordered many others to register as foreign agents following sweeping raids by government officials of about 2,000 rights groups and NGOs since last March.
Most recently, the St. Petersburg-based Freedom of Information Foundation filed a complaint earlier this year with the prosecutor’s office after it was notified to join the register.
In the order to register as a foreign agent, prosecutors cited the participation of the NGO’s founder, Ivan Pavlov, at a meeting between human rights activists and US President Barack Obama during the G20 summit last September.
Russia has fined NGOs that have ignored requests to register, including the Golos independent elections monitor.
In October, the Kostroma Public Initiative Support Center said it could not afford a $9,000 fine for failing to register and would shutter its doors pending an appeal to Russia’s Constitutional Court.
A number of rights groups said they would not comply with the law following its enactment in November 2012, and 11 NGOs have lodged a complaint against the law with the European Court of Human Rights.
A regional human rights agency, Shield and Sword, was the first organization to voluntarily attempt to register – saying it wanted to see for itself how the new law would affect NGOs – but its application has twice been denied.
Russia’s highest court said last month that it would review the constitutionality of the law in March, which has been criticized by the Kremlin’s own human rights commissioner.
President Vladimir Putin, in a meeting with human rights activists last summer, reiterated his stance that “if people engage in domestic politics and receive money from abroad, society has the right to know what that organization is and whose money is funding it.”
Putin added that he had ordered amendments to the law to clearly differentiate between NGOs involved in social development and those that are politically active.