MOSCOW, December 7 (RIA Novosti) – Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev defended on Friday a controversial new law obliging NGOs engaged in politics and funded from abroad to label themselves “foreign agents.”
“What’s wrong with the word ‘agent’?” asked Medvedev during a live television interview with five broadcasters spanning the political gamut, from pro-Kremlin state television to the feisty, independent Dozhd online channel.
“Agent means ‘representative,’ and that’s all,” said Medvedev in response to suggestions that the phrase was synonymous with “spy” and would discredit human rights groups in the eyes of the public. “Anything else is just a coincidence.”
Russian human rights groups have reacted furiously to the new law, which came into force in November. The country’s oldest rights organization, the Moscow Helsinki Group, has said it will close down its offices rather than comply, and most other prominent rights groups have said they would not register under the new legislation.
“The law only concerns those NGOs that engage in politics and receive money from foreign governments,” Medvedev said. “Imagine if an NGO in the US dealing with politics received money from the Russian federal budget – there would be an outcry.”
Medvedev also denied that the NGO law was part of an attempt to stifle political opposition, saying recent laws on slander, treason, protests and internet censorship had not been used to target individual “political groups.”