Putin Praises Russia’s ‘Liberal’ NGO Legislation

NOVO-OGARYOVO, June 14 (RIA Novosti) – Russian NGO legislation is far more liberal that of other countries, President Vladimir Putin said Friday.

During a meeting in Moscow with representatives of the Civil Summit of the Group of 20 major economies (Civil 20 Summit), Putin paid particular attention to remarks by an Australian who said his organization was unable to engage in political activity in other countries.

“But in our country you can,” Putin said. “The only thing is that organizations that engage in domestic political activity and to which you give money need to register. Their activity is not prohibited.”

At the same time it is essential “to analyze the practical application of that legislation and think about ways of improving it” so that the state has no suspicions about the activity of individual organizations and no one interferes in their activity, Putin said.

“And we will work along those lines, including with the participation of representatives of civil society,” he added.

NGO legislation exists not only in Russia but also in other countries, in particular the United States, where it has been in force since the middle of the past century, Putin said.

“But our legislation is more liberal,” he said. “In the United States, any organization that works in any area and receives money from abroad … is supposed to register as a foreign agent. In our country, [that concerns] only organizations that are engaged in domestic political activity.”

That does not apply to organizations working in healthcare, environmental protection or municipal activity: “There are absolutely no limitations there,” he said.

“I want you to remember that and work in Russia as actively as you can, providing assistance to your partners in Russia,” Putin said.

Earlier on Friday a Moscow court upheld fines imposed on Russia’s Golos Association, an independent election monitoring NGO that said it would appeal the ruling in the European Court of Human Rights. Golos was fined 300,000 rubles (about $10,000), and its director Lilia Shibanova – an additional 100,000 rubles, for failing to register as a “foreign agent.”

A Russian law passed last year requires organizations that receive foreign funding and engage in political activities to register as “foreign agents.” Golos was one of 11 Russian NGOs that lodged a complaint with the European court about the foreign agent law back in February. NGOs have said the term “foreign agent” is a virtual synonym for “spy” and will discredit them in the eyes of the public.

The Justice Ministry claimed that Golos engaged in political activity and received more than 4 million rubles (about $128,000) from foreign sources in December 2012. The government has claimed that the new NGO law is necessary to prevent interference by foreign states in Russia’s internal affairs. In March, the Russian government launched a series of inspections of NGOs, a crackdown that human rights campaigners described as unprecedented in its scale.

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