The reason for foreign non-commercial organizations’ concerns in Russia is a “Foreign Agents” Law modeled on the US Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
The Law No. 121-FZ, which passed in Summer, 2012, requires, among other things, organizations that receive foreign funding and engage in “political activities” to register as “foreign agents.” Failing to register as a “foreign agent” is punishable by a maximum fine of 300,000 rubles for individuals and up to 500,000 rubles (approximately $16,280) for organizations.
Despite the fact that authorities had originally pledged that groups devoted to environmentalism, wildlife protection, and children’s rights would be exempt from the law, several such groups have been named by prosecutors in recent days. Among them — the “Aid to Children with Cystic Fibrosis” NGO in Istra (near Moscow) and the Amur Ecological Foundation in Russia’s far east, which works on an international project to save the endangered Siberian crane.
Another group headed to court is the Goldman-prize winning Baikal Environmental Wave, who struggle for re-routing a controversial oil pipeline away from the pristine ecological zone of Siberia’s Lake Baikal. The leader, Marina Rikhvanova, said the group has received an official notice from the local prosecutor’s office that it must register as a “foreign agent” or face initial fines of 500,000 roubles (about $15,000) for the organization and 100,000 roubles (just over $3,000) for its leader.
Another non-commercial organization that faced the problem of a new legislation is “Bok-o-Bok” international film festival, which screens LGBT-themed films from Russia and around the world since 2007. The St. Petersburg court at the beginning of June fined the festival the equivalent of $15,000 for failing to comply with a demand to register.
The “Bok-o-Bok” activists are accused of publishing an “International LGBT-movement: from local specifics to global politics” brochure and participating in “Stop passing the homophobia bill together”. From the court’s perspective, the contents of the brochure includes the elements of political solicitation and is oriented to public opinion shaping and antagonizing the Law No. 16.13.1 banning the gay-propaganda.
The initiators of the festival admitted it was partly financed by Holland (the sum of 800 000 rub is announced), but it was before the law came into effect. “This festival is based in Russia, founded in Russia, though we do receive some funding from abroad,” says Manny De Guerre, a spokesperson for the festival.
The criticism of the Law No. 121-FZ rests upon the non-exact rendering of a “political activity” term that causes putting ecological organizations and the centers of national minorities support in the list of the potential foreign agents. Also, there are no analogues for this law anywhere in the world except USA, where it is not invoked essentially.
The mass-media point out that some organizations have already found a way around the law: the non-commercial organization declares off the partnership with the foreign supporter and works only with the Russian finances. At the same time a commercial subsidiary is registered to accept the orders from abroad and falls outside the scope of the Law No. 121-FZ.
The hearings on the problems of the Law No. 121-FZ provisions enforcement were held at the Public Chamber on June 10. The Chamber members, human rights activists, academics and experts took part in it. A resolution will be accepted following the results of the hearings.