Russia parliament passes 'foreign agents' law

Controversial bill is seen as government ploy to stifle opposition and dissent and has been criticised by EU and US.

    Analysts say the controversial bill will set the stage for a crackdown on the opposition. [AFP]
    Analysts say the controversial bill will set the stage for a crackdown on the opposition. [AFP]

    Russia's parliament has approved a controversial bill that brands foreign-funded NGOs as "foreign agents".

    The upper house of parliament overwhelmingly backed the bill on Wednesday, with just one vote against and one abstention, speeding its passage in its last session before a summer break.

    The legislation, which has been criticised by the European Union and the US, was first passed by the lower house of parliament last week.

    Under the controversial bill, which only needs Putin's endorsement before becoming law, any NGO failing to comply with the new rules could face higher penalties, including six months' suspension without a court order and up to three years in jail.

    Critics say the term "foreign agents", which NGOs will be forced to print on all of their publications, harks back to the Cold War.

    Those who risk being branded, such as human rights campaigner Amnesty International and corruption watchdog Transparency International, will be seen by many Russians as traitors.

    Analysts said the bill will set the stage for a crackdown on the opposition.

    Bill ridiculed

    Critics have argued that the term "foreign agent" implies spying for a foreign government and would harm the image of many human rights and environmental groups working in Russia.

    The final two readings of the bill were rushed through the largely pro-Putin chamber on the final day of its spring-summer session, despite protests from both Russian and Western rights groups.

    Opposition deputy Ilya Ponomarev of the Just Russia party ridiculed the bill, saying it had made him a foreign agent because of his efforts to help the victims of last weekend's devastating floods in southern Russia.

    "I have for sure become a foreign agent as I gathered donations for Krymsk and 1,000 people sent money from abroad," he told the Duma.

    "The law is one step towards the degradation of civil society and aimed at setting citizens against each other. Adopting this law is not right, it is aimed at creating a schism in society."

    Putin on Tuesday voiced support for both bills, promising more money to the NGOs from the state budget and saying that libel should not incur jail time, as the legislators had initially proposed.

    Opposition deputies say that the libel bill, which was introduced just days ago, effectively "outlaws dissent" in the country.

    It especially singles out libel against judges, prosecutors and investigators.

    "It will be used to prosecute people who are not happy with the government," said senior Communist MP and former prosecutor Yury Sinelschikov, complaining of the lack of time to properly study the bill.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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