Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has approved a law which will tighten controls on civil rights groups funded from abroad, his press office said on Saturday.
The law, which was cleared by the upper house of parliament earlier in July, will force non-governmental organisations (NGOs) engaging in “political activity” to register with the justice ministry as “foreign agents” and to file a report to officials every quarter.
The law also requires NGOs to submit detailed annual financial reports, which critics say would be a time-consuming and costly burden on organisations with small staffs and meager funding.
Opposition groups say Putin is trying to silence groups whose criticism of his human rights record has undercut his credibility and helped fuel seven months of protests against his rule, the biggest since he came to power in 2000.
Some NGOs have vowed to ignore or circumvent the law, while its critics note that the vague definition of “political activity” could be applied against a wide range of initiatives and could be used to suppress dissent.
Challenge it in court
But Lyudmila Mikhailovna Alexeyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group and a veteran human rights activist, said her group will refuse foreign funding in order to get around the law, and that she’s even preparing to auction off her collection of china and art to raise money.
“We will learn to live on very little money, in order to at least keep our office,” she said on Echo Moskvy radio.
The 84-year-old grande dame of Russian human rights work has criticised Putin for enacting the law.
“We are not working for any foreign country. We protect our citizens from our own officials and government and I will not register our organisation as agents of foreign countries because that’s not what we are,” she told Al Jazeera earlier this month.
Putin, a former KGB spy, has dominated Russia for 12 years as prime minister or president and he won another six-year stint in March.
He has alleged that recent protests against him were instigated and funded by the US.
Putin last month signed a law vastly increasing fines for taking part in unauthorised demonstrations to a maximum 300,000 rubles ($9,000).
Lev Ponomarev, head of For Human Rights, one of Russia’s oldest NGOs, told the Interfax news agency that his group will ignore the regulation and challenge it in court.
“We will never be agents and won’t submit to this law. We’re agents of the Russian citizens,” said Ponomarev, adding that his group will continue to accept foreign funding.