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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Annals of the Neo-Soviet Crackdown on NGOs

The Independent reports:

At least 600 Russian NGOs, defending everything from consumers' to Communists' rights, have been deregistered for failing to comply with cumbersome new rules, a Russian media monitoring group said. The NGOs are, in effect, crippled, unable to open bank accounts or new offices. The Voronezh-based Interregional Group of Human Rights Defenders added that in some cases, the deregistering appeared to be politically motivated.

Critics of the NGO registration law, which came into effect in April 2006 and requires NGOs to file lengthy annual reports, have lambasted it as an excuse to clamp down on Russia's nascent civil society. Opponents of the government can be deregistered over technicalities, they say. The government, however, argues that many NGOs are fronts for criminals or terrorists and need to be vetted. "There's an opinion among the country's leadership that the revolutions that happened in Ukraine and Georgia were begun by NGOs," said the report's author, Olga Gnezdilova, referring to pro-democracy uprisings in the former Soviet nations.

In October, 77 NGOs, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, were temporarily forced to suspend activities after missing a registration deadline. Ella Pamfilova, a top adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, later admitted that the new law was suffocating NGOs. This year, only 216,000 of around 500,000 Russian NGOs were able to meet the registration deadline, the Kommersant business daily reported on Monday. The remainder can be taken to court and stripped of their registration. The new report, which collates media reports from eight regions, says that NGOs are being declared inactive by courts though some claim they filed all the necessary documents.

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