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Monday, November 05, 2007

Annals of the Neo-Soviet Crackdown: Even More Restrictions on NGOs

Even as the Kremlin is refusing to allow Western inspectors to oversee its parliamentary elections, clearly indicating it has something to hide, it is proposing to enact a whole new set of draconian restrictions on the activities of NGOs that operate inside Russia. The International Herald Tribune reports:

The government is considering new restrictions on Russian human rights and other nongovernmental groups to limit their ability to participate in Western democracy organizations such as the OSCE, an activist said Saturday. The proposed restrictions appeared to be the latest Kremlin effort to hamper the work of NGOs in Russia. Lyudmila Alexeyeva, director of the Moscow Helsinki Group, said the proposals were backed also by several other ex-Soviet republics with authoritarian governments including Uzbekistan and Belarus. Among the restrictions is one that would require Russian government approval for a Russian NGO to participate in meetings of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, she said. That could effectively block groups critical of the Kremlin from any involvement, she said.

Russian officials have accused foreign countries, including the United States and Britain, of using NGOs to spy on and weaken Russia, and last year President Vladimir Putin signed a law tightening requirements on NGOs. Alexeyeva said the new proposals were part of efforts to pressure foreign-funded NGOs before next month's parliamentary elections and the presidential vote in March. Russian government officials could not be reached for comment on the proposals Saturday afternoon.

Russia has become increasingly confrontational with Western organizations in recent years, and routinely has criticized the 56-nation OSCE. This week, Moscow significantly curtailed the number of international observers it would accept for the Dec. 2 parliamentary vote — a move widely seen as targeting OSCE monitors.

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