A new Russian law on NGOs is a clear breach of fundamental freedoms and a sign of unequal treatment, says Staffan Nilsson, President of the European Economic and Social Committee, the EU advisory body representing Europe's organised civil society.
I am extremely concerned at the changes to Russia's law on NGOs that have recently been adopted by the State Duma despite protests from Russian NGOs and an unfavourable opinion from the Russian Council on Human Rights and the Development of Civil Society.
This law is a clear breach of fundamental freedoms and a sign of unequal treatment. It will limit civil society organisations' access to support from international donors, thus hampering their operations and activities as well as their involvement in cooperation and exchanges with other international NGOs. Furthermore, this law does not reflect any international practice or legislation as regards the right to association in civil society.
As a result of the changes brought to the law, all NGOs that receive funding from abroad and are involved in "politics" will have to display the words “foreign agent” on their websites and publications. This will label them negatively and they will also face much tougher administrative requirements, which may entail prison sentences for non-compliance.
I have also received worrying information about other restrictions in Russia, concerning NGOs, women's rights and internet content, with regard, for example, to public information on corruption cases and local authority breaches of environmental legislation.
In this context, I would like to express my full support for the statements by the EU High Representative, Catherine Ashton and the petition of numerous Russian NGOs requesting a broad public discussion and consultation on the subject and a comprehensive revision of this law. Russian NGOs should be able to receive funding, also from abroad, in order to carry out activities for the benefit of Russian citizens and in support of modernisation and reform processes in Russia.
The EESC supports freedom of expression and freedom of association as fundamental rights and calls on the Russian government to embrace those fundamental freedoms as the building blocks of a solid and open democracy.