Russia increases stranglehold on dissent as five more NGOs named ‘foreign agents’

The Russian Ministry of Justice today registered four more Russian human rights organizations and one environmental group as “foreign agents”, a further sign of the authorities’ growing stranglehold on freedom of expression, said Amnesty International.

“The Russian authorities’ determination to decimate independent civil society organizations remains steadfast,” said John Dalhuisen, Director for the Europe and Central Asia Programme at Amnesty International.

“This blow has been a long-time coming – but it still hits hard. The five NGOs now being branded as foreign agents include some of the biggest and most influential in the country. The question Russians should be asking themselves is: who will protect their rights when they are gone?”

Human rights groups Public Verdict, Memorial, Lawyers for Constitutional Rights and Freedoms (Jurix) and Agora, and environmental group Women’s Council (Ekozazchita! – Zhensovet) have been registered as “foreign NGOs” by the Ministry of Justice for supposedly conducting “political activities” while receiving some foreign funding.

Three of them, Public Verdict, Memorial and Jurix, are currently challenging the earlier insistence by the authorities that they register as “foreign agents” themselves. Now they have been registered by the Ministry of Justice directly, under recently enacted legislation.

Russia’s so-call “foreign agents law” was passed in June 2012 and came into force in November 2012.

Since then, hundreds of NGOs have experienced unannounced “inspections” by the authorities; several have been fined and forced to close down. Earlier this year, the law was further amended giving the Ministry of Justice the authority to register NGOs as “foreign agents” without their consent.