Russia: Government vs. Rights Groups
For the past four years, the Kremlin has sought to stigmatize criticism or alternative views of government policy as disloyal, foreign-sponsored, or even traitorous. It is part of a sweeping crackdown to silence critical voices that has included new legal restrictions on the internet, on freedom of expression, on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, and on other fundamental freedoms.
An enduring, central feature has been the 2012 law requiring independent groups to register as “foreign agents” if they receive any foreign funding and engage in broadly defined “political activity.” In Russia, the term “foreign agent” can be interpreted by the public only as “spy” or “traitor.” To date, Russia’s Justice Ministry has designated 158 groups as “foreign agents,” courts have levied staggering fines on many groups for failing to comply with the law, and about 30 groups have shut down rather than wear the “foreign agent” label. Organizations targeted include groups that work on human rights, the environment, LGBT issues, and health issues, groups that do polling about social issues. A court forced the closure of AGORA Association, one of Russia’s leading human rights organizations , in response to a Justice Ministry suit alleging that the group violated the “foreign agents” law and carried out work beyond its mandate.
The ministry has removed its “foreign agent” tag from over 20 groups, acknowledging that they had stopped accepting foreign funding. Accordingly, as of July 21, 2017, the official list of active “foreign agents” consisted of 89 groups.