Paranoid Putin Persecutes NGOs

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Paul Goble, blogging for the Moscow Times:

President Dmitry Medvedev’s May 2008 decision to transfer responsibility for the registration of non-governmental organizations from the Federal Registration Service (FRS) to the Ministry of Justice has not led to the kind of progress toward a law-based state for which many activists had hoped.

According to a new analysis of the legal situation in which Russian NGOs find themselves by Olga Gnezdilova, the legal affairs advisor to the Voronezh Inter-Regional Legal Defense Group, in many regions exactly the same officials are overseeing the registration process as were before this change was made, and the justice ministry has set quotas for the number of NGOs to be shut down each year.

Still worse, Gnezdilova says, there is growing evidence that the Russian government plans to target NGOs conducting educational work for inspection, thus putting nearly half of all such organizations at risk of losing their right to operate.

Last month marked the third anniversary of the introduction of amendments to the law on NGO registration that then-President Vladimir Putin said were necessary to combat terrorism, block espionage by foreign governments, and prevent the rise of “orange” revolutions in the Russian Federation.

But since then, Gnezdilova notes, despite highly invasive official supervision of NGOs, the Russian authorities have not exposed “a single terrorist or extremist NGO,” except for the case of a Tyumen gay group that was charged with threatening “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Russia” by contributing to “a reduction of its population.”

Despite that, she continues, “it became difficult for organizations to register; problems began with registration of changes of rules, addresses and their leaders; and cases of criminal persecution of leaders and searches in organizations increased.” In addition, many NGOs faced problems with the tax authorities, and the media continued to attack NGOs as “extremist.”

In May 2008, the Russian NGO community thought that their situation would improve when incoming President Dmitry Medvedev stripped the Federal Registration Service of its power over registration and put the Justice Ministry and its regional administrations in charge of this function.

But these “hopes have not been realized,” Gnezdilova says, because “real changes in the authority of the new controlling organization have not occurred” and because “in many regions, the very same officials [who had been involved at the FRS] are filling the same posts in the Ministry of Justice.”

Still more disturbing, she says, the ministry last year and again this year set a quota of 1,400 organizations as the number of NGOs to which its officials were supposed to deny registration, thus leading regional officials to compete to find reasons to do so and thus to look good in the eyes of their Moscow superiors.

Moreover, over the last year, officials have frequently exercised their power under the amended legislation to refuse registration to groups if there has been a change in leader or address, shifts that often happen in the NGO community but ones that now put the existence of many such organizations at risk.

As of the start of 2009, Gnezdilova continues, 219,802 NGOs had ceased to exist since the amended law came into force. Of those, many simply ceased to exist, but “more than 44,000” were shut down by court order, generally for failing to meet one or another often burdensome government registration requirement.

More NGOs are likely to be closed by the courts in the future, Gnezdilova says, especially since the government is checking almost all NGOs that have any foreign funding and plans to focus on the 46 percent of them engaged in educational work, attention that “puts under threat the existence of every second organization.”

In addition, attacks on NGOs continue largely unabated. In March 2009, for example, a FRS official in Voronezh said that NGOs there were being financed illegally by “Western special services,” but when asked for details, she could not provide any and said that officials were focusing on the failure of NGOs to provide necessary registration documents.

And last month, FSB chief Nikolay Patrushev added that “particular foreign NGOs provide information support to terrorism,” a charge for which he provided no evidence but which the Russian media played up and which, according to Gnezdilova, undoubtedly “sent ‘a signal’ to bureaucrats working with NGOs.”

The legal affairs specialist concludes that “despite the hopes” many had last year, “it is now possible to say that without a fundamental change in the laws regulating the activities [of those working with NGOs] and without a change in the attitudes of leading political figures [on these groups], it is not possible to speak about the growth and development of the civic sector.”

“For the time being,” she says, “the main tasks” of the NGOs in this sector “will remain the struggle for survival.”

4 responses to “Paranoid Putin Persecutes NGOs

  1. The Salvation Army is, ‘a foreign military organization!’…ha! ha! ha! With this ridiculous condemnation, sometime this past year, they were told to get out of Russia.
    Now, all the starving poor Russians they daily fed and clothed and sheltered from/in their numerous soup-kitchens, (all supported with foreign money) can be fed by….the Kremlin?..ha! ha!
    To label that organization, ‘military’ is like calling the Boy Scouts …. an armed threat to the Russian Federation. What absurdity and nonsence!
    But such is the nomenklatura/KGB gangster’s, concern for the common suffering people they rule. The Kremlin’s motto should be: ‘let them, eat piroshki!’ (or is it cake?)
    Reader Daniel

  2. To ‘CommieBastard’, The bleeding-hearted one (?): Your full meaning is not clear, if…. you have any serious meaning? If your meaning, is that you hate all Russian people, everywhere at all times, no matter what they think or do, good or bad??? because you just hate ALL Russians (?), ….with that sentiment, I as an American, cannot have sympathy. THOUGH, perhaps I can afford to have a sympathetic stance? since America has not yet been physically invaded by Russian military, but perhaps YOUR nation has? There have been in the past and there are now, lots of good Russians. (Yes, many of the good ones done-in by fellow Russians, that is unfortunately true). All I can say to you is that this American-based International charitable sect, The Salvation Army, feeds and helps anyone who comes in their doors, so I know they feed many non-Russians who live in the RF., “With hearts to God and hands to man!” is their ‘military’ motto.
    By the way, since they did contest their orders to vacate Russia, with the EU legal system, they may still be there, but of that I’m not sure. But, of the numerous foreign NGO’s doing all kinds of good works in Russia,….especially promoting foreign investments in the RF’s hell hole, Putin’s gang would have us believe that they all are dangerous foreign agents, bent on destroying Russia, and other such claptrap. Of course, the ‘danger’ of all of them, is mainly being simply foreign-based and supported, and that by their very presence in the RF, they ALL make Putin’s gangster-government look bad. After all, the old soviet union claimed to be, “The Socialist Workers’ Paradise”, and since Putin is trying to resurrect it again, we are supposed to put blinders (once again, as in the good ole days) on our eyes, and pretend that such is still the ‘reality’ there? But, as with the start of the bolshevik horrors and through the whole rotten and corrupt and murderous and oppresive official soviet time slot, till what we have there now, the ONLY enemies of Russia and it’s captive inhabitants, have been and still are, the native-Russian communists. By-the-way, your comical misuse of your ‘English’ above, does, happily remind me of some past newly arrived Russian immigrants to America, fresh off the boat, so you got that right, for one thing. Keep up the laughs, as we get very little to laugh about, in the current RF.
    Reader Daniel

  3. Gary Marshall

    psalomschik,

    Commiebastard is not from Russia, which given his name is not surprising. He is one of those Communist misfits in the west who still believes in the old Soviet system that fractured and perished in this modern era. He lives in the past and longs for the glories of the USSR as it oppressed and murdered in the spurious name of equality.

    Pity the poor fellow; for his dream of a tyrannical USSR flourished under LilliPutin and now withers with the financial crisis.

    He has nothing to offer intellectually, just contempt.

    Gary Marshall

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