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Non-Governmental Organizations Face Russian Deadline


By October 18th, all foreign non-governmental organizations operating in Russia must submit their paperwork to seek registration by the Russian authorities - or else their activities in Russia will be curtailed. This under the terms of a new law governing NGO activity in Russia.

The country's authorities say only a few dozen organizations have so far received the necessary paperwork to continue operating. There are several hundred NGOs currently represented in Russia, and many of them accuse the authorities of unnecessarily complicating the registration procedures.

The new law governing the activities of Non Governmental Organizations came into force in Russia in April. Under its terms, all foreign NGOs have to submit paperwork to win government approval for their continued activities.

Amnesty International is one organization that has yet to receive its registration documents from the authorities.

And its representative in Moscow, Elena Franklin, says the bureaucratic hurdles being imposed by the Russian government are high. "They are demanding some ridiculous things, in our opinion. Things that are bureaucratically inexplicable. For instance, they demanded the home address of the organization's general secretary, Irene Khan. We don't know why. They also demanded to see the death certificates of our founders".

In the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch the work on the documents needed for registration is not complete either. The head of the office, Alison McGill, says the problem is more than just the time the paperwork takes. According to the new law, non-governmental organizations also have to coordinate with authorities plans for their future work.

"If, God forbid, there's a serious human rights crisis that starts tomorrow and our office would want to engage in that process, of course since we didn't predict it, it wasn't in our annual plan, since we didn't predict it in advance we couldn't inform the authorities of our change so it really does take away the possibility to do an emergency response. The other thing that is important to note is that penalties of violations is usually the closure of the office which is a disproportional response to a kind of regulatory administrative infraction".

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that only two non-governmental organizations out of 400 had their registration requests rejected. He asserted that is in line with global democratic standards. President Putin has also said Russia will not permit any foreign financing of political activities in the country.

Kremlin ally Sergei Markov, of Moscow's Institute of Political Studies, says the country's leadership is concerned about the impact NGOs might have on public opinion. "Strong government is always a responsible government. That's why it tries to get rid of any dangers in the country. And 'color revolutions,' like the revolution in Ukraine showed that even a small number of people in the center is able to break the whole country, which is outside of the capital."

Two years ago, tens of thousands of people gathered in Kiev's central square to protest against fraudulent presidential elections in Ukraine. The so-called "Orange Revolution" brought Viktor Yushchenko, the country's current President, to power. Similar popular uprisings also occurred in Georgia and Kyrgyzstan.

According to Victor Kremenyuk, an expert with Moscow's USA and Canada Institute, the Kremlin's concerns about the influence that non-governmental organizations might have on the public opinion in Russia are unfounded.

"Revolutions do not happen because someone brings them in. Revolutions happen when people are not happy with their lives. And you can restrict it, just like the tsar's regime did, like the communist regime did, you can destroy them all and imprison all of their leaders. But if people are not happy with their lives, if it's hard, they will come to the streets, sooner or later."

Observers say that by October 18th, the majority of non-governmental organizations are not likely to get their paperwork done, and will have to suspend their work in Russia.

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