MOSCOW — Thorbjorn Jagland, secretary general of the Council of Europe, has told President Vladimir Putin that the human rights body is concerned about Russia's law requiring non-governmental organizations to register as foreign agents.
Jagland said Europe will watch how the Kremlin implements the law that went in effect last November, a measure requiring non-governmental organizations that receive foreign funding to register as "foreign agents" — a term synonymous with espionage during the Soviet era.
Golos, Russia's only independent vote-monitoring agency, was recently fined nearly $10,000 for failing to register as a foreign agent. Its director says that the organization has not received any foreign funding since the law went into effect.
Since Russian President Vladimir Putin returned to the Kremlin for an unprecedented third term, throughout which has faced large-scale protests, he has consistently maintained the United States is funding the opposition. As a result, Russia's parliament quickly passed the new NGO law, and critics say the measure is meant to suppress dissent.
Despite widespread criticism from Europe and the West, Jagland says he believes the Kremlin will not budge when it comes to the new law.
"I do not believe that there will be changes in the law text in the foreseeable future," he said. "This is based on what I have heard, but one will now have the emphasis on how this law is being implemented."
Jagland also called on Kremlin officials to allow gays to march in demonstrations across Russia.
"Russian authorities have an obligation to also protect that LGBT people can express their views and entertain demonstrations in order to express their views," he said. "This is a fundamental principle in the European Convention on Human Rights."
Russia decriminalized homosexuality in 1993, but the government routinely bans gay pride parades and rallies. The office of Moscow's mayor has refused to grant permission for a gay pride demonstration scheduled to take place on May 25.
Lawmakers in St. Petersburg last year passed a new law against promoting homosexuality, saying it adversely affects children and families. Critics say it's just another way for the Kremlin to abuse human rights.
Russian officials defend the country's human-rights record.