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Russia Charges Activist Under ‘Foreign Agents’ Law

FILE - A sculpture of a double-headed eagle, a national symbol of Russia, is seen in front of a Russian national flag flying at half-mast on the roof of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

Russia has for the first time charged a human rights activist for failing to comply with its vague "foreign agents" law, Human Rights Watch said Monday.

On Monday, Russian authorities informed Valentina Cherevatenko, chair of the coordination board of "Women of the Don Union", that they were bringing criminal charges against her.

“The case against Valentina Cherevatenko is the first time a criminal proceeding for noncompliance with the ‘foreign agents’ law has been brought against a human rights defender,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Russian authorities said Cherevatenko was aware that she was required to register her organization as a "foreign agent" because it received foreign funding, but she neglected to do so.

Russian authorities have been using a “foreign agents” law from 2012 to blacklist groups receiving international funding and engaging in activities deemed political. The vague law implies such activities are disloyal and has been applied to more than 100 Russian organizations, many of them charities forced to scale back their activities or shut down.

The law gives prosecutors the power to shut down any foreign and international organizations in Russia deemed a threat, and to fine and imprison any Russian repeat offenders working with them for up to six years.

“Foreign agents” is a term with Soviet-era connotations of spying and treason.

VOA's Daniel Schearf contributed to this report.