Duma reading of bill to curb NGO work in Russia postponed

Publish date: December 15, 2005

The crucial second of four obligatory Russian Duma readings on the bill on civil society institutes, which would harshly curb the work of both foreign and domestic NGOs in the country, has been postponed from Friday until Wednesday, December 21st , Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov told news agencies.

Responding to critics on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin defended the law as “necessary to protect our political system from outside interference,” but said the Kremlin would suggest amendments to tone it down before it goes to the Duma.

But the Unity party, which is loyal to Putin and holds the majority in the Duma, have stood by the bill’s harsh curbing of NGO activities overwhelmingly.

If the bill passes into law, it threatens to grind Russia’ incipient civil society structure and NGO community to a halt. Of the 450,000 civil society groups currently operating in Russia, more than half will have to cease their operations if they do not register their activities with authorities.

In its current form, the bill requires that all NGOs be registered with the government, that foreign NGOs will have their funding cut off and have to adhere to employing a certain number of domestic workers, and threatens to cut off funding for domestic NGOs as well.

Bellona, which has two Russian registered offices in St. Petersburg and Murmansk are in adherence with the bill in its current form if it becomes law, so will not have its work strangled. But foreign and domestic NGOs that receive funding from abroad will have to register with the Russian government, and undergo frequent audits of their finances and employee rosters.

Duma speaker Boris Gryzlov told the Regnum news agency that the reading had been postponed because Duma deputies had added a number of amendments to the bill, which emanated from the Kremlin. On December 9th, Putin entered his recommendations to some of the more controversial parts of the bill, which the deputies must now formulate as amendments to the bill.

Gryzlov told Regnum that “interesting committee work is going on with the bill,” and that the law promises to be “good.”