Russia tightened its so-called “foreign agent” law last month to target overseas media operating in the country at the end of 2017. They also have to submit to the intensive scrutiny of staffing and financing.

In its latest report for 2018, the group Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the foreign agent law has had a chilling effect: By September 2017, Russia had designated 158 groups as foreign agents, and courts had levied crippling fines for those failing to comply. They estimate that approximately 30 civil society groups have shut down (Source: VoA, by Henry Ridgwell)

The November 21 report by HRW accuses Russian authorities of using the law to “silence some of the country’s most effective, rigorous, and committed … groups”.

The release of the report comes five years after the 2012 law came into effect, targeting nongovernmental organizations that receive foreign funding and are deemed to be engaged in “political” activities.

In May 2014, Russia’s parliament amended the “foreign agents” law to authorize the Justice Ministry to register groups as “foreign agents” without their consent. In May 2016, parliament adopted another set of amendments, building up the originally vague definition of “political activity” to include any attempt by an independent group to influence public policy or public opinion in any area.

On November 15, 2017, Russia’ s lower house of parliament adopted amendments that authorize the government to demand foreign media organizations to register as “foreign agents,” and comply with the requirements set out in the “foreign agents” law for NGOs (Source: HRW).

“The Russian Federation’s legislative framework on non-commercial organizations is incompatible with international and European human rights standards”, wrote the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, in his observations submitted to the European Court of Human Rights (Source: COE)

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