29 March 2013, 18:18

Putin defends surprise NGO checks

Путин G20 Путин

Recent surprise inspections of Russian and foreign-based Russian outlets of non-government organizations were conducted to check their legality, President Vladimir Putin said at a meeting with his human rights spokesman.

Putin said the Prosecutor General’s Office “must check the legality of actions of all bodies of power.”

“The goal of the inspections is to check how the activities of NGOs comply with their declared objectives and with the laws,” he explained.

The probes came after reports that several extremist organizations had attempted to re-register under new names after being banned in Russia. Inspectors checked Russia’s major NGOs, including leading Russian organizations and Russian branches of international groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Under the fresh “foreign agents” law, all organizations with foreign workers or funding are required to list themselves.

Some human rights watchdogs have recently sounded the alarm, blasting the checks as an attempt to pressure activists and silence critics. Germany, France and the US voiced concern over the probes.

US accuses Russia of ‘undermining civil society’

According to State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, US Ambassador to the Russian Federation Michael McFaul has met with Russian officials in recent days to give them a piece of American mind concerning the police raids on offices of non-governmental organizations across Russia.

He reportedly likened the developments to an incipient ‘witch hunt’ and accused the Russian authorities of undermining civil society.

A total of 2,000 NGOs have been raided to check their compliance with a recent law obliging foreign fund recipients to register as ‘foreign agents’. Some of these NGOs are also suspected of espousing extremism and evading taxes.

 President Putin has instructed officials to make sure that the checks are carried out in accordance with the law.    

Voice of Russia, RT, RIA    

Russian authorities inspect foreign NGOs

Mikhail Aristov

The inspection of foreign non-commercial and non-governmental organizations in Russia has drawn a furious reaction not only among human right activists but also among some Western governments. Berlin and Paris demanded official explanations from Russia’s General Prosecutor’s office and tax inspection regarding checks they are conducting in the offices of German and French NGOs in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other Russian cities. 

Earlier, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton said that checks and searches in the offices of foreign non-commercial organizations in Russia aroused concerns of the EU government.

"The General Prosecutor’s office is obliged to check the legality of actions of all the agencies of state, regional, municipal and public organizations. I think that the goal of the current checks is to determine to what extent the activities of given NGOs comply with the goals they declared earlier and if these activities comply with the Russian law", President Vladimir Putin said when meeting ombudsman Vladimir Lukin. Putin said he proceeded from the fact that checks conducted by the General Prosecutor’s office are part of its routine aimed at bringing the activities of the organizations to compliance with the law.  

Last November, the new law on non-commercial organizations came into force in Russia. Under this law the status of “foreign agents” must be given to all the organizations, which are financed from abroad and take part in the political life in Russia. The law obliges such foreign agents to register in the Justice Ministry and mention their status in all publications in mass media and on the Internet. 

Although Russia used the experience of the US and the European countries which have similar judicial norms when drafting the law, the new law immediately aroused suspicions among the rights activists in the West.

In late February, Russia’s General Prosecutor’s office ordered to conduct inspection of non-commercial and non-governmental organizations. First of all the inspectors checked money transfers and accounts for possible violations of legislationMikhail Salkin, head of theMoscowHumanRightsCenter, says.

"Such violations can include discrepancy in spending, provisions in the organizations’ charters which contradict the law on extremism, uncertain sources of financing, participation in elections including providing financial support from abroad to some of the candidates." 

 In particular, the inspectors of the General prosecutor’s office got interested in the activities of Germany’s Friedrich Ebert Fund. Auditors checked an affiliate of the Konrad Adenauer Fund in St. Petersburg. Officials of the General prosecutor’s office checked Russian affiliates of France’s Alliance Française public organization in Samara, Rostov-on-Don, Perm, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok.

In total checks were conducted in 90 non-commercial and non-governmental organizations in 24 Russian regions. The check’s results have not been reported yet.

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