In Russia, Putin signs restrictive NGO bill

New York, January 17, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply troubled by news today that Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed into law a restrictive bill regulating the work of nongovernmental organizations, including those dedicated to promoting press freedom and supporting independent media.

Putin signed the bill on January 10, but news of his action was not made public until today when the Moscow-based state daily Rossiskaya Gazeta published the full text of the legislation.

The measure gives the Justice Ministry’s Federal Registration Service broad authority to shutter nongovernmental organizations, known as NGOs, for engaging in activities that are counter to the “political independence of the Russian Federation” or that violate the Constitution. The measure also empowers the service to close NGOs that engage in prohibited—but unspecified—activities.

The Federal Registration Service—which regulates political, religious, media, and other organizations—has a record of targeting government critics.

“We are very disappointed that President Putin has signed this restrictive bill into law, further empowering bureaucrats to close organizations deemed disloyal by the Kremlin,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “These new restrictions could have a profound effect on local press freedom and media organizations, and we will carefully monitor the implementation.”

The Kremlin delayed announcement of Putin’s action until after German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with the Russian president in Moscow on Monday, according to local and international press reports.

Merkel expressed concern about the NGO bill during a press conference with Putin. The president replied that “we will do everything to protect against any damage to organizations working in Russia when the law comes into force,” the state news agency ITAR-TASS reported.

CPJ and other organizations had expressed serious concerns about the legislation. In a December 28 letter to Putin, CPJ urged the president not to sign the bill and said the measure could be used to deny citizens information about political and economic developments. Read the letter:

A group of parliamentary deputies proposed the measure, known as “Amendments to Several Laws of the Russian Federation,” in November. The bill amends three existing laws: the Law on Closed Administrative Territorial Entities; the Law on Public Associations; and the Law on Non-Commercial Organizations.

The lower house of parliament, the State Duma, approved the bill on December 23 and the upper house, the Federation Council, passed it four days later. The measure takes effect 90 days after Putin’s signature.

Rossiskaya Gazeta posted the full text in Russian at:

News of the new restrictions emerged a day after prosecutors in the southern republic of Ingushetia succeeded in closing two Western humanitarian NGOs working in the conflict-ridden North Caucasus, according to international press reports.

The Supreme Court in Ingushetia approved a local prosecutor’s request to shutter the local offices of the British Centre for Peacemaking and Community Development (CPCD) and the German Hilfe zur Selbshilfe (Help for Self Help) for engaging in unspecified but “unlawful” activities, the prosecutor general’s Web site reported.

Prosecutors in Ingushetia are also seeking to close the local office of the U.S. organization, International Medical Corps, under similar charges.