ECRE has initiated an awareness-raising web campaign to show support for the Russian NGOs whose work may be jeopardized by the “Foreign Agent” designation. This new law seriously compromises the ability of Russian human rights activists to carry out their essential work and ECRE stands with these organisations against this stigmatisation.
Controversial changes to the law on NGOs came into force in Russia on 21 November 2012, meaning that any NGO engaging in “political activity” and receiving foreign funding can be asked to register on a database of “foreign agents”. Any materials distributed by such NGOs, including in the media and on the internet, have to be accompanied by a reference to their foreign agent status.
ECRE Member Organisation Memorial Human Rights Centre and other human rights groups have said that they will not cooperate with the law and voluntarily register themselves in such a way. Oleg P. Orlov, Memorial’s chairman, said that accepting the “foreign agent” label would so undermine public trust, that rights advocates would no longer be able to carry out essential work. Memorial will not reject current foreign funded grants as this would mean they would have to drop important human rights related activities, including taking cases to the European Court of Human Rights. Sanctions for non-compliance with the law could include an organisation’s work being stopped, administrative fines or even criminal responsibility.
In 2009, Memorial received the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought awarded by the European Parliament to individuals or organisations that have made an important contribution to the fight for human rights or democracy.