The majority of Russian NGOs with outside funding sources have given notice that they will not submit to the law and some are bracing for a legal battle to protect their existence.
Russian nongovernmental organizations are holding their breath a few days after a new law came into effect, requiring those who receive any amount of outside funding and engage in "public outreach" that authorities deem political to register as "foreign agents" and identify themselves as such in all their materials.
Mostly the mood is defiant. The majority of groups with outside funding sources and some kind of political agenda have given notice that they will not submit to the law. They insist the "foreign agent" label is designed to make their work look to average Russians like espionage.
The law is part of what critics say is a broad legislative assault on Russian civil society, including a clampdown on political organizing and freshly enacted Soviet-style treason laws. Their sum effect will make it much harder for Russian NGOs to work in any realm deemed political by the Kremlin, to gather information, participate in public debate, and share their findings with the outside world.
That sets the stage for a confrontation in the courts, probably early in 2013, which could see pillars of Russian civil society such as the election monitor Golos, the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International and Russia's largest human rights group, Memorial, and many others face legal shut down by authorities.
"This law says we must determine whether we should register as a foreign agent, and we are emphatically not going to register ourselves," says Grigory Melkonyants, deputy head of Golos. "We do not understand this law, it does not seem to be in the spirit of Russia's constitution and other legislation, its definitions are vague, and it doesn't describe any procedure for implementation. We're preparing a brief to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, we're willing to go to the Russian Constitutional Court. We will not agree to this."
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