The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Russian President Vladimir Putin not to sign a new bill that would severely restrict non-governmental organizations. In a letter dated Wednesday, the New York-based group criticized the bill, which has been approved by both houses of parliament, as "deeply flawed." "The vaguely worded legal restrictions would empower politicized bureaucrats to interfere in the work of NGOs and derail democracy by denying citizens access to information about political and economic developments," the committee's director, Ann Cooper, wrote in the letter.
The bill's sponsors said it is necessary to stem terrorism and extremism, but critics see the measure as part of a Kremlin campaign to increase control over society and stem dissent. The draft legislation provides for a new agency to oversee the registration, financing and activities of Russia's more than 400,000 NGOs. It would require stringent, continual accounting before the government, which NGOs worry would draw too many staff and resources from their real work.
The new agency, the Federal Registration Service, and not the courts would determine if an NGO should be dissolved. "NGOs are concerned that the vague wording in the bill grants excessive authority to the Federal Registration Service to enforce the provisions in a selective way against organizations seen as disloyal the Kremlin," the committee said.
It noted that the bill comes at a sensitive time in Russia, in the run-up to parliamentary elections in 2007 and the presidential vote the following year, and appears aimed at denting political pluralism. "As a press freedom organization, we are deeply troubled that the bill will be used to interfere in news reporting in Russia, where excessive government secrecy has forced journalists to increasingly rely on NGOs for information about government polices and public opinion," the letter said, reports the AP. N.U.