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Foreign Groups Suspend Work in Russia Pending Registration

The nongovernmental organizations failed to meet a deadline imposed under a new law.

October 20, 2006|David Holley | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — Dozens of foreign nongovernmental organizations suspended work in Russia on Thursday after failing to complete a re-registration process by the deadline imposed under a controversial new law.

Those suspending their activities included Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Human rights organizations have said that the new law contains burdensome requirements and appears aimed at tightening control over their work in Russia, and perhaps at shutting some down.

Russian authorities have said the law is needed to ensure that nongovernmental organizations are not used as fronts for terrorist activities and to prevent foreign organizations from illegally interfering in Russian politics.

The law requires groups to submit extensive documentation on their boards and founders, even if the founders no longer have ties to the groups. The Carnegie Moscow Center, established by the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, was re-registered only after it provided proof of the death of its founder, Andrew Carnegie, who died in 1919.

The Russian Justice Ministry said that 108 branches of foreign NGOs had been re-registered by the Wednesday deadline, and that 77 applications were still being processed.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, two organizations that frequently criticize the Kremlin, were among the groups whose documents were still being processed.

"The Russian authorities go through the documents down to the last comma," Sergei Nikitin, head of Amnesty International's Russian resource center, told the Russian news agency Interfax. "They will most likely send our documents back to us and tell us to correct some mistakes they uncover."

Allison Gill, head of the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch, told Interfax that a package of documents for re-registration had been submitted to authorities in late September, and that she hoped the office would restart work soon.

Organizations that suspended their work can still pay their staff and keep their offices, but must discontinue research and publicity activities until their re-registration is official.

Many organizations have expressed even greater concern about an Oct. 31 deadline for them to report on activities they plan next year. Some groups have expressed fear this could lead to government monitoring, bans on programs, or to punishment for holding unlisted events.

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