NGO Deadline Extended 2 Weeks

The Federal Registration Service has extended the deadline for nongovernmental organizations to submit their accounting records, after numerous NGOs struggled with submitting their documents on time, the agency said Friday.

The agency has extended the April 15 deadline by "about two weeks" and will announce in mid-May the number of NGOs that submitted their registration paperwork, an agency spokeswoman said.

NGOs and rights groups have complained that a 2006 law on NGOs that tightens the requirements to remain registered is too strict and involves an unnecessary degree of paperwork.

The agency will announce how many organizations submitted forms in mid-May, the spokeswoman said.

Organizations that fail to submit the financial forms can have their activities suspended and may be liquidated. Last year, when the procedure was introduced, less than one-quarter of registered NGOs managed to submit on time due to the complexity of the paperwork.

Other organizations submitted forms, only for them to be lost in the mail, said Nina Tagankina, the acting director of Moscow Helsinki Group.

"There were cases when they mailed documents to the agency, but it didn't receive them and began the process of liquidation," Tagankina said.

Despite this, the majority of organizations decided to mail forms this year to avoid long lines when submitting in person, Tagankina said. The agency spokeswoman, who refused to give her name, said the fact that so many of the organizations had opted to mail their documents was a major reason for the extension.

Tagankina was cautiously optimistic that more organizations would be successful in the procedure this year. Last year, two or three NGO directors called her on the eve of the deadline because they had only just heard about it. "This year, that hasn't happened," she said.

Those NGOs that completed the form last year shouldn't have too many difficulties, Tagankina said, an opinion shared by Boris Pustyntsev, the chairman of Citizen's Watch, a St. Petersburg-based human rights organization.

"We had no problem with it. We submitted what we had submitted to other agencies," Pustyntsev said. "It didn't take that much time. It's a plague mainly for smaller NGOs."

Citizen's Watch is currently suing the Federal Registration Service for exceeding its authority last year by demanding all the NGO's outgoing correspondence for the last three years. The case is still pending in St. Petersburg's Vasilyevsky Ostrov district court.

The Federal Registration Service didn't have enough resources to investigate all the NGOs that failed to submit accounting forms last year, Tagankina said, but those that fail again will be targeted for checks this year.