Foreign NGOs Slow to File Paperwork

With less than two months remaining before an Oct. 18 deadline, just 30 of the roughly 500 foreign nongovernmental organizations operating in Russia have complied with a requirement to renew their registration.

Foreign NGOs that miss the deadline will be forced to suspend their activities and register all over again with the Justice Ministry.

Anatoly Panchenko, an official with the Federal Registration Service, part of the Justice Ministry, said Monday that the registration requirement, part of the controversial new law on NGOs that came into force in April, does not apply to Russian NGOs.

Alexander Zhafyarov, who heads the NGO department of the Federal Registration Service told reporters last Friday that none of the major foreign NGOs had filed the necessary documentation for registration renewal, Interfax reported.

President Vladimir Putin signed the law on NGOs in January, sparking criticism from Western governments, which held that the law infringed on civil liberties.

Jens Siegert, director of the Moscow office of the Heinrich B?ll Foundation, said the organization had been gathering the necessary documentation for the registration renewal process since the law came into effect April 18, and that he hoped to file the paperwork within two weeks.

According to a statement on its web site, the Heinrich B?ll Foundation is affiliated with the Green Party and works to promote human rights, women's rights and environmental issues.

The foundation, together with other German NGOs working in Russia, has hired a legal expert to spell out their obligations under the law.

"The law contains an extremely onerous provision that requires us to provide information about the founders of our organization," Siegert said. "The foundation was founded over 20 years ago by more than 100 people, so compiling all this information takes time."

Zhafyarov of the Federal Registration Service also said an ongoing review of political parties revealed that two small parties -- the Russian Constitutional Democratic Party and the Union of People for Education and Science -- would be forced to close up shop or register as NGOs by the end of the year, Interfax reported.

Both parties failed to meet the legal membership requirement, which was increased to 50,000 in 2004. Democratic activists denounced the new requirement.

Two other parties, Patriots of Russia and the Union of Right Forces, or SPS, met the requirement. Patriots of Russia has 59,412 members, while SPS has 56,872 members in 84 regions, Zhafyarov said.

All political parties will be reviewed by the end of the year. Five parties, including the Communist Party, United Russia, the Liberal Democratic Party, Rodina, and Yabloko, have already passed the review.

Igor Kharichev, a spokesman for the Russian Constitutional Democratic Party, said the party was urging its remaining members to join the People's Party.

Vyacheslav Igrunov, chairman of the Union of People for Education and Science, said some party members planned to join the Party of Life, and that the party itself would probably register as an NGO devoted to educating young people about political life in Russia.

Small parties desperate to meet the requirement have been submitting falsified membership lists made up of names copied from phone books and gravestones, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported Friday, citing a Federal Registration Service official.

Staff Writer Oksana Yablokova contributed to this report.