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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

G8 Urged to Press Russia on NGO Bill

Human Rights Watch on Wednesday urged members of the Group of Eight to press Russia -- their chairman in 2006 -- on new legislation that would severely restrict nongovernmental organizations.

The bill has been approved by both chambers of parliament and is expected to go to President Vladimir Putin for his signature before the end of the year.

Critics see the measure as part of a Kremlin campaign to increase control over society and stem dissent.

Human Rights Watch said that the bill, despite some softening amendments, would have an "extremely negative impact" on Russian rights organizations and could result in the closure of foreign-affiliated NGOs.

"Russian government officials would have an unprecedented level of discretion in deciding what projects, or even parts of NGO projects, comply with Russia's national interests, as required by the bill," Human Rights Watch said in a statement circulated Wednesday.

The bill's sponsors claim it was necessary to stem terrorism and extremism, but critics say that it threatens the future of human rights groups and others the Kremlin considers possible opponents.

"This unprecedented assault on the work of human rights groups will invariably undermine the rights of all Russians," Human Rights Watch representative Holly Cartner said. "Leaders of the G8 countries must put this issue at the top of their agenda with President Putin."

The bill's backers and critics alike say it has grown from the Kremlin's increasing displeasure with NGOs that criticize the government, advocate democracy and promote human rights ahead of the parliamentary and presidential elections in 2007 and 2008, respectively.

Many such groups, which often get financing from Western institutions, played significant roles in the mass demonstrations that helped bring opposition leaders to power in the former Soviet republics of Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, alarming Moscow and other governments in the region and leading to claims that the political change was fomented by the West.

Human Rights Watch pointed to recent statements by highly placed officials that called into question the legitimacy of foreign NGOs working in Russia.

The head of the Foreign Intelligence Service, Sergei Lebedev, said earlier this month that humanitarian missions and noncommercial entities were good covers for foreign spy agencies. Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Yakovenko said Russia's foreign policy was seen through a distorted lens "because Russian and foreign media quote opinions and comments of NGOs financed by Western money."