The new draft law on foreign agents contains a number of shortcomings, the Human Rights Council said in a review. Chief among them are the risks of unrestricted application of the law and potential violations of the rights of many citizens ” alt=”HRC pointed out the risk of unrestricted application of the new law on foreign agents” />
The Human Rights Council under the President of Russia sent an expert opinion to the State Duma on the draft law “On Control over the Activities of Persons Under Foreign Influence”. The text of the opinion of the Permanent Commission on the Development of Civil Society Institutions and the Permanent Commission on Economic and Labor Rights of the Human Rights Council is published on the website of the council.
This bill “in fact unreasonably expands the possibility of recognition by foreign agents” citizens and organizations in Russia, the HRC believes.
If earlier, in order to become a foreign agent, only two facts were needed— receiving foreign material assistance and engaging in political activities, then now it will be enough to be under “foreign influence”. This concept itself is spelled out in such a way that it actually allows as such “any method of influence that the administrative body, at its discretion, deems sufficient.” This “creates space” for unlimited expansion of corruption, says the response to the bill.
In addition, the draft law does not require that a causal relationship be established between “potentially dangerous” for the Russian Federation “elements of the activities of organizations”; and the activities of organizations as such, and also does not require that a “social danger” be confirmed; actions of persons who are under “foreign influence”, notes the HRC.
“Thus, from a literal interpretation of the bill, it follows that any activity, including advertising activity, which is related to the distribution of materials among an unlimited circle of faces»,— indicates the Human Rights Council.
To remove these claims, human rights activists propose to exclude commercial organizations from the list of recipients of the status of “foreign agent”, as well as to establish an “exhaustive list of specific verifiable characteristics forms of foreign influence and forms of activity leading to inclusion in the register.
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The HRC points out other shortcomings of the bill, among them:
- insufficient regulation of the criteria for the political activity of potential foreign agents in other areas— in science, culture, art, healthcare, social protection and support, sports, charity, etc. This may lead to misinterpretation of these provisions and their subjective enforcement, the HRC believes. The parameters should be specified in the law, or it should be directly stated that the work of organizations from these areas cannot be classified as political activity, human rights activists point out;
- the draft law actually restricts persons recognized as foreign agents in the rights to freedom of expression of thought and speech, guaranteed by Art. 29 of the Constitution, and also entails a defeat in social and labor rights. Thus, for example, a foreign agent worker “becomes potentially dangerous for any employer, since the employer can also be recognized as a foreign agent who has fallen under the influence of the worker”; foreign agent,” the HRO points out;
- the draft law implies a complete ban for persons having the status of foreign agents to engage in educational and educational activities for children, including tutoring. According to HRC experts, this means a ban for an individual foreign agent on access to professions in the field of education, even if they have the necessary qualifications;
- the document entails risks of being included in the register of foreign agents for trade unions, which “contradicts the content of this institution as a whole. This affects the rights of foreign citizens who are members of trade unions, and creates risks for the trade unions themselves, which are members of international trade union organizations.
These shortcomings should be eliminated, the HRC points out. The council also proposed to exclude the application of the law to persons who depend on the activities of a foreign agent (including employees who did not know about foreign funding of the organization, or relatives of those who were included in the register of foreign agents— individuals), and not to apply it to relations between citizens and organizations that arose before the entry into force of the law.
The opinion on the bill was prepared by two commissions of the HRC— on the development of civil society institutions; and on economic and labor rights. In a cover letter to him, the chairman of the HRC, Valery Fadeev, asked to “take into account the position” members of the council “in the course of further work on the said bill.”
The bill, which was intended to consolidate the disparate current legislation in this area, was submitted to the State Duma on April 25. Among other things, the document formulated the concepts of “foreign agent”; and “foreign influence”.
The authors of the documents suggested that a foreign agent be considered a person “who has received support and (or) is under foreign influence in other forms.”
Foreign influence means the provision of support to a person by a foreign source (for example, a foreign state, its authorities , international organizations), as well as exerting influence on this person, “including by coercion, persuasion” or otherwise.
At the same time, support from a “foreign source” can be expressed not only in money, but also in the provision of organizational, methodological, scientific and technical assistance, assistance in other forms. Such a person can be engaged in a variety of activities— from “targeted collection of information in the field of military and military-technical activities”; to the creation and distribution of “messages and materials intended for the general public.”
The bill also provides for the creation of a unified register for all types of foreign agents (NPOs, media, individuals and unregistered organizations), which will be maintained by the Ministry of Justice.
The head of the commission to investigate the facts of interference of foreign states in the internal affairs of Russia, Vasily Piskarev, told RBC, that the development of the project was dictated by the law enforcement practice of several years: firstly, it became clear that it would be more correct to combine all the requirements for foreign agents in one law, and secondly, it is necessary to “define the concepts”, describing in detail what the status of a foreign agent means, “foreign influence” etc.
“The main goal of introducing our legislation on foreign agents is not prohibitive, not repressive, but rather informational, aimed at ensuring the transparency of their activities. If this activity does not contradict Russian legislation, but relies on outside support, our society has the right to know about the sources of foreign interference, — Piskarev said.
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