Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev answers journalists’ questions in a live broadcast with five local television channels on December 7, 2012© RIA Novosti. Dmitriy Astakhov
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MOSCOW, December 7 (RIA Novosti) – Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev defended on Friday a controversial new law obliging NGOs engaged in politics and funded from abroad to label themselves “foreign agents."
“What’s wrong with the word ‘agent’?” asked Medvedev during a live television interview with five broadcasters spanning the political gamut, from pro-Kremlin state television to the feisty, independent Dozhd online channel.
“Agent means ‘representative,’ and that’s all,” said Medvedev in response to suggestions that the phrase was synonymous with “spy” and would discredit human rights groups in the eyes of the public. “Anything else is just a coincidence.”
Russian human rights groups have reacted furiously to the new law, which came into force in November. The country’s oldest rights organization, the Moscow Helsinki Group, has said it will close down its offices rather than comply, and most other prominent rights groups have said they would not register under the new legislation.
“The law only concerns those NGOs that engage in politics and receive money from foreign governments,” Medvedev said. “Imagine if an NGO in the US received money from the Russian federal budget – there would be a major outcry.”
Medvedev also denied that the NGO law was part of an attempt to stifle political opposition, saying recent laws on slander, treason, protests and internet censorship had not been used to target individual “political groups.”
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- Mikhail12281966 US Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)16:03, 07/12/2012The Russian NGO law that the media and rights groups are wailing about was written virtually verbatim from the US law. How sinister and draconian that the term “foreign agents” is used. Please read on.
Some background supplied by the FEC: The goal of the 1966 US Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) was to "eliminate foreign intervention" in U.S. elections by establishing a series of limitations on foreign governments and nationals. In 1974, the prohibition was incorporated into the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), giving the FEC jurisdiction over its enforcement and interpretation.According to the FEC, FECA "prohibits any foreign national or government from contributing, donating or spending funds in connection with any federal, state, or local election in the United States, either directly or indirectly. It is also unlawful to help foreign nationals or governments violate the ban or to solicit, receive or accept contributions or donations from them. Persons who knowingly and willfully engage in these activities may be subject to fines and/or imprisonment."So I guess if the Russian law is sinister and draconian so is the US law it was based upon!
- arsanlupinGood point, BUT:00:25, 09/12/2012Mikhail brings up a valid point – the USA has a Foreign Agents Registration Act, and it was most recently amended in 1966. However, he misses a few little details – including the purpose of the law, the types of “foreign activity” it was aimed at, and the types of contributions involved. Canobs’ words, of course, are nothing but arrant nonsense.
First, we are discussing two completely different statutes. The Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, as amended, 22 U.S.C. § 611 et seq. (FARA or the Act) is a disclosure statute aimed at "agents of foreign principals" (agents) as defined, who are engaged in covered activities, on behalf of their foreign principal(s). In 1966, FARA was significantly amended to focus on the integrity of the US Government decision-making process, and to emphasize agents seeking economic or political advantage for their clients in laws pending in American legislatures. In other words, lobbyists.
On the other side is the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1972, 2 U.S.C. § 431 et seq.; a disclosure statute aimed at contributions for federal election campaigns. It was amended in 1974 to place legal limits on the campaign contributions, and again in 1979 to allow parties to spend unlimited amounts of hard money on activities like increasing voter turnout and registration. The foreign national prohibition (§ 441e) does read
“It shall be unlawful for a foreign national, directly or indirectly, to make—
(A) a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value, in connection with a Federal, State, or local election;
(B) a contribution or donation to a committee of a political party; or
(C) an expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement for an electioneering communication (within the meaning of section 304(f)(3)) (2 U.S.C. § 434(f)(3))
However, both sections B and C of § 441e make it plain that the object of the entire statute is to prohibit foreign intervention at the candidate level – NOT at the election level itself. In other words, foreign nationals can (and many have, just this year, in the US) participated in increasing voter turnout and registration, and with voter education. They simply cannot get involved in favor of any candidate, political party, or ballot initiative.
So: if the new “foreign agent” law is meant to curb foreign involvement in a particular candidacy or political party, then yes it’s modeling the American law. However, if it also prohibits foreign involvement in improving voter registration, turnout, or education, then no it’s nothing at all like the American law, and the NGO’s are correct in describing the law as aimed at painting pro-democracy and human rights advocates as enemies of the state. Because it’s a certainty: Russia needs all the foreign help it can get, in learning how democracy really works. Introduced to it for the first time in history only 20 years ago, Russia is constantly proving that it has very poor understanding of the realities of democracy.