Some Foreign Groups Resume Work in Russia
The New York Times
By C.J Chivers
MOSCOW, Oct. 23 — The Russian government said today that it had begun registering private foreign organizations whose operations in Russia were suspended last week, and that it was rushing to review the amended applications of at least 65 other organizations that remained idled.
Among the groups who were granted permission to resume work today were some of those that Russian officials have sharply criticized for encouraging revolutions or meddling in Russia’s domestic affairs, including the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute.
Both groups, whose work includes offering training for domestic political parties and movements, had been briefly suspended here last week under a new Russian law that limits the work of foreign groups. Both confirmed today that they had been notified in writing that they were now registered and could resume their work.
“We’re functioning as we normally would as of today,” Lisa Gates, a spokeswoman for the International Republican Institute, said by telephone from the group’s office in Washington.
The new law has drawn international criticism as a veiled effort to muzzle critics of the Kremlin and groups that have tried to expand civil society here by promoting social activism, political parties, rule of law, media freedom and anti-corruption awareness.
Among the new law’s provisions, it has created a series of stringent reporting requirements, including a deadline last week for each group to submit detailed filings about its origins, history, goals and organization. The detail is fine enough to require such tedious fact-chasing as the passport numbers of each of a group’s founders, no matter how long ago the group was formed and whether the founder remains part of the group, or even alive.
The deadline was seen as the first test of whether Russia would use the law to restrict the group’s activities. And when it passed, many groups found they had been temporarily suspended, including dozens of American organizations, prompting Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to inquire about the law when she visited Moscow and met senior Russian officials last weekend.
The Russian government insisted that the suspensions were because the groups had not filled out the forms properly, but many groups noted that the lists of suspensions included those most critical of the Kremlin or most active in grassroots politics here, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
Both of those groups were still suspended today, according to the latest Russian list. But Russian officials said that of about 190 organizations seeking registration, only 65 to 68 remained suspended, and that all of their applications would be reviewed in less than 30 days.
“No political issues are involved in the decision-making,” said Galina A. Fokina, acting chief of the office in the Ministry of Justice that is responsible for the registration. “All issues are based on legal issues dealing with filling out the forms.
Three more groups were approved today, pending only a signature by the office’s director, Ms. Fokina said. She declined to provide the group’s names, but said she expected they would be made public on Tuesday once the director signed them.
Interviews with organizations that remain suspended showed how strict the Ministry of Justice’s reading of law, and the new forms, has been.
The American Bar Association’s program in Russia, the Central Europe and Eurasian Law Initiative, remained suspended today, it was told, because its filing submission had not listed the program’s name in exactly the same way on each form.
On some papers, the name ended with the word “Incorporated,” the group’s office manager said, and on others with the abbreviation, “Inc.”
The manager, Olga G. Lapunova, said that the group had resubmitted all of its filings with the word “Incorporated” and hoped to be registered next week. “There has been nothing dramatic so far,” she said. “They are technical, minor changes.”
Other groups noted that even if they were approved, other requirements could still undermine their ability to work, including a full annual plan that must be submitted by next week. The groups said the requirements for the plan are at once vast and vague, leaving them unsure what to submit, and worried that any submission the government does not like could be ground for future suspensions.