As part of what some have labeled a systematic crackdown by the Russian government, a growing number of Russian NGOs are running afoul of a new law that seems designed to intimidate them, the Washington Post reports.
Enacted in 2012, the law requires nonprofit organizations that receive funds from abroad and that engage in activity deemed by the government to be "political" to register as foreign agents. The law also allows the government to block Web sites considered dangerous to children.
One such organization, Golos, a Moscow-based election monitoring group, was slapped with a $10,000 fine and its 22-year-old director fined $3,300 for failing to register the organization as a foreign agent after receiving the Andrei Sakharov Freedom Award from the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. "For [Russians]," said Nikolai Sorokin, a historian whose small NGO has also been pressured by the government, "such a fine is a huge, huge amount of money." The thirteen-year-old organization subsequently returned the $10,000 cash award to the committee.
Sorokin's organization, the Kostroma Center for the Support of Public Initiatives, was similarly accused of being a foreign agent after organizing a roundtable discussion about Russian-American relations in which the U.S. embassy's political officer in Kostroma, Howard Solomon, participated. "Prosecutors believe that since we organized this roundtable with Solomon, this is automatically political activity," said Sorokin, "and that means that we are automatically foreign agents."
According to a report from Human Rights Watch, the law is having a chilling effect on Russian society — a conclusion with which Sorokin agrees. "Kostroma is a small city, and everyone's talking about this, and everyone's shocked by what's going on," he told the Post. "Some people say we shouldn't even talk to foreigners, it's dangerous. It's like in Soviet times when you could go to jail for that."