Russia Bans "Undesirable" NGOs, Including Human Rights Watch

Russia Bans "Undesirable" NGOs, Including Human Rights Watch

Non-governmental organizations in Russia were effectively banned on Sunday after Russian dictator Vladimir Putin passed a law that allows the government to prosecute them on the grounds they are 'undesirable.'

Workers of those organizations can now be sentenced to six harsh years in Russian prison, which can easily amount to a death sentence given the appalling conditions.

The new measure provoked an international outcry.

The U.S. State Department said it was "deeply troubled" while Amnesty International said the law threatened "fundamental freedoms." Human Rights Watch condemned it as a "piece of repressive legislation."

In a largely symbolic move the law was passed through both houses of the Russian parliament. The exact wording states that a foreign non-governmental organization can be recognized as undesirable if it poses a threat to the constitutional order of the Russian Federation or to the country's defense and security.

The law is incredibly broad, targeting Russian citizens or groups that have any "involvement" with undesirable NGOs.

It is the latest step in a series of measures aimed at suppressing opposition and restricting freedom within the country.

Tanya Lokshina, of Human Rights Watch, said the new law would "severely damage our work in Russia," and that it was a cause for grave concern for all international groups operating in Russia.

An interesting point Ms. Lokshina raised is that she did not believe the law was aimed at international organizations like hers but instead at Russians who might cooperate with, or support, international organizations.

"The bill does not specify what 'involvement' might include," Lokshina wrote in a statement. "So anything goes. Distributing -- including by posting online -- the statements, reports, or other materials of an 'undesirable,'".

Put more bluntly, in Russia, even retweeting something from an undesirable NGO could land a Russian citizen in jail for up to six years.

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