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<nettime> Russia bans OSF

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DECEMBER 1, 2015

Russia: Open Society Foundation Banned

Repeal "Undesirables" Law

(Berlin) -- Russia's prosecutor general's office has declared the
nongovernmental organization Open Society Foundation (OSF) to be
"undesirable," banning its activities in the country, Human Rights Watch
said today. The move is part of a sweeping government crackdown on
independent groups, in particular those that challenge the government's
human rights record.

A law adopted in June 2015 authorizes the prosecutor's office to ban, as
"undesirable," foreign or international organizations that allegedly
undermine Russia's security, defense, or constitutional order. For more
than two decades, OSF has supported a wide range of initiatives in
Russia, including the advancement of science, higher education, human
rights, and the rule of law.

"This move against OSF shows the Russian government is moving full steam
ahead to close space for independent groups and public debate in
Russia," said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human
Rights Watch. "The 'undesirables' law and its implementation have been a
terrible blow for civic freedoms in Russia."

Under the "undesirables" law, Russians who maintain ties with
"undesirables" or share their materials with Russian audiences face
penalties ranging from fines to a maximum of six years in prison. It is
one of many measures the Russian government has adopted since 2012 to
tighten control over and marginalize independent groups, Human Rights
Watch said.

Russia could use a handful of laws to shut down the work of foreign
organizations. The "undesirables" law can not only force the end of a
foreign organization's activity, but also cut Russian groups off from
international partners to further isolate and marginalize them, Human
Rights Watch said.

Amendments to the law on nongovernmental organizations authorize the
Justice Ministry to unilaterally register as "foreign agents" Russian
groups that accept foreign funding, to discredit and demonize them,
Human Rights Watch said. More than 100 groups -- including
environmental, human rights, research, and other groups -- have been
listed. Some have been fined for supposedly failing to observe
regulations for "foreign agents." Several have been threatened with
criminal charges on other politically motivated grounds. Other laws have
imposed new restrictions on media and internet freedoms.

In July 2015, Russia's upper house of parliament sent the prosecutor's
office a list of 12 organizations for investigation, with a view to
determining whether they fit the "undesirable" criteria. The list
included OSF and other U.S.-based donors, such as the National Endowment
for Democracy, the MacArthur Foundation, and the C.S. Mott Foundation.
Several Russian politicians sent separate lists of foreign organizations
to the prosecutor's office with the same request.

In July, the prosecutor's office designated the National Endowment for
Democracy an "undesirable" organization, and at the end of July, C.S.
Mott and the MacArthur Foundation announced they would discontinue
funding in Russia. The Open Society Foundations fund Human Rights Watch
work in many countries around the world, but not in Russia.

"The government should put an end to the witch hunt against
'undesirable' organizations," Williamson said. "Instead, it should
restore an environment that would make it possible for independent
groups to do their work."

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