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9 June 2016

Law defining “political activity” passed

On 6 June 2016, the Federal Law “On Introducing Changes to Article 2 paragraph 6 of the Federal Law “On Non-Commercial Organisations” as Regards to Clarification of the Notion of Political Activity” entered into force upon its publication in Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the official newspaper of the Russian Government. The law, signed by the President on 2 June 2016, provides a more concrete definition of the concept of 'political activity', which was introduced by the Foreign Agent Law in 2012.

Previously the notion of 'political activity' was defined as the organising and holding of political actions, and the influencing of public opinion “with the aim to influence the adoption, by government bodies, of decisions seeking to change the policies carried out by them”. The newly adopted definition goes into more detail, further specifying the forms which political activities can take and the spheres of action recognised as political. 

'Political activity' can take the form of an event such as a gathering, meeting, or rally; participation in elections, polls and referendums, including the monitoring of these events. Furthermore, the notion encompasses the distribution of information containing assessments of authorities of any level and their policies, particularly if such assessments are made in order to change existing laws. This extends to public addresses and open letters to various officials.

According to the new law, the activities of NGOs are considered to be political if they are in the field of “state building, protection of the foundations of the constitutional system of the Russian Federation, maintaining of the federal structure of the Russian Federation, protection of sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Russian Federation, rule of law, public order, state and public security, national defence, foreign policy, socio-economic and national development of the Russian Federation, the functioning of the political system, state authorities and local self-government, the legislative regulation of human rights and freedoms,” and if the activity is carried out “in order to influence the development and implementation of public policy on the formation of government bodies, local self-government, their decisions and actions”.

The law, however, excludes from the notion “activities in the field of science, culture, art, health care, preventive care and protection of health, social services, social support and protection of citizens, protection of motherhood and childhood, social support of persons with disabilities, promotion of a healthy lifestyle, physical culture and sports, protection of flora and fauna, charity work”.

Front Line Defenders is concerned about the adoption of a new definition of the concept of 'political activity' as this could have a significant negative impact on the work of human rights defenders in Russia. The definition has been widened to such an extent that almost any criticism of government actions or policies expressed by human rights defenders will automatically fall under the concept of 'political activity'. Consequently, should human rights defenders receive foreign funding they will be considered foreign agents with all the relevant implications, including for example, burdensome reporting. Front Line Defenders further reiterates its concern for the enactment of Federal Law №121-FZ, “On Introducing Changes to Certain Pieces of Legislation of the Russian Federation as Regards Regulation of Activities of Non-Commercial Organisations Performing the Functions of Foreign Agents”.