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24 May 2016

Russian Federation – Amended definition of “political activity” adopted in the third reading

On 20 May 2016, the State Duma of the Russian Federation (lower chamber of Parliament) adopted, in the third and final reading, a draft law which potentially may modify the law “On Non-Commercial Organisations”, by clarifying the concept of 'political activity', introduced by the Foreign Agent Law 2012. The following day the draft law was sent for the approval of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, where it is currently under consideration.

The draft 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 was adopted with amendments suggested by the State Duma Committee on the Affairs of Public Organisations and Religious Associations after the first reading on 20 April 2016. The Committee excluded from the notion of 'political activity' “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”. The remainder of the text was kept as initially submitted to the State Duma by the Ministry of Justice on 19 February 2016.

'Political activity' is currently defined in the existing law 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 new 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 is also considered to be a 'political activity'. Furthermore, the State Duma has included the distribution of information containing assessments of authorities of any level and their policies as a political activity, especially if such assessments are made in order to change the existing laws. This extends to public addresses and open letters to various officials.

According to the draft 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”.

Front Line Defenders is concerned about the adoption of the clarification of the concept of 'political activity' in the final reading of the draft law which could have a significant negative impact on the work of human rights defenders in Russia, if passed by the Russian Parliament. Front Line Defenders 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”.