Russian Memorial NGO receives “undesirable” funds – ministry

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(Interfax – October 5, 2016)

Russian human rights NGO Memorial has received funds from foreign organisations officially designated as “undesirable”, the Russian Justice Ministry press service has said, as quoted by privately-owned Russian news agency Interfax on 5 October. On the previous day, the ministry included Memorial on the list of “foreign agents” under controversial 2012 amendments to the law on NGOs.

“It has been established that [Memorial] received funding from foreign sources, including organisations whose future operation in the Russian Federation has been designated as undesirable (OSI Assistance Foundation, The National Endowment for Democracy),” said the press release issued by the Justice Ministry in response to a query from Interfax.

The ministry’s press service said on 4 October that a check on Memorial had established that it had received funding from foreign sources and “showed signs” of engaging in political activities. The NGO was therefore declared a “foreig! n agent”.

Chairman Arseny Roginsky was later quoted as saying that Memorial would continue its work regardless. Founded back in 1989, it focuses on recording and publicising the Soviet Union’s totalitarian past, but also monitors human rights in Russia and other post-Soviet states.

Under legislation that came into force in November 2012, NGOs that receive funding from abroad and engage in political activity must register with the Justice Ministry as “foreign agents” – a label that carries very strong negative connotations in Russia. The law also requires “foreign agent” NGOs to submit regular detailed financial reports, which critics say is time-consuming and costly for small organisations.

Advocates of the law say it is necessary to prevent foreign-funded meddling in Russia’s domestic affairs. Its critics, however, see it as an instrument to stigmatise NGOs and crack down on civil society.