President Vladimir Putin signed legislation allowing prosecutors to deem foreign or global non-government organizations as “undesirable” in Russia, drawing immediate criticism from the U.S. and European Union.
The prosecutor-general may assign the label to international NGOs that “threaten Russia’s constitutional order, defense potential or security,” according to the law signed last night. Such organizations lose rights to publish media materials, organize rallies and use local bank accounts.
The U.S. and EU condemned the move, which they said would stifle debate. It’s the latest move by Putin to clamp down on the groups questioning his government’s stewardship of the economy and its decision more than a year ago to annex the Crimean peninsula from the Ukraine.
“We are deeply troubled,” State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf said in a statement from Washington. “We continue to be concerned about increasing restrictions on independent media, civil society, members of minority groups, and the political opposition.”
In London, the Foreign Office said the rule would undercut organizations commenting in Putin’s policies.
“The new law will directly affect the ability of international organizations to work, promote and protect human rights in Russia and is clearly aimed at undermining the work of Russian civil society,” David Lidington, the Europe minister in the U.K. Foreign Office, said in a statement. “NGOs make a vital contribution to society.”
In Brussels, an EU spokesperson called the move a worrying step that will hurt civil society in Russia and restrict the freedom of speech.
The legislation also introduces punishment including as much as 500,000 rubles ($10,000) fines and up to six years in prison for running such NGOs in Russia.
A year ago, Putin ordered popular bloggers to register with local communications watchdog and be liable for their content. In October, another Putin’s law required cutting foreign ownership in Russian media to 20 percent by 2016.
In February 2014, before the Crimean annexation, another law came in force that allowed the government to block certain Internet content without a court decision.