[lg policy] Can a Russian indigenous group be a 'foreign agent'? The Kremlin thinks so.
hfsclpp at gmail.com
Tue Mar 22 15:18:19 UTC 2016
Can a Russian indigenous group be a 'foreign agent'? The Kremlin thinks
The targeting of an organization dedicated to protecting indigenous culture
is just the latest abuse of a law meant to root out foreign actors in
By Fred Weir, Correspondent
- Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti/AP/File
Moscow — Barani, an organization dedicated to the interests of the
indigenous peoples of Russia's far east, couldn't be much more inherently
The group, whose full name is the "Foundation for the Development of
Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia, and Far East," is like many
indigenous, preservationist groups all around the world. It lobbies for the
protection of traditional native hunting and fishing grounds. It sponsors
seminars and cultural festivals. Recently, it even printed a compilation of
indigenous peoples' fairy tales.
So it was a shock last week when Pavel Sulyandziga, founder and chairman of
the group, logged onto the Ministry of Justice's website
<http://unro.minjust.ru/NKOForeignAgent.aspx> and discovered that his
organization had been officially blacklisted as a "foreign agent."
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Though he still doesn't know why, his group is the latest target of a
that requires any nongovernmental organization that receives any foreign
funding and engages in anything authorities deem to be political activity
to register themselves as "foreign agents," a term that connotes "spy" in
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Some experts warn the law has become a cudgel for bureaucrats, often far
from Moscow, to silence any criticism at all from civil society. Originally
intended to curb big, foreign-funded NGOs such as election monitors
and other bastions of liberal opposition
that challenge the government in politically sensitive areas, the banned
list now includes more than 100 names, many of them with an educational,
cultural, or environmental focus
"It seems that if you do anything related to human-rights protection, you
will be targeted by this law," says Mr. Sulyandziga. "The goal is to
eliminate any organization that irritates local authorities. Sometimes it's
just score-settling that has nothing to do with politics. I think this
could be against me, personally, because I complained publicly about the
conduct of some local officials, and someone wrote a letter to the Justice
Ministry denouncing me as a spy."
Tarring 'foreign agents'
While Barani did have a Dutch citizen among its original founders,
Sulyandziga insists that it receives no foreign funding. He doesn't deny
that it sometimes generates friction with local authorities, especially
over issues like land access rights. But it also has worked closely with
government and industry.
Barani receives much of its funding from Russkiy Mir
<http://russkiymir.ru/en/>, an international foundation to promote Russian
culture established and financed by the Russian government. Another major
donor has been the Sakhalin Energy Investment Company
<http://www.sakhalinenergy.com/en/index.wbp>, a far-eastern gas company
that's registered in Bermuda but is 50 percent owned by Gazprom, the
Russian state gas monopoly. Royal Dutch Shell and two Japanese companies
own minority stakes in Sakhalin.
The Ministry of Justice lists three instances of Barani receiving foreign
funding, all of them donations from Sakhalin Energy. As for the group's
alleged political activities, the ministry website simply alleges "attempts
to influence decision-making by public authorities, aimed at changing their
That highlights the vagueness of the law, experts say, which enables
authorities vast leeway in tarring groups with the "foreign agent" brush.
Under analogous US legislation <http://www.fara.gov/> often cited to
justify the Russian law, the definition of "foreign funding" requires a
"principal" donor that is usually a foreign government or corporation. But
under the Russian law, if a group receives even a penny from abroad – even
if it's given by a Russian citizen – that qualifies it for prosecution.
"The funding source can be a foreign state, a foreign citizen, foreign
organization, or Russian organization that receives money from foreign
sources," says Darya Miloslavskaya, a civil rights lawyer.
Last year, leading scientific charity Dynasty was closed down
on the grounds that its chief donor, Russian telecommunications tycoon
Dmitry Zimin, was providing the funds from his foreign bank accounts.
Experts say that groups like Barani were once lionized by the Russian
government, and used to showcase official cooperation with indigenous
people in issues like ecology and business-community integration. But now
the atmosphere is growing tougher as parliamentary elections loom and the
economic crisis bites.
"State policy used to require participation of indigenous groups in forming
civil policy," says Pavel Chikov, head of Agora, a lawyer's collective that
provides legal assistance to other NGOs. Agora itself became the first NGO
to be officially liquidated under the law earlier this year
"But traditional lobbyists for indigenous peoples' rights are now being
squeezed out of the public sphere. It's true that they were trying to
influence policy for quite a long time, and their efforts were once
welcomed. But not anymore."
Forwarded from the Christian Science Monitor, 3/22/16
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