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Bill Will Force All NGOs to Re-register

The State Duma is taking steps to force all Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to re-register ahead of upcoming national elections, and NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Mikhail Khodorkovsky's Open Russia face a very real threat of being shut down.

Remaining NGOs would be brought under close state control, according to a bill submitted to the State Duma late Monday.

The bill, titled "Amendments to Several Laws of the Russian Federation," appears to have a good chance of passing because it is being sponsored by a group of deputies from all four Duma factions.

Deputy Alexei Ostrovsky, a member of the Liberal Democratic party and one of the bill's sponsors, said the legislation should help the government crack down on politically active NGOs that receive foreign funding and might use the money to promote an Orange Revolution.

Ostrovsky linked the bill to comments made by President Vladimir Putin during a meeting with human rights activists on July 20. Putin told the meeting that he would not tolerate foreign money being used to finance the political activities of non-governmental organizations.

Government officials have repeatedly accused Western countries of helping bankroll Ukraine's Orange Revolution last year and Georgia's Rose Revolution in 2003 through NGOs, and the Kremlin is worried that Duma elections in 2007 and the presidential vote in 2008 could trigger a similar popular uprising.

Adding to its worries, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a budget bill last Friday that would provide $4 million for the development of political parties in Russia, RIA-Novosti reported.

NGOs on Tuesday decried the Duma bill as unconstitutional and said it attempted to silence critical voices and limit civil freedoms.

"It would be used as a tool against NGOs that criticize the government's policy," said Alexander Petrov, head of the Moscow office of New York-based Human Rights Watch. "We might have to work from abroad as in old Soviet times."

Source: The Moscow Times

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