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WWF-Russia Protests Orders for Environmentalists to Register as “Foreign Agents”


Moscow: WWF-Russia is protesting prosecution orders to at least five Russian environmental organizations to register as foreign agents, in compliance with controversial civil society legislation.

The orders went to five regional Russian environment organizations, with WWF-Russia highlighting the fact that the orders run counter to the legislation’s exemption of “protection of flora and fauna” from the “political activity” that the act is targeted at.

WWF-Russia has also learned that similarly exempted charities helping the disabled have also received orders to register as foreign agents.

Baikal Environmental Wave was accused of involving in political activity on the basis that one of the goals of the organization is “to actively lobby the solution of environmental problems in federal and local governments”. WWF-Russia is now providing support to the partner organization.

Similarly, the Russian prosecution office has served an order to an organization helping Cystic fibrosis patients, on the basis it is involved in political activity because its Statute lists one of its goals as “the protection of rights and lawful interests of disabled people with Cystic fibrosis in government agencies”.

“We believe that the Prosecution, bending over backwards to report to the authorities, ignores the current legislation and demonstrates miracles of bureaucratic zeal bordering on stupidity”, said WWF-Russia CEO Igor Chestin.

“Activities initiated by the Prosecution against NGOs, which carried out at the taxpayers’ expense, are evidence of the absurdity of the new law. At present not a single NGO registered as a foreign agent, so the authorities decided to prove the viability of the stillborn law by inciting the Prosecution against NGOs.”

The Russian parliament passed the law obliging NGOs to register as foreign agents if they receive funding from abroad and are involved in political activity in November 2012.

While the law does not give a clear definition of political activity, “Activities in the field of science, culture, art, medicine, disease prevention and health protection, protection of motherhood and childhood, social support for disabled, promotion of healthy lifestyle, fitness and sports, protection of flora and fauna, charity, as well as promotion of philanthropy and volunteering” are exempted.

Environmental organizations known to WWF that have received notices are the Russian regional NGOs Baikal Environmental Wave, Amur Social-Ecological Union, Chelyabinsk fund “For Nature”, Siberian Environmental Center, and Khabarovsk organization “Zelyony Dom”.

Baikal Environmental Wave is among groups protesting the pollution of World Heritage listed Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest lake, by a pulp mill. Amur Social-Ecological Union helped create 7 new protected areas in the Far East of Russia with a total area of over 1 million hectares.

Rights defenders and civil society activists see the legislation as a tool intended to erode their credibility and impact. The prosecution itself must comply with the law before demanding its enforcement from others, stresses WWF.


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