Russian agent laws


October 18, 2021

Russian Agent Laws are laws enacted in Russia since the fall of 2012 that regulate and oversee the activities of non-governmental organizations receiving foreign funding. In 2015, a law was enacted that would allow international organizations to be declared undesirable. From the beginning of 2021, Russia adopted clarifications to the laws. According to them, declaring a foreign agent requires political activity in Russia and funding or other support from abroad. A foreign agent can be defined as both an organization and a natural person. Both a single media and an individual can be defined as a foreign media agent.

Law on Foreign Agents

Federal Law 121 "On Foreign Agents" (Федеральный закон 121 "Об иностранных агентах") entered into force in Russia in the autumn of 2012. According to it, NGOs receiving foreign funding and participating in political activities must register as foreign organizations. Penalties for violating the law are fines or up to two years' imprisonment. there were 15 organizations on the agent list. In November 2016, according to the human rights organization Amnesty, 148 organizations had been included in the list, of which 27 NGOs have had to cease their activities after being subjected to a chase by the authorities due to the law. The list includes women’s rights defenders, religious groups such as the Jewish Cultural Organization, a total of 21 environmental organizations, and a foundation that promotes science. One thousand organizations had been inspected in November 2013. From the beginning of 2021, the law was extended to individuals.


Alexander Sidjak, MP from the United Russia, took the initiative. The law was justified on the grounds that it prevents foreign states from influencing Russia's domestic policy. UN human rights experts called on the Russian legislature not to pass the law because they said the law would limit the activity of civil society. However, the law was passed by Parliament in July 2012. The lower house, the Duma, passed the law by 374 votes to 3, with 1 abstention. The upper house, the Federal Council, then passed the law by 164 votes to 1. One was absent from the vote. After parliamentary approval, President Vladimir Putin ratified the law. Most NGOs refused to register as agents, which led to an amendment to the law in May 2014 so that the Russian Ministry of Justice could add the organization to its list without its consent. Since then, the organizations have been sued for not signing up as an agent voluntarily. The result is mostly fines. In April 2014, the Constitutional Court ruled that the term “foreign agent” did not contain a negative connotation and that the law did not violate the rights of NGOs.


Amnesty is urging Russia to repeal the law. According to Amnesty, the law is designed to undermine, stigmatize, and ultimately silence critical NGOs. In addition, the definition of “political activity” has consistently been arbitrary. Foreign funding, on the other hand, is defined as, for example, an eight-dollar newspaper subscription paid by a foreign sister organization.

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