Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a new law allowing authorities to shut down foreign-backed groups deemed “undesirable”, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The new law allows any foreign or international non-governmental organization to be shut down and introduces fines, restrictions on movement and jail time of up to six years for those who violate it.
It builds on a law passed in 2012 that branded groups as “foreign agents” for their supposed political activities as well as funding they received abroad.
About 60 organizations have been officially listed in that category.
Critics of the law said lack of a clear definition of “undesirable” will allow for abuse.
The new law is the latest step in what rights groups say is the Kremlin’s policy of clamping down on critical voices, some of whom have been accused of being pawns in a western plot to repeat a Ukraine-style revolution in Russia.
Pavel Chikov, head of Agora, a group that provides legal services to non-governmental organizations, said Monday the new law increases the scope and severity of the 2012 law.
“The law allows the forbidding of any social and political activity once it is declared an ‘undesired’ organization, and those who continue to work can be sent to prison,” said Chikov, whose own group has been declared a foreign agent.
“Most of all, this is about rights advocacy organizations, ecologists and all other groups that champion liberal values, because the Kremlin considers them a risk to the current political regime.”
Chikov said lawmakers are already looking into organizations including Human Rights Watch, Transparency International and Memorial, Russia’s oldest human rights group.
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