The Russian government is using anti-spying spying legislation to justify labeling environmental groups as “foreign agents,” according to a Tuesday report from Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Nearly 30 environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are being forced to submit waves of reports to the government or face fines for non-compliance, HRW noted. Only four of the 29 groups are still active, while those remaining are unreachable or unwilling to comment.
“Government has put in place an administrative structure for de-legitimizing environmental organizations and activists, effectively smearing them as anti-Russian spies,” Richard Pearshouse, associate environmental director at HRW, told reporters about the law, which applies to any organization that receives foreign aid for political activity.
Some of the groups being targeted argue that the wave of fines and permits are making it impossible to maintain a presence in the country.
Bellona Murmansk, a Norwegian-backed NGO, was censured for engaging in an “eco day” for student summer camps, HRW’s report notes, and fined $850. It was shuttered in October 2015 because it was unable to pay a further $5,000 fine.
“[Prior to designation] we actively collaborated with state institutions, including schools and public libraries,” Bellona Murmansk’s former head Andrey Zolotkov told researchers at HRW. “As soon as we received the ‘foreign agent’ label, many government contacts told us that further cooperation was impossible.”
Reports that Russia is hemming in public advocacy campaigns from various environmental groups come as the country continually criticizes President Donald Trump for leaving the Paris climate deal.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters during a conference call earlier this year that the deal would be toothless if the U.S. does not hold up its end of the bargain.
“President Putin signed this convention in Paris. Russia attaches great significance to it,” Peskov said in January shortly before Trump announced the Paris breakup. “At the same time, it goes without saying that the effectiveness of this convention is likely to be reduced without its key participants.”
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