Russia further undermined its civil society last week when the country’s prosecutor general ordered nongovernmental organizations International Republican Institute (IRI) and Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF) can no longer work or have a presence in Russia.
These two international organizations were among a list of 12 groups that Russian senators allege “harm” the country. They were closed under a law, passed by parliament, which allows executive authorities to designate as “undesirable” any foreign or international organization they deem undermines “the defense capacity and security of the state or public order, public moral or public health.” There is no judicial review or appeal against the designation.
The “undesirables,” their representatives, and even their publications, are banned from Russia. Moreover, Russian nationals who continue to cooperate with them can face criminal charges and go to jail for up to six years.
MDIF is a United States-based foundation, which for two decades has assisted independent media across the globe. IRI, another US organization chaired by Senator John McCain, promotes democracy. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, IRI has carried out numerous trainings and other events for Russian political parties and officials at local levels.
Previously, five other organizations, either US donors or capacity building groups, had been designated as “undesirable.” These include the National Endowment for Democracy, Open Society Foundation, Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation, US-Russia Foundation for Economic Advancement and the Rule of Law, and National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.
Although technically speaking the law on “undesirables” focuses on foreign organizations, in terms of impact, its primary targets are local civic groups and activist who receive much needed international support. Unsurprisingly, the first three “foreigners” to get banned were key funders of Russian civil society organizations, including human rights groups.
Two months ago, the Venice Commission, which advises the Council of Europe, criticized the law because of the wide discretion granted to the prosecutor general and for being both broad and vague. It called on the Russian government to amend the law in line with international standards.
Activists in Russia were already suffering. Now they have even less support.