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Russia backs legislation to force out 'undesirable' foreign groups

Russian lawmakers have supported a law that could see international groups working in the country branded "undesirable" for the state. The move could see groups forced out of Russia, with possible jail time for members.

The Duma's lower house of parliament overwhelmingly voted in favor of the bill on Friday, passing it in the second of its three readings by 442 votes to 3.

The legislation would allow for foreign, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to be labeled as carrying out activities that are "undesirable" to the state.

According to the bill, this covers any group that presents "a threat to the foundation of the constitutional order of the Russian Federation, the defense capability of the country or the security of the state."

The Kremlin could then block its bank accounts, and stop it from opening branches within the country.

People working for such groups could be banned from entering Russia, or face up to six years in prison.

The bill would also extend to Russian organizations that receive funding from those groups which have been deemed "undesirable."

A register of names would be kept by the Russian foreign ministry and prosecutors.

Officials said the legislation was necessary to stop groups from endangering the "basic values of the Russian state," which could encourage "color revolutions" similar to that which occurred in Ukraine.

Russian lawmakers have passed a number of bills in recent years that have placed pressure on several major groups operating in the former Soviet state, particularly those that receive foreign funding.

Legislation passed in 2012 classes all organizations that are funded by foreign sources and that engage in political activities

as "foreign agents."

Many NGOs have been targets of surprise raids and inspections, often by authorities claiming to be checking they are complying with laws banning extremism, and to ensure they are registered as "foreign agents."

Criticism crackdown

Suspicions of

a campaign to stifle dissent in Russia

intensified in 2012 when Russian President Vladimir Putin began his third term.

Humanitarian groups have expressed fears it could be used to further stifle the work of the Russian branches of organizations such as Transparency International, Amnesty International and Greenpeace.

Other criticisms of the bill include those who say its vague wording could lead to commercial interests suffering.

Dmitry Gudkov, one of the MPs opposed to the bill, told local broadcaster Kommersant FM Radio said it would "hurt the investment climate."

"Prosecutors … could close any company, for example Apple or McDonald's, because prosecutors can read the law just as they see fit."

Relations between Russia and the West are strained over the continuing crisis in Ukraine, as well as crippling sanctions imposed on Moscow in retaliation.

The legislation must still pass a third reading, be approved by the upper house and then be signed into law by President Putin.

an/jr (AP, AFP)

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