December 9, 2005

Russia’s Putin proposes softening bill on charities

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's President Vladimir Putin has
proposed changes to soften a draft law that charities and
pro-democracy groups have said will make it harder for them to
operate in Russia, the Kremlin said on Friday.

International groups including Greenpeace, Amnesty
International and Human Rights Watch had said if the law was
passed without changes it might force them to close down their
Russian offices.

Putin's proposals would do away with a clause in the draft
that meant foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) could
only exist as Russian legal entities and would have to register
with the Russian state.

Instead, Putin proposed they could operate through Russian
branches and would need only to inform the authorities they
exist, according to a text of the proposals released by the
presidential press service.

The proposals were sent to the State Duma, or lower house
of parliament. The chamber is due to consider the draft law in
its second reading later this month.

Putin's proposals left in force clauses in the law
requiring Russian NGO's to register, but it said the criteria
for registering should be made clearer. He also left unchanged
a plan to create a government watchdog for NGOs.