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Russian Diabetes NGO Could be Punished as ‘Foreign Agent’

The organization is accused of spreading damaging information about healthcare funding gaps and medicine shortages.

11 January 2018

An NGO that distributes insulin and support services to diabetics in southwestern Russia might be the latest organization to be charged for failing to register as a foreign agent.

 

The Saratov Regional Organization for Diabetics has assisted diabetics in its region for three decades, writes RFE/RL.

 

Now, local prosecutors have filed charges against the organization, seeking fines totaling 1.3 million rubles ($22,500), Meduza reports. The court proceedings will begin on 15 January.

 

The Saratov Regional Organization for Diabetics has assisted diabetics with necessary medication, services and information for three decades. Image: Jaytaix / PixaBay

 

Pressure against the organization begun after Nikita Smirnov, an activist from the youth wing of the ruling United Russia Party, “read on the internet” that it received funding from foreign pharmaceutical companies and denounced it to local authorities, RFE/RL says, citing Novaya Gazeta.

 

Russia’s foreign agent law requires non-governmental organizations that receive donations from foreign sources and engage in “political activity” to register with the authorities.

 

While civil society groups and think tanks that deal with more politically sensitive issues, such as human rights or politics, are more vulnerable under the legislation, prosecutors will reportedly examine whether the Saratov diabetes group “gives information to foreign partners about so-called sore spots in the region,” as a local historian called in by prosecutors for an expert opinion stated, according to Novaya Gazeta.

 

The historian, Ivan Konovalov, earlier provided expert testimony against an NGO that worked to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS, which closed down after being declared a foreign agent.

 

Such “sore spots,” such as funding gaps and medicine shortages, “could be used to inflame protest tendencies in society," Konovalov stated.

 

Larisa Saigina, the organization’s head, told RFE/RL she will fight back if the organization is declared a foreign agent.

 

"You need to defend your rights and to make noise when they are violated,” she said.

 

Proceedings are likely to continue even though Smirnov wrote on social media that he was retracting his accusation.

"After all, disregarding all the statements and actions that could be coming from this organization, the most important thing is that it is helping people and does humanitarian work," he wrote on VKontakte, adding that he was ready to "help the organization in every way," Deutsche Welle reports.

 

 

  • The new law on mass media outlets will also apply to bloggers who accept money from foreign governments, reports Meduza, citing State Duma Deputy Speaker Pyotr Tolstoy.

 

  • Lawmakers are currently considering whether to extend the foreign agent law to individuals, rather than organizations, who receive money from abroad and “spread information,” according to Meduza.

Compiled by Kate Syme-Lamont

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