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Russia accused of demonizing NGOs

June 26, 2013 at 10:44 AM

MOSCOW, June 26 (UPI) -- The Russian government cast such a wide net over civic organizations, the regulations govern most aspects of public life, Human Rights Watch said.

The rights organization said Wednesday prosecutors were targeting non-governmental organizations for the practice of everything from issuing reports to the United Nations to criticizing anti-homosexual legislation.

Europe and Central Asia Director Hugh Williamson said legislation regarding NGO activity in Russia is disturbing.

"The authorities have defined political activity so broadly as to ensure government control over just about any organized activity relating to public life," he said in a statement Wednesday from Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin backed measures last year requiring NGOs like Human Rights Watch to register as foreign agents if they receive funding from abroad. If they fail to register, they face criminal prosecution.

Putin's administration has faced criticism for its crackdown on dissent. His inauguration last year was greeted with widespread protests.

"Russian groups were heavily scrutinized even before the 'foreign agents' law," Williamson said. "It's clear the law's real intent is to discredit and demonize groups critical of the government."

Putin defended the legislation as part of a transparency initiative.

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