Russia passes bill targeting foreign-funded groups

By the Associated Press | July 13, 2012 | 11:17 AM EDT

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia's lower house of parliament on Friday passed a bill that imposes harsh restrictions on all foreign-funded non-governmental organizations involved in political activity.

The State Duma voted almost unanimously to pass the bill. The upper chamber of parliament will now need to approve it before it is signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.

The new bill says that any material that foreign-funded groups distribute would have to come with a warning that it was written by a "foreign agent." Organizations would also have to file detailed quarterly financial reports and will be subject to regular and surprise inspections.

Critics say the bill is part of a broader crackdown on civil liberties that has accompanied Putin's return to the presidency in May, and point out that the "foreign agent" term is still synonymous with espionage for Russians who have lived through the Cold War.

Opposition lawmaker Ilya Ponomarev told the Duma on Friday that if members of Putin's United Russia party — who dominate both houses of parliament — want to ban foreign-funded nongovernmental groups "they should just say so and make it a law."