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Russian NGO deemed ‘foreign agent’

A judge in the Russian city of Kostroma ruled Wednesday that a local civic organization, which earlier this year held a roundtable discussion with a U.S. diplomat, was a foreign agent and found it guilty of failing to register as such.

The organization, the Kostroma Center for the Support of Public Initiatives, was fined the equivalent of nearly $10,000, a large sum for a small group that said it had received only minor grants from the International Republican Institute and the U.S. Embassy. The verdict was reported by the Agora human rights society, which was providing legal defense services to the organization.

It was the second organization found guilty of violating the law that requires nongovernmental organizations receiving funds from abroad to register as foreign agents if they are involved in political activity. The first was Golos, an independent election monitor fined at the end of April. Golos, which was formed 13 years ago with help from the National Democratic Institute and National Endowment for Democracy, said it was not engaged in political activity and had not accepted any money from abroad after the law went into effect in November.

Human rights activists say the law, passed with the backing of President Vladi­mir Putin, is meant to stifle development of the kind of organizations that help build democracy.

In Kostroma, a city of 268,000 about 200 miles northeast of Moscow, the prosecutor accused the Public Initiatives Center as acting as a foreign agent because of the roundtable it held at the end of February, said Ramil Akhmetgaliyev, an Agora lawyer. A variety of citizens discussed U.S.-Russian relations at the forum, along with a political officer from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

“The Center did not receive foreign financing after the law on NGOs-foreign agents came into effect, and the law is not retroactive,” Akhmetgaliyev said in a statement.



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