- Associated Press - Monday, November 19, 2012

MOSCOW — Leading Russian activists pledged on Monday to boycott a new law that they warn will help the Kremlin stifle critics with a draconian mixture of repression, fines and inspections of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

A law comes into force Wednesday obliging NGOs that receive foreign funding and are involved in loosely defined political activities to register as foreign agents.

Rights defenders and civil society activists see the new law as a tool intended to erode their credibility in the public eye and make it easier for the government to crack down on them.

“This law is infamous and immoral,” said Lyudmila Alexeyeva, the 85-year-old leader of the Moscow Helsinki Group, a human rights watchdog.

The new measure is part of a series of repressive bills passed by the Kremlin-controlled parliament since President Vladimir Putin began his third presidential term in May.

Along with a campaign of arrests and searches targeting opposition activists, they are seen as Mr. Putin’s response to a series of mass street protests against his rule.

Mr. Putin defended the new law on NGOs as necessary protection against foreign meddling in Russian political affairs.

But Ms. Alexeyeva and other Russian NGO leaders said they need to tap foreign funds because local business is afraid of bankrolling Kremlin critics.

“We would prefer to raise funds in Russia for our work,” Ms. Alexeyeva said. “But any businessman giving assistance to such organization would put his business, and even freedom, at risk.”

She and other activists said they don’t consider themselves a conduit of foreign influence and pledged to ignore the new law.

“We are working for the benefit of our citizens, not at the behest of a foreign state,” Ms. Alexeyeva said. “And we aren’t going to slander ourselves.”

Russia’s only independent vote-monitoring group, Golos, and a widely respected rights group, Memorial, also were among those who pledged to boycott the new law.

Golos chief Liliya Shibanova said her organization, which exposed widespread violations in recent elections, had faced tax checks that had been going on for months.

She said that officials have demanded personal data of all regional activists and other information unrelated to tax matters.

“Such questioning has been going on across the country,” said Ms. Shibanova.

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