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New Russian Law Temporarily Halts Some Foreign Organization Operations

By C.J. Chivers
THE NEW YORK TIMES


MOSCOW

Scores of foreign private organizations were forced to cease their operations in Russia on Thursday while the government considered whether to register them under a new law that has received sharp international criticism.

Among the suspended organizations are some of those most critical of the Kremlin, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, and others, like the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, that have been accused by Russian officials of instigating or assisting revolutions in other former Soviet republics.

The Justice Ministry, which is responsible for registering foreign private organizations, insisted that the suspensions were neither retaliatory nor permanent.

It issued a statement saying the suspended organizations had not properly filed new registration materials or had submitted the required materials on the last day before the registration deadline, which was midnight Wednesday. It said it was rushing to review the applications it had received.

“It is important to note that lack of reregistration does not entail the liquidation of the organization,” the statement said. “The talk here is only that these organizations cannot carry out the activity envisaged by their charters before they are brought into the register.”

The number of suspended organizations is not entirely clear. The statement said the ministry had received applications from 185 organizations, approved 108 of them and continued to review the 77 others.

But the suspensions were the latest chapter in Russia’s pressure on foreign organizations that have offices on its soil. They occurred in a climate of deepening worry about the Kremlin’s crackdown on civil society and just days before a planned visit by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Rice has expressed concern about the law regulating foreign private organizations, known as nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, which was passed earlier this year.

Some Russian officials, including Nikolai P. Patrushev, the chief of the domestic intelligence service, have accused the groups of interfering with state affairs or even harboring spies.

The new law, strongly backed by President Vladimir V. Putin, created extensive new filing requirements, which in some cases the organizations said had been so tedious and lengthy as to be almost impossible to fulfill. The groups have also expressed apprehension over the rules’ vagueness, which could allow any group to be audited, and perhaps closed, on a pretext.

They and their supporters have said that the way the law is carried out will be a test of whether Russia will allow foreign organizations that it dislikes to continue to work in the country. The first deadline, and its effects on Thursday, were accompanied by a strong sense of concern, even fear.