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Russian Gov...t Allowing Some Groups To Register After Earlier Suspension

By C.J. Chivers


The Russian government said Monday that it had begun registering private foreign organizations whose operations in Russia were suspended last week, and that it was rushing to review the amended applications of at least 65 other organizations, which remained idled.

Among the groups granted permission to resume work were some that Russian officials had sharply criticized, saying they were encouraging revolutions or meddling in Russia’s domestic affairs. They included the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and the International Republican Institute.

Both groups, whose work includes offering training for domestic political parties and movements, had been suspended last week under a new Russian law that limits the work of foreign groups. Both confirmed that they had been notified in writing that they could resume work.

“We’re functioning as we normally would as of today,” Lisa Gates, a spokeswoman for the International Republican Institute, said by telephone from the group’s office in Washington.

The new law has drawn international criticism as a veiled effort to muzzle critics of the Kremlin and groups that promote social activism, political parties, rule of law, news media freedom and anti-corruption awareness.

The law sets stringent reporting requirements, including the deadline last week for each group to submit details about its origins, history, goals and organization. The detail is fine enough to require such facts as the passport numbers of each of a group’s founders, no matter how long ago the group was formed and whether the founder remains part of the group, or is even alive.

The deadline was seen as the first test of whether Russia would use the law to restrict a group’s activities. And when it passed, many groups found they had been temporarily suspended, including dozens of American organizations, prompting Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to inquire about the law when she visited Moscow over the weekend.

The Russian government insisted the suspensions had resulted from the failure of the groups to fill out the forms properly, but many groups noted that the suspensions included those most critical of the Kremlin or most active in grass-roots politics here, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Both of those groups were still suspended on Monday, according to the latest Russian list. But Russian officials said that of about 190 organizations seeking registration, only 65 to 68 remained suspended, and that all of their applications would be reviewed in less than 30 days.

“No political issues are involved in the decision-making,” said Galina A. Fokina, acting head of the office in the Ministry of Justice that is responsible for the registration. “All issues are based on legal issues dealing with filling out the forms.”

Three more groups were approved Monday, pending only a signature by the office’s director, Fokina said.