Russia rights ombudsman slams law on 'undesirable' foreign NGOs

Russian President Vladimir Putin Ella Pamfilova, who has criticised his allowing authorities to ban "undesirable" NGOs (AFP Photo/Denis Sinyakov) (AFP/File)

Moscow (AFP) - Russia's rights ombudsman has slammed a controversial law approved by President Vladimir Putin that allows the authorities to ban international NGOs deemed "undesirable."

Human rights ombudsman Ella Pamfilova -- whose parliament-appointed role is monitoring rights abuses -- said she was "seriously concerned" by the law targeting any foreign groups accused of threatening "state security".

Putin on Saturday signed off on the law, sparking condemnation from the European Union and United States over what human rights activists see as the latest step in Moscow's crackdown on civil society.

The vaguely-worded legislation fails to give a "precise legal definition" for why an organisation can be banned, the ombudsman said in a report released late Monday.

"The legal grounds for declaring (groups) represent a threat to the constitutional basis of the Russian Federation, defence or state security are not specified," the report said.

The ombudsman said the power given to the Prosecutor General to tag groups "undesirable" without going to court contradicts the Russian constitution and slammed the lack of a right to appeal.

Under the law authorities can ban foreign NGOs and jail Russians working with them for up to six years.

A lawmaker in Russia's parliament has already requested Russia's prosecutor general look into whether five organisations -- Human Rights Watch, Transparency International, Amnesty International, the Carnegie Endowment and Memorial rights group -- were undesirable.

A spokesman for legislator Vitaly Zolochevsky told AFP Tuesday that a request had been sent but could not give any more details on when any probe might start.

Russia has been turning the screws on civil society groups since the reelection of Putin as president, including the introduction of a law branding local NGOs that receive funding from abroad as "foreign agents".

Putin's supporters claim the "undesirable" organisation bill is designed to stop a Western-instigated revolution against the Kremlin.

Critics of Putin, however, say the former KGB agent is using allegations of foreign meddling to tighten his grip on power and allow a small elite of corrupt cronies around him to massively enrich themselves.