Russian President Vladimir Putin [official website, in Russian; JURIST news archive] signed a measure into law Monday expanding the reasons for which non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can be subject to unscheduled audits, or "snap inspections." These reasons include [UPI report] allegations of extremism and suspected violations of the law, and the inspections may be ordered by the heads of authorized agencies, or requested by prosecutors and election commissions. According to the Russian Ministry of Justice [official website, in Russian], of the 6,947 NGOs inspected in 2013, only 206 of the audits were unscheduled [RAPSI report].
Russia's Federal Council [official website], the upper house of parliament, approved a controversial NGO law [JURIST report] last July much to the dismay of Putin's critics, who considered the bill an effort to curb free speech [RFE/RL report] and the right to assemble. Since the NGO law took effect last November [JURIST report], Russian activists have vowed to challenge it. Leading rights groups, including Memorial [official website], election-monitoring body Golos [advocacy website, in Russian] and the Moscow Helsinki Group [advocacy website] have all chosen to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website]. In August, Kostroma Center filed a complaint [JURIST report] in the Constitutional Court of Russia [official website, in Russian] against the law, after it had been fined 300,000 rubles (USD $9,000) for organizing a roundtable with US diplomats, which investigators said counted as "political activity." The US State Department [official website] claimed [Reuters report] it had "deep concern" about the new bill, but was likewise reminded by Moscow that such an issue involves domestic rather than international policy.