Russia passes law to shut down 'undesirable' organisations

Russia's lower house of parliament (the Duma) has overwhelmingly voted in favour of allowing the state to shut down organisations on the grounds that they are "undesirable".

The controversial bill was initially proposed in November by members of the Just Russia party and the Liberal Democrat Party of Russia (LDPR), both of which are closely aligned with Russian president Vladimir Putin's United Russia.

440 members of the Duma voted in favour, with only three opposing the bill, meaning that now just the upper house and president need to give their approval - normally a formality.

The bill will allow the Russian government to potentially close the regional offices of any international or foreign non-governmental organisation, fine and imprison its leadership and ban Russian banks from cooperating with it, should it be deemed that the organisation "threaten the foundations of the constitutional order of the Russian federation" or the country's security.

Leaders of "undesirable organisations" could be sentenced to up to six years in jail for two offences in the space of a year, while banned organisations will also be stopped from spreading information materials.

It will be up to the Ministry of Justice to compile the list of these undesirable organisations, but prior to today drafts of the bill have been criticised by both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

A joint statement issued by the two organisations after the bill's second reading, earlier this month, branded the move an effort to "bolster an ongoing draconian crackdown which is squeezing the life out of civil society".

The obscure wording of the bill has prompted commentators, including one of the bill's few opponents in parliament Dmitry Gudkov, to argue that the law could effectively be used to close commercial organisations as well as non-profit ones, should they oppose "Russian values".

In a vlog post shot directly from the second reading of the bill, Gudkov claims that it's not true that the law will only apply to non-profit organisations as 'non-governmental organisation' does not exist as a legal term in Russian law. He claims one of the authors of the bill has confirmed to him that the term only excludes government organisations such as the UN, but it does allow for businesses such as McDonalds or Apple to also be banned under the same circumstances.