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Foreign agents: What countries have similar laws and how they work

The President of Kyrgyzstan signed a package of amendments to the Law «On Non-Profit Organizations» (NGOs) on April 2.

According to the amendments proposed by the deputy of the Parliament Nadira Narmatova, «politically oriented NGOs funded from abroad will get the status of a foreign representative.» They will be added to a special register of the Ministry of Justice.

International organizations, civil activists in the Kyrgyz Republic, the European Union and embassies of many states criticized the document, calling it «anti-democratic.» They called on Sadyr Japarov to veto the law, but they were not listened to.

Kyrgyzstan is not the only country where such a document is in force.

Last spring, the European Union also began drafting a law requiring non-governmental organizations, consulting and scientific institutions to disclose information about any funding they received from abroad.

24.kg news agency tells in what other countries NGOs are labeled as «foreign agents» and why.

USA

In the USA, the activities of the non-profit sector are regulated by the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA. — Note of 24.kg news agency).

It was adopted in 1938 in response to German propaganda before the World War II and became a tool for fighting foreign political lobby.

Significant amendments to the document were made three times — in 1995, 1996 and 2007.

The law states: «Non-governmental organizations, as well as individuals, i.e. U.S. citizens, representing the interests of foreign governments, parties, organizations, companies or individuals («foreign principals») and acting at their order, request or direction, must register as foreign agents with the U.S. Department of Justice».

The areas that fall under the document’s jurisdiction include political activities, information services, political consulting, and raising or distributing money. The list also includes representing the interests of a foreign client before any agencies, U.S. government officials or members of Congress.

When registering, the agent must provide complete information about himself or herself, describing in detail what they do. Tell about property and sources of its origin, separately provide information about the foreign customer and the money received from him or her, including what it was spent on and all recipients, including distributors of informational materials.

The law does not apply to those engaged in non-commercial activities in the field of religion, education, science and art.

Official representatives of foreign states, including diplomats, are also not covered by the document.

Violations are punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 or imprisonment for up to five years.

A foreigner found guilty of failing to comply with the law is subject to deportation.

In addition to FARA, there is Paragraph 951 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code. Under it, «those working in the United States under the control of foreign governments are required to notify the Attorney General of the United States of their activities (the rule does not apply to diplomats).»

Violators face fines or imprisonment of up to 10 years. Application of both penalties cannot be ruled out.

Australia

The law called «Foreign Influence Program» was adopted in Australia at the end of 2018.

According to it, foreign agents are citizens working in Australia under the control of foreign governments. They must detail their activities in a public register in order for the authorities of the country and the public to know about the nature and degree of foreign influence in the state.

Lobbying in parliament, media and providing finances fall under the scope of the document.

If an NGO or a citizen ignores the requirement of the law or provided knowingly false information about themselves, they risk not only being fined, but also going to prison for up to five years.

A transparency register has been created to keep track of foreign agents.

Hungary

In June 2017, the Parliament of Hungary adopted a law strengthening control over NGOs with foreign funding of at least 24,000 euros per year.

According to the document, these NGOs must be registered as «organizations receiving foreign funding», and at the same time to indicate this fact at all events and in publications, to submit annual detailed reports on their activities.

If these requirements are not met, the organizations can be shut down.

The initiative borrowed from Moscow lasted for three years. In 2020, the Hungarian law was repealed by the European Court of Justice as not complying with EU principles.

Israel

In July 2016, Israel adopted a law on transparency of NGO funding.

It states: «If an organization receives more than half of its funding from foreign sources, it is obliged to indicate its foreign sponsors in the relevant documents. This must be stated in media publications, if they concerns such NGOs.»

In case of violation, a fine of 29,200 shekels (about $8,400 — Note of 24.kg news agency) is envisaged.

Ukraine

Amendments «on foreign influence» were adopted in Ukraine in January 2014. For the first time the concept of a public association performing the functions of a foreign agent was introduced into the legislation of this state: organizations that fall under this definition will have to undergo state registration, indicating that they perform the functions of a foreign agent.

However, no one has ever received the status of a foreign agent in Ukraine. The laws introduced on the initiative of Viktor Yanukovych caused intense discontent among activists and human rights defenders and were canceled two weeks later. Subsequently, it was the so-called dictatorship laws that were called one of the fundamental mistakes of the then government that led to the escalation of violence on the Maidan.

Meanwhile, Stanislav Belkovsky, a well-known writer and publicist, in his recent interview with Yulia Latynina in the program «On Duty for the Era» recalled that until the start of the war, that is, until February 24, 2022, the Ukrainian authorities announced every Friday who was included in the list of «undesirable organizations and persons» published earlier. It included, first of all, the so-called agents of Russian influence — NGOs, ordinary citizens, politicians.

Kazakhstan

One might think that Kazakhstan was included in this list by mistake. The country does not have its own law on foreign agents.

But in September 2023, the State Revenue Committee of the Ministry of Finance of Kazakhstan published a «register of persons receiving money or property from foreign states, international and foreign organizations, foreigners and stateless persons», compiled on the results of the first half of last year.

It includes 240 individuals and organizations, in addition to well-known in Kazakhstan human rights organizations, domestic environmental and public foundations, law offices, popular in the country media outlets and individual journalists.

The register also includes representative offices of international foundations and large foreign companies.

The list includes:

  • Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights;
  • Adil Soz International Foundation for the Protection of Freedom of Speech;
  • Federation of Trade Unions of Kazakhstan;
  • Russia’s Gazprombank;
  • Japanese companies Mitsubishi and Mitsui;
  • Hungarian Gedeon Richter;
  • American Baker McKenzie;
  • Norwegian Helsinki Committee;
  • Internews Network;
  • Freedom House.

Companies associated with Germany are also in the list of foreign agents of Kazakhstan: the association of Germans of Kazakhstan Wiedergeburt, Weidmüller, OSRAM, Wörwag Pharma and Stihl, the Friedrich Ebert and Rosa Luxemburg Foundations.

The Ministry of Finance of the Republic of Kazakhstan, to which the State Revenue Committee reports, explained that the list was compiled and made public in accordance with the amendments introduced on March 23, 2023 to «the rules for keeping a database on persons who received and spent money or other property received from foreign countries, international and foreign organizations.»

But judging by the reaction of the media and social media users, the Ministry of Finance’s explanations were not enough. The officials never explained what purpose they were pursuing by publishing this register.

P.S. There are two things that the laws on foreign agents or foreign representatives around the world have in common. The first is the selectivity of their application. Governments of countries where these documents exist remember about their norms when «national necessity» arises. The second is that no version of such a law has ever been 100 percent effective.

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