News Brief

Why A Russian Diabetes Charity Has Been Declared A Security Risk

More than 80,000 diabetes patients in southwestern Russia could be at risk because an advocacy group that helps ensure supplies of essential insulin has been convicted of violating the country’s “foreign agent” law,” according to a report in the newspaper Novaya Gazeta.

It’s the latest non-governmental organization (NGO) to be snared by the controversial six year-old legislation, which imposes heavy restrictions on any group receiving foreign donations and deemed to be involved in “political activity.”

President Vladimir Putin approved the law to block what he called “unacceptable” interference in Russia’s internal affairs, yet critics say it has been used to squash dissent and has hurt Russian citizens who rely on assistance from externally funded NGOs.

A judge in a regional court said the “Saratov Organization for Disabled People with Diabetes” had broken the law by failing to declare 712,000 rubles (about $11,000) in funding from U.S. pharmaceutical companies, including Abbott Laboratories and Johnson and Johnson.

The NGO was also cited for criticizing the government’s record in meeting the insulin needs of local diabetes sufferers.

That amounted to “undermining the authority of the state,” said Judge Maria Agisheva, as she announced her decision to the court in the city of Saratov.

Prosecutors said that information the group’s staff had provided to its international backers about local conditions could be used to “inspire a mood of protest in society.”

This was a particularly sensitive region, the court was told, for outside funds to be going to an NGO caring for diabetes patients.

“The interest in the Saratov region is due to its special place and exceptional geopolitical position in Russia as a connecting link of the emerging Eurasian Union Russia-Belarus-Kazakhstan,” concluded a report into the group’s activities prepared for the judge.

“This activity contradicts the interests of Russia’s security, which opposes the dictatorship of a unipolar world led by the United States.”

The Saratov-based group has been caring for thousands of diabetes sufferers since the 1980s. But it came under scrutiny last year after a local university student, the leader of a pro-Putin group, complained about its foreign funding to the regional authorities.

Facing a backlash of criticism, he withdrew his statement, but prosecutors kept the case open.

The group has now been fined 300,000 rubles ($4,800), as well as being placed on the registry of foreign agents — requiring onerous levels of reporting on its finances and activities.

The head of the NGO, Larisa Saygina said: “These actions are most likely aimed at ensuring that the organization self-destructs.”