Moscow, Dec 7 (IANS/RIA Novosti) Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has defended a controversial new law which has made it mandatory for NGOs engaged in politics and funded from abroad to label themselves "foreign agents".
Medvedev during a live television interview with five broadcasters spanning the political gamut, from pro-Kremlin state television to the feisty, independent Dozhd online channel asked: "What's wrong with the word 'agent'?".
"Agent means representative, and that's all," said Medvedev in response to suggestions that the phrase was synonymous with "spy" and would discredit human rights groups in the eyes of the public. "Anything else is just a coincidence."
Russian human rights groups have reacted furiously to the new law, which came into force in November.
The country's oldest rights organisation, the Moscow Helsinki Group, has said it will close down its offices rather than comply, and most other prominent rights groups have said they would not register under the new legislation.
"The law only concerns those NGOs that engage in politics and receive money from foreign governments," Medvedev said. "Imagine if an NGO in the US received money from the Russian federal budget - there would be a major outcry."
He also denied that the NGO law was part of an attempt to stifle political opposition