Polish government considers law forcing NGOs to declare foreign funding

WARSAW, May 11 (Reuters) - The Polish government is considering drafting legislation that would oblige non-governmental organisations to declare any foreign sources of financing, the environment minister said.

His remarks alarmed critics of the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party who, drawing comparisons with laws in Russia and Hungary, said Poland’s nationalist rulers could be seeking to discredit and muzzle NGOs critical of the government.

Environment Minister Michal Wos told Catholic broadcaster TV Trwam at the weekend that the ministry had set up a working group tasked with making NGOs’ finances more transparent.

“I set up such a team in the ministry, such a working group, to disclose the financing of NGOs, not just ecological ones,” he said. “Poles have a right to know whether they are indeed organisations that work in the interests of Poles...”

The government spokesman was not available to comment. The environment ministry spokesman also did not immediately comment.

“For the sake of the good image of NGOs it would be good to find out where their money comes from. Those that have nothing to hide have no reasons to be afraid,” Ryszard Czarnecki, a PiS member of the European Parliament, said.

Ewa Kulik-Bielinska, director of the pro-democracy Batory Foundation in Poland, said she feared “an attack on social organisations that defend human rights and check on authorities.”

She said she believed the aim was to portray NGOs as organisations that work in the interests of foreign intelligence or foreign capital, discrediting them in the eyes of the public.

“This is the Hungarian model,” she said.

A Hungarian law that requires civic organisations to disclose foreign donors was described by a legal adviser to the European Union’s top court as in breach of EU rules, and Hungary faces moves in the European Parliament that could lead to the suspension of its voting rights in the EU.

Russia has introduced legislation under which an NGO can be branded a “foreign agent” - a wording that has sinister connotations for Russians - if it receives funding from abroad.

In a written response to questions about the moves in Poland, which is at loggerheads with Brussels over reform of the judiciary, NGO Greenpeace said the environment minister was wasting taxpayers’ money fighting an “imaginary enemy”. (Reporting by Marcin Goclowski; additional reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko, Editing by Timothy Heritage)