MOSCOW, Nov 20 (Reuters) - Russian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) funded from abroad said on Tuesday they would appeal to the European Court of Human Rights against a new law which brands them "foreign agents".
Much criticised by the West, the law takes effect on Wednesday forcing foreign-funded NGOs engaging in "political activities" to register themselves using the politically loaded term that echoes Cold War-era hostilities.
Critics of President Vladimir Putin say the new law is aimed at discrediting organisations that have spoken out against Russia's paramount leader and have helped provide support to the biggest protest movement against his nearly-13-year rule.
Leading rights groups, including Memorial, election-monitoring body Golos and the Moscow Helsinki Group, said they will refuse to register in defiance of the law, which they say is vaguely worded to allow arbitrary application for political ends.
"It's clearly decided we will turn to the European court, but the matter of when that would be is not yet set," said Furkat Tishaev, lawyer for rights group Memorial.
The European Court of Human Rights can order compensation be paid for injured parties, but is unable overrule domestic laws.
Under the Russian law, groups found to have violated it can be suspended for up to six months without trial, a punishment the groups say violates their right to assemble.
They say the law aims to equate Putin's critics with foreign powers who he has said wish to spark a Russian 'colour revolution' like those that swept away Soviet-era leaders from Georgia and Ukraine in the early 2000s.
Entering his third term as president, Putin has signed a raft of laws which critics say is aimed at clamping down on dissent against his rule.
"We are not foreign agents as we do not deal with political activity, we don't seek power, we don't promote anybody seeking power, we deal with rights, safeguarding the election rights of people," Grigory Melkonyants, deputy head of Western-funded Golos, said on Tuesday.
Golos helped bring to light numerous violations in a parliamentary election last year which led to massive street protests after the vote was won by Putin's United Russia party.
The Kremlin, which denies orchestrating a clamp-down on dissent, has said the law is needed to tighten control over foreign-funded organisations operating in Russia to prevent them gathering intelligence for other governments. (Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Thomas Grove and Jon Hemming)