Russia Election Watchdog fined, fears closure

Moscow, April 25 (IANS/RIA Novosti) Golos Association, an independent election monitoring NGO in Russia, will probably have to close down, its director said Thursday after the organisation was fined 300,000 rubles (around $10,000) for failing to register as a “foreign agent”.

Moscow’s Presnensky District Court ruled Thursday that Golos’ refusal to register as a “foreign agent” under new legislation is an administrative offence.

Golos is the first NGO to face administrative charges following the introduction of the new NGO law last November, which requires any organisation involved in political activities and receiving financing from abroad to register as a “foreign agent”. That term, to most Russians, is synonymous with spying.

Golos director Lilia Shibanova insists the organisation has not received a cent from abroad since the new law came into force.

The association would do all it could to challenge the court ruling, adding, however, that there was little chance of success. So far, the only realistic option is to disband the organization, she said.

The case against the NGO was based on the allegation that Golos received a sum of money as part of the Andrei Sakharov Freedom prize it was awarded by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee in 2012.

Golos has been active and vocal in publicising violations in federal and regional elections in recent years, most notably during the December 2011 State Duma elections, which were followed by large-scale protests against electoral fraud.

The organization was one of 11 Russian NGOs that lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights about the “foreign agents” law back in February. It was also one of the organisations that until recently received some funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The government has claimed the new NGO law is necessary to prevent the possibility of interference by foreign states in Russia’s internal affairs.

–IANS/RIA Novosti

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