MOSCOW, May 13 (RIA Novosti) – The Russian Justice Ministry said on Monday it had launched an administrative case against a regional office of Russia’s Golos Association, an independent election monitoring NGO, for failing to register as a “foreign agent.”
A new law that came into force in November 2012 obliges all non-governmental organizations in Russia to register as “foreign agents” if they are involved in any kind of political activity and receive foreign funding.
“According to the information obtained by the Federal Financial Monitoring Service, a Golos regional public organization received funding of more than 4 million rubles [about $128,000] from foreign sources in December 2012. At the same time, the regional office of Golos is involved in political activity on Russian territory,” the ministry said.
The ministry said the organization is therefore “exercising the functions of a foreign agent,” but has failed to register as such as now required by law.
Golos has offices in 59 Russian regions, but the Justice Ministry did not specify which one of them is facing administrative proceedings.
Grigory Melkonyants, deputy executive director of the Golos Association, confirmed the information, saying that the regional office had been charged “on the same grounds as the Golos Association,” but said the charges were unfounded.
In late April, Golos was fined 300,000 rubles (around $10,000) for failing to register as a “foreign agent,” making it the first NGO to face administrative charges following the introduction of the law.
Melkonyants said the regional office in question was never involved in election monitoring or other election-related activities and focused on issues of municipal government.
He confirmed that it had received funding from the Delegation of the European Union to Russia.
Golos has been active and vocal in publicizing 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. NGOS have said the term “foreign agent” is a virtual synonym for “spy” and will discredit them in the eyes of the public.
The government has claimed the new NGO law is necessary to prevent the possibility of interference by foreign states in Russia’s internal affairs.
In March, the Russian government launched a series of inspections of NGOs that human rights campaigners described as unprecedented in their scale.
Late last month, Russia’s General Prosecutor’s Office denied allegations by NGOS of a widespread check of their activities, saying just 0.5 percent of registered NGOs had been inspected in Moscow and less than 1 percent in St. Petersburg.