ST. PETERSBURG, May 15 (RIA Novosti) – Russia’s Justice Ministry will ask a court to close down the Golos Association, an independent election monitoring NGO, if it fails to register as a “foreign agent,” Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov said on Wednesday.
A new law which 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. NGOs claim the term “foreign agent” is a virtual synonym for “spy” and will discredit them in the eyes of the public.
“We may discuss the elimination of the organization by a court ruling if it [Golos] fails to comply with the law,” Konovalov said, adding that an earlier fine imposed by a court on the organization justifies the ministry’s action against Golos.
In late April, Golos was fined 300,000 rubles (around $10,000) by a Moscow court for failing to register as a “foreign agent,” in the first case of an NGO facing administrative penalties following the introduction of the law.
Golos director Lilia Shibanova said at that time that the fine would probably mean the organization would have to stop working.
On Monday, the Justice Ministry said it had launched an administrative case against a Golos regional office for failing to register as a “foreign agent.”
Golos has vigorously publicized violations in federal and regional election in recent years, most notably during the December 2011 State Duma elections, which were followed by large-scale protests against alleged 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.
The new law has also subsequently been applied to NGOs involved in apparently non-political activity such as wildlife conservation and public health issues.
The Russian government insists it was necessary to prevent foreign meddling in the political system.