The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), strongly condemns the pressure exercised on the NGOs, human rights defenders and peaceful protesters who denounced electoral irregularities and called for fair, free and independent electoral processes following the elections results on December 4, 2011, as well as the defamation campaign targeting the Golos, an NGO working on election monitoring, ahead of the election.
Golos (“the Voice”), a major Russian NGO specialising in election monitoring has been the target of a State-organised harassment and a defamation campaign since November 26, 2011. The harassment started a week before the holding of the elections when a State-controlled media, the pro-Government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta, published an article dated November 26, criticising Golos and accusing them of “reducing the process of observing the electoral campaign and voting on election day into a way of making money”.
Later, on December 2, 2011, the State-controlled TV channel NTV entered Golos headquarters to question the staff with cameras in order to broadcast in the evening a half-hour documentary containing sharp criticism of the NGO. In line with the Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s statement of November 27, the broadcast alluded that Golos had been a “recipient of grants” following “instructions of foreign governments”, and that the NGO’s executives were handling millions of dollars in cash, in an attempt to discredit them. Vladimir Putin had accused the “representatives of some foreign countries” to pay money to influence the elections and accused western-granted associations to make a “wasted effort” as “Juda [was] not considered the most respected biblical character” in Russia.
This defamation campaign was doubled by acts of judicial harassment. On December 2, Golos was summonsed to appear before an administrative court, following a complaint filed by the Head of Russia’s Central Electoral Commission, Mr. Vladimir Churov. On the basis of a vaguely-worded law that prohibits the publication of any poll data over a period of five days before the election day, Golos was fined 30,000 rubles (approximately 720 euros) for having published on the Internet a digital map reporting pre-electoral irregularities – based on complaints reported by 5,300 citizens, known as the “map of violations”.
On December 3, Golos’ Director, Ms. Lydia Shibanova, was retained during 12 hours at the Sheremetevo International Airport by the customs as she was returning from a trip abroad. Her laptop was confiscated for “examination” purposes by the customs officials, who denied her the right to contact her attorney. On December 4, in the early morning of election day, Golos’ website crashed, together with others, due to a massive cyber attack targeting different independent media outlets, including Echo of Moscow, Bolshoi Gorod, The New Times, Slon.Ru.Zaks.Ru, LiveJournal and the Russian News Agency. Ms. Lydia Shibanova’s email account was hacked as well as that of her Deputy’s. As the polling places opened, many Golos electoral monitors were prevented from entering the polling places and were subjected to acts of threat and intimidation by polling officers. Their mobile phones were also cut off.
Moreover, since December 5, 2011, massive acts of harassment, including violent actions, have taken place in Moscow, Saint-Petersburg and in other Russian towns against peaceful demonstrators and a number of human rights defenders who had gathered to denounce irregularities surrounding the electoral process. On December 5, according to the Internal Affairs Ministry, around 300 protesters were detained in Moscow and even more in Saint Petersburg. Some were tried and remain detained as of today, while others were subsequently released.