The federal Justice Ministry opened a legal case on Tuesday against Russia’s only independent election monitoring organization, charging that the group, Golos, and its executive director had violated a controversial new law by failing to register as a “foreign agent.” The ministry’s action came a day after Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany publicly chastised Russia over its intimidating treatment of nongovernmental organizations, including a series of recent raids. Ms.Merkel was the first Western leader to challenge President Vladmir V. Putin of Russia on the issue. She made her comments at a news conference in Hanover, Germany where the leaders toured a trade fair. The new law, which requires nonprofit groups that receive financing from abroad to register as foreign agents, was among the most provocative in a passel of Kremlin-supported legislation in recent months that was aimed at tightening restrictions and limiting foreign influence on nonprofit groups.
In Russia, “foreign agent” is a phrase that carries a clear insinuation of treachery, and groups that rely on financing from outside Russia had voiced dismay over the requirement.
Golos, which was founded in 2000 with American financial and logistical support, monitors and comments on elections in Russia and other countries, It is also active in trying to shape election law in Russia. The group had a prominent role in drawing attention to fraud, including blatant ballot-stuffing and other crude measures, in the Russian parliamentary elections of December 2011,
Outrage over the fraud set off a series of large street protests in Moscow that continued for much of last year and led to the formation of a new coalition of political opponents to Mr. Putin. Recently, though, the protest movement has struggled to maintain momentum.