Russia: Election Watchdog Fined as Part of ‘Intimidation Campaign’ | The Moscow Times

A Moscow city court has fined election monitoring group Golos 1.2 million rubles ($18,000) for failing to identify itself as a “foreign agent” on its website. Rights activists said the verdict was part of an intimidation campaign ahead of parliamentary elections, the RBC news website reported Monday. Under a Russian law signed by President Vladimir Putin in 2012, non-governmental organizations that receive funding from abroad and are engaged in any perceived ‘political’ activities must register as “foreign agents” and identify themselves as such in all publications.

Editorials: Russia's Latest Fake Election | Maxim Trudolyubov/The New York Times

After watching the local and gubernatorial elections in Russia on Sunday, one cannot help wondering: Why bother? Why does the Kremlin need to push the illusion of democracy when the results are predetermined? The only region where an opposition force worthy of the name was allowed to participate — in Kostroma oblast east of Moscow — saw voting marred by bullying and the arrests of anti-Kremlin candidates. No one could figure out why the Democratic Coalition, the only grouping of parties openly critical of President Vladimir Putin, was even allowed to run. All municipal, regional and gubernatorial elections in Russia are held on the same day, and in nearly all of them United Russia, the main pro-Kremlin party, was victorious. How could it lose when its candidates enjoyed access to unlimited resources and dominated the airwaves while their challengers were vilified as traitors?

Russia: ‘Cruise’ Voting, Mirror Parties, And A Missing Corpse: Spotting Russian Election Abuses | RFE

Russia’s political opposition dispatched a small army of volunteer election observers to keep lookout for voter fraud in Kostroma Oblast, where, having been barred from the ballot everywhere else in the country, the opposition was vying for a small victory in regional elections on September 13. Russian officials quickly touted the Kostroma voting and thousands of other contests across the country as models of “clean elections.” By 11 p.m. on election night, however, independent election-monitoring NGO Golos had clocked 1,736 allegations of election violations, compared to 901 on Russia’s nationwide voting day in 2014 and 747 in 2013. The opposition’s version of events differed sharply from the official version in Kostroma, 350 kilometers northeast of Moscow, where the opposition party Parnas was vying for seats in the regional legislature with activist Ilya Yashin atop its candidate list.

Russia: Regions Prepare to Vote After Campaign of Tricks, Complacency | The Moscow Times

On Sunday, the governors of 21 Russian regions and more than 1,300 heads of small city administrations will be elected, together with deputies for 11 regional parliaments and 25 city legislatures. The nationwide elections, known as unified election day, are considered by some analysts to be a final rehearsal for the State Duma elections in 2016 in which tactics and methods are being tested accordingly. The main question is whether the opposition will be able to gain any ground, but chances are slim, say pundits. “The Kremlin fears elections at all levels,” Dmitry Oreshkin, an independent political analyst, told The Moscow Times, commenting on vigorous efforts in some regions to eliminate the opposition at the candidate registration stage. The campaign has seen several tactics employed that have raised eyebrows among political commentators.

Russia: Can Russia’s only independent election monitor survive Kremlin pressure? | Christian Science Monitor

Golos, Russia’s only grassroots election-monitoring organization, has been fighting an exhausting battle to prove it does not receive foreign funding. Otherwise, it would have to self-describe as a “foreign agent” – a term that connotes “spy” in Russian. But even though the organization has won some significant court victories, including a Constitutional Court order to lift the onerous label they were saddled with, Golos seems no closer to fielding its usual teams of observers when Russia’s next cycle of elections kicks off, with regional polls in October. Now, members of Golos and other nongovernmental organizations in similar conflict with the government are asking: Are there any terms under which the Kremlin will allow such a group to do its appointed job? “The basic problem is that authorities are not happy with what Golos does,” says Andrei Buzin, an analyst with Golos. “It’s this type of activity, making conclusions, publishing results, that they just don’t like.”

Russia: Murder, Poisoning, Raids: It’s Election Season in Russia | Bloomberg

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the only billionaire jailed by Vladimir Putin, is assembling an army of volunteers to challenge the electoral system that supports his nemesis. Accusations of murder and poisoning are already flying. Khodorkovsky, freed 18 months ago, has said he hopes to spark a palace coup from self-imposed exile in Switzerland, exploiting what he predicts will be rising discontent with a contracting economy. He’s starting with a project to hunt for violations in the first major elections Putin and his ruling United Russia party will face since the president returned to the Kremlin in 2012 after a four-year stint as prime minister.

Russia: Crackdown on Moscow Election Monitors | Newsweek

Russian authorities on July 7 searched the Moscow office of the Golos Association, the country’s leading election-monitoring organization, and the homes of four Golos members, Human Rights Watch reports. The searches appeared to be part of a broader government crackdown on the independent monitoring group. Criminal investigators searched the apartments of Grigory Melkonyants and Roman Udot, co-chairs of Golos; Tatyana Troinova, the executive director; and Valentina Denisenko, a former staff member. Later that day, investigators searched the Moscow office.

Russia: Police raids homes, offices of election monitors: lawyer | AFP

Russian police on Tuesday raided the offices of election watchdog Golos as well as the homes of its employees, a lawyer for the group said, amid an ever-increasing crackdown on independent voices in the country. The searches, which came ahead of regional elections this autumn, coincided with an unveiling by Russian authorities of the first 12 American and other groups to be likely put on the list of “undesirable” organisations. On Tuesday, police raided the homes of several Golos employees, including the apartment of senior executive Grigory Melkonyants and confiscated equipment including computers. “They are searching the offices as we speak,” a Golos lawyer, Olga Gnezdilova, told AFP.

Russia: Opposition Leader Asserts Broad Problems in Moscow Race | New York Times

The Russian opposition leader, Aleksei A. Navalny, on Thursday submitted to a court more than 50,000 pages of documents illustrating what he said were irregularities in Sunday’s voting in the Moscow mayor’s race in an attempt to prove that he won enough votes to force a runoff against the incumbent, Sergei S. Sobyanin. But the court refused to block the inauguration of Mr. Sobyanin, who barely cleared the threshold for an outright victory with 51.4 percent. He was sworn in on Thursday evening during a ceremony in the city’s World War II museum. According to the official returns, Mr. Navalny placed second with 27.2 percent. Yet, even as Mr. Navalny and his aides lugged 21 boxes of documents to the courthouse, they acknowledged not only that there was little hope of overturning the results, but also that the voting had been relatively fair. So they have adopted a new message: while the vote was generally free of blatant fraud like ballot stuffing, the election itself was rigged from the beginning.

Russia: Key election watchdog struggles to get past Kremlin shutdown before polls | CSMonitor.com

Less than three weeks before Russians go to the polls to elect hundreds of local and regional governments, the country’s biggest independent election monitoring group, Golos, is struggling to reinvent itself after being effectively destroyed by a new law that requires non-governmental groups that receive funding from abroad to register as “foreign agents.” The outcome of Golos’ efforts will probably settle any debate over the intentions of Russian authorities when they framed the controversial NGO law, which requires all groups that receive any degree of foreign funding and engage in any kind of public outreach authorities deem political to register and self-identify in all their materials as “foreign agents” – a term that connotes “spy” in Russia. Russian authorities insist the law is just about reining in foreign influence and ensuring transparency in the NGO sector. Critics have argued from the start that the law is part of a battery of legislation that aims to straitjacket civil society, clamp down on free speech and, specifically, to prevent any repetition of the mass exposure of alleged electoral fraud in December 2011 Duma elections made possible by 50,000 trained citizen polling station monitors fielded by Golos.

Russia: Electoral Watchdog Dodges Government Ban | RIA Novosti

Russia’s leading election monitor, known for accusing the Kremlin of vote rigging and suspended over its alleged “foreign agent” status, found a way to continue its operations, the group’s representative said. Nongovernmental organization (NGO) Golos, would transform into a new legal entity with the same function as before, its deputy head Grigory Melkonyants told RIA Novosti on Thursday. Golos was formally re-established as a non-profit foundation to monitor the elections on Friday, Russian media said, though the necessary paperwork would only be completed next week.

Russia: Vote monitoring group suspended under ‘foreign agent’ law | Reuters

Russia suspended an independent election monitoring group for six months on Wednesday, for failing to register as a “foreign agent” under a law that President Vladimir Putin’s critics say is part of a crackdown on dissent. The Moscow-based group, Golos, angered the government by publicizing evidence of fraud in a 2011 parliamentary vote that sparked opposition protests, and at the presidential election that returned Putin to the Kremlin for a third term last year. It is the first non-governmental organization (NGO) to have its operations suspended under the law Putin signed last July as part of a drive to decrease what he has said were efforts by Western countries to meddle in Russian politics. Golos denies it falls under the law, which obliges NGOs that receive any foreign funding and are deemed to be involved in political activity to register as “foreign agents”.

Russia: Election watchdog Golos fined | BBC

Election watchdog Golos has become the first non-governmental organisation (NGO) to be fined in Russia under a controversial new law. A Moscow court ruled Golos had failed to declare itself as a “foreign agent” after receiving funds from abroad after the law took effect in November. It was fined the sum of 300,000 roubles (£6,200; $9,500; 6,300 euros). The NGO said it had returned the money – a prize for its human rights work – as soon as it entered its account. It also denied being involved in political activity. It says it will appeal against the verdict. Golos, which received assistance in the past from the US government development agency USAID, insists it no longer accepts foreign funding. Now in its 13th year, the NGO did much to expose fraud at the 2011 parliamentary election, when it charted abuses across Russia, notably through its online “map of violations”.

Russia: Vote monitor slams Russia ministry for ‘wanting it closed’ | AFP

Russian election monitoring group Golos (Voice) on Wednesday slammed the authorities for trying to halt its work after the justice ministry launched a court case accusing it of failing to declare itself as a “foreign agent” with international funding. “This is total lawlessness. They have given an instruction not to let us cover elections,” the group’s executive director Lilia Shibanova told AFP, vowing to fight back and possibly even countersue the ministry. The group, which has claimed mass falsifications in parliamentary and presidential polls won by Vladimir Putin, is accused of “carrying out the functions of a foreign agent” and failing to register. The case is seen as the first test of a law passed by parliament last year obliging foreign-funded NGOs to register as a “foreign agent” and widely criticised as a throwback to the Soviet past.

Russia: Authorities pursue election watchdog Golos under anti-NGO law | BBC

Russian authorities have filed a legal case against an election watchdog, accusing it of failing to declare itself a “foreign agent”. The group, Golos, is the first non-governmental organisation targeted under a new law requiring such groups that receive financial aid from abroad to register as foreign agents. The law was passed after mass protests against President Vladimir Putin. Golos said it would fight to prove its innocence. In recent weeks, more than 100 civil society and human rights groups across Russia have been subjected to inspections by prosecutors and tax officials in connection with the law.