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.
The authorities have been carrying out a wide-ranging crackdown on NGOs that has included raids by prosecutors on more than 250 groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
The justice ministry said in a statement that Golos “receives foreign funding and carries out political activities in Russia, thus it fulfils the functions of a foreign agent”.
The group insists it no longer receives foreign funding after turning down all offers of foreign support precisely because of the NGO law. It has refused to register as a foreign agent as a matter of principle.
“Golos has not received any foreign funding since the law on NGOs came into force on November 20, 2012. We exist only on donations from Russian citizens,” Shibanova said. The case was due to be sent to a Moscow magistrate’s court Wednesday.