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Russia Labels Independent Election Monitor 'Foreign Agent' Ahead Of September Elections


Golos co-director Grigory Melkonyants has described the move was "an attack on the largest community of independent election monitors." (file photo)

The independent election monitoring group Golos says Russia’s Ministry of Justice has designated it a "foreign agent," a move that is likely to hamper the monitor's work during next month's parliamentary and local elections.

The Russian Ministry of Justice said it entered the Golos movement in the register of "foreign agents" to protect the rights of voters, Interfax reported on August 18. The registry includes organizations that do not have a legal entity in Russia.

Golos has painstakingly documented allegations and evidence of fraud in past elections, including the 2011 parliamentary vote, in which suspicions of widespread rigging on behalf of the ruling United Russia party fueled large protests, and the 2012 presidential ballot that returned Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin after four years as prime minister.

The September 17-19 elections are for members of the State Duma -- Russia's lower house of parliament and a key instrument of Putin's power -- as well as regional and local balloting.

The co-director of Golos, Grigory Melkonyants, told Interfax that the move was "an attack on the largest community of independent election monitors."

He vowed that Golos, which trains election observers and runs a hotline that voters can call to report election violations, will continue its work.

Critics have said the foreign agents law is being used increasingly against independent groups ahead of the election.

The law requires nongovernmental organizations that receive foreign assistance and that the government deems to be engaged in political activity to be registered and to identify themselves as foreign agents, as well as to submit to audits.

Organizations designated as such have to carry out tedious administrative procedures, including clearly indicating their status to the public.

The Ministry of Justice announced plans in February to create a new register of "foreign agents" specifically for movements that do not have registration and legal entities in Russia.

The Ministry of Justice maintains two other registries of "foreign agents" -- one is for NGOs registered in Russia, and the other is for media outlets.

With reporting by Interfax and AFP