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Russia: fine for NGO under 'foreign agents' law condemned

‘The case against Golos should never have been brought, let alone succeeded’ - John Dalhuisen

The Moscow court’s decision earlier today to fine a Russian independent non-governmental organisation is an alarming indicator for the future of civil society in the country, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said this afternoon.

The Association in Defence of Voters’ Rights Golos (Voice) is the first Russian nongovernmental organisation to fall foul of the “foreign agents” law. It was fined 300,000 roubles (approximately £6,500), while its director Liliya Shibanova was also fined 100,000 roubles (£2,000). Golos played a prominent role in organising election monitoring and reporting allegations of electoral fraud in Russia’s 2011 parliamentary and 2012 presidential elections.
Golos is the first organisation to face charges since a wave of inspections in recent weeks targeted more than 200 organisations across Russia - including the Moscow offices of Amnesty and Human Rights Watch. Golos is alleged to have violated a law introduced last year requiring organisations in receipt of foreign funding to describe themselves as “foreign agents” if they engage in undefined “political activities.” The law imposes restrictions on freedom of association that are inconsistent with international human rights standards.

The Russian authorities accused Golos of receiving approximately £6,500 in prize money after being presented the Andrei Sakharov Freedom Award by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, though the group instructed its bank to return the money, which it did.  The Ministry of Justice claimed that Golos’ advocacy for the adoption of a unified Electoral Code in Russia sought to “influence public opinion and decisions of government bodies”, which, in its opinion, constituted “political activity”.

News of the sanctions against Golos came as President Vladimir Putin engaged in a televised call-in show answering questions from people across the country.

Amnesty International Europe and Central Asia Director John Dalhuisen said:

““At the same time as the court hearing, President Putin was telling the public that organisations highlighting violations should be valued. The fines levied against Golos clearly show what their reward will be.

“The case against Golos should never have been brought, let alone succeeded.

“The foreign agents law is a bad law that was introduced for political reasons. It is sadly not surprising that it has resulted in politically-motivated decisions. The foreign agents law is a stick to beat watchdogs with and needs to be repealed.”

Human Rights Watch Europe and Central Asia Deputy Director Rachel Denber said:

“Today’s ruling is a shot across the bow at Russian civil society and a terrible precedent.

“The Russian authorities should withdraw the case against Golos and welcome, rather than hinder, NGO work.”

Another group, the Kostroma Regional Centre for Support of Public Initiatives, will face similar charges on April 29 for having organised a roundtable on US-Russia relations that a US diplomat attended. A further nine groups - whose activities range from ecological initiatives to supporting Children's rights with a rare genetic disease - have received official warnings from the prosecutor’s office.

Meanwhile, in separate reports published yesterday, Amnesty and Human Rights Watch noted that the systematic undermining and violation of the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association have been the hallmark of President Putin’s human rights record during the first year of his third term as president

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