MOSCOW, June 4 (RIA Novosti) – A regional office of Russia's Golos Association, an independent election monitoring NGO, was fined 300,000 rubles (about $10,000) on Tuesday for failing to register as a “foreign agent,” the RAPSI legal news agency reported.
That was the second $10,000 fine the organization has faced since a Russian law came into force in November obliging all non-governmental organizations to register as “foreign agents” if they are involved in any kind of political activity and receive foreign funding.
Moscow’s Basmanny District Court on Tuesday handed down the ruling following Golos’ failure to register as a foreign agent since it received foreign funding last December and the Justice Ministry said it engaged in political activity.
According to the information obtained by the Federal Financial Monitoring Service, a Golos regional public organization received funding of more than 4 million rubles [about $128,000] from foreign sources in December 2012, the ministry said in mid-May. The ministry said the organization is therefore “exercising the functions of a foreign agent,” but has failed to register as such as now required by law.
Golos has offices in 59 Russian regions, but the Justice Ministry did not specify which office was facing administrative proceedings.
In late April, Golos was fined 300,000 rubles for failing to register as a “foreign agent,” making it the first NGO to face administrative charges following the introduction of the law.
Golos has actively publicized violations in federal and regional elections in recent years, most notably during the December 2011 State Duma elections, which were followed by mass protests against alleged electoral fraud.
The organization was one of 11 Russian NGOs that lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights about the “foreign agent” law back in February. NGOs have said the term “foreign agent” is a virtual synonym for “spy” and will discredit them in the eyes of the public.
Russia’s NGO law may be adjusted if necessary, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Tuesday. “There has been plenty of talk on the issue but nothing unusual has happened so far,” he said.
“It seems to me that any lawmaker is supposed to look after the application of a particular law. If he sees that a law is reasonable and benefits society, that law should be preserved even if some people may not like it,” Medvedev said.
“However, if a law hinders the development of civil society, if it is directed against public initiatives, it may be adjusted,” he said.
The government has claimed that the new NGO law is necessary to prevent the possibility of interference by foreign states in Russia's internal affairs. In March, the Russian government launched a series of inspections of NGOs that human rights campaigners described as unprecedented in their scale.
In April, the Prosecutor General’s Office denied allegations by NGOs of a widespread check of their activities, saying that just 0.5 percent of registered NGOs had been inspected in Moscow and less than 1 percent in St. Petersburg.