MOSCOW, April 25 (RAPSI) – Russia's Golos Association, a non-government organization which monitors elections and campaigns for voters' rights, has refused to register itself as a "foreign agent" as required by a new NGOs law, RAPSI reported from Moscow's Presnensky Court on Thursday.
Golos Association is the first NGO to face administrative charges following the introduction of the new NGO law last November, which requires any organization involved in political activities and financed from abroad to register as a "foreign agent." That term, to most Russians, is synonymous with spying.
The government claimed the new NGO law was necessary to prevent the possibility of interference by foreign states in Russia's internal affairs.
Golos Association claims it has not received foreign funding.
“I consider these charges groundless,” a Golos representative told the court. “We believe there are no signs that Golos acts as a foreign agent. The group does not receive any funds from foreign countries. Moreover, the Justice Ministry has described in its protocol the actions of a different organization with the same name, the Golos Regional Public Association. This is the source of the mistake.”
Golos Regional Public Association has received foreign funding, having worked on a draft election code for several years, an initiative which was sponsored by the European Union. The draft, however, was completed in 2011, (before the new law came into effect) the Golos Association representative pointed out.
The Russian government has launched a series of inspections of NGOs in recent weeks which human rights campaigners describe as unprecedented. The government claims the inspections are routine and legal, while the NGOs see them as part of a systematic crackdown by the state on their activity.