MOSCOW, June 21 (RIA Novosti) – Russian independent election monitoring NGO Golos must register as a “foreign agent” under a new law, despite a previous pledge to stop accepting funding from abroad, the Justice Ministry insisted on Friday.
A new law that came into force in November 2012 obliges all non-governmental organizations in Russia to register as “foreign agents” if they are involved in any kind of political activities and receive funding from foreign sources.
Golos, which has been active in publicizing violations in federal and regional elections in recent years, was fined 300,000 rubles (around $9,200) in April for failing to register as a “foreign agent,” the first NGO to be penalized under the new law.
Golos has dismissed the charge of accepting foreign cash as unfounded, insisting the organization has not received any funding from abroad since November 2012.
The NGO’s deputy director Grigory Melkonyants said previously that Golos Association is currently not receiving any foreign funding and asked the ministry whether it should not therefore be designated as “a foreign agent.”
The ministry, however, maintains the NGO carried on receiving money from abroad after that date.
“The association was a sent a reply saying it has to get registered as a non-governmental organization functioning as ‘foreign agent,’” the Justice Ministry said in a statement.
The law has been criticized both in Russia and abroad for its use of the term “foreign agent,” which in Russia is synonymous in the public consciousness with spying and treachery. Although the government maintains the law is vital to prevent foreign meddling in the nation's political life, it has already been applied to NGOs involved in apparently apolitical activities such as wildlife conservation, public health and polling organizations.