Russia warns election monitors ahead of polls
Russian prosecutors Thursday warned an election observer group that has exposed widespread falsifications ahead of legislative polls that it was being probed for breaching campaign rules.
Andrei Buzin, head of election monitoring at Russia's leading independent vote monitor Golos, said the association was being probed into "breaches of the rules of campaigning", an administrative offence.
Moscow prosecutors said on their website that they had visited the group's office and dropped off their warning on request of several State Duma deputies who "found breaches of electoral law".
Three members of parliament from ruling United Russia and two nominally opposition parties on Wednesday asked the prosecutor general to probe the group, the prosecutors said, without revealing the lawmakers' identities.
The probe follows a speech by Vladimir Putin, who is set to reclaim the presidency in March polls, in which the one-time KGB agent accused the West of using NGOs to "influence the course of the election campaign in our country".
Putin's comments echo the tough rhetoric that helped build his popularity during his first two terms as president in 2000-2008, and raised immediate alarm among some Russian human rights groups.
"I think this is just the start. Next they will issue a decree about holding a search," Buzin told AFP.
Golos put scans of the documents online.
A decree signed by district Moscow prosecutors said Golos broke election laws by posting the results of opinion polls on its website less than five days before elections. It names an article of the administrative code that relates to mass media, however.
A separate warning signed by Moscow's first deputy prosecutor warns the association that it published "rumours disguised as reliable information, with the aim of smearing a party and its members".
It does not specify which party, but apparently refers to the ruling United Russia group.
Russia is voting in parliamentary elections on Sunday, and NGOs, as well as parties in opposition to the dominant United Russia of Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev, have alleged a swathe of violations by the authorities.
The Golos association documents electoral fraud through the "map of violations" website (www.kartanarusheniy.ru).
The group is set to be the subject of a muck-raking documentary on NTV television on Friday.
The channel's website says the show will expose "electoral technologies paid for by foreign grants".
"Of course it is a single campaign. It started in newspapers and has moved to television," Buzin said. "The main aim of all these acts is to distract us from our work: observing the elections."
Accepting United Russia's nomination to run in next year's presidential elections, Putin called the West's alleged attempts to influence the outcome of Russian polls "useless work, wasted money".
© 2011 AFP