Russian vote monitor fears ban after computer seizure
Russian election monitoring group Golos said it was under full-scale attack by the authorities Saturday after customs officers at a Moscow airport confiscated its chief's computer a day before polling.
Head of Golos Liliya Shibanova was held for 12 hours Saturday by customs officials after she landed in Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow. Officials took her laptop on the pretext that it had illegal software, she said.
"This is a provocation directed personally against me," she said, "They are trying to prevent me from leaving the country" ahead of a planned trip to the European parliament next week to talk about Sunday's parliamentary polls.
Shibanova said she feared police would upload something to the computer's hard disk in order to initiate a criminal case, which would effectively prevent her from traveling abroad.
Nobody was available to comment at Sheremetyevo customs office on Saturday morning.
Launching probes into suspected illegal software on dubious evidence is often used in Russia against non-governmental organisations. A similar probe against environmental group Baikal Wave practically stalled its work for a year.
The customs incident came after Golos was smeared in a documentary Friday night, which alleged the NGO is working in the interests of the US government. It was also fined 30,000 roubles ($970) Friday after a court ruled it broke election regulations through the use of its website.
"It is an attempt to paralyse the organisation's work altogether," head of the group's analytical department Alexander Kynev said at an emergency press conference Saturday.
"Considering the scope of this, it is not some local initiative but a coordinated effort by the authorities," he said, adding that many of Golos' 3,000 election observers across Russia are under immense pressure.
"Our observers are receiving phone calls that attempt to scare them. People in the security services participate in this, because nobody else has (phone number) information," said deputy director Grigory Melkonyants.
"The goal of this campaign is to prevent us from observing the elections," he said.
The campaign appeared to intensify after Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin lashed out last weekend at alleged Western attempts to "influence the course of the election campaign" through Russian NGOs, warning this was "money thrown to the wind."
Shibanova said the unprecedented pressure on the 11-year-old organisation built because of its "map of violations" website, where people can upload information, including photo and video evidence of election fraud in Russia.
The map, available at kartanarusheniy.ru, listed a total of 8,334 election violations on Saturday evening.
"The map of violations has made them crazy, because there has never been as much video evidence before," she said. "This scared them."
Given the pattern of persecution of Golos, she said she was "worried" that it might lead to the organisation's ultimate closure.
The White House on Friday condemned Moscow's "pattern of harassment" against Golos following the fine.
Meanwhile Russian bloggers complained as their most popular website Livejournal was down for the third consecutive day, with some alleging a cyberattack by the authorities to prevent people from discussing Sunday's vote.
© 2011 AFP