Moscow court hears case against ‘foreign agent’ NGO
A Russian court on Thursday heard a case against election monitoring NGO Golos over its alleged failure to declare its status as a "foreign agent", the first such process since controversial legislation was passed last year.
The Russian parliament last year passed a law obliging all NGOs who receive money from abroad and engage in political activity to register as foreign agents, in a move activists slammed as a throwback to Soviet times.
Russia’s justice ministry accuses the NGO Golos (Voice) of receiving money from abroad and not declaring itself as a foreign agent in defiance of the legislation.
The hearing opened at Moscow’s Presnensky district court with the representatives of Golos insisting on its innocence, Russian news agencies reported.
The group irritated the authorities by alleging wide-scale abuses in the 2011 parliamentary elections and 2012 presidential polls won by Vladimir Putin to give him a historic third term.
The claims of vote-rigging sparked the first mass protests of Putin’s domination of Russia.
But Golos insists it stopped receiving foreign funding after the law was adopted specifically not to have to declare itself as a foreign agent.
“We are convinced of our innocence,” Golos said in a statement.
“This is the first court hearing bringing to responsibility an organisation that is purportedly a foreign agent. The fate of many other NGOs will depend on the decision,” it added.
The accusation is of administrative but not criminal responsibility. But if found guilty Golos risks being fined up to 500,000 rubles ($16,000) and its director Lilya Shibanova up to 300,000 rubles ($10,000).
According to Russian media reports, the justice ministry’s case rests on cash Golos won as part of the Andrei Sakharov Freedom prize it was awarded by by Norwegian Helsinki Committee in 2012.
Golos insists it turned back the money to avoid being hit by the foreign agent law. However the funds had already arrived in a transit account before it made this request.