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Russia threatens to close NGO ruled ‘foreign agent’

Russia may take legal action to shut down a prominent election monitor group, Golos, after it defiantly refused to register as a “foreign agent”, the justice minister said Wednesday.

Golos, which has harshly criticised violations in polls won by President Vladimir Putin, was last month fined $13,000 for failing to register as a “foreign agent” under a new law covering NGOs that receive international funding and whose activities are deemed “political”.

Justice minister Alexander Konovalov told RIA Novosti state news agency that the court ruling could lead to closure.

“We may later be talking about liquidating the organisation through a court, naturally if it does not obey the requirement of the law,” Konovalov said.

The group’s chief said that Golos would close down if necessary, following an appeal, but would then try to set up a new organisation.

“We are not able to fight the closure of the organisation. But we will fight to open a new organisation,” Liliya Shibanova told RIA Novosti.

Closure of Golos would be the harshest move so far in a massive drive by the Russian authorities to crack down on the activities of rights groups and set the stage for further repressions.

Golos was the first group that has been ruled by a court to have flouted the new law.

The law requires organisations to register as a foreign agent and use the tag in all their publicity. That has raised hackles among rights groups over the negative Cold War connotations of the phrase.