Russia's sole independent pollster warns it may close

20th May 2013, Comments 0 comments

Russia's only independent pollster warned on Monday it may close due to pressure from prosecutors who have labelled its opinion research a form of political activity.

Levada Centre, a respected pollster which publishes daily research on subjects such as political approval ratings, said the warning from the Moscow prosecutor's office was in line with a controversial new law branding non-governmental organisations that receive Western funding as "foreign agents."

The centre said in a statement that the warning "puts in question the future existence" of the company because it has not registered under the new law.

Levada is one of several opinion pollsters in Russia but the only one not funded by the government.

The pollster said it was legally registered as an non-governmental organisation and has received several foreign grants, including from the MacArthur and Ford foundations based in the United States.

Money from abroad comprises about three percent of the group's budget, Levada added.

The prosecutor's warning said that publishing results of polls on political subjects such as elections and the approval ratings of top leaders, as well as commenting on these results in interviews, amounted to political activity because it "forms public opinion about government policy in Russia."

The warning puts Levada Centre "into a very difficult position, practically forcing it to stop its activity as an independent research organisation that engages in systematic public opinion polling in Russia," the organisation's director Lev Gudkov said in a statement published Monday.

By calling the centre's activities political, the authorities were undermining its work and reputation, Gudkov said. Fear by business partners of dealing with a potential "foreign agent" also makes them wary of dealing with the company, he said, saying it was "impossible to continue the work of an independent research institute as before."

The foreign agent 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.

Last month a court fined election monitor Golos for violating the law, a move slammed by other Russian groups and the US State Department.

Levada Centre has published research about the sliding approval ratings of President Vladimir Putin, as well as the public's opinions on government initiatives, opposition protests and historical events.

© 2013 AFP

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