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Published in Stream:
Russia Update: December 8, 2014
Press by
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
"Foreign Agent" NGOs Banned from Election Monitoring in Russia
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Non-commercial organizations that are defined as "foreign agents" under Russian law will now be prohibited from taking part in elections in any form.

An amendment with the ban was quietly put into election legislation in November, says

Groups that are said by the government to engage in political activity -- ill-defined -- and receive grants from abroad are classified as "foreign agents" and face more scrutiny from authorities or even closure if they fail to cooperate.

Russian Memorial Society, a leading human rights organization, Golos, an election-monitoring group now suspended, and St. Petersburg Soldier's Mothers are all groups with the classification "foreign agent". Recently, the Russian human rights ombudsperson Yelena Pamfilova obtained a court ruling to remove the groups from the registry after their foreign funding ceased, yet Golos and others still remain on the web registry of "foreign agents" established by the Ministry of Justice.

Vladimir Pugin, head of the State Duma's Constitutional Committee, is the author of the amendment, introduced to electoral law in June as part of an effort to tighten up requirements regarding the funding of political parties, including inclusion of a ban on parties making agrees with NGOs designated as "foreign agents." The amendments concerning the ban on participation in election campaigns were not announced publicly or debated in the Duma but slipped in.

"Foreign agent" NGOs are barred under the new law from taking part in "fostering or hindering the nomination of candidates and their lists, election, and also the achievement by them of certain results." They also are prohibited from promoting referenda or "other forums of participation in electoral campaigns or referendum campaigns." Previously, these laws had only affected foreigners or stateless persons and foreign and international organizations.

The law specifies that NGO "foreign agents" cannot obtain authorization to monitor elections, with international organizations only eligible for permission by federal authorities.

The Central Elections Commission repeatedly advocated the ban on election-monitoring by "foreign agent" NGOs, and Maya Grishina, a member of the CECE said, "It must be said outright: the federal legislative body heeded these appeals."

Grishina said that the law does not provide for "foreign agent" NGOs to gain the status of "foreign observer" unless they are a member of an international organization invited by the Russian government to participate. But "numerous decisions" would have to precede this.

The ban on participation in elections is the first discriminatory measure concerning the "foreign-agent" NGOs, says Grigory Melkonyants, co-chairman of Golos. Before, inclusion in the "foreign agents" registry didn't prevent the group's activities as such, but now the formulation of the new law is so broad that it is not clear what is in fact prohibited now for NGO "agents." NGOs weren't allowed to take part in elections even before this new law. He said the removal of observers from the newspaper Grazhdanskiy Golos [Civic Voice] from election precincts in September was now legalized.

Melkonyants said the ban would not stop observers from other groups and media organizations from observing the elections, even while his group was suspended. But it was "an alarming trend for the whole non-commercial sector" and human rights advocates planned to contest it with the Constitutional Court.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick