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April 25, 2013

Russia Fines Golos for Not Registering as Foreign Agent

by Jessica Golloher

Election watchdog Golos has become the first non-governmental organization (NGO) to be fined in Russia under a controversial new law. A Moscow court ruled Golos had failed to declare itself as a "foreign agent" after receiving funds from abroad after the law took effect in November.

Golos, which means vote or voice, has been fined 300,000 rubles - roughly $10,000 dollars - for failing to register as a foreign agent, a term synonymous with espionage in the Soviet period.

A Moscow court ruled that the NGO received 50,000 euros - roughly $65,000 - in award money from the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, an organization that supports people who are persecuted for their opinions.

​​​​Golos’ Executive Director Lilia Shibanova was also fined 100,000 rubles - around $3,200.

Golos has said that the new law requiring NGOs to register as a foreign agent if they receive foreign funding and participate in political activities does not apply to it, because it stopped receiving such funding after the new law went into effect.

Rachel Denber, deputy director of the Europe and Central Asian Division of Human Rights Watch, discussed the new law at a press conference in Moscow.

She said the stamp of foreign agent cannot be interpreted in Russia as anything other than a foe at best, and a traitor at worst. In any case, she said, it means a disguised and harmful person.

Golos Executive Director Shibanova said the organization will appeal the decision to a higher court.

Since Russian President Vladimir Putin returned to the Kremlin for an unprecedented third term last year, the country has seen massive protests against his government.  The Kremlin has been cracking down on dissent. It has increased the fines for participating in and or organizing unsanctioned protests against the government by more than 150-fold.