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Golos association fined under NGO law

April 26, 2013, 12:43 UTC+3
Golos Deputy Director told reporters that the association had not received any foreign funds since the amendments to the law on NGO – "foreign agents" had come into force
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The Golos association falls within the scope of the law on NGOs – "foreign agents." A Moscow magistrate court announced that the Golos association should be registered as an agent, and fined it for the refusal to comply with the law 300,000 roubles /less than 10,000 dollars/. Golos executive director Lilia Shibanova was fined 100,000 roubles.

The association has stated that it has long ceased taking foreign funds, and now intends to appeal with the Constitutional Court, the Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. It follows from the correspondence between Chelyabinsk region prosecutors, which is available to the newspaper, that the cases against dozens other non-governmental organizations might run under the Golos scenario.

The Nezavisimaya Gazeta reminds that the Justice Ministry demanded, in a legal action, that Golos be declared a foreign agent because of the Andrei Sakharov Prize it had received. The prize was established by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. Indeed, Norwegians transferred money to Golos, but the association refused to take it, and the money is still stuck on transfer bank accounts.

Golos Deputy Director Grigory Melkonyants told reporters that the association had not received any foreign funds since the amendments to the law on NGO – "foreign agents" had come into force.

As proof of Golos' involvement in political activity, i.e. the second reason for acknowledging it as "foreign agent," Justice Ministry representative Tatyana Vagina cited in the course of a court hearing several remarks by Association director general Lilia Shibanova. The latter had said in an interview that Golos indeed wished "to change the situation at the election."

The magistrate court's ruling will be appealed at higher courts, both in Russia and Europe, Melkonyants underlined after the hearing.

Deputy Director General of the Centre for Political Technologies Alexei Makarkin explained that the authorities can only have two objectives with respect to non-governmental organizations: intimidate or liquidate. Golos was one of the key irritants for the country's leadership ahead of the elections, and it is only logical that it was the first to fall within the scope of the law on "foreign agents."

"This organization is facing problems," the expert said, "it might become an object to encroach upon by all kinds of government bodies, and it will find its accountability documents more difficult to keep. The attempts to defend it might encounter this reply: "What did you expect? You're working for the CIA, aren't you?" Makarkin said.

He did not rule out that the Thursday court ruling would be used against Golos observers at the upcoming elections in the autumn under this pattern: "You, foreign agents, keep silent!"

The Vedomosti writes what the association might expect after such rulings. Golos lawyer Ramil Akhmetgaleyev says the association will appeal the ruling, and that after the second appeal it plans to take the matter to the Constitutional Court to demand that it recognize the law on "foreign agents" unconstitutional.

Akhmetgaleyev made it clear that if the Constitutional Court did not side with Golos, the organization would have to look for other forms of existence. There are many opportunities to continue work without being entered in the registry of "foreign agents," he said.

Earlier, another lawyer said NGOs could be registered as commercial organizations; in this event they will have to pay taxes, but working will be easier. Golos does not intend to have itself registered as a foreign agent.

A fine is the softest measure; the NGOs avoiding registration might be shut down, while their directors could face up to two years in prison, the newspaper reminds.

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