GOLOS suspected by MP of violating Russian "foreign agent" law
MOSCOW, February 22 - RAPSI. On February 20 Russian lawmaker Vladimir Ovsyannikov submitted an inquiry into independent election monitoring organization GOLOS Association's potential violations of a Russian law requiring foreign-funded NGOs to accept "foreign agent" status, according to Izvestia newspaper report.
GOLOS, which was established in 2000 to protect electoral rights and foster civil society, monitors federal, regional, and local elections throughout Russia. Its scrutiny of the 2011 Duma elections and 2012 presidential elections have gained the NGO international fame.
Ovsyannikov, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party, claims that GOLOS receives funding from foreign sources, but it is not registered as a "foreign agent" in accordance with the law on NGOs.
He explained that GOLOS has received over $342,000 from the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the European Commission and the UK Embassy.
Furthermore, the MP also suspects GOLOS of having violated Russia's Labor Code, adding that employee Anna Vasilevich began working for the NGO two months prior to signing a contract with them.
GOLOS Executive Director Lilia Shibanova told Izvestia that the association had received grants from the UK Embassy in the past, but has no foreign sources of funding at present.
Speaking with RAPSI when the bill became law last summer, GOLOS Deputy Executive Director Grigory Melkonyants anticipated the possibility of having to cut off the NGO's receipt of foreign funds, but added: “At GOLOS people work for an ideal, and money is only a means of doing this work more efficiently. Of course, in the event of funding cuts, the scope of election observation may be affected. However, we will do our best to raise more funds domestically and to be more efficient."
Human rights activist Lyudmila Alekseyeva, chairman of the Moscow Helsinki Group, has spoken up in support of GOLOS and discarded Ovsyannikov's suspicions as groundless.
The highly controversial law on NGOs, which took effect in November last year, requires politically active NGOs with foreign sources of funding to register as "foreign agents." Once registered, these NGOs face heightened scrutiny.
They are required to file regular disclosures with the government and to mark all materials disseminated through major channels as the product of a "foreign agent."
The law also requires NGOs to publish a biannual performance report and to carry out an annual financial audit.