Russian election watchdog ‘silenced by the state’ three days before parliamentary polls

Daily Mail | Dec 2, 2011

By Emma Reynolds


'Hampered': Gregory Melkonyants, leading activist of election watchdog Golos, was in a court accused of violating election law today

Russia’s chief election watchdog has been ‘silenced by the state’ three days before the Parliamentary polls, according to the group.

Moscow city prosecutors said they had received complaints from lawmakers over Golos’s foreign financing and calls for it to stop monitoring votes.

The news comes after Vladmir Putin said in a speech a week ago that foreigners were funding his political opponents – in what commentators said sounded much like the anti-Western rhetoric of his eight-year presidency from 2000.

Prime minister Mr Putin is expected to easily regain the position in March, but opinion polls have shown that his dominance could be damaged in the lower house by Sunday’s vote.

Newspapers such as The Guardian warned yesterday that Mr Putin’s reincarnation as all-powerful president, potentially until 2024, poses a challenge to western powers for which they seem ill-prepared.

He has one overriding objective, said the newspaper – the creation of a third, post-tsarist, post-Soviet Russian empire.

Employees at election watchdog Golos said it had been served with a ‘speedy’ court order to hear its case on Friday.

It came as president Dmitry Medvedev and Mr Putin pledged public sector pay rises in a late attempt to gain extra votes.

‘This a premeditated campaign, which started with attacks in the press, but is now making use of law enforcement agencies,’ said Grigory Melkonyants, the deputy head of Golos.

‘We are certain this is only the first summons and there will be other investigations, especially targeted at hampering us from observing (the vote) on December 4.’

The non-profit organisation – whose name means voice in English – is open about the fact its funding comes entirely from Europe and the U.S. and claims that helps it to be objective.

Golos has been running since 200, and provides a hotline and interactive map where viewers can see campaign violations on the site

Mr Melkonyants read from documents in which prosecutors warn the organisation about breaking election laws by spreading ‘falsifications and rumours’.

More than 3,000 alleged campaign violations were detailed on Golos’s website, many of them including videos which have embarrassed members of Mr Putin’s United Russia party.

One popular clip showed a top official in the western Urals city of Izhevsk telling veterans they would get money if they voted for United Russia.

It led to a rare punishment from authorities, and the employee was found guilty by a Russian court and fined.

Mr Melkonyants claimed the trouble began when reporters from the Kremlin-friendly TV station NTV barged into Golos’s offices last weekend, shouting and asking questions about the watchdog’s financing.

On Wednesday, online news portal removed a link to Golos’s website. One of its deputy editors, Roman Badanin, resigned over what he called the ‘amoral’ decision.

Tanya Lokshina, of the Moscow branch of New York-based Human Rights Watch, said the incidents were part of a smear campaign directed at ‘getting rid of the organisation altogether.’

‘They are trying to shut it up because Golos is the only large-scale, serious organisation that is exposing election violations,’ she said.

Prosecutors could not immediately be reached for comment.

Russian soldiers will be woken with ‘pleasant music’ on Sunday before they go to vote, and will be encouraged to watch state television, reported the Daily Telegraph.

United Russia is said to be counting on the military vote as its majority looks likely to be cut.

Staff from the defence ministry have visited barracks across the country and advised officers to give soldiers a ‘celebratory breakfast’ before the polls, according to Izvestia newspaper.

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