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Russian elections watchdog refuses to register as foreign agent

April 25, 2013 at 6:56 AM

MOSCOW, April 25 (UPI) -- Elections watchdog Golos Association was in court Thursday for refusing to register as a foreign agent under Russia's non-governmental organization law.

The organization, which monitors elections and advocates for voters' rights, is the first NGO to face administrative charges under the law that requires any organization involved in political activities and financed from abroad to register as a "foreign agent," RIA Novosti reported.

The government has said the law, which went into effect in November, was necessary to prevent possible foreign interference in Russia's internal affairs.

A Golos Association representative told Moscow's Presnensky Court it hasn't received any foreign funding and the government described another organization with a similar-sounding name.

"I consider these charges groundless," the representative said in court Thursday. "We believe there are no signs that Golos acts as a foreign agent. The group does not receive any funds from foreign countries. Moreover, the Justice Ministry has described in its protocol the actions of a different organization with the same name, the Golos Regional Public Association. This is the source of the mistake."

Golos Regional Public Association has received foreign funding and worked on a draft election code for several years as an initiative sponsored by the European Union, RIA Novosti said. The draft was completed in 2011 before the new law went into effect, the Golos Association representative said.

The Russian government has been reviewing NGOs in recent weeks, which human rights organizations said was unprecedented. The government said the inspections were routine and legal, RIA Novosti reported, while the NGOs said they are part of a crackdown.

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