Russia labels Golos vote movement as foreign agent, month before election

·2-min read
Co-chairman of Golos non-governmental organisation Melkonyants speaks on the phone at his office in Moscow

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's Justice Ministry said on Wednesday that it has declared the Golos independent vote-monitoring movement as a "foreign agent", just a month before the parliamentary election.

Golos in 2013 had been among the first non-governmental organizations to be declared as a foreign agent, which effectively suspended its operations.

It had since been reorganized as a civil movement and resumed its work.

"We have no doubts that the current attack on the largest community of independent elections observers just a month before the day of the vote is an attempt to prevent the citizens of Russia from using the right to observe (the elections)," Golos said in a statement.

The government, which denies a crackdown is under way, uses the "foreign agent" designation to label foreign-funded organisations that it says are engaged in political activity.

A Justice Ministry document cited a citizen of Armenia as the source of Golos' funding.

Grigory Melkonyants, co-chair of the movement, called that "nonsense" on social media.

The term "foreign agent" carries negative Soviet-era connotations and subjects those designated to extra government scrutiny.

Moscow-based Golos first angered the government by publicizing evidence of fraud in a 2011 parliamentary vote that sparked opposition protests, and in the presidential election that returned Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin for a third term in 2012.

Golos urged Russians on Wednesday to register as election observers and pledged to continue its work.

A poll by the independent Levada Centre in March found that 27% of Russians would vote for the ruling United Russia party in the Sept. 17-19 election, while 10% would back the Communists and a further 12% planned to support the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR).

Several opposition figures, mainly affiliated with jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, Putin's most serious political challenger, have been ruled out from taking part in the elections.

(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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