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Freedom House condemns authorities' harassment of independent election monitor

(Freedom House/IFEX) - Washington - December 2, 2011 - Freedom House condemns the attacks on Russia's only credible national independent election monitor, the Golos Association, and calls on the government to immediately end its legal and media assault on the group.

Golos, which coordinates a network of volunteers that has monitored campaigns and elections in Russia for 11 years and tracks allegations of electoral abuses, has faced a barrage of unprecedented attacks, including accusations made by a Moscow city prosecutor that could lead to the organization's being shut down prior to Sunday's Duma (parliamentary) election.

"There can be little doubt that these attacks on Golos are being conducted on behalf of the Russian leadership and its party of power, United Russia," said David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House. "The campaign against Golos is yet another reason to raise serious questions about the legitimacy, openness, and competitiveness of Russia's parliamentary election this coming Sunday."

The effort to hinder Golos' monitoring began on November 24 with an apparently illegal raid on an office the organization used in the city of Barnaul. Days later, a group from the government-sponsored NTV television station broke into a Golos-sponsored event while preparing an expose scheduled to be shown today on national TV; several articles slandering Golos have also appeared recently in government-controlled outlets. Finally, at the request of several Duma members and the chairman of Russia's Central Election Commission, prosecutors investigated Golos on accusations that the organization "assumed government powers," gave voters a negative impression of United Russia, and was guided by foreign organizations. According to one Golos official, "clearly, what we're seeing is a massive provocation in the lead-up to the election aimed at attacking those who conduct independent monitoring of elections and combat falsification" of elections.

The electoral campaign has been characterized by unabashed efforts by the government at all levels, government-friendly businesses, and government-controlled media to ensure that Russians vote for United Russia, Russia's ruling party dominated by Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev, while depriving an opportunity for real opposition parties to participate. Prime Minister Putin and others in the government have used allegations that Golos and other foreign-financed nongovernmental organizations are trying to undermine Russia's sovereignty as a premise for removing mechanisms that open the government to citizens and restricting independent groups' activities. The Russian government also limited the number of independent vote observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, an international organization which has conducted comprehensive monitoring of elections across Eurasia since 1995.

The latest assault on Golos is the inquiry by the Moscow city prosecutor, that found that Golos' Map of Violations, an innovative tool that aggregates user-submitted allegations of campaign and voters' rights violations from across the country on a website, violates Russian laws that forbid publishing electoral polls and research within five days of an election.

Russia is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2011, Freedom House's annual global assessment of political rights and civil liberties and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2011.

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