Helsinki Citizens' Assembly-Vanadzor

RUSSIA| House searches of election observers

October 7, 2022

Joint | Announcements

Early on the 5th of October, police forces conducted house searches simultaneously at the central office and in private flats of several election experts of the well-known movement for free elections "Golos" in the Russian Federation. EPDE strongly condemns this act of repression, intimidation, and unlawful interference into citizens' constitutional right to free elections. 

The "Association Golos" was a founding member of EPDE until it was declared a "foreign agent" by the Russian Ministry of Justice in 2012. Following this, EPDE had been cooperating with the unregistered movement "Golos" until EPDE was declared an "undesirable foreign organization" by the Russian Ministry of Justice in 2018. Due to this, EPDE cooperation with Golos was stopped and has been frozen to this day. EPDE is convinced that ongoing unconstitutional misuse of power by Russian governmental bodies will not be able to suppress citizens' engagement for free elections in Europe.

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­ Read the statement of Golos below ­
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On the morning of October 5, searches and seizures were carried out with the co-chairperson of the Golos movement Grigory Melkonyant, the Golos board members Vitaly Kovin, Arkady Lyubarev, and Irina Maltseva, the Pskov-based long-term observer from Golos, Ekaterina Novikova, and an electoral expert Sergei Shpilkin. A day before, the search took place at Nataliya Guseva’s, director of the Golos regional office in the Chelyabinsk region. At least in several cases, equipment, bank cards, and international passports were withdrawn.

The formal pretext was a criminal case that had nothing to do with the Golos. It had been brought against Mikhail Gusev, an activist from the Ivanovo region, who was charged with the violation of Art. 280.3 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (Public actions aimed at discrediting the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation). For some reason, law enforcers considered Gusev "the functionary of Golos". Neither is Gusev a member of any administrative bodies of the Golos movement. At the same time, at least one of the court's orders for carrying out searches said that Golos was an “undesirable entity” in Russia.

The Golos Movement emphasizes that they are not an “undesirable entity” in Russia and cannot even be recognized as such since the status applies only to foreign legal entities. The Golos movement was founded by Russian citizens in 2013, after the forced closure of the Golos association. The goal of the Golos movement is to have free and fair elections in Russia. Therefore, the movement is not an "agent of foreign influence" but an agent of Russian citizens that defend their constitutionally guaranteed right to participate in the governance of the state. The State, represented by specific officials replacing the interests of the people with their own, tries to picture civil society observers as enemies.

The Golos regards what happened as pressure on civic observers in the run-up to the 2024 presidential election campaign, which is less than 15 months away. Such large-scale pressure on our members took place in 2011–2012, in the context of mass protests against unfair and unfree elections.

It is worth mentioning that the Constitutional Court of Russia highlights the undeniable right of citizens to monitor compliance with the procedures of vote. Such representation is intended to guarantee the legitimacy of the decisions taken during the voting in the eyes of their supporters and opponents, alike (CC Resolution No. 8-P of 22.04.2013). Lack of observation could bring up questions among a large part of society challenging the outcome of the upcoming elections.

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