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Election Watchdog to Lose Office
Alexey Eremenko - RIA Novosti - 1.24.12 - JRL 2012-12

MOSCOW, January 24 (RIA Novosti, Alexey Eremenko) ­ Golos, Russia's leading independent electoral watchdog, may become homeless one month before the presidential elections, the group's head said on Tuesday.

The watchdog, which was harassed by officials ahead of last month's State Duma elections, is already facing a pressure campaign nationwide, and may now have its operations further crippled by relocation, Lilia Shibanova told RIA Novosti.

"Our office troubles began right after the December elections" when the landlord raised the monthly lease by some 100,000 rubles ($3,200), Shibanova said. Golos is leasing space at the office of the Literaturnaya Gazeta arts and culture weekly in downtown Moscow.

Last week, the landlord officially requested Golos to move out by February 1, even though terms of the lease do not allow it to evict the tenant on such short notice, she said.

On Tuesday, Golos received a new letter from the landlord, saying that it may stay, but would have to deal with power shortages due to construction planned for the weeks leading up to the March 4 presidential vote, Shibanova said.

"There's no point in staying now," Shibanova said.

The watchdog is still looking for a new office, but it has become a hassle given that Golos has six events planned for this week alone, she said. Among other things, the watchdog is launching a new online map for grassroots activists to report election violations, similar to the one that gathered more than 7,800 reports during the parliamentary elections.

Shibanova did not specify what prompted the office trouble, but said "serious pressure [on us] is going on in the regions." In one example, an election official in the Tomsk region in western Siberia illegally banned all Golos observers from attending the polling stations on election day, she said.

Literaturnaya Gazeta did not comment on Shibanova's statement on Tuesday. A spokeswoman said by telephone the only person authorized to speak on lease matters was the editor-in-chief, Yury Polyakov, who was out of office and could not be reached.

Several Kremlin-linked media outlets, including NTV television channel and governmental newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta, accused Golos ahead of the Duma vote of being a subversive agent of Western powers.

The agency accepts Western grants, but does so openly. Shibanova also had her laptop confiscated in Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport, and the Central Election Commission fined the watchdog 30,000 rubles for gathering information on violations five days ahead of the parliamentary elections, though it refrained from taking stricter actions.

Keywords: Russia, Government, Politics - Russia News - Russia



MOSCOW, January 23 (RIA Novosti)-Nearly a year after the Strasbourg Court said the 2007 closure of the tiny opposition Republican Party by the Russian authorities was unjustified, Russia's Supreme Court ruled on Monday to reverse the case, the first such decision in years.

Supreme Court Spokeswoman Valeria Zakharova confirmed the ruling, saying that it could yet be appealed.

The Republican party headed by opposition leader Vladimir Ryzhkov was closed in May 2007 after the Supreme Court ruled that the party had less than 50,000 members and fewer than 45 branches with more than 500 members as required by the law on political parties.

In April 2011, the European Court of Human Rights declared the ruling unjustified, in particular criticizing the Russian law setting minimum membership requirements for political parties that are the highest in Europe.

"The Supreme Court has abided by the ECHR's decision, and we are completely satisfied," Ryzhkov told journalists at the courtroom. "This is a moral and political victory."

The Monday ruling came almost simultaneously with the Kremlin's announcement that President Dmitry Medvedev had introduced amendments to the State Duma cutting the minimum number of political party members to 500 and cancelling the provision about the minimum number of regional offices starting from January 1, 2013.

As a member of the Council of Europe, Russia must comply with the rulings of the Strasbourg Court. But Russian Justice Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Guseva said the ruling was not the reason the Supreme Court reversed the earlier decision, which was in line with the law that existed in 2007.

She admitted, however, that the ECHR's decision has pointed to the need to amend the Russian law on political parties.