Authorities vilify NGOs as 'undesirable' ahead of March presidential election

Association

NGOs hindered from observing 18th March presidential election

Presidential elections were held in Russia on 18th March 2018. Several events in the lead up to these elections negatively impacted civil society's ability to carry out its election-monitoring activities, as detailed below.

A few days before the presidential elections, two European organisations involved in election monitoring were declared 'undesirable', namely Germany's European Platform for Democratic Elections (EPDE) and Lithuania's International Elections Study Centre. The list of undesirable organisations under Russia's 2015 Undesirable Organisations Law (a follow on to the 2012 Foreign Agents Law) now totals 13 NGOs. In response to the ban on EPDE, several European and international organisations issued press statements calling on the Russian government to rescind its decision.

After the election, EPDE issued a critical report with evidence indicating that not all election observers were impartial; in fact, EPDE claimed that a significant number were known to be "Kremlin friendly". Also due to government's blacklisting of EPDE, its partner Golos – a Russian NGO whose experts criticised the electoral process and final results - had to temporarily suspend its cooperation with EPDE to avoid any repercussions arising from affiliation with a now 'undesirable' organisation under Russian law. 

Peaceful Assembly

Rally in support of Telegram

In April, thousands protested against the authorities' decision to block the Telegram messenger application in Russia. On 16th April at Lubyanka Square in Moscow, a rally was organised in support of Telegram during which demonstrators threw paper airplanes at the Federalinaya Slujba Bezopasnosti (Russian Federal Security Agency - FSB). A total of 12 people were detained during the peaceful action, according to news portal Meduza citing "OVD-Info". The authorities decided to block access to Telegram when the service refused to hand over encryption keys to the FSB. The decision has been challenged in court and users have started to use VPN services to access the app. 

The founder of Telegram, Pavel Durov who lives in exile, has encouraged people to continue protesting and promised that Telegram will continue operating as it can despite the government's attempts to block access in the country. 

Detentions for protesting in support of #YerevanNow 

Protesters in Russia mobilised in solidarity with Armenian people, who took to the streets of Yerevan in large numbers throughout April. Several dozen people, both Russian and Armenian citizens, were detained and accused of participating in an unsanctioned rally. All were reportedly later released. A criminal case, however, has been initiated against one of the protesters for alleged use of violence against a police officer. 

Expression

Russian journalist dies after falling from his balcony

Maxim Borodin, a Russian journalist known for his investigate reporting on Russian mercenaries in Syria, died after falling from his apartment's fifth-floor balcony in Yekaterinburg city on 12th April. The injured journalist was taken by his neighbours to the hospital where he later died.

Media reports noted that before the incident, Borodin had called a friend telling him that he had seen an armed man on his balcony and several other people in masks and camouflage around the stairwell. Later, in an interview with the media, the friend claimed that Borodin called him back an hour later and said that he was mistaken and there was allegedly some kind of training exercise taking place. 

There are suspicions around the journalist's death, and investigators are considering several versions of what happened, including the possibility that his death was an accident. At the time of writing, no criminal proceedings had been initiated in the case.