Russia vote watchdog head detained before election

Golos leader Liliya Shibanova was held by customs officers at Sheremetyevo airport after returning from a trip abroad on the eve of the election.

Last Updated: Dec 03, 2011, 19:30 PM IST

Moscow: The head of an independent Russian election watchdog was detained for 12 hours at a Moscow airport on Saturday as part of attempts to stop it monitoring Sunday`s vote for a new Parliament, the group`s lawyer said.

Golos leader Liliya Shibanova was held by customs officers at Sheremetyevo airport after returning from a trip abroad on the eve of the election, in which Vladimir Putin`s United Russia is likely to have its huge parliamentary majority reduced.

The Western-funded group`s lawyer, Ramid Akhmetgaliyev, told a news agency the customs officers copied contents of her laptop computer and Golos deputy head Grigory Melkonyants said her laptop had been confiscated.
Hours earlier, the United States had expressed concern about "what appears to be a pattern of harassment" of Golos, which has aired reports of alleged violations in Russian elections.

A Moscow court ruled late Friday that Golos had violated a ban on the publication of opinion poll results within five days of the election to the State Duma lower house.

During the campaign, Prime Minister Putin has accused foreign countries of meddling in the preparations for the election -- and for a March presidential election he is expected to win -- by funding organisations in Russia.

"The pressure on Golos and its leaders (is) an attempt to block their activities involving independent public monitoring of the election," Akhmetgaliyev said.

Akhmetgaliyev said customs authorities had no legal right to examine or copy the contents of Shibanova`s computer and had violated her rights by preventing him seeing her during her detention.

"They told me that they had information that I was supposedly bringing some sort of dangerous software across the border," Shibanova told Ekho Moskvy radio.

Akhmetgaliyev also disputed the court decision, which came with a 30,000-rouble (USD 970) fine. He said Golos had published allegations of campaign violations, not opinion poll results.

US President Barack Obama`s administration expressed concern Friday about the court ruling.

"The Obama administration is concerned with today`s decision by a Moscow court regarding ... Golos, as well as what appears to be a pattern of harassment directed against this organization," a White House spokesman said in a statement.

Before the court hearing, Moscow city prosecutors said they were investigating Golos over a complaint by lawmakers objecting to its foreign financing and urging it to stop vote monitoring.

Golos, a non-profit organization founded in 2000, has a hotline for electoral violation allegations and an interactive map showing reported violations.

It openly says its funding comes entirely from Europe and the United States and that this helps it remain objective.

Bureau Report