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Russian Federation: Death threats against human rights defender Ms Lilya Shibanova amid campaign of persecution against election watchdog Golos
On 11 December 2011, the words “Shibanova, die” were discovered daubed on the apartment door of Ms Lilya Shibanova, head of election monitoring organisation NGO for Democratic Rights and Liberties Golos (“Voice” or “Vote” in Russian).
The same inscription was written on the staircase wall.
Golos is a Russian non-profit organisation which was founded in 2000 for the protection of voters’ rights and the development of civil society. Currently, Golos is working in 48 Russian regions, and advocates for fair and transparent elections by conducting both long- and short-term election monitoring, by informing citizens about electoral legislation, by managing hotlines for reports of electoral corruption, and by publicly discussing important social issues.
On 27 November 2011, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin publicly called those civil society organisations and elections watchdogs which strive to create an effective system of election monitoring in the Russian Federation “Judas”.
The same day, the government-controlled TV channel NTV broadcast the documentary film “Voice from Nowhere”, which portrayed Golos as “fifth column” and as serving Western interests, as well as having received funding from the United States and Sweden. The smear campaign against Golos was also conducted in the State-controlled federal and regional press. Furthermore, the regional members of Golos were summoned for discussions by the FSB.
On 2 December 2011, Golos was fined USD 1,000 for purportedly violating Article 5.5 of the Code of Administrative Offences after having allegedly published "election-related opinion polls and research" on its website, in contravention of the prohibition by Russian law on publishing opinion poll results within five days of an election. Although the administrative complaint against Golos was filed at 1.30pm on 1 December 2011, nobody from the organisation was notified until 7pm, and the organisation's headquarters was not contacted directly. This is in spite of the fact that the trial was due to take place the next day at 11am. As a result, the case was considered in the absence of the executive director of organisation, who was in Warsaw at the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, and the organisation's lawyer learnt of the case just two hours before its commencement.
The accusation referred to publications on the Golos website, but all the publications quoted in the administrative case were published on another website which covers electoral violations. The defence lawyer's request to postpone the hearing in order to allow him time to read the administrative file, which is 139 pages long, was denied by the presiding magistrate, Ms Kalantyr, at the Meschansky District Court of Moscow. The organisation has appealed the decision.
On 3 December 2011, Executive Director of Golos Lilya Shibanova was held at Moscow's main airport after refusing to hand over her laptop to officials who wished to examine it. She refused because of the fear that if the authorities confiscated her computer, further claims against the group might follow. She also feared that the information on her computer could be falsified. She was released after handing over her laptop in the presence of her lawyer after the content on her computer was copied in accordance with legal procedure.
Over the course of the following days, the electronic mailboxes and personal accounts on social networks of the senior members of Golos were hacked and their correspondence published. Financial information regarding the funding of Golos by a US foundation was revealed and presented as proof of partiality.
On 4 December 2011, the day of parliamentary elections, the websites of Golos and of the map of violations were subjected to distributed denial-of-service (DdoS) attacks and blocked. According to Russian human rights organisation “Agora”, more than 25 web-resources, including the websites of electoral commissions, were blocked by cyber attacks at this time. The personal phone numbers of Golos members were paralysed by automatic calls, and their email addresses were blocked. Several Golos monitors and observers were expelled from election precincts.
In its preliminary conclusions, the observations mission involving the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR), the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) reported several irregularities, procedural violations and instances of voter manipulation. On 10 December 2011, protests against the alleged election fraud took place in numerous Russians towns, while the biggest Russian demonstration of the past 18 years, involving between 50,000 and 80,000 participants, took place in Moscow.
Front Line believes that Golos is particularly targeted because it is one of the main Russian sources of information on the numerous human rights and procedural violations which have been carried out during the election campaign and the parliamentary elections. Front Line further believes that the death threats against Lilya Shibanova are directly related to her legitimate work in the defence of human rights and is seriously concerned for her physical and psychological integrity and security.