On the morning of September 12, on the third day after the Single Voting Day, searches were conducted at homes of Golos coordinators – at the place of Alexander Nikishin in the Saratov region and at the place of Mikhail Tikhonov in Tatarstan. At the same time, the search was held at the place of Azat Gabdulvaleev, a member of the Association of Tatarstan Observers. After the searches, everyone was taken for questioning to the Investigative Committee, and personal bank accounts were arrested – basically depriving them of their means of subsistence. Formally, the cause of the searches was a criminal case in respect of “money laundering of the Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Fund”. During the election period, Mikhail Tikhonov and Alexander Nikishin were actively involved in the training of observers and provided lectures for various political forces, including activists of the Navalny’s Headquarters. Moreover, none of them had financial relations with headquarters or the Anti-Corruption Fund. Golos coordinators prepared statements based on the results of election observation, identified violations, which annoys the regional authorities, which, apparently, took the opportunity and decided to intimidate them.
Pressure on observers began even before the Single Voting Day. On September 7, at the exit from the territorial election commission during early voting, Golos coordinator in Moscow, Vladimir Yegorov, was detained. The court arrested him for five days, thereby depriving him of the opportunity to observe election day. For several months, Roman Udot, a member of the council of the movement, was limited in his freedom. For almost half a year now, Golos representative in Ingushetia, Ismail Nalgiev, has been in the pre-trial detention center, wherefore citizen election observation in the whole republic has been disrupted.
In parallel, a campaign was launched to publicly discredit election observation. It was launched by Igor Borisov, a member of the Presidential Council of the Russian Federation for Human Rights and the Development of Civil Society, who approached media on September 4: “We are facing an increase in fake news aimed at discrediting elections. Those messages that we see on the “Map of Election Violations”, 61% of them are not a violation of the law”. There was no answer to the Golos request to get acquainted with the results of the analyses that gave such an indicator. In parallel, a paid media campaign on social networks was launched. For example, on Facebook page “Election Day”, paid advertisements were distributed with the same theses that were voiced by Mr. Borisov.
The chairman of the Central Election Commission of Russia, Ella Pamfilova, was also drawn into the propaganda campaign, due to which these attacks moved to a new level, accompanied by a statement that about 30 messages copied from the previous elections were posted on the “Map of Violations” like new ones. These were done against the backdrop of a targeted attack to send hundreds of messages by cybercriminals to the “Map”, a significant part of which was really taken from the last election or invented. Moderators using automation means calculated and filtered out most of these messages, but about 30 messages were published. Later, they were removed, however, the hints and accusations that Golos itself organized the publication of these messages do not withstand any criticism. Obviously, these messages were sent by the same provocateurs who quickly found them in the published ones and launched through the media and the Central Election Commission information campaign to discredit Golos.
Election Day was also held in the terms of increased counteraction for the work of media representatives, observers and members of commissions with an advisory vote. The number of reports of violations of the rights of observers and members of commissions has quadrupled compared to the single voting day of 2018. There were complaints about restrictions on photo and video filming, the prohibition of free movement around the polling station and refusals to familiarize themselves with the documents of the commission.
Article 1 of the “Convention on the Standards of Democratic Elections, Electoral Rights and Freedoms in the CIS Member States”, signed by Russia, states that conducting citizen election observation is a necessary condition for recognizing elections in compliance with democratic standards. It follows from Article 7 of the same convention that it is precisely the provision of conditions for observation to guarantee principles of openness and transparency in the activities of the election commission system, enshrined in Article 3 of the Federal Law “On Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights and the Right to Participate in the Referendum of Citizens of the Russian Federation,” depends.
Pressure on observers raise doubt on the compliance with the standards of democratic elections in the Russian Federation and the effectiveness of guarantees for compliance with the electoral rights of citizens.
Golos activists in their actions did not violate any laws and acted in strict accordance with the Constitution of Russia, unlike law enforcement officials whose actions can be qualified as repression, that is, deprivation or restriction of the rights and freedoms of persons who are recognized by the current government as dangerous to the state or political system on political grounds.
According to Federal Law No. 1761-1 “On the Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression”, dated 18 October 1991, as political repression there are recognized various coercive measures applied by the state for political reasons, in the form of deprivation of life or freedom, placement in compulsory treatment in psychiatric medical institutions, expulsion from the country and deprivation of citizenship, eviction of population groups from their places of residence, exile, deportation and special settlement, involvement in forced labor in conditions of restriction of freedom, as well as other deprivation or restriction of the rights and freedoms of persons who are recognized as socially dangerous for the state or the political system on class, social, national, religious or other grounds, carried out by decision of the courts and other bodies vested with judicial functions, or in administrative order by executive authorities and officials and public organizations or their bodies vested with administrative powers.
Based on the definition of political repression existing in Russian legislation, we believe that they are being applied right now on Golos activists, as well as supporters of Alexei Navalny, who faced searches in 39 cities of the country.