WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and author of the the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act (Public Law 112-208), issued the following statement expressing concern over threats to Russia’s civil society, including independent citizen election monitoring group Golos ahead of Russia’s September 2016 parliamentary elections.
“I am deeply concerned by the Russian government’s renewed crackdown on civil society, including the election observation group Golos. Russian courts have levied fines against individual election monitoring activists for the alleged but spurious violation of tax and information disclosure laws. If the individuals cannot pay these fines, which are substantial and can multiply daily, their apartments and pensions can be seized and they can be jailed. It is the most serious threat to Golos in its 16 year history, during which it has monitored every Russian election.
“If Golos is silenced, the real victims would be Russian citizens, who have a right to free and fair and credible elections. If Golos is forced out of existence, , Russian citizens would have no independent assessment of their elections for the first time in their post-Soviet history.
“Golos has endured years of harassment in the form of trumped-up charges on flimsy, politically motivated legal grounds. In using courts to threaten individual civic activists with loss of freedom and property, Russia is violating numerous provisions of its own constitution.
“Credible international organizations, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), have also had great difficulty in observing Russia’s elections. The OSCE situation in particular is a troubling development not least because Russia is an active member of the organization.
“I renew my longstanding calls for the Russian government to stop interfering in the democratic process and let the will of its people – expressed most clearly through unfettered access to the ballot box – dictate the future of their country.”