On August 17, 2023, The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the city of Moscow opened a criminal case under part 3 of article 284.1 of the criminal code of the Russian Federation (Organization of activities of a foreign or international non-governmental organization, for which a decision has been made to declare its activities undesirable on the territory of the Russian Federation) against Grigory Melkonyants, co-chairman of the Golos movement.
On the same day, at 6 a.m. Moscow time, searches were conducted at a dozen addresses in different regions involving current and former members of the Golos movement. During the searches, equipment, cash, bank cards, passports, and other documents were confiscated from individuals. Vladimir Zhilkin was taken to an emergency room after the search — he suffered injuries to his spine and head. Vladimir Egorov was arrested for 15 days for "disobedience" to the police. Ksenia Cherepanova, a candidate for the Novgorod City Duma from the Yabloko party, underwent a search followed by questioning. She also serves as the party's financial commissioner for the elections, but her computers and smartphones, which were linked to the party's financial instruments, were seized.
Grigory Melkonyants himself spent the night in a temporary detention center, and on August 18, the Basmanny Court of Moscow ordered his arrest for a period of two months (until October 17).
The organization allegedly organized by Grigory Melkonyants in Russia, according to the investigation, is ENEMO — the European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations. It was declared undesirable in 2021. The Golos Association, an organization that was dissolved by the court in 2020, a year before ENEMO was declared undesirable, was once a member of ENEMO.
The Golos movement issued a public statement immediately after ENEMO was declared an undesirable organization, asserting that it had no interactions with the organization, and has not had any since. ENEMO itself has never held any events in Russia or observed any Russian elections.
We are convinced that the true purpose of this attack on Golos is to prevent public observation on the eve of the Russian presidential election campaign and the upcoming September 10 regional elections. Some high-ranking officials are not concealing this fact. Vasily Piskarev, chairman of the State Duma Commission for Investigation of Foreign Interference in Russia's Internal Affairs, explicitly stated that the reason for the persecution is Golos' reports and expertise, that is, the opinions of Russian citizens on internal Russian affairs.
The Russian Constitution guarantees everyone freedom of thought and speech and prohibits censorship. No one can be coerced into expressing or withholding their opinions and beliefs. Everyone has the right to seek, receive, transmit, produce, and disseminate information through lawful means. Restricting this right is unacceptable, and criminal prosecution based on these grounds is unconstitutional — it undermines the foundations of the constitutional order. The Golos movement has always operated in the interests of Russian citizens and in defense of the rights of Russian voters. Russian citizens must have fair elections.
Those who pay lip service to combating interference in sovereignty are, in fact, depriving the very sovereignty of its bearers — the citizens of Russia.
All of this aligns with the trend of recent years to severely curtail people's ability to oversee elections: the abolition of commission members' status with deliberative voting rights, restrictions on media representatives and candidates' proxies, expansion of remote electronic voting, multi-day voting, establishment of extraterritorial polling stations, authorization to conduct elections under declared martial law, and even the denial of minimal guarantees of voter rights in such cases. Additionally, the legislator is introducing significant complexities to the rules of election participation for candidates and imposing further censorship restrictions on campaign conduct.
It appears as though some representatives of the authorities doubt their actual support and the attainability of desired outcomes in the upcoming presidential and regional elections under the conditions of independent public oversight over elections. It is difficult to conceive of a position that could more thoroughly discredit the forthcoming head of state elections than this blatant fear.
The instigators of this pressure fail to comprehend that as long as voters' rights are violated, there will always be people who stand up to defend them: issuing reports and statements, creating "violation maps" and mobile observer applications, and organizing hotlines. A vibrant society cannot be confined.