‘Knife at the throat for the Kremlin’: Prominent Russian observer jailed ahead of regional elections

'Knife at the throat for the Kremlin': Prominent Russian observer jailed ahead of regional elections

A few weeks before elections in Russia, the prominent observer Grigory Melkonyants was arrested in Moscow. A court in the capital on Friday ordered the co-chairman of the human rights organization Golos (English: voice), which campaigns for free elections, to be held in custody until October 17.

In the past, the Golos observers repeatedly disclosed massive violations of voting rights and manipulations, to the annoyance of the power apparatus. Elections are planned in many places in Russia for September 10, including in Moscow, where Mayor Sergei Sobyanin is hoping to remain in office.

The non-governmental organization has been branded a “foreign agent” by the Russian authorities since 2013 and is therefore subject to political persecution. The day before there had also been raids on the apartments of the independent observers. The action is considered part of an increasing wave of authoritarian repression in Russia against those who think differently, which human rights activists have complained about.

Melkonjanz always emphasized that Golos wanted to continue to work to protect voters’ votes. He is officially accused of working for an “undesirable organization” in Europe.

Election observer taunts in court

According to Russian media, Melkonyants said in court on Friday, locked in a glass box, that he was actually being accused of collaborating with Russia’s Central Electoral Commission. That was considered a critical dig, because by law the election officials themselves are responsible for organizing the vote in accordance with the law.

According to the video recordings from the courtroom, Melkonyants received the decision with a straight face before being handcuffed. His lawyer announced an appeal to journalists.

Political scientist Abbas Galliamov said the election observers would be “destroyed” because the Kremlin wanted to prevent the violations from being documented in this way. This is already a preparation for the presidential elections in March 2024. “In reality there can be no talk of 90 percent approval for (Kremlin chief Vladimir) Putin. His real numbers are now 30, max 40 percent,” he said. “In that sense, Golos is just a knife to the throat for the Kremlin.”

The activist’s defense attorney Mikhail Biryukov denied the allegations against his client. Melkonyants or Golos did not work with any “undesirable organization”. Golos, the all-Russian movement to protect voter rights in Russia, has organized independent election observation since its inception in 2000. (dpa, AFP)


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