22 October 2021
by Grigory Melkonyants, co-chair of the Golos movement for the defence of voters’ rights, an independent election-monitoring organisation, and laureate of the prize of the Moscow Helsinki Group
At last Golos’ appeal has been heard in a court of first instance against its inclusion by the Russian Justice Ministry on the list of “foreign agents.” We had hoped to discover what lay behind the assertion that we had received foreign funding from “a (female) citizen of the Republic of Armenia.” We also wanted to find out how much this “funding” amounted to.
In court, we were disappointed by the case presented by the Justice Ministry: a single sentence in the documentation presented to the court by the Ministry, with no supporting evidence, reading as follows:
“On 24 June 2021, the Ministry of Justice of Russia received information from the Federal Service for Financial Monitoring (Rosfinmonitoring) that, in April 2021, two financial transfers amounting to about 200 roubles were made to the Foundation for the Promotion of Legal Education of the Population, the ‘League of Voters’ (Tax Identification No 7706470890), by the Movement for the Defence of Voters’ Rights Golos which, in turn, had in the same period received funding from Manukyan Norair Lvovna, a citizen of the Republic of Armenia.”And that’s all.
Our requests for clarification and efforts to understand the logic of what was written in the declaration met with nothing intelligible. There were no specific dates or concrete sums of money. Only “April” and “about 200 rubles.”
How could Golos, which did not have a bank account, have first of all received 200 roubles from Ms Manukyan, and then have transferred the money to the “League of Voters” foundation?
The identity of Manukyan Norair Lvovna also raises questions. Does she have Armenian citizenship, or is she a Russian citizen? Why does the Ministry of Justice consider her a woman, even though Norair is an exclusively male name (meaning “new man” in Armenian)? We asked for Ms Manukyan to be called as a witness, so that we could establish whether this is a real person and clarify all the issues that have arisen, but the court ruled that this was not necessary for the consideration of the case.
We tried to get access to the information from Rosfinmonitoring to which the Justice Ministry refers. But the Justice Ministry said that Rosfinmonitoring’s letter was intended for official use only, and therefore could be shown only to the judge. It was not shown to us, despite our objections that this letter affects our rights — it was on the basis of this letter that the Justice Ministry adopted its contested decision and therefore, for our protection, we should be given access to it. In the event, the letter was shown only to the judge, and a declaration by the Justice Ministry was filed which, according to the judge, confirmed the contents of the letter.
The reason why the letter has not been shown to the plaintiffs and is not included in the case file may be that no conclusions can be drawn from it. In one of the cases brought against another NGO, when commenting on the contents of a letter from Rosfinmonitoring, the court of first instance stated: “Please note that this information is of an intelligence nature and that, for it to be used in court, it is necessary to obtain confirmation of its reliability from a trustworthy institution.” In our trial, of course, no confirmation of the reliability of the vague “intelligence information” was presented.
Despite the lack of evidence, the court dismissed our claim. We shall appeal against the decision. We’re not the kind to give up!
Translated by Elizabeth Teague