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A Russian court on Thursday slapped a $10,000 fine on the election monitor Golos, in the first ruling against NGOs for purportedly violating new legislation forcing them to register as "foreign agents."
Golos (Voice), a Moscow-based organisation that monitors Russian elections for violations, was given the fine by Moscow's Presnensky district court for failing to register as a "foreign agent" as required by new legislation.
The organisation denies the label applies to them and said it will appeal the ruling.
The Russian parliament last year passed a law obliging all NGOs who receive money from abroad and engage in political activity to register as foreign agents, in a move activists slammed as a throwback to Soviet times.
Russia's justice ministry accused the NGO Golos (Voice) of receiving money from abroad and not declaring itself as a foreign agent in defiance of the legislation.
The group irritated the authorities by alleging wide-scale abuses in the 2011 parliamentary elections and 2012 presidential polls won by Vladimir Putin to give him a historic third term.
The claims of vote-rigging sparked the first mass protests of Putin's domination of Russia.
But Golos insists it stopped receiving foreign funding after the law was adopted specifically not to have to declare itself as a foreign agent.
"We are convinced of our innocence," Golos said in a statement ahead of the hearing.
"This is the first court hearing bringing to responsibility an organisation that is purportedly a foreign agent. The fate of many other NGOs will depend on the decision," it added.
Russian activists have said the label "foreign agent" is derogatory and misleading in a country that routinely targeted people on suspicion of foreign espionage during much of the Soviet era.
The accusation is of administrative but not criminal responsibility, but lofty fines for the violation are up to to 500,000 rubles ($16,000) for NGOs and up to 300,000 rubles ($10,000) for NGO directors.
According to Russian media reports, the justice ministry's case rests on cash Golos won as part of the Andrei Sakharov Freedom prize it was awarded by by Norwegian Helsinki Committee in 2012.
Golos insists it turned back the money to avoid being hit by the foreign agent law. However the funds had already arrived in a transit account before it made this request.