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Russia fines election monitor group

Russia's only independent election monitoring group has been fined 300,000 roubles (£6,500) for failing to register as a foreign agent - the first enforcement by Russian authorities of a controversial law.

The Russian parliament passed legislation in November obliging non-governmental organisations that receive foreign funding and are involved in loosely defined political activities to register as foreign agents.

Rights defenders and civil society activists see it as a tool intended to weaken their credibility.

Golos' executive director Grigory Melkonyants said it would appeal against the decision in a higher court.

Golos was fined for receiving 50,000 euro (£42,000) in award money from the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, which supports people persecuted because of their opinions. The organisation claimed that it transferred the money back as soon as it reached its account.

Mr Melkonyants said Golos was amazed that the judge made the ruling after spending no more than 15 minutes away deliberating.

"It seems that she knew in advance which decision she would come to no matter what evidence we showed in court," he said.

Golos' election observers who worked at polling stations all over the country presented overwhelming evidence suggesting widespread vote-rigging at the 2011 parliamentary election.

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