Russia's independent Levada pollster threatened with closure for 'political activity'


Opposition activists rally in Moscow, on June 12, 2012. Tens of thousands of protesters chanting "Russia Will be Free" rallied today in Moscow against President Vladimir Putin's third term despite a police crackdown on their leaders a day earlier.



Russia's Levada Center, an independent polling agency, has been forced to stop work unless it registers as a "foreign agent" as required by a restrictive new law aimed at non-governmental organizations (NGOs), reported the Associated Press

Russian prosecutors sent a letter to the Levada Center last week in which the organization was reportedly told to curtail its activities "aimed at shaping public opinion on government policy" until it identifies as a "foreign agent" in accordance with last year's measure.

Russian authorities tend to use that law to help eliminate inconvenient political activity. It's been invoked against a wide swath of organizations and activities, including appeals to the European Court on Human Rights, US embassy initiatives, as well as most rights advocacy, said AP, noting that all this is part of the Kremlin's recent crackdown on civil society activity. 

Human Rights Watch last month slammed Russian President Vladimir Putin for orchestrating what it called "the worst rights climate since the post-Soviet era." 

Levada director Lev Gudkov responded to the letter in on Monday, saying: "In effect [this forces] it to cease its activity as an independent sociological research organization, carrying out systematic polls of public opinion in Russia."

BBC's Moscow correspondent Steve Rosenberg said leading human rights organizations and civil society groups have mostly resisted registering as foreign agents in Russia, presumably because it subjects them to greater scrutiny from the authorities and requires them to label all their activities as the work of "foreign agents." 

But foreign money accounts for a mere one-and-a-half to three percent of Levada's overall funding, said AP, citing Gudkov. These donors include the National Institute for Democracy and George Soros' Open Society Institute.