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Amnesty Rebukes Putin for Curtailing Rights


Amnesty International says Russia has clamped down on political freedoms ahead of a crucial presidential election on Sunday. The Britain-based human rights organization accuses Russian authorities of targeting human rights activists, independent organizations and journalists, several of whom died under suspicious circumstances. Stefan Bos reports for VOA from Budapest.

Amnesty International reported Tuesday that under President Vladimir Putin, the Russian government has introduced more restrictive laws and other measures to crackdown on dissidents in the country.

The organization said all the fundamental rights of Russian people such as freedom of expression, association and assembly have been curtailed.

Amnesty's Russia researcher, Victoria Webb, tells VOA it has become increasingly difficult for Russians to express views critical of the government.

"We are saying that the space for human rights activists, independent organizations and media to operate in Russia and to express critical views has been gradually and progressively curtailed in recent years," said Victoria Webb. "And obviously we have the presidential elections coming up this weekend and we, Amnesty International, have seen during the pre-election campaigns both of the parliamentary and the presidential campaigns, a worsening in the situation."

Garry Kasparov, a leading opposition figure and former world chess champion who was briefly detained during anti-Kremlin protests, shares her concerns.

"In America, everybody thinks about Obama, McCain, Clinton and debates," said Garry Kasparov. "While in Russia, we are dealing with a shameful farce, with predictable results. March [the] 2nd is not even a milestone any more because we all know that [Dmitry] Medvedev will be the successor."

Researcher Webb adds that the situation has been complicated by authorities closing down non-governmental organizations on grounds they are a threat for national security and Russian values.

Webb is particularly concerned about attacks against independent journalists.

"There have been many instances of killings of journalists," she said. "Certainly it seems that the space for journalists - for independent journalists - to publish their views is shrinking."

She explains that Amnesty International is especially monitoring what she calls the "slow progress" of the investigation into the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya in October 2006. Politkovskaya, a known Kremlin critic, was killed after she investigated the conduct of Russian troops in the country's volatile Chechnya region.

The Kremlin and the Russian foreign ministry did not immediately comment on Amnesty's report. But in the past, President Putin rejected international criticism that he has been rolling back post-Soviet freedoms and blamed the West for trying to undermine Russia.

In a related development, the president of Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Tuesday warned that Russia could be sliding into dictatorship as Germany did soon after World War I.

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