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Rights Group Calls for Russian Action, Not Talk on Human rights

Amnesty International said President Dmitri Medvedev has failed to improve human rights in Russia during his first full year in office. VOA Moscow Correspondent Peter Fedynsky compares Mr. Medvedev's position on the issue against specific charges against him by Amnesty and a Russian human rights activist who was recently attacked for his activities.

In a statement issued in London on Thursday marking one year since President Medvedev's inauguration, Amnesty International said little has been done to improve human rights in Russia, and in some areas it has even worsened.

The organization outlined issues that need to be addressed in Russia in a memorandum it sent to Mr. Medvedev soon after his inauguration last year. These include freedom of expression and assembly, racist violence, torture in police custody, the right to a fair trial and violence against women in the family.

Sergei Nikitin, head of Amnesty International in Russia, told VOA the Kremlin has not responded to the memo.

Nikitin said Amnesty knows the Medvedev administration received the document, because they called him to ask several technical questions about it.

He added that Amnesty welcomes Mr. Medvedev's April meeting with human rights activists. But the organization said concrete actions are needed to prove the Kremlin leader is doing more than paying lip service to reforms.

During last month's meeting, the Russian president acknowledged human rights activity in his country is seriously distorted.

Mr. Medvedev said the situation is rooted in Russian history and certain ideological foundations. He added that one simple thing needs to be understood: the state itself and people who are interested in human rights should be responsible for protecting them.

Such protection, however, was not provided to noted Russian human rights activist Lev Ponomarev, who was attacked and beaten in Moscow last month by unknown assailants, presumably for his activities. Ponomarev told VOA that Mr. Medvedev could help if he told police to stop following activists.

Ponomarev said he understands the president did not order the assault. He claimed it was carried out by people who are protecting their interests and do not want crimes they are committing to be publicized.

Mr. Medvedev has recognized vested interests as a problem for non-governmental organizations in Russia, whose activities have been limited by a law signed in 2006 by former President Vladimir Putin.

The Kremlin leader said it is clear that difficulties are caused by the fact that many officials view the activities of non-commercial and non-governmental organizations as a threat to their total rule.

Amnesty's Sergei Nikitin said Mr. Medvedev should turn welcome words into actions by ordering investigations not only into attacks on individuals such as Lev Ponomarev, but also into violations allegedly perpetrated by Russian forces in Chechnya. The organization claims people in the Caucasus republic continue to be abducted, tortured and even killed.

Nikitin said Amnesty thinks it is impossible to normalize the situation [in Chechnya] without calling into account those guilty of violations in the region. He said such people should be found, identified, and tried in a court of law.

Mr. Medvedev has spoken about the need for rule of law and condemns what he calls Russia's nihilistic legal culture. Lev Ponomarev, however, pointed to a law the president signed to abolish jury trials for crimes like terrorism and espionage. Ponomarev called the measure a colossal gift to Russia's security apparatus that increases the likelihood courts can be used to frame innocent people.

The activist said when an individual like the president says, 'I am a lawyer and proclaim the rule of law,' but in fact signs a law that counters judicial reforms, then it should be recognized as such and we should not continue expecting any improvement. Ponomarev added that judicial reforms in Russia are being reversed against a background of nice words.

Amnesty International has noticed Mr. Medvedev's words and said they should "amount to more than window dressing." And Sergei Nikitin said there is always hope human rights in Russia will improve, otherwise, the organization would not pursue the issue.