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    Amnesty: NGOs Call for End to Russian Crackdown on Civic Freedoms

    A group of international non-governmental organizations has called on European Union leaders to urge Russian President Vladimir Putin to end what they call his crackdown on Russian civil society.

    In a statement Wednesday, human rights group Amnesty International announced that the eight organizations are seeking a commitment from the Russian government to ensure the involvement of civil society in public policy debates, stop harassment of human rights organizations, and increase protection for activists and journalists.

    The statement calls for the repeal of laws recently passed by Russia that restrict civic rights and foreign influence. It says the laws hinder the operation of national NGOs and the international organizations supporting them, and create an environment where activists face significant risks in carrying out their work.

    The group of NGOs says the laws are inconsistent with Russia's international and constitutional commitments on human rights and good governance.

    Amnesty's statement comes ahead of the European Union-Russia summit this week in Brussels.



    The eight NGOs include the World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Freedom House, Front Line Defenders, Greenpeace, Human Rights Watch, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint program of the World Organization Against Torture and the International Federation for Human Rights and Transparency International.

    President Putin last month signed a new law expanding the definition of treason, a move critics say gives the government broad authority to brand anyone a traitor.

    It follows the swift passage of a series of other Russian laws this year restricting civic freedoms and foreign influence. These include laws that criminalize slander, blacklist websites containing what officials consider objectionable material, tighten restrictions on nongovernmental groups with foreign funding, and curb public protests.

    Rights groups and the European Union have expressed concern about possible misuse of the proposed law on treason. It and the new law on slander have also raised widespread concerns for restricting contact with foreign organizations.

    The Kremlin has consistently maintained that it is operating within the law and that the measures are meant to strengthen security and keep the public safe.

    Critics say the new legislation is designed to suppress information and stifle dissent.

    Chakarian Vivian Rose

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