News / Europe

Top Russian Human Rights Advisor Steps Down

James Brooke

The top human rights advisor to Russia's president resigned Friday, the day after President Dmitri Medvedev signed into law a bill expanding powers of the successor agency to the KGB.

After weeks of attack by conservatives, Ella Pamfilova resigned Friday from her post as head of the president's Council on Human Rights and Development of Civil Society.

The normally outspoken human rights activist was silent Friday on her reasons for resigning from Russia's top human rights post.  But she had complained earlier that she was not receiving support from President Medvedev.  The president, a lawyer, raised hopes of liberals when he took office two years ago.

On Thursday, Russia's president signed into law a bill that allows the Federal Security Service (FSB) to take into preventive detention people suspected of planning to commit a crime.  Perpetrators face fines or up to 15 days in detention.

Masha Lipman, a political analyst at the Moscow office of the Carnegie Endowment, said that new law is vaguely written. "They probably thought they needed this legislation in anticipation of the forthcoming election cycle, to curb undesired activism, protests in cities and towns of Russia," said Lipman.

The bill was introduced in Russia's Duma, or parliament, in the wake of last April's deadly suicide bombings in Moscow's subway system by two women tied to a jihad movement in Russia's heavily Islamic south.  Defenders of the bill say that Russia's domestic intelligence agency can now use the bill to abort future terrorist attacks.

Severe opposition to the bill resulted in it being watered down.  The Duma dropped some of the most stringent clauses, including tightening controls on the media for "extremist statements."

Two weeks ago, in the middle of a national debate on the bill, liberals said they were disappointed to hear President Medvedev tell German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a press conference that the law was drawn up "on my direct instructions."

He told the German leader: "Each country has the right to perfect its legislation."

This week, Pamfilova, the human rights advisor, complained that Mr. Medvedev did not back her up when she tangled with Nashi, a pro-Kremlin youth group.  This summer, a Nashi camp has been decorated with photo images of Russian liberals placed on stakes and topped with Nazi hats.  In an interview with Moscow's Radio Echo, Pamfilova noted that President Medvedev had visited the camp.

Referring to young Russians who go through political indoctrination at the camp, she said: "I am frightened that these guys will come to power in a certain number of years."

In response to her comments, Nashi sued her this week for slander.

One liberal vilified at the Nashi camp is Lyudmila Alexeyeva, 83, head of the human rights organization, Helsinki Group.  She has noted that her father died fighting the Nazis in World War II.

Speaking to VOA on Friday, she said that the Nashi members are "are just ill-bred young men if they behave like that towards an old woman."

She noted fascism propaganda is prohibited in the country, and added "They probably think they are above the law."

Alexeyeva said the preventive detention law would only make official the long-standing practices by FSB agents in Russia.

Saturday, July 31 may see a first use of the new preventive detention law.  On the 31st day of each month, Russian dissidents routinely hold protest rallies to mark Article 31 of the Russian constitution, the clause that guarantees freedom of assembly.  The May 31 rally was broken up violently by police.

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