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Seven masked Russian law enforcement officers raided the headquarters of the prominent Memorial human rights organization in St. Petersburg today.

All telephones in the office were disconnected.

Memorial head Sergei Khakhayev told RFE/RL's Russian Service that he believes all of the hard discs were removed from the group's computers; he said no one was allowed inside during the operation.

Documents including a history of political repression in the Soviet Union and a computer-based tour of Stalin-era forced work camps or gulags were taken away, staff member Yuly Rybakov told Reuters.

"All these years of work are now in the hands of the investigators and we do not know when and in what condition it will be returned," Rybakov said. "This is an act of repression against our organization."

A spokesman for the Russian Prosecutor-General's main investigative unit was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying the search was part of a probe about a local newspaper article. No other details were given.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the Russian government should immediately investigate the raid. In a statement, HRW also called on the government to ensure the speedy and safe return of all seized equipment and documents.

“This outrageous police raid on Memorial shows the poisonous climate for nongovernmental organizations in Russia,” said Allison Gill, Moscow office director at HRW. “This is an overt attempt by the Russian government to suppress independent civic activity and silence critical voices.
A familiar site in Iran
The Iranian Writers Association has designated today as a Day Against Censorship.

All forms of media in Iran -- including print, television, radio, and the Internet, as well as film and gallery exhibitions -- are subject to censorship by the Iranian government.

Fearing possible reprisals, most Iranian journalists opt for self-censorship.

To mark the Day Against Censorship, RFE/RL's Radio Farda interviewed writers, artists, and intellectuals in Iran to find out how censorship has affected their lives.

Kurosh Danishyar, a student from Tehran’s Amir Kabir University, told RFE/RL that authorities have even closed student publications that were critical of government policies.

Iranian-born filmmaker Nahid Persson, the director of documentaries such as "Prostitution Behind the Veil" and "Four Wives -- One Man," says she was briefly imprisoned for what she calls "trying to show the plights and problems Iranians face in their everyday lives."

Iranian authorities accused Persson of having shamed her native country.

The filmmaker said she had to leave Iran because authorities do not tolerate criticism.

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About This Blog

"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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