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Residents of the Moscow suburb of Matveevka together with the Association of Russian Lawyers for Human Rights have sent a letter to the International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge to protest the destruction of their community to make room for an expanded federal highway.

The expansion of the highway, called the M-4 "Don," was ordered by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and is part of the preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

According to the letter, in September 2009 workers began cutting down trees that separated Matveevka from the highway:

"The highway was planned to expand from two lanes to eleven at the expense of the plots, which are the private property of the residents of Matveevka. The builders had destroyed [the] single environmental border between the highway and the village, then the workers tried to demolish private homes with people inside...

We witnessed the use of construction equipment against living people. The drivers of the bulldozers were trying to hurt people, including the children. We consider this act [to be] a crime against humanity."

Matveevka has approximately 1,000 residents, mostly disabled persons, veterans, and pensioners. The residents were able to briefly halt the construction by staging protests and blocking the highway, according to the letter. But the protests, however, were eventually suppressed by the authorities.

The letter concluded with a personal appeal to IOC President Rogge:

"Dear Mr. Rogge, on the basis of the above, please:

1) Intervene personally in the situation [which is] discrediting the reputation of the International Olympic Committee;
2) Indicate to the Russian Government the inadmissibility of violations of human rights and freedoms during the preparations for the Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014;
3) Raise at the next meeting of the IOC the question of transferring the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi to the territory of another state."

-- Brian Whitmore
A Freedom House expert says the Armenian government's lack of respect for political and civil rights has it extremely close to being declared "not free," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Christopher Walker, Freedom House's director of studies, told RFE/RL that Armenia's rating by his organization for 2009 is "right on the border between 'partly free' and 'not free.'"

In its latest survey of freedom in countries around the world, Freedom House on January 12 gave Armenia a "partly free" status.

Walker said that regarding fundamental issues for being democratic, "we really haven't seen any meaningful steps forward" from Armenia. He said one of the key reasons for that is a "very deep relationship between politics and economics" in the country.

Walker also pointed to the lingering fallout from the February 2008 presidential election and the deadly unrest in Yerevan that followed it.

As it does annually, the Washington-based Freedom House rated countries on a seven-point scale for political rights and civil liberties, with "1" meaning "most free" and "7" being "least free."

Armenia received "6" and "4" in the "political rights" and "civil liberties" categories, respectively, as it did last year.

The Freedom House report has provoked differing reactions in Armenia.

"Freedom House is taking a bit of an extreme approach toward us," Razmik Zohrabian, a deputy chairman of the ruling Republican Party, told RFE/RL on January 13.

But Aram Manukian, a senior member of the opposition Armenian National Congress, said the watchdog should have been even more critical of Armenia's rights record.

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"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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