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Saria Saburskaya (file photo)

The ombudswoman for the Russian republic of Tatarstan says it is premature to carry out a court order closing down a popular human rights group.

Saria Saburskaya, Tatarstan's human rights commissioner, said on February 10 in Kazan that a ruling by Tatarstan's Supreme Court to close the Agora human rights group had not yet come into effect and it was "too early" to put an end to the group's work.

She said it would be regrettable to shut down Agora, which is very popular among human rights groups due to its work in defending rights activists in court.

Agora lawyer Ramil Akhmetgaliyev said the Supreme Court ruling -- which upheld an order by Russia's Justice Ministry -- would be appealed at the Russian Supreme Court.

Human Rights Watch's Russia Program Director Tatyana Lokshina expressed concern over the Supreme Court decision, saying the liquidation of Agora was a "blow to civil society."

Russian Human Rights Commissioner Ella Pamfilova said the decision against Agora was part of an "alarming trend" that could lead to all human rights NGOs to soon "be extinct in Russia."

The Justice Ministry said Agora had violated financial regulations required of NGOs deemed to be "foreign agents" under controversial legislation.

Based on reporting by Interfax and Rapsinews.com

The United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, Miklos Haraszti, has warned that "no changes" have been initiated in the country to alter the "oppressive laws and practices" since the October presidential election.

"Unfortunately, the dismal state of human rights has remained unchanged in the country," Haraszti said in a February 9 statement.

"The authorities have not ceased the systematic harassment of those who attempted to practice their individual, civil, political, and other rights, despite the partial suspension of EU and US sanctions, decided in anticipation of further advancement of human rights," the UN special rapporteur said.

"Neither have they shown any willingness to reform the entrenched, highly oppressive legal system."

The upcoming parliamentary elections, scheduled for September, will be an opportunity for the authorities to "attest of their commitment to reform," Haraszti added.

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