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Farida Shaheed, the UN special rapporteur in the field of cultural rights
The United Nations' special rapporteur on cultural rights has called on Russia to better protect the diversity of its citizens and their ability to participate in cultural life.

Farida Shaheed, who on April 26 completed her first visit to Russia, told RFE/RL that Moscow must ensure that "conditions always exist for people to continuously create their culture."

In a statement, she said she was "disturbed" by reports of artists being persecuted by the authorities for challenging dominant religious symbols and values.

Shaheed also said more should be done to ensure Russian history is interpreted in a "multifaceted" way.

She also called for "urgent" consultations that include local communities on a plan to build a natural-gas pipeline over the Ukok Plateau in the Altai region, which is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Shaheed's 12-day visit to Russia took her to Moscow, St. Petersburg, the Altai region, and Tatarstan.

Written by Richard Solash, with RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service
Oleg Shein speaks to supporters at a rally in the southern Russian city of Astrakhan on April 13.
MOSCOW -- A Russian opposition politician who has been on a hunger strike for 40 days to protest alleged vote rigging in a mayoral election ended his protest fast on April 24.

Oleg Shein, a candidate in the March 4 election in the city of Astrakhan, wrote on his blog that "the hunger strike has been stopped as the last of our comrades arrested by police was released."

Official results show Shein finished second in an mayoral election that was won by a candidate from President-elect Vladimir Putin's ruling United Russia party.

Shein and his supporters launched a hunger strike on March 16 against what they called vote-count irregularities.

Dozens of his supporters were arrested at various protest actions in Astrakhan and other cities.

Putin earlier this month asked why Shein was on a hunger strike instead of challenging the official results in court, prompting lawmakers from Shein's A Just Russia party to walk out of parliament.

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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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