The head of the council advising Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on human rights has resigned.
Ella Pamfilova, who headed the presidential council on human rights and the development of civil society, declined to give the reasons for her departure. But human rights defenders said she had come under mounting pressure from critics inside the government.
"It's my personal decision -- no one forced me, it didn't come suddenly," Pamfilova told the Interfax news agency.
Human rights activists praised her work, and some said they hope Medvedev would refuse to accept her resignation.
Oleg Orlov of the rights group Memorial called Pamfilova's resignation a blow to human rights.
"It will be a signal to all of civil society that its situation will deteriorate," Orlov said.
Criticism of the authorities is rare in Russia, but Pamfilova sometimes spoke out against election tampering, courts' lack of independence, and other issues. Earlier this year, she told RFE/RL's Russian service that "undeveloped democratic institutions" were harming human rights. "That's the main problem," she said, "but the high level of corruption in all spheres of life is another serious shortcoming."
The activist told RFE/RL's Russian service today she would continue to work to support human rights. "Even my appeal to resign is part of an active fight," Pamfilova said.
Memorial's Orlov said the government's authoritarian nature meant Pamfilova's council was only partly effective. But he said it had unexpectedly become an important channel of communication between civil society and the authorities.
Too Much Pressure?
However, Pamfilova had come under attack from officials and organizations such as Nashi, a highly visible, Kremlin-founded youth group. Orlov said her resignation was a sign that officials' pressure against her had succeeded.
"She went beyond the rules of the game," Orlov said. "She sometimes made sharp public statements that criticized pro-Kremlin organizations and forces when they violated human rights."
Earlier this week, Pamfilova condemned a Kremlin-organized summer youth camp for an exhibition that showed images of the heads of Russian human rights activists stuck on stakes and wearing Nazi helmets. Medvedev had visited the camp.
Medvedev came to power in 2008 promising to strengthen the rule of law. But human rights activists say individual liberties have since eroded.
On July 29, Medvedev signed a law expanding the powers of the Federal Security Service (FSB), a successor to the KGB. It restores the Soviet-era practice of issuing warnings to those it believes may be about to commit a crime.
Pamfilova had served as a member of parliament before taking her post in 2002. The onetime engineer headed the ministry of social care under former President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s, and was the first woman to run for Russian president, in 2000.
Pamfilova told Interfax she wants to change her "sphere of activity, and it will definitely not be in politics or the civil service."
She has recommended economist Aleksandr Auzan to succeed her, RIA Novosti reported. Auzan previously served on the council of the country's human rights ombudsman.
based on agency reports