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HRW Says Russian Authorities Cracking Down On Critics Ahead Of Vote

Police detain an activist wearing a Vladimir Putin mask during an opposition protest in St. Petersburg late last year.
Human Rights Watch says Russian authorities are cracking down on critics, while tolerating unprecedented public protests.

The rights watchdog said in a statement on March 1 that the authorities are intensifying pressure on the media, activists, and nongovernmental organizations planning to monitor the March 4 presidential election.

It said several activists had been attacked or intimidated in the past two months, while the National Reserve Bank in February blocked the account of the main shareholder of "Novaya Gazeta" -- a weekly that is critical of the Kremlin.

The website of Echo Moskvy, a radio station known for covering politically sensitive issues, crashed after a large-scale hacker attack, but investigators said they found "no grounds" to investigate the station's complaint.

Echoing the HRW statement, press freedom group Reporters Without Borders said on March 1 that Russia was apparently trying to weaken the most prominent media.

With reporting by dpa
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