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Putin Pushes Critical Voices Out Of Russia's Human Rights Council

Valery Fadeyev
Valery Fadeyev

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered a major reshuffle of the Human Rights Council, including its chief and others seen as supportive of recent anti-government protests.

According to a presidential decree published on October 21, the Kremlin advisory body's veteran head, Mikhail Fedotov, will be replaced by former television host and ruling United Russia party senior member Valery Fadeyev.

Also out are Moscow-based political analyst Yekaterina Schulmann, who has supported opposition leader and corruption fighter Aleksei Navalny, and Pavel Chikov, a top human rights lawyer whose organization has provided legal support to Russians detained in the protests.

Ilya Shablinsky, a professor who recently expressed concerns about the decision to place in psychiatric care a Yakut shaman who was trying to walk across Russia to protest Putin's rule, will also be replaced.

The fifth member pushed out is Yevgeny Bobrov, head of the rights organization Boskhod.

Kirill Vyshinsky, an editor for the Ukrainian subsidiary of Russia's state-run RIA Novosti who was handed back to Russia by Ukraine in September as part of a major prisoner exchange, is among those slated to join the council.

Other current or former state media employees were among those slated for the new positions on the council, a body that has been known to publish statements critical of the government but which has been hurt by resignations and lost clout in recent years.

The decree says Fedotov, who had led the council since 2010, was being dismissed because he had reached the age of 70.

Earlier this week, 30 of the council's 50 members signed a letter to Putin asking him to extend Fedotov's term, considering his "personal merits" and "unquestioned authority."

Once the news became official, the moves came under criticism from activists and members of Russian civil society.

Grigory Melkonyants, co-director of the election-monitoring NGO Golos, lamented the demise of the council and described the changes as "ridiculous" in a Facebook post.

Lyubov Sobol, a supporter of recent protests and an ally of Navalny, reacted to the dismissals of Schulmann, Chikov, and Shablinsky with a "Wow!" on Twitter, before adding that the moves made sense because "they always stood on the side of law and justice, and Putin does not want to keep such advisers."

Fadeyev, 59, formerly presented the Vremya program on state-controlled Channel One, and was serving as secretary of the Public Chamber, a Kremlin-appointed oversight body.

In one of his first public comments, Fadeyev told Interfax on October 21 that he plans to ask law enforcement agencies why they have not responded to "petitions filed by those who found themselves to be aggrieved parties at unpermitted rallies."

Fedotov has said that he plans to continue working in the field of human rights.

With reporting by RIA Novosi, Meduza, and AFP
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