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Veteran Rights Defender Alekseyeva Returns To Putin's Council

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) meets with Moscow Helsinki group head Lyudmila Alekseyeva at Putin's Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow in January 2014.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) meets with Moscow Helsinki group head Lyudmila Alekseyeva at Putin's Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow in January 2014.

MOSCOW -- Lyudmila Alekseyeva, one of Russia's most outspoken and widely respected rights advocates, has returned to President Vladimir Putin's council on human rights and civil society three years after quitting the advisory body.

Alekseyeva, 87, says she wants to defend nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) against what she called the "outrageous" abuse of a controversial law that has branded many NGOs as "foreign agents."

Under a decree signed by Putin, she returned to the council on May 26.

A Soviet-era dissident who was in on the founding of the human rights movement in the 1960s, Alekseyeva has been a vocal opponent of what she has described as a dramatic backsliding on human rights and democracy since Putin came to power in 2000.

She quit the council in June 2012 in protest over Kremlin interference in the process of selecting new members, becoming one of several activists to leave amid anger over Putin's return to the presidency, the "foreign agents" legislation, and restrictions imposed on the Internet and public demonstrations.

Alekseyeva had rejected previous invitations to return to the council, whose work she had said would be "pointless" after the changes made in 2012.

But she told RFE/RL earlier this month that the Presidential Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights was one of the most reliable links with the authorities and "cannot be ignored during these difficult times."

She said that she wanted to return to the council to attract its attention to the "foreign agents" law.

"There are such outrageous things happening there," Russian media quoted her as saying in comments about application of the law, which requires foreign-funded NGOs deemed to be involved in political activity to register as "foreign agents" -- a term with Soviet-era connotations of treason and espionage.

"All hell has broken loose in the regions," state-run news agency RIA Novosti quoted her as saying. Authorities across Russia "are simply setting scores with organizations that are unfavorable to them, stripping them this way of their right to operate."

Rights activists say the government has clamped down hard on civil society since Putin returned for a third presidential term after weathering big opposition protests in 2011-2012.

Putin signed a law last week that enables the government to brand foreign and international organizations "undesirable" and shutter their Russian offices if they are deemed to pose a threat to the country's security.

Alekseyeva's return comes amid an uproar over a decision by the authorities to brand the Dynasty Foundation, a nonprofit group established by a former telecoms tycoon to fund scientific research and education, as a "foreign agent."

"I would like private foundations to be able to finance public organizations...without risk to their businesses," Interfax quoted Alekseyeva as saying. "I think this is totally realistic, but there must be a signal from above -- and as long as there is none, private business will be afraid to help public organizations."

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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