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Western Rights Groups Slam Russian 'Crackdown' Under Putin

Russian riot police detain a female protester during an opposition protest in Moscow in May 2012.
Russian riot police detain a female protester during an opposition protest in Moscow in May 2012.
Two prominent Western human rights organizations have issued reports sharply criticizing the crackdown on civil society and individual freedoms in Russia since Vladimir Putin returned to the presidency in May 2012.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch on April 24 jointly issued their reports to call attention to the "ongoing assault" on rights in Russia.

"What we've tried to do," John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia program director at Amnesty International, told RFE/RL, "is document the clampdown that has been on dissent and the expression of divergent views over the course of the last year since the inauguration of President Putin to his third term and chart the way in which, cumulatively, this has resulted in very significant restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly."

The Amnesty report focuses on restrictions on the right of assembly introduced in June 2012. It also criticizes what it calls the excessive use of police force against demonstrators.

The law on public assembly was amended last June to make it more difficult to get permission to hold demonstrations and to dramatically increase fines and other punishments for participating in or organizing an unsanctioned protest.

Loaded Terminology

The Human Rights Watch report highlights legislation and activities that threaten civil society, including a law requiring nongovernmental organizations that accept foreign funding to register as "foreign agents."

Tanya Lokshina, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Moscow bureau, told RFE/RL that the term "foreign agent" is a loaded one in Russia.

"In Russia, a 'foreign agent' is something that only means one thing -- that is, a foreign spy -- and therefore the law is apparently designed to demonize and marginalize nongovernmental organizations in the eye of the public," she said.

Since the beginning of this year, more than 200 NGOs in 50 regions of Russia have undergone inspections by law enforcement and other officials.

One of the most persecuted NGOs is Golos, which monitors Russian elections and which documented numerous cases of vote fraud during the 2011 State Duma elections and the 2012 presidential vote.

Lokshina describes the events of Putin's first year back in the Kremlin as "unprecedented."

"The crackdown on civil society that we are witnessing in Russia today is absolutely unprecedented," she said. "It started in full swing after the return of Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin."

The report says the new laws and government inspections of NGOs violate Moscow's commitments under international agreements.
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