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Human Rights

Human Rights Watch: Russia crackdowns worst since Soviet era

The US-based organization Human Rights Watch has called 2012 the "worst year for human rights in Russia." It called the level of repression on civil society comparable to that of the Soviet era.

Measures to silence government opponents reached "unprecedented levels" last year, due in large part to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who began his third term in May, according to the Human Rights Watch Europe and Central Asia Director Hugh Williamson on Thursday.

The assessment of human rights in Russia accompanied the New York-based organization's report on the state of human rights worldwide.

The year began with largely peaceful mass protests in response to Putin's decision to seek a third term. In the months that followed, 12 activists openly opposing the high-profile politician were sent to jail, the report said in a statement. President Putin signed a new amendment shortly after his reelection, which restricted public gatherings.

"Russia's civil society is standing strong but with the space around it shrinking rapidly, it needs support now more than ever," Williamson said.

In addition to repressing protesters, the government also passed legislation that returned libel to a criminal offense, increased Internet censorship and gave treason laws a wider reach on other activities.

The Kremlin also took steps toward uprooting foreign influence in the country. Nongovernmental organizations, for example, found to be receiving funding from US citizens or Russian citizens who hold US passports can be suspended. Furthermore, similar organizations who receive money from abroad must register as "foreign entities."

These crackdowns aimed at quashing dissidents and outside influence reflect a level of repression similar to that last seen in 1991, when the Soviet Union fell.

Human Rights Watch also criticized the preparations for Russia's Winter Olympic Games slated for 2014. According to the report, some residents in the town of Sochi had been evicted and harassed.

Despite the numerous human rights violations, the New York-based group commended Russia for its ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as an important step forward.

"The Kremlin cynically conflates legitimate expressions of concern about human rights and the rule of law with undermining Russia's sovereignty," Williamson said. "But Russia's international partners should not be bullied into silence."

kms/dr (AFP, dpa)