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Russia's rights climate is deteriorating, Soviet-style
restrictions increasing

Russia's rights climate is deteriorating, Soviet-style
restrictions increasing

Russia's human rights climate is deteriorating and Soviet-style restrictions on freedom of speech and expression are multiplying, Russian and international activists warned Tuesday. Nina Tagankina of the Moscow Helsinki Group said there has been an ''overall worsening'' of the situation in Russia and that authorities are prohibiting even peaceful protests and rallies.

She said a gay rights group in the Siberian city of Tyumen was denied official registration after authorities said its advocacy work would not help prevent Russia's sharp population decline and thus posed a threat to the county's national security.

The Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation said in a report that Russian authorities have tightened restrictions on political pluralism and the freedom of association and said officials were resorting to intimidation and abuse of opposition activists.

''The actions of the police...remind one of the intolerance of political pluralism that existed here in the Soviet Union,'' executive director Aaron Rhodes said in a statement. ''Russia is moving toward a one-party state. There is intolerance of political pluralism that is developing.''

Over the weekend police in the central city of Nizhny Novgorod violently dispersed an antigovernment rally dubbed the March of Those Who Disagree. Three weeks earlier police clubbed protesters and dragged them into waiting buses in St. Petersburg during a bold demonstration against President Vladimir Putin and Kremlin policies. An antigovernment protest in Moscow in December was similarly quashed by a massive police presence that dwarfed the demonstrators.

The crackdown in Nizhny Novgorod prompted the United States on Monday to decry ''Russian government heavy-handedness'' against people trying to exercise democratic rights.

It ''raises serious concerns about Russians' ability to exercise their rights to assembly, free speech, and peaceful protest,'' U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said.

In a letter to Russia's human rights ombudsman, leading rights activists said the breakup of the demonstrations were blatantly illegal. They also quoted Putin as saying earlier this month, ''If some quantity of dissenters want to hold a march, no one has the right to deprive them of this right.''

''A legal question arises: to what extent is policy in the country determined by the guarantees of the Constitution and to what extent by law-enforcement agencies and local governments?'' said the letter, signed by Moscow Helsinki Group chairwoman Lyudmila Alexeyeva, For Human Rights chairman Lev Ponomaryov, and 18 other activists.

Tagankina also said a recently passed law tightening restrictions on rights groups violated the groups' freedom of expression and prevented many organizations from operating freely.

Helsinki Group officials also said they was concerned over persistent rights abuses in the troubled North Caucasus region, especially war-shattered Chechnya, that were taking place under the pretext of the fight against terrorism.

The organization's leaders also said antiterrorism measures in the United States and the United Kingdom have led to human rights abuses. (Maria Danilova, AP)

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