Rights group flays Russia for crushing critics

Updated 01 February 2013
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Rights group flays Russia for crushing critics

MOSCOW: Human Rights Watch yesterday condemned the Russian authorities under President Vladimir Putin for unleashing the toughest crackdown against civil society since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The repressions against critics come after Putin returned to the Kremlin for a third term in May in the face of unprecedented protests against his 13-year rule.
The crackdown caps a decade of “soft” authoritarianism and unleashes a new era where Kremlin critics and rights activists are openly harassed and freedoms further eroded, the New York-based group said.
“The Kremlin in 2012 unleashed the worst political crackdown in Russia’s post-Soviet history,” the rights watchdog said in an English-language statement released in Moscow accompanying the release of its annual world report.
“This (2012) has been the worst year for human rights in Russia in recent memory,” the rights group quoted Hugh Williamson, its Europe and Central Asia director as saying.
“Measures to intimidate critics and restrict Russia’s vibrant civil society have reached unprecedented levels.”
After returning to the Kremlin for a third term despite unprecedented protests against his 13-year rule, Putin signed off on a raft of laws in what critics saw as a bid to quash dissent.
The new legislation re-criminalized slander, raised fines for misdemeanors at opposition protests and forced non-governmental organizations that receive foreign funding to carry a “foreign agent” tag in a move seen as a throwback to Soviet times.
Human Rights Watch gave a scathing assessment of Putin’s predecessor Dmitry Medvedev, calling his much-touted efforts at modernisation “few, timid advances on political freedoms.”
Anger over fraudulent Dec. 4 parliamentary elections coupled with Putin’s September announcement to seek the presidency brought up to 120,000 into the street of Moscow at the height of winter protests but the momentum has since died down.
Over a dozen activists are now facing jail time for taking part in May 6 protests on the eve of Putin’s inauguration and for alleged plans to overthrow the Russian strongman with the help of foreign sponsors.
The hopes of political reforms following the anti-Kremlin protests proved short-lived, Human Rights Watch said.
Putin has accused his critics of being in the pay of foreign governments and appears increasingly unwilling to tolerate any international criticism.
The rights watchdog called on Russia’s partners not to turn a blind eye to rights violations.
“Russia’s civil society is standing strong but with the space around it shrinking rapidly, it needs support now more than ever,” Williamson said.
“Russia’s international partners should not be bullied into silence.”
Moscow’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was a rare boost to human rights, the watchdog said but noted that many disabled people in the country were still denied basic rights.
The New York-based group also criticised Russia’s preparations for the 2014 Olympic Games, saying authorities took away homes from hundreds of families in the resort town of Sochi which will host the world’s premier winter event.
FROM: AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE


Afghan Taliban frown at militants’ Eid cease-fire selfies

Updated 51 min 28 sec ago
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Afghan Taliban frown at militants’ Eid cease-fire selfies

  • Both the Afghan government and the militants declared temporary cease-fires for the end-of-Ramadan Eid Al-Fitr holiday
  • The Taliban cease-fire ended on Sunday. The government extended its cease-fire with the Taliban, which had been due to end on Wednesday, June 20, by 10 days

PESHAWAR, Pakistan: The Afghan Taliban are angry at their members swapping selfies with soldiers and government officials during their three-day cease-fire, a senior Taliban official said on Monday, after the militants roamed at will through cities before the truce ended.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the Taliban official also said Pakistan had wanted the Taliban to include US and other foreign troops in the cease-fire, but the Taliban’s leadership and supreme commander, ‎Sheikh Haibatullah Akhunzada, did not agree.
“Last night, an emergency meeting was called and all the commanders were informed and directed to take strict disciplinary action against all those Taliban members who visited citizens and took pictures with the Afghan authorities,” he told Reuters.
Some Taliban seen taking selfies w‎ith Afghan government forces and officials had been warned, the Taliban official said.
Both the Afghan government and the militants declared temporary cease-fires for the end-of-Ramadan Eid Al-Fitr holiday, leading to fraternization between the two sides as militants emerged from their hideouts to enter towns and cities.
The government cease-fire did not include the Islamic State militant group and the Taliban did not include US-led foreign forces in theirs.
The Taliban cease-fire ended on Sunday. The government extended its cease-fire with the Taliban, which had been due to end on Wednesday, June 20, by 10 days.
Another Taliban commander, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said that some attacks had been planned in the southern Afghan province of Helmand where short clashes were reported, according to the spokesman for the Helmand governor.
Anti-war activists set off on a peace march last month, spending the fasting month crossing harsh, sun-baked countryside en route to Kabul where they arrived on Monday, their numbers swelling and ebbing at different points along the route.
Abdul Rahman Mangal, spokesman for the Maidan Wardak provincial government, next to Kabul, said the Taliban attacked two security checkpoints in the Saidabad district in the early hours of Monday which “left casualties.”
Clashes were also reported in Faryab in the northwest and Laghman, to the east of Kabul, and Nangarhar, on the border with Pakistan and the scene of two bomb blasts over the weekend, one of which was claimed by Islamic State.
While many war-weary Afghans welcomed the cease-fires and the fraternization between the combatants, some have criticized the government cease-fire, which allowed the Taliban to flow into cities, though the militants said they were withdrawing.
The Taliban are fighting US-led NATO forces combined under the Resolute Support mission, and Ghani’s US-backed government to restore sharia, or Islamic law, after their ouster by US-led forces in 2001.
But Afghanistan has been at war for four decades, ever since the Soviet invasion in 1979.