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


France's Macron vows Iran will 'never' possess nuclear weapons

Updated 25 April 2018
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France's Macron vows Iran will 'never' possess nuclear weapons

  • French President Emmanuel Macron drew on the “shared bond” of US-French relations
  • Macron told Congress that Iran will “never” be allowed to develop atomic weapons

WASHINGTON: French President Emmanuel Macron drew Wednesday on the “shared bond” of US-French relations to call for a rejection of isolationism and instead for the countries to bond together anew for a 21st century security.
Macron opened a joint meeting of Congress, saying “the American and French people have had a rendezvous with freedom.”
The French president received a warm, three-minute standing ovation from US lawmakers before delivering — in English — a rare address to Congress, which he hailed as a “sanctuary of democracy.”
Macron shook hands with senators and representatives, and pressed his hand to his heart several times before a speech expected to touch on the two countries’ shared history and international challenges.
“Our two nations are rooted in the same soil, grounded in the ideals of the American and French revolutions,” Macron said.
“We have worked together for the universal ideals of liberty, tolerance, and equal rights.”
Speaking almost directly to President Donald Trump, Macron quickly turned to the top issues of Syria, free trade and the Paris accord on climate change — issues where he and Trump disagree — as he urged the United States not to retreat from world affairs, but to embrace its historic role as a military leader of world affairs.
“We are living in a time of anger and fear because of these current global threats,” Macron told lawmakers. “You can play with fears and angers for a time, but they do not construct anything.”
With a nod to great American leaders, including former President Franklin Roosevelt, he warned against sowing seeds of fear.
“We have two possible ways ahead. We can choose isolationism, withdrawal and nationalism. It can be tempting to us as a temporary remedy to our fears,” he said. “But closing the door to the world will not stop the evolution of the world.”
But he said international engagement was the only solution.
“This requires — more than ever — the United States’ involvement as your role was decisive for creating and guarding today’s free world. The United States is the one who invented this multilateralism. You are the one now who has to help preserve and reinvent it,” he said.
Macron told Congress that Iran will “never” be allowed to develop atomic weapons, as the fate of a landmark 2015 nuclear accord with Tehran hangs in the balance.
“Our objective is clear,” Macron told lawmakers on the final day of a state visit during which he and President Donald Trump called for a broader “deal” that would also limit Iran’s ballistic missile program and support for militant groups across the Middle East.
“Iran shall never possess any nuclear weapons. Not now. Not in five years. Not in 10 years. Never,” Macron said.
Macron has pushed for a new approach that would see the United States and Europe agree to block any Iranian nuclear activity until 2025 and beyond, address Iran’s ballistic missile program and generate conditions for a political solution to contain Iran in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.
“Whatever the decision of the United States will be, we will not leave the floor to the actions of rogues. We will not leave the floor to this conflict of powers in the Middle East,” Macron told Congress.
“I think we can work together to build this comprehensive deal for the whole region, for our people, because I think it fairly addresses our concerns,” he said.
On climate change, Macron told US lawmakers there is “no Planet B,” acknowledging a disagreement with President Donald Trump, who pulled his nation from the landmark Paris accord.
“Let us face it. There is no Planet B,” Macron said in an address to Congress on the final day of his state visit to the United States.
“We have disagreements between the United States and France. It may happen, like in all families,” he said — but such differences would be short-term.
“We’re just citizens of the same planet,” Macron said.
“With business leaders and local communities, let us work together in order to make our planet great again and create new jobs and new opportunities while safeguarding our Earth. And I’m sure one day, the United States would come back and join the Paris agreement.”
Trump said last year that his country would withdraw from the accord, which aims to reduce damaging emissions and was signed by almost 200 countries.
Macron also lashed out against fake news — and gave a tongue-in-cheek apology for violating President Donald Trump’s “copyright” on the term.
He warned that lies disseminated online are threatening freedoms worldwide, saying: “Without reason, without truth, there is no real democracy because democracy is about true choices and rational decisions.”
Macron tasked his government this year with drafting a law to punish false information distributed during election campaigns. Macron says his presidential campaign last year was a victim of fake news, notably accusing Russian news sites RT and Sputnik.
He also warned against “terrorist propaganda that spreads its fanaticism on the Internet.”
In recounting common bonds from the earliest days of the United States, Macron talked about a meeting between Ben Franklin and the French philosopher Voltaire, “kissing each other’s cheeks.”
In an apparent reference to his friendly meetings this week with Trump, he said, “It can remind you of something.”
Macron was speaking as part of his visit to the United States. It’s the first time a president from France has addressed Congress in more than a decade, but follows a tradition of foreign leaders appearing at the US Capitol.