- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Russian activists are warning of a deterioration in human rights under President Vladimir Putin, who arrived in the United States yesterday for the Group of Eight summit in Sea Island, Ga.

Despite recent democratic reforms, there remained strong efforts by the government to destroy isolated islands of democracy in Russia, the activists told the Helsinki Commission, a U.S. agency composed of members of Congress and the executive branch.

“We do not see any active liberal political parties in Russia,” Arseni Roginsky, chairman of the International Memorial Society, said Monday. “The government was created by presidential forces and has become even more conservative.”

Mr. Roginsky added that fundamental human rights such as freedom of speech are limited by Russian authorities, that the Russian parliament was fully under the control of the ruling elite, and that independent businesses are attacked as soon as they tried to develop a social position of their own.

Alexei Simonov, the head of the Glasnost Defense Foundation, criticized Russian media. He said that the number of reformist Russian outlets is very small.

“We haveglasnost, but its field is growing smaller and smaller,” he said, in a reference to the Russian word for “openness” and, more specifically, to political reforms instituted under former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

The reformist press in Russia consists of just 50 newspapers, all with circulations of no more than 5,000, and four magazines with circulations of up to 1,500.

Mara Polyakova, the director of the Independent Council for Legal Expertise, said that new democratic laws are being passed in Russia, but that there are no mechanisms to implement them.

Russian judges, for example, are supposed to be independent, but remain subject to appointment by the executive branch, she said.

Ludmilla Alexeeva, the president of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, said various religious groups in Russia are under pressure.

“The Russian Orthodox Church seems to be trying to be the same kind of church it used to be under the czars,” she said.

The Russian Orthodox Church claims to represent 85 percent to 99 percent of the population.

But, Mrs. Alexeeva said, only 2 percent of the population actively practices the religion.

The four advocates said they would continue seeking solutions and publicly speaking about their concerns.

Mr. Roginsky said there is a “double approach” by the United States toward Russia at a time of threats by terrorists: First, Russia is a “loyal partner in the struggle against terrorism,” and only secondarily, there is “something that isn’t quite right with democracy” there.

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