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Medvedev's first year: Has justice improved in Russia?

Some Russians say a new Amnesty International assessment understates the dangers faced by those who dare to offer dissent.

By / May 8, 2009

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (r.) speaks with Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov on Thursday, a year after he was inaugurated.

RIA Novosti/Vladimir Rodionov/Reuters

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MOSCOW – A year after Dmitry Medvedev was inaugurated as president of Russia pledging to put a more liberal face on the Kremlin, the country's dismal human rights picture has not improved, according to a new report by the global monitoring group Amnesty International.

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"A year ago, as he took office, President Medvedev declared his commitment to enhancing the rule of law," Amnesty's secretary general Irene Khan said in a statement accompanying the report, timed for release in Russia on Medvedev's first anniversary Thursday. "In the course of the last year, Medvedev set several goals. However, no significant changes are yet visible."

The report covers a wide range of developments over the past year, including an unabated series of physical attacks on journalists and civil society activists. It notes that despite Kremlin rhetoric, "in some areas the situation has worsened."

Russian human rights monitors welcomed the Amnesty study, but some said it may be understating the growing dangers to grassroots activists, non-governmental organizations, and investigative journalists.

"There are many changes for the worse," says Yevgeny Ikhlov, spokesman of For Human Rights, a Moscow-based grassroots coalition of groups. "Human rights activists are spied on, investigated, and there are provocations against them. Many get arrested or, in the provinces, called in [by authorities] to be warned that their activities won't be tolerated. There are hundreds of them, and lots of fabricated cases against them."

The Monitor recently wrote about a spate of violent attacks against journalists in one Russian city (click here to see the story) that has had the effect of virtually silencing all critical media outlets in the area.

This week, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, which has documented the unsolved murders of 16 Russian journalists in the past nine years, reported that the editor of an independent newspaper in southern Russia, who had been investigating corruption in local government, was apparently assaulted on a street in Rostov-na-Donu on April 30 and beaten so badly that he remains in a coma (more here).

"Every couple of weeks there is a new case of a journalist, trade union leader, or civil society activist being beaten or even killed," says Mr. Ikhlov. "Amnesty International doesn't even know all the details."

The Amnesty report notes that massive instability and widespread human rights violations continue in Russia's turbulent northern Caucasus region and even in Chechnya, where the Kremlin recently declared victory and with much media fanfare lifted its nearly decade-old state of emergency in the region.

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