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Russia no longer a free nation { December 21 2004 }

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   http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/nationworld/bal-te.russia21dec21,1,7151758.story?coll=bal-nationworld-headlines

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/nationworld/bal-te.russia21dec21,1,7151758.story?coll=bal-nationworld-headlines

Russia added to list of nations deemed 'not free'
Putin's government has hampered rights, freedom report says

Associated Press
December 21, 2004

MOSCOW- Russia has restricted rights to such an extent that it has joined the countries that are considered "not free" for the first time since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, the Washington-based Freedom House said yesterday.

"This setback for freedom represented the year's most important political trend," the nongovernmental organization wrote in its respected annual study, Freedom in the World 2005.

Freedom House noted increased Kremlin control over national television and other media, limitations on local government, and parliamentary and presidential elections it said were neither free nor fair.

The report accused President Vladimir V. Putin of exploiting the terrorist seizure of a school in southern Russia to ram through what Freedom House called the dismantling of local authority.

After the September attack, which killed more than 330 people, Putin introduced a plan to end the election of governors by popular vote and the election of legislators in individual races. Currently, the 450 seats in the lower house of parliament are equally split between those filled through party lists and those contested in district races.

The Russian Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment on the report, which said that Russia had reached its lowest point where political rights and civic freedoms are concerned since 1989.

Grigory Yavlinsky, a former member of parliament with the liberal Yabloko party, said Russia has been "not-free" for more than a decade now.

"Today in Russia there are no independent mass media, no independent court, parliament, business. There is no public control over special forces and police. There are practically no elections which are not controlled by the authorities," he said.

Of the world's 192 countries, Freedom House judged 46 percent free, 26 percent not free, and the rest partly free. Eight rated as the most repressive: Myanmar, Cuba, Libya, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria and Turkmenistan.

The NGO said that only Central and Eastern Europe had seen "dramatic progress" over the past year. It noted that Bosnia-Herzegovina's rating had improved after the first elections organized entirely by Bosnian institutions.

In the Middle East, Freedom House rated just Israel as free. Five countries in the region, including Jordan and Yemen, are partly free, and 12 are not free. It said the territories occupied by Israel and run by the Palestinian Authority were not free.

Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Qatar registered modest gains, Freedom House said.

It registered democratic gains in the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine, where popular protests forced the cancellation of the results of fraudulent elections in the past 13 months.

The former Soviet republics of Belarus, Armenia and Lithuania saw setbacks - the first two due to the authorities' increasingly harsh response to dissent, and the latter because of "worrying questions about the full autonomy of Lithuania's political leadership."


Copyright 2004, The Baltimore Sun



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