Amnesty accuses Russia of pre-election crackdown

24_1.jpgAmnesty International said on Wednesday Russian authorities were arresting and harassing critics such as opposition leader Garry Kasparov to silence them in the run-up to the December 2 parliamentary elections.The rights group called for the immediate release of Kasparov, a former international chess champion who is serving a five-day sentence at a Moscow detention centre for leading a protest on Saturday against President Vladimir Putin. He is due to be released on Thursday.

“Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience and calls for his immediate release,” the rights group said in a statement titled “Russian Federation: systematic repression on eve of elections”.

“Several witnesses told Amnesty International that they had overheard conversations among the police indicating that it had been planned in advance of the march to detain Garry Kasparov.”

U.S. President George W. Bush has said he was deeply concerned about the detention of rights activists and political leaders at opposition rallies over the weekend in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Putin has accused Washington of plotting to undermine the elections and warned foreign states to keep “their snotty noses” out of Russian affairs. He said the elections would be democratic and transparent.

But Amnesty said Russia was making it almost impossible to express dissent.

“The silencing of media and human rights defenders, the harassment and ill-treatment of those who highlight human rights violations or those who express dissent, is unacceptable,” Nicola Duckworth, Amnesty’s program director for Europe and Central Asia, said in a statement.

Amnesty also said it was very concerned about the shooting on November 22 and subsequent death of an election candidate for the anti-Kremlin Yabloko party, Farid Babayev.

“Relatives and human rights activists have cited Farid Babayev’s outspoken political views as being a motivation for his murder, while the authorities reportedly deny the murder had any political motivation,” the rights group said.

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