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Erosion of Russians' right to protest is noted

June 29, 2007|From the Associated Press

MOSCOW — Russian authorities often violate citizens' right to protest in public, the country's human rights ombudsman said in a report published Thursday.

Opposition groups' attempts to march and demonstrate have been restricted by authorities in several cities. Police have brutally broken up some of the protests.

In the report published in the government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta, Vladimir Lukin said regional and local authorities across Russia have violated the spirit and sometimes the letter of the Constitution and a 2004 law governing public gatherings.

That law stipulates that protest organizers must inform the authorities of their plans and allows the government to request changes in timing and location. It does not, however, give the government the authority to approve or prohibit gatherings.

Authorities often abuse the process in order to in effect prohibit demonstrators from protesting, Lukin said.

Authorities have barred former chess champion Garry Kasparov, now a Kremlin foe, and his allies from marching through streets in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other cities. Moscow police beat and detained demonstrators in April when they defied what the city government said was a ban on a march.

Kasparov and allies accuse President Vladimir V. Putin of stifling democracy and dissent before presidential elections next year. Putin initiated laws scrapping the elections of regional leaders, as well as direct elections of lawmakers.

Lukin, who is the government-appointed human rights overseer, suggested that even though authorities usually cite safety or other concerns, such bans are often politically motivated.

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