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Russian Freedom Continued to Decline

The Finnish-Russian Civic Forum (FINROSFORUM) promotes cooperation between the peoples of Finland and Russia by supporting civic initiatives for democracy, human rights, and free speech.



There is only one region in the world where political rights and civil liberties have been in continuous decline since 2001 — the countries of the former Soviet Union, with the exception of the Baltic States. That is according to Arch Puddington and Christopher Walker, the principal authors of the latest “Freedom in The World” report compiled annually by the US-based rights watchdog Freedom House.

Puddington, Freedom House’s director of research, lists possible explanations for the region’s downward trend: one is the legacy of the Soviet Union, and the other is Russia’s undemocratic influence. “The former Soviet Union –excluding the Baltic states– over the past five years, over the past decade, basically has gone from one decline to another decline. And Russia has led the way,” Puddington told RFE/RL.

Russia, ranked “Not Free” for the sixth year in a row, was among 25 countries that showed significant declines in democracy in 2010 with little serious resistance from the democratic world, the report said. Russia and Belarus were listed among the world’s most powerful authoritarian regimes. These countries acted with “increased brazenness” in 2010. In the former Soviet space, Russia continued to set the tone.

“The cases of Sergei Magnitsky and Mikhail Khodorkovsky at the end of the year in many ways exemplified the depths of the corruption not only of the judicial system in Russia but of the wider systemic challenges that the country faces,” Walker says. “Because what you have seen in both of these cases is the intersection of interests that come together to prevent any sort of rule of law being exercised.”

The media sector in Russia, according to Freedom House, has been unable to examine important issues in a meaningful and ongoing basis; the judiciary is subjected to heavy interference and is unable to operate in an independent manner; and political activities are strictly sanctioned and devised in a way that there is no meaningful accountability across institutions, the report stated.

“The news from Russia, the leading power in the region, remained relentlessly grim in 2010,” Freedom House reported. “President Dmitry Medvedev’s pledges to combat corruption, arrest those responsible for a series of high-profile murders of journalists and activists, and strengthen the rule of law have not been fulfilled. Instead, bribery and embezzlement remain the norm, politically motivated violence goes unpunished, and the law is enforced at the caprice of the leadership.”

“In Russia, an especially discouraging year was punctuated by the conviction and sentencing of regime critic and former oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky on his second round of charges, which will force him to remain behind bars despite legal proceedings that were widely dismissed as fraudulent. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin publicly declared that Khodorkovsky belonged in jail even as the court was nearing a verdict,” Freedom House’s report noted.

“Conditions seemed to worsen toward the end of the year, a period marked by guilty verdicts in politicized trials, the sham prosecution of human rights activist Oleg Orlov on trumped-up defamation charges, the savage beating of journalists, violent dispersal of sanctioned demonstrations in Moscow and St Petersburg, and a campaign against migrants from southern Russia and Central Asia by ultranationalist soccer hooligans who enjoy a measure of support from elements of the political leadership,” the report concluded.



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