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Russian Democracy Under Threat

(Washington, DC--October 24, 2000) The Russian government under President Vladimir Putin is seeking to dismantle constitutional and human rights currently guaranteed to the citizens of Russia.

That was the message delivered by Sergei Grigoriants, chairman of the Glasnost Foundation, to an RFE/RL press briefing yesterday.

Grigoriants, one of Russia's most distinguished human rights activists, said that recent attacks against the independent media are the most visible elements of a wider effort to change Russia "into a country governed by the special [security] services."

Grigoriants said that "in a few days" the Russian parliament will consider setting up a Constitutional Assembly to change the present constitutional guarantees of civil and political rights. In this way, he argued, the Putin government will "lawfully" narrow the constitutionally guaranteed rights of its citizens, which it has long ignored or violated.

Under Putin, there has been a "monopolization of the mass media" by the government, Grigoriants said, a trend that has seriously reduced the amount of information available to Russians. Human rights groups and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) now will have to work to try to fill that void, he said.

At the same time, he noted, the Russian government is also becoming more successful at controlling its citizens' access to information resources on the Internet. About one month ago, and one day after armed and masked men along with members of the Russian police raided the offices of the Glasnost Foundation, the organization's website could no longer be accessed -- nor could any other website featuring the word "glasnost."

Human rights groups and Russian NGOs in general have been under ever increasing pressure from the government, which last year ordered them to re-register. That process, Grigoriants said, had allowed the government to restrict their activities in a nominally legal way because "[o]nly 12 percent of Moscow-based NGOs have been able to re-register, and only 5 percent in Tambov region," he noted.

Grigoriants said that Russian NGOs plan to hold a national human rights conference in December in Moscow to draw attention to the "weakening of civil society in Russia" and to develop a coordinated response to the Putin's government's actions.

As a result of Putin's policies, Grigoriants concluded, "we are defending human rights like we did 12 years ago, and we might soon have to work underground like we did 20 years ago."