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Russian Rights Ombudsman Slams Decision to Close British Council Branches

Moscow, 14 December: The Russian authorities should not have demanded that the regional branches of the British Council in Russia be shut down, and all the problems should have been resolved through negotiations, Russian human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin has said.

"If our authorities think that there some violations of the law in the work of the British Council, work needs to be done to eliminate these violations. I do not like the idea of closure," Lukin told Interfax news agency on Friday [14 December].

"I do not like the politicization of human rights activity and cultural ties. These spheres should be separated from politics. Unfortunately, the timing of the problem with the British Council and the general situation regarding [Russia-Britain] relations fit into a scheme of moves and countermoves. I would prefer that politics remain politics and cultural ties, cultural ties," he said.

He pointed out that the Russian authorities have the right to raise the question of parity; the British Council works in Russia, and a certain Russian cultural or educational organization operates in Britain on equal rights.

"Regarding the British Council, if they want similar Russian organizations to work in Britain, this is a sensible matter and needs to be negotiated," he said. [Passage omitted: background]

Russian human rights activists have voiced concern about the upcoming closure of regional branches of the British Council.

"They are building the iron curtain here once again," said the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Lyudmila Alekseyeva.

"They say that there is no required legislative basis for the British Council to work in Russia. But who prevents them from creating such a basis? The British Council also implements educational programmes in other countries and is not facing any problems there," she said.

The leader of the For Human Rights movement, Lev Ponomarev, agrees with Alekseyeva.

"I know for certain that projects carried out by the British Council were linked to educational programmes and not to politics. It is absolutely not right to accuse the British Council of being engaged in some sort of politicized programmes and destabilizing the political situation in the country. The educational programmes of the British Council were of great use, especially in the regions.