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Russian commissioner highlights threats to political freedoms

Moscow, 4 April: Russian Human Rights Commissioner Vladimir Lukin said that his office receives around 300 letters from Russian citizens a day, which amounts to 100,000 letters per year.

"The majority of them, around 46 per cent, are complaints regarding different social problems," Lukin said at a news conference on Wednesday (4 April) in Moscow. He also made the point that a third of all complaints are complaints about the arbitrary actions of law-enforcement agencies.

He stressed that one of the "most frequent topics" is the housing problem.

When asked whether many people are complaining about violations of their political freedoms and freedom of speech, Lukin replied that the number of complaints about violations of the right to free access to information stands at 5 per cent of the total number.

In total the number of letters has remained at around the level of last year, although the number has increased by almost a third compared with the number of complaints sent three years ago.

(Passage omitted: earlier reported details on the human rights situation in Chechnya)

Lukin also commented on political life in Russia saying that political parties have been forced to work within extremely strict limitations.

"In my opinion, we have an excessively high barrier for entering parliament, and over-strict conditions for the registration of parties. Moreover, I think that if a party is registered, it can be considered as certified to take part in elections, and there should be no need for it to fulfil any other additional requirements for taking part in them," Lukin said.

He also criticized the idea of changing the electoral legislation during an election year. "The electoral legislation should be changed not on the eve of the election but at least one year before. This would be like raising your own salary; it smacks of opportunism," Lukin said.

He also made a critical evaluation of the actions of the authorities in connection with various mass demonstrations. "We have a law on protests and demonstrations. This says that there is a need to notify (the authorities) about them, but not to seek permission. So, those who de jure or de facto seek to turn this into a permission-seeking exercise are violating the law and should be taken to court," Lukin said.

He believes that a ban should not be imposed on street demonstrations if it is based only on suspicions that other laws will be violated when they are staged. Lukin has also called for "specifying what is meant by extremism". "Our extremely broad definition of extremism allows one to consider almost everything as extremism and to ban demonstrations completely," Lukin concluded.