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Russian human rights activists divided on Freedom House latest report

Moscow, 14 January: Representatives of Russian public organizations have had mixed reaction to a report published on Tuesday (13 January) by the Freedom House NGO, which has yet again included Russia on the list of "non-free" states, however all of them agree that the report is not objective. The head of the Moscow human rights bureau, Aleksandr Brod, is more optimistic than the authors of the report, whereas the leader of the For Human Rights movement, Lev Ponomarev, is convinced that Freedom House's view of the situation is better than the situation really is. (Passage omitted)

"It is not always clear which criteria the authors of reports are guided by, which sources of information they use. Freedom House does not have a representative office in Russia, that is why information is taken from random sources, which are not always objective. The information is not many-sided and objective enough," Brod told RIA Novosti. He went on to add that in its assessments of Russia Freedom House had at one point chosen "a tracing paper which is applied every year", while in fact the situation is changing for the better, the NGO sector is actively developing, also with the support from the state.

"Of course, one cannot say that the authorities are ideal and that the human rights situation is ideal. At the same time saying every year that everything is bad looks like a political game. It is not clear what these reports are compiled for: either to state the situation or to create a political instrument of pressure on Russia with the use of the human rights issue," Brod said.

For his part, the leader of the For Human Rights movement and a member of the Solidarity opposition movement, Lev Ponomarev, does not agree with the conclusions of the report either: in his opinion, the situation in Russia is far worse than the authors of the report think. "Since in terms of human rights and the freedom of speech nothing is changing in Russia, I personally am ready to say that the situation is getting only worse," Ponomarev told RIA Novosti.

He went on to say that the adoption of the law abolishing trial by jury for terrorism cases and the submission to the State Duma of a draft law clarifying the notions of treason and espionage were vivid examples of that. "These notions are being considerably expanded to include any opposition and human rights activity," Ponomarev said.

Moreover, if NGOs are developing in Russia, these are only those that depend on state structures, he added. "There are several independent organizations - our movement, the Moscow Helsinki Group, and Memorial - but they exist like a little democratic bow in order to be able to say that we have democracy," Ponomarev said, adding that in any event these organizations did not receive funding in Russia. "Although it is humiliating for me, we are funded only from foreign funds," he said.