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Russian Opposition, Human Rights Activists Unimpressed By New Police Law

Russian Policeman Near Police VanMoscow, 28 February: Opposition activists have described the law "On Police" as rebranding, and believe that it needs drastic revision.

"This is a rebranding or face-lifting exercise rather than a reform. No matter what is the name of a democratic state's repressive body, the essence of the matter remains the same," one of the leaders of the opposition Solidarity movement, Garry Kasparov, told Interfax.

"The task of the police is to collect administrative rent, and their functions in the present state will not change no matter what they are called," Kasparov said.

His ally Ilya Yashin thinks that the main drawback of the new law is the issue of public control over activities of the police.

"The bill preserves all the major flaws of the existing law-enforcement system. The main flaw is that law-enforcement bodies, in essence, are not controlled by anyone," Ilya Yashin, member of the political council of Solidarity, told Interfax.

"One can talk about public councils, but control mechanisms that people can understand more easily are still needed. For example, when we drew up our alternative bill, we proposed to introduce a mechanism for election of heads of district police departments," Yashin said.

He thinks that public councils under the new law should be formed with the help of human rights organizations and parliamentary parties.

"In my opinion, the reform has not materialized and looks like advertising. This can be described as rebranding, but a rebranding exercise is not a reform. If the shape and the name are changed, this does not mean that the content will change too," Yashin said.

"If you call a Zaporozhets (Soviet budget car) a Mercedes, it will not become faster and more comfortable," the opposition figure said.

He thinks that "the reform is going in a direction that is absolutely not what representatives of civil society would like".

"Only a paltry number of citizens of our country trust the police today, therefore the task of the reform should be to restore trust. This could be done only by introducing real, understandable and transparent mechanisms for controlling law-enforcement bodies," Yashin said.

(Earlier on 28 February, Interfax quoted the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Lyudmila Alekseyeva, as saying that the police reform was "cosmetic". The leader of the movement For Human Rights, Lev Ponomarev, also described the reform as "imitation". The head of the Memorial human rights centre, Oleg Orlov, added that the new law on police contained "neither anything especially bad or especially revolutionary good".)

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