June 1, 2010 / 10:54 AM / 9 years ago

EU chief raps Russia on human rights, media freedom

Russian policemen detain an opposition party supporter during a protest rally in central St. Petersburg, May 31, 2010. Supporters of various opposition parties gathered for a rally to defend Article 31 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, which says "Citizens of the Russian Federation shall have the right to gather peacefully, without weapons, and to hold meetings, rallies, demonstrations, marches and pickets." REUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk

ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia (Reuters) - European Union President Herman Van Rompuy on Tuesday said Europe was seriously concerned about the difficulties faced by human rights activists and journalists in Russia.

“The situation for human rights defenders and journalists in Russia is of grave concern to the European public at large,” Van Rompuy said at a briefing following an EU-Russia summit in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don.

Several rights activists and reporters have been killed in Russia since Medvedev was sworn in as president in May 2008. His predecessor Vladimir Putin’s term was also plagued by such killings.

Russia is ranked as the world’s fourth deadliest country for reporters — after Iraq, the Philippines and Algeria — by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

Many of the human rights activists and reporters killed in Russia have had links to the North Caucasus, a turbulent group of republics along Russia’s southern flank.

Rompuy said he had spoken to Medvedev about the EU’s concerns over “the climate of impunity, in particular in Chechnya and other areas of the North Caucasus.”

But the EU leaders at the briefing with Medvedev voiced no criticism of Russia’s handling of Monday’s opposition protests during which more than 150 people were detained by police in a forceful crackdown.

Reporting by Conor Humphries; writing by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Steve Gutterman

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