MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s new president, Dmitry Medvedev, must provoke a “sea-change” in his country’s attitude to human rights, Amnesty International said on Wednesday.
In a special 16-page memorandum to Medvedev, timed to coincide with its annual global report, Amnesty wrote there had been improvements in Russia’s criminal law and the way it dealt with prisoners but many other human rights had deteriorated.
“A number of serious patterns of violations persist and in some cases have worsened in recent years,” the memorandum said.
“Amnesty International looks to you as the president of Russia to initiate a sea-change in direction in terms of freedom of expression in Russia.”
The London-based group also highlighted freedom of assembly, rising racist violence and rights violations in the North Caucasus — an area where Russian forces have fought insurgents since 1994 — ranging from kidnaps to torture to executions.
Medvedev took over from Vladimir Putin in May. Putin moved aside to become prime minister and continues to exert a strong influence over government policies.
During Putin’s eight years as president, Russia stabilized after its post-Soviet chaos and grew rich from a rise in commodity and energy prices. But human rights groups accuse Putin of sacrificing civil liberties for stability.
Medvedev is a 42-year-old, former corporate lawyer considered by some in the West as more approachable than Putin, an ex-spy.
“In your speech following your inauguration you stated that human rights and freedoms are of the highest value to the Russian society,” Amnesty’s memorandum said.
“With great hopes Amnesty International looks forward to seeing this commitment made a reality.”
On Tuesday, a Russian court ruled against officials who had charged the head of a United States-backed non-government organization with smuggling — a rare defeat for the authorities in Russia’s courts.
Last year Russian police armed with batons broke up anti-government demonstrations, triggering protests from the West who have to balance concerns over Russia’s attitude towards dissent and its growing power as a trading partner and energy supplier.
Under Putin, the Kremlin also tightened its control over the media, either by taking over radio or television stations or persuading friendly business leaders to buy them.
“Amnesty International considers it vital in this context to ensure the protection of the right to freedom of expression as one of the cornerstones for the overall protection of human rights,” the report said.
The memorandum also called on Medvedev to use his influence as a Russia’s president to improve human rights in other countries around the world.
Writing by James Kilner; Editing by Matthew Jones