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(Moscow) – Vladimir Putin should ensure starting key reforms during his first 100 days in office after he is confirmed as the victor in the March 4 vote, Human Rights Watch said today.

In response to the unprecedented street demonstrations that followed the December 4, 2011 parliamentary election, Putin and other leaders promised political and economic reform.

Some of the reforms that would liberalize the political system passed their first reading in parliament on February 29, 2012.

“The Russian government has done the right thing by not interfering with public protests and proposing some reforms,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Russia’s president can effectively demonstrate continued commitment to the rule of law by taking some straightforward, concrete steps during his first 100 days in office.”

Russia deserves an open, tolerant environment for civil society, Human Rights Watch said. In the months leading up to the vote, Putin implied that Russia’s civil society was sponsored by the West and accused the opposition and his critics of “feeding off” Western grants. Human Rights Watch said the government should hold accountable those responsible for violent attacks on human rights defenders, whistleblowers, and investigative journalists, and foster the independence of Russia’s judiciary.

Since the parliamentary elections in December, the authorities have used a range of tactics to harass and discredit their critics, even as they have allowed public protests.

“Russia’s authorities have tried to intimidate civic activists,” Williamson said. “But the voice of discontent heard on the streets and in social media is also impossible for Putin and the authorities to ignore. The first period of his presidency will be a crucial time to show sincerity about reform.”

Putin and his government should take the following steps, Human Rights Watch said:

  • Foster a normal working environment for civil society organizations and activists. The government should ensure the effective protection of whistleblowers, repeal legislative provisions that allow for intrusive checks into activities by nongovernmental organizations and that place an excessive bureaucratic burden on foreign-funded groups in particular, and condemn harassment and intimidation of activists.
  • Continue to allow peaceful assemblies.
  • End impunity for murders and violent attacks against activists and independent journalists. The government should in particular closely examine the possibility of official involvement in and hold to account those responsible for the murders of the journalist Anna Politkovskaya (October 2006), the human rights advocate Natalia Estemirova (July 2009), the activist Zarema Sadulaeva (August 2009) and the publisher Khadzhimurat Kamalov (December 2011), as well as the beatings of the journalist Mikhail Beketov (November 2008) and journalist Oleg Kashin (November 2010). The authorities should conduct a genuinely effective investigation into the death of the lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in police custody and ensure accountability for all perpetrators, their rank and official position notwithstanding.
  • Acknowledge that political interference with the judiciary has undermined its independence and make a public commitment to end this practice.
  • Make it a priority to implement rulings by the European Court of Human Rights fully and effectively, including those on Chechnya. Putin should also acknowledge the leading role of the court in helping member states of the Council of Europe improve their compliance with fundamental rights and freedoms set out in the European Convention.
  • Proceed with the reform to facilitate registration of political parties. Putin should put an end to efforts to discredit political and civil opposition and to use administrative resources to interfere with political opponents. He should take concrete steps to foster the environment of general political pluralism in the country.
  • Fulfill the pledge to restore elections for regional governors. Legislation of 2004 replaced the system of election of governors with their appointment by the president.
  • Pledge to effectively and thoroughly investigate, prosecute, and prevent human rights violations by law enforcement and security agencies in counter-insurgency operations in the North Caucasus and in Russia as a whole.
  • Make a public commitment to genuine police reform, including ending police brutality.
  • Seek the release of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, and quash the case against them.

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