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Published On: Sun, Apr 28th, 2013

Russian President Vladimir Putin defends record on free speech amid arrests of protesters, Pussy Riot and other reports

Russian President Vladimir Putin defended his government’s record on free speech and rejected a claim it uses “Stalinist” methods, during a week when two international rights groups issued scathing reports and dozens of protesters were arrested for “anti-Putin” rallies.

Pussy Riot protesters in Russia photo/Evgeniy Isaev

Pussy Riot protesters in Russia photo/Evgeniy Isaev

Putin was thrust center stage during an annual televised call-in session in Moscow. It was his first since he was elected to a third term as president last May and lasted close to five hours.

Journalist Alexey Venedictov, who is editor in chief of the Echo of Moscow radio station, asked Putin if Russia can use “Stalinist tools” if it wants to be an advanced, modern state.

“I don’t think we can see Stalinist elements here,” Putin responded.

Putin pointed to “the personality cult and mass violation of law, reprisals, prison camps — we see nothing like that in Russia today and I hope we will never see that again. Our people will never allow that to happen again.”

“But that doesn’t mean we should have no discipline, no law and order — and all people in Russia should be equal before the law.”

That includes the women in the punk band Pussy Riot, Putin said.

Russian protesters arrested during anti-Putin rally

Russian protesters arrested during anti-Putin rally

“No one puts anyone in prison for political reasons, for their political views. They get punished for violating the law. Everybody should observe the law.”

Three Pussy Riot members were convicted last year of hooliganism for performing a song critical of Putin in a Russian Orthodox cathedral, in a brief but provocative protest action. Two are still in prison following the controversial trial.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both outlined a deterioration in the freedom of speech, citing a heavy clampdown on critics and activists

Human Rights Watch said the government has “unleashed a crackdown on civil society unprecedented in the country’s post-Soviet history” in the 12 months since Putin regained the presidency.

“The authorities have introduced a series of restrictive laws, harassed, intimidated, and in several cases imprisoned political activists, interfered in the work of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and sought to cast government critics as clandestine enemies, thereby threatening the viability of Russia’s civil society,” it said.

Putin told the audience it is OK to have demonstrations, “but they should be legal” and shouldn’t interfere with other people’s lives.

The two rights groups were critical of new laws which, Human Rights Watch said, “clearly seek to limit, or even end, independent advocacy and other NGO work.”

The president also was asked about the trial for embezzlement of prominent Kremlin critic and opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, which resumed Wednesday in the northern city of Kirov. Navalny, who’s also a popular anti-corruption blogger, says the charges are politically motivated.

Putin responded that “people who fight corruption have to be completely honest themselves … if someone accuses other people of stealing, it doesn’t mean he’s above the law himself.”

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About the Author

- Writer and Co-Founder of The Global Dispatch, Brandon has been covering news, offering commentary for years, beginning professionally in 2003 on Crazed Fanboy before expanding into other blogs and sites. Appearing on several radio shows, Brandon has hosted Dispatch Radio, written his first novel (The Rise of the Templar) and completed the three years Global University program in Ministerial Studies to be a pastor. To Contact Brandon email [email protected] ATTN: BRANDON

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