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U.S. Helsinki Commission Urges Bush to Question Putin on Russia’s Authoritarian Domestic Policies

WASHINGTON – Today, Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) and ranking members Congressman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), sent the following letter to President Bush urging him to question President Putin on Russia’s authoritarian domestic policies during their meeting that begins Sunday in Kennebunkport, Maine. The letter cites that while President Putin has changed the stature of Russia globally, it has come at the expense of a “managed democracy” that is less accountable to its people. Furthermore, the letter raises serious concern with the Kremlin’s control over media freedom and its failure to protect the rights of journalists.

On June 22, Congressman Hastings and Senator Cardin sent a letter to President Putin questioning state efforts to limit media freedom, citing professional and legal dangers associated with Russia’s media industry and the failure of President Putin’s government to allow the news to be reported accurately. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 13 journalists have been killed in Russia since 2000 and only three individuals have faced charges in connection with these killings, where no convictions have been made. Please find a copy of the letter below:

June 29, 2007

The President
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We hope that your upcoming meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin results in improvements in bilateral relations and decisions that prove mutually beneficial to citizens in both countries.

As he prepares to leave elected office, President Putin enjoys considerable popularity at home, following almost a decade of economic difficulties and political uncertainty. Indeed, many Russians have seen material improvements in their lives and welcome the domestic stability and renewed international stature under his leadership.

His legacy in terms of democratic pluralism and fundamental freedoms is accentuated by a creeping authoritarianism that has characterized the Kremlin’s policy of “managed democracy.” These troubling trends have included close control of political processes, key broadcast media and industries as well as the functioning of non-governmental organizations and other elements of civil society. Such developments are particularly disturbing as Russia prepares to hold important parliamentary and presidential elections.

Against this backdrop, we would especially emphasize the difficult situation regarding the free flow of information. The Kremlin directly or indirectly controls the nationwide TV networks, while Russian authorities at all levels routinely exert various forms of pressure on journalists, editors, and publishers in an effort to shape the news to their liking. Especially disturbing is the fact that at least 13 journalists are known to have been killed in Russia since 2000.

Notwithstanding President Putin’s pronouncements regarding the need to ensure protection of journalists in Russia and the need for objective investigation of the murders of slain journalists, only three persons have been taken to court in connection with these slayings and there have been no convictions.

Mr. President, the Congress is on record expressing concern over attempts to limit the free flow of information in Russia and the fate of journalists, including American Paul Klebnikov, killed as a result of their professional pursuits. Echoing these concerns, we urge you to make a concrete offer of U.S. law enforcement assistance to help identify and bring to justice those responsible for these murders and to encourage President Putin to put an end to the harassment and attempts at intimidation of independent journalists in Russia.

We are convinced that democratic governance and rule of law, development of genuinely competitive markets, and the free flow of information are essential to long-term stability and prosperity in Russia, a country with tremendous potential to be a reliable partner in areas of mutual interest to our countries.

Sincerely,

ALCEE L. HASTINGS, M.C.                    BENJAMIN L. CARDIN, U.S.S.

Chairman                                               Co-Chairman
 

CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH, M.C.             SAM BROWNBACK, U.S.S.

Ranking Member                                    Ranking Member

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