Moscow - Several members of Russia's presidential human rights council said on Wednesday they planned to leave the advisory council, reflecting doubts that President-elect Vladimir Putin was dedicated to improving human rights.
During Dmitry Medvedev's presidency, the rights council has drawn attention to reported abuses including in the case of Sergei Magnitsky, whose 2009 prison death has drawn widespread condemnation and strained Russian-U.S. ties.
The makeup of the council is up to the president, but plans by members to step down reflect disappointment in its impact and doubts that Putin was serious about improving human rights.
At least four members of the presidential Civil Society and Human Rights Council have no intention of serving on it under Putin, according to its chairman, Mikhail Fedotov, and two of those who plan to leave.
“I do not consider him a legitimate president,” said political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin, who questioned the official results of the March 4 election Putin won with nearly 64 percent of the vote.
“The volume of falsifications approached a critical level,” said Oreshkin, adding he was unsure whether Putin really won the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff. Government officials say violations were not widespread enough to affect the outcome.
Yelena Panfilova, the head of anti-corruption group Transparency International Russia, said at the council's last meeting with Medvedev on Saturday that she did not intend to remain on the council.
“It's no secret that I came to the council because I hoped that we would be able to do very much. But now I think I will (be able to) do significantly more through ... public activity,” said Panfilova.
She confirmed her intention at a news conference with other members on Wednesday including Fedotov.
Fedotov said human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Svetlana Gannushkina told him she did not want to be on the new council and that another member, Ida Kuklina, also planned to leave.
Fedotov said he would not want to remain chairman if Putin makes radical changes to the makeup of the 40-member council.
“If President Putin wants the same council that Medvedev had then he can keep it. Everything depends on him.”
“(If) instead of these wonderful people come generals or people who don't work to protect human rights but rather to attack them, then that is a completely different council, and I would not like to be its chairman,” he said.
Putin, who was president from 2000-2008, has displayed wariness about the intentions of civic groups and human rights organisations and accused those with foreign funding of serving other countries' interests.
“The council largely exists to support non-government organisations, and (Putin) has repeatedly moved in another direction,” Oreshkin said.
“He tries to replace institutions of independent civil society with pseudo-independent ones. Independent foreign financing is practically considered betrayal of the homeland.”
Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said he would not comment on the presidential council while Putin remains prime minister.
Medvedev, who is expected to become Putin's prime minister, has repeatedly stressed the need to improve democracy, human rights and the rule of law, but critics and many supporters say his reforms have fallen far short of his stated intentions.
Medvedev praised the council on Saturday but said it focused too much on high-profile cases such as those of Magnitsky and former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, one of some 30 jailed Russians the council urged Medvedev to consider pardoning.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva, a rights activist who heads the Moscow Helsinki Group, said that “not all of us will be in the new council” but did not specify whether she would remain if asked.
“It's not that we didn't do everything we wanted to do, it's that we accomplished so little of what we wanted to do,” the former Soviet dissident Alexeyeva, 84, told the news conference. - Reuters