Russian president's top rights advisor quits

30th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

The head of the council advising Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on rights unexpectedly quit Friday, in a blow for the Kremlin chief who has made developing civil society a priority of his rule.

Ella Pamfilova, the activist who headed the president's council on human rights and the development of civil society, said she would not disclose the reasons for her decision at the moment.

Medvedev, a lawyer by training, came to power in 2008 with activists hoping that he would spearhead a transformation of the rights situation in Russia but many have expressed frustration over a lack of progress.

Pamfilova's announcement also came a day after Medvedev signed into a law a hugely controversial bill expanding the powers of the FSB security service, which activists have slammed as a throwback to the Soviet era.

"I have handed in my resignation as chairperson of the council," Pamfilova told the Interfax news agency. "It is my personal decision, no one has forced me, it has not come suddenly."

"I will not discuss the reasons now," she added. "I will just say I want to change my sphere of activity and it will definitely not be politics or state service."

Pamfilova, whose readiness to speak her mind on sensitive issues won her wide respect, had over the last months clashed repeatedly with the controversial and influential pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi (Ours).

The latest spat broke out this week over an exhibition staged by a Nashi offshoot at its annual summer camp where images of the heads of Russian liberals like Lyudmila Alexeyeva, 83, were stuck on stakes in Nazi headgear.

"I am frightened that these guys (Nashi) will come to power in a certain number of years," Pamfilova said in an interview with Echo of Moscow radio earlier this week.

She pointedly noted that both Medvedev and his chief idealogue Vladislav Surkov had visited the camp. Nashi subsequently announced that it would sue Pamfilova for slander.

"She wanted to resign because she had simply had enough of the persecution that was circling around her," Irina Yasina, a fellow member of the council, told Interfax.

"It pained her that no one who could have protected her was protecting her," she added.

Alexeyeva, one of Russia's highest profile activists and also a member of the council, said Pamfilova had carried out her role "heroically" and expressed hope that Medvedev would not accept her resignation.

"I hope that the president can remove those reasons which made her resign from a post which I believe is her raison d'etre," she said according to Interfax.

Activists had urged Medvedev to show his liberal credentials by not signing the new FSB security law, which gives the ex-KGB the power to officially warn individuals whose actions are deemed to be creating the conditions for crime.

Medvedev shocked many observers earlier this month when he bluntly declared at a news conference alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the law was drawn up "on my direct instructions."

Vyachelsav Volodin, a top member of the ruling United Russia party, acknowledged that Pamfilova's resignation would "have to be taken into account".

Nashi meanwhile hailed her resignation as "correct and courageous" while the leader of the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party Vladimir Zhirinovsky sniped that "she had got tired of working in isolation".

© 2010 AFP

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