Cameron meets Russian rights leaders

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British Prime Minister David Cameron took time out Monday from his whirlwind tour of Moscow to meet rights defenders and hear tales of journalists' murders, torture, and lack of political competition.

Cameron's 30-minute meeting with top human rights activists took place between his talks with President Dmitry Medvedev and those with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, where he stressed the need to establish pragmatic relations.

"We raised all the painful issues: torture, murders of rights defenders and journalists, the impunity of these crimes, mass crimes in the North Caucasus, disappearances of people, the lack of political competition, the situation with the freedom of speech..." said Memorial rights group chief Oleg Orlov.

The meeting took place in a small museum named in honour of the late Soviet physicist and dissident Andrei Sakharov, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975.

"Cameron mostly listened, asked clarification questions, wanted to know our opinion," said Valery Borschyov of the Moscow Helsinki Group.

"I talked about the case of Sergei Magnitsky. It touches upon Russia's problems in the court and investigation system."

A lawyer working for a British firm, Magnitsky died in pre-trial detention after alleging that police officials staged a massive scheme stealing $230 million in illegal tax reclamations.

His death became an international scandal and a symbol of Russia's inconsistent rule of law, leading Washington to impose a visa blacklist against officials believed to be involved.

The possibility of a similar blacklist initiated by Britain was not discussed, Borschyov said. Earlier Monday however Cameron said that "rule of law is vital" in a speech delivered at Moscow State University.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International were also present at the meeting. Cameron sat in a circle together with the representatives and visited the museum, Borshyov said, adding, "It's good that he met us."

Orlov also praised the meeting, saying not all Western leaders take the time to hear about their concerns. "It's a signal that the prime minister is showing his concern about human rights in Russia," he said.

© 2011 AFP

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