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Ombudsman's statements reflect culture of intimidation, says Freedom House

(Freedom House/IFEX) - 15 January 2010 - Freedom House is deeply concerned with the Chechen government's attempts to intimidate and discredit prominent and internationally recognized human rights organization Memorial, which has played a crucial role in exposing human rights violations and assisted hundreds of victims of abuse.

During an interview published on the Chechen government's official website on January 11, 2010, the ombudsman of Chechnya, Nurdi Nukhazhiyev, made a series of highly accusatory statements, alleging that Memorial was using facts about human rights violations to "destabilize" the situation in Chechnya and that the organization benefits from reporting a higher number of cases in the republic. The ombudsman also stated that "rights and liberties can be curtailed in order to preserve public order and security" and justified the actions of local authorities who have been accused by Memorial and others of egregious human rights violations.

"Freedom House is extremely alarmed and dismayed by the incendiary statements made by Mr. Nukhazhiyev," said Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House executive director. "Such unfounded and incriminating statements against a prominent human rights organization such as Memorial only demonstrate further that critics of (Chechen President) Kadyrov's brutal regime appear to be fair game for intimidation, harassment, and persecution by authorities and reflect the culture of impunity and fear that exist in Chechnya today."

Memorial recently announced plans to resume work in Chechnya after it was forced to suspend operations out of safety concerns for its staff following the tragic murder of one of its employees, Natalya Estemirova, on July 15, 2009.

Freedom House calls upon Russia to condemn the statements made by Mr. Nukhazhiyev, and to ensure a safe and stable working environment for Memorial and other human rights NGOs in Chechnya.

Russia is ranked Not Free in "Freedom in the World 2010", Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in "Freedom of the Press 2009".

"Freedom in the World 2010" - Chechnya
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