Monsters and Critics reports:
Europe's top human rights watchdog Monday condemned the recent police crackdown on opposition demonstrators in Russia while the European Commission called on Moscow to respect fundamental rights. 'We condemn this disproportionate use of force,' said Council of Europe President Rene Van der Linden. Freedom of expression and freedom of assembly constituted fundamental rights in democratic countries, he stressed. Russia joined the 46-member council in 1996. Last year, it hold the rotating six-month chairmanship of Europe's top human rights body which is independent from the European Union. A spokeswoman for the EU Commission said that 'freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are very important values' to which Russia had signed up as a member of international organisations such as the United Nations and the Organisation for Security and Co- operation in Europe (OSCE). The commission was 'very concerned' about the violent police attacks in St Petersburg and Moscow, she told reporters. The 27-member EU would raise the recent events when holding talks with Russian officials at the margins of an EU foreign ministers meeting next week in Luxembourg, the spokeswoman said. Respect for freedom of expression and freedom of assembly 'are very important in the pre-election phase in Russia,' she added. The opposition accuses Russian President Vladimir Putin of increasingly restricting human rights ahead of parliamentary elections in December 2007 and the presidential election next March.
Germany, which is current president of the European Union, had earlier also condemned Russian police use of 'excessive force'. German government spokesman Thomas Steg said that the 'excessive use of force' by Russian security officials had been a cause for concern. In particular, Steg said that action against members of the media had been 'unacceptable' with the German Embassy in Moscow protesting about the detention of accredited journalists. The German government expects a 'comprehensive statement' from the Russian side explaining the circumstances surrounding the protests and the arrests, Steg said. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was expected to raise the Russian police action with Putin at a Russian-European Union summit set for May 18 in the Russian city of Samara. Germany currently holds the EU presidency. Russian police violently broke up a rally against the policies of Putin in his native city St Petersburg on Sunday following similar brutal scenes in the capital Moscow a day before. A total of 350 demonstrators were briefly arrested at the two rallies over the weekend.