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You're reading: United Nations::Killing of Russian journalists alarming

GENEVA — The U.N. Human Rights Committee on Friday said Russia fails to protect journalists, activists, prison inmates and others sometimes at odds with authorities from a wide range of abuses, including torture and murder.

The findings came in a report by an 18-member panel of independent experts who called on the Kremlin to implement a number of legal reforms. They include narrowing the definitions of terrorism and extremism in laws intended to prevent them, the decriminalization of defamation cases against journalists and granting appeal rights to people forced into psychiatric hospitals by the courts.

The report said Russia was responsible for reported attacks on civilians by armed groups in South Ossetia in the aftermath of the August 2008 war with Georgia, and called for Moscow to investigate those abuses.

It also said that journalists were subject to politically motivated trials and convictions, discouraging critical media reporting, and called on the government to take action against what the panel called an increasing number of hate crimes and racially motivated attacks.

The harshest criticism, perhaps, was reserved for the Russian justice system in Chechnya and other parts of the North Caucasus region. The panel cited reports of torture, forced disappearance, arbitrary arrest and extrajudicial killing in those regions committed by the military and security services, saying the perpetrators "appear to enjoy widespread impunity" from punishment for their actions.

While the report did not cite specific cases or statistics, it alluded to the killings of a number of journalists and human rights activists in Russia that remain unresolved, including the 2006 shooting of Anna Politkovskaya, an internationally known journalist, who was a harsh critic of the Kremlin and exposed widespread human-rights abuses and corruption in Chechnya.

Prosecutors have said little about who might have ordered the contract-style killing of her on Oct. 7, 2006. The suspected gunman is believed to be hiding abroad. Since Politkovskaya’s death, at least seven journalists and human rights activists have been killed in Russia, including one who wrote for the same newspaper, Novaya Gazeta.

The committee said it was concerned at "the alarming incidence of threats, violent assaults and murders of journalists and human rights defenders in the state party, which has created a climate of fear and a chilling effect on the media."

The expert panel said it was also concerned about violence against lesbian, gay and bisexual persons, including reports of police harassment. It said it received reports of incidents where people were assaulted or even killed because they were gay or lesbian.

The panel said it was concerned at the "systematic discrimination against individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation" in Russia.

Homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia in the 1990s, but many Russians are vehemently opposed to expansion of gay rights or gay-rights demonstrations. Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov is an outspoken foe of gay rights and has always blocked attempts to hold gay pride marches in the capital, calling one a satanic gathering.

U.N. panel, which assessed how five countries, including Russia, comply with an international treaty on civil and political rights, receives its information from various U.N. agencies and non-governmental organizations

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