Russia keeps out human rights workers

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Three workers for the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, which promotes human rights, recently have been denied entry into Russia. The committee is seeking more support from Norway’s Foreign Ministry as it protests closed borders in both Russia and other former Soviet republics.

Bjørn Engesland, secretary general of the committee that’s one of 44 such human rights groups in Europe, central and North America, told newspaper Aftenposten on Friday that Russian authorities have given no reason for their refusal to let the Norwegian committee workers into Russia. “I see it as an illustration of how human rights organizations are meeting steadily increasing difficulties,” he said.

Engesland said that colleague Ivar Dale has been denied entry into both Russian and Kazakhstan. Enver Djuliman, who was turned away at in Belarus’ capital of Minsk last weekend, also recently received a formal letter from Russian authorities that he would not be granted a visa into Russia. Mina Skauen of the committee was denied entry into Russia a week ago.

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee sent a letter of protest to the Russian Embassy in Oslo and has asked for a meeting at the Norwegian Foreign Ministry to discuss the problem.

Engesland acknowledges that the committee has “been quite critical” of recent developments in Russia, contending the country has been moving away from democracy and human rights. Government critics are increasingly facing limitations on their work, harassment and “direct persecution,” Engesland claimed.

He wants the Norwegian government to “clearly” state to the Russians that groups like the Norwegian Helsinki Committee are doing “important and legitimate” work, and that Russian authorities must remove obstacles to that work.

A Foreign Ministry spokeswoman denied any suggestion that Norway is reluctant to do anything that might sour relations with Russia. “We’re constantly taking up our concerns about human rights and democracy with the Russian authorities, also during the prime ministers’ meeting in Moscow in May,” said Ragnhild Imerslund, noting that the ministry also financially supports efforts between Norwegian and Russian human rights groups.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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