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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NGOs Urge G8 to Reprimand Russia

Leading nongovernmental organizations appealed Wednesday to Group of Eight leaders to address at the G8 summit next week what they called Russia's rapid democratic rollback and rampant human rights abuses.

At a meeting held a day after President Vladimir Putin defended Russia's human rights record, the groups listed what they called gross and systematic rights violations and called on the international community to press Russian leaders to return the country to a democratic path.

"A gulag has been created in Russia. ... The most horrific crimes in the Soviet Union took place in the gulag, millions of people were killed there and human rights were violated," said Lev Ponomaryov, of the group For Human Rights, which monitors abuses by law enforcers.

"Today we can already apply the term gulag to the Russian penitentiary system."

Ponomaryov charged that all kinds of abuse, including physical and mental torture and even extrajudicial killings, were commonplace, and said Russia's prison system was worse than it was in the 1960s and 1970s under Leonid Brezhnev.

"Today people are not only tortured with impunity ... but also killed," he said.

Valentina Melnikova, head of the Union of Soldiers' Mothers Committees, which advocates for soldiers' rights, said Russia could not hope for progress until it abolished compulsory military service.

The poorly trained and underfunded army suffers from vicious bullying and sees some 3,000 noncombat deaths and up to 50,000 noncombat injuries among soldiers and officers every year, she said.

"The most important evil, which makes the Russian soldier a slave, is being preserved -- compulsory military service," Melnikova said. "It's not a duty, it's not an obligation, it's the use of force -- the state is simply continuing to take live young men, their lives, their health, their blood."

Natalya Taubina of the Public Verdict, which monitors police abuse, lamented that the law enforcement system was poorly funded, had insufficient training and poor management, which breeds corruption. Prosecutors are often reluctant to press ahead with cases in which their colleagues or other law enforcers face charges, resulting in impunity, she said.

"Today the system is in crisis and urgently needs to be reformed," she said.

Defense lawyer Ernst Cherny accused the Federal Security Service, or FSB, of manipulating juries and trials in order to ensure the conviction of academics and scholars, some of whom have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms on charges of spying.

The scientists, which include arms control researcher Igor Sutyagin and physicist Valentin Danilov, were innocent, Cherny insisted, but the FSB had sought their conviction to demonstrate the effectiveness of its work.

"The FSB ... infiltrates its agents into juries and prevents normal justice from being done," Cherny said. "The lawlessness and the impunity of special services only leads to their further degradation."

Speaking at the opening day of the so-called Civil G8 meeting Tuesday, Putin also defended a controversial law on nongovernmental organizations, which some NGOs warn could result in their shutdown.