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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

2 Activists Rethink Their Opposition

About half of the names on a decree President Vladimir Putin signed Friday for the 42 Public Chamber members he appoints directly are new, including two figures from major human rights organizations that boycotted the same process two years ago.

When the 126-member chamber was created in 2005, people like Alexander Brod, the head of the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights, and Holocaust foundation head Alla Gerber were conspicuous by their absence. Come January, however, they will be taking part.

"There is nothing reprehensible in becoming a member of the chamber," Brod said Friday after accepting Putin's invitation.

He added that the consultative body, which was broadly dismissed as a toothless facade for civil society when created, has proven itself a viable institution able to defend people's rights.

Gerber said she accepted because of the opportunity the chamber provided.

"I didn't [accept] enthusiastically, but only because I believe that as a member of the chamber I can achieve more than now," she said. "The minute I understand this is not the case, I will quit."

After the 2004 Beslan hostage-taking crisis, Putin called for the creation of a body bringing together prominent social activists to facilitate the exchange of ideas and information between the government and civil society.

The Public Chamber has no legislative or policy implementation powers and can only issue recommendations and monitor some government activities. It can also review legislation before it is considered by the State Duma, but its findings are nonbinding.

The president appoints 42 members -- one-third of the chamber's membership -- every two years. They then nominate another 42 from national nongovernmental organizations, who then help choose the final one-third of the membership from regional NGOs.

The president appoints the heads of all of the chamber's 17 commissions.

The selection mechanism has been cited by major human rights organizations like the Moscow Helsinki Group as being behind their refusal to join the chamber. "There is nothing public about this chamber if its members are appointed by the president," said Lyudmila Alexeyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group.

She did say, however, that human rights groups, including hers, cooperated with the chamber on many issues.

Putin's decree included Yevgeny Velikhov, president of the Kurchatov Institute, which specializes in atomic research, although it did not say whether he would remain secretary of the chamber. Prominent criminal lawyer Anatoly Kucherena, pediatrician and children's health advocate Leonid Roshal and the editor of the Moskovsky Komsomolets tabloid, Pavel Gusev, are also returnees.

Other new faces include liberal economist Yevgeny Yasin and actors Chulpan Khamatova, Fyodor Bondarchuk and Vasily Lanovoi.

Alfa Bank head Mikhail Fridman, political analysts Sergei Markov and Vyacheslav Nikonov and theater director Alexander Kalyagin all failed to be reappointed.