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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

United Russia Blasts Rights Ombudsman

Russian human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin has come under heavy fire from United Russia for his criticism of a violent police crackdown on a May 31 opposition protest.

Lukin, who has held the post since 2004, overstepped his authority by taking sides in a political conflict, Sergei Markov, a prominent State Duma deputy for United Russia, said Thursday.

"Lukin damaged his neutrality by supporting those who were breaking the rules," Markov told The Moscow Times.

He also suggested that members of oppositional political groups should not be a focus for the ombudsmen. "They have enough support from other sources," he said, without elaborating.

Markov and other United Russia officials have frequently accused foreign governments and nongovernmental organizations of supporting the pro-Western opposition.

Riot police detained more than 150 people at the unsanctioned May 31 rally on Triumfalnaya Ploshchad, and about two dozen people claimed that they were beaten or attacked.

Lukin, who attended the rally as an observer, has said he expects apologies from the police for the violence and has sent a report to President Dmitry Medvedev.

But the position has opened him up to scathing attacks in the national media over the past 10 days.

The criticism began when the heads of three veterans and police organizations wrote to the Kremlin linking Lukin to the series of attacks on policemen that began in the Far East.

By attending the rally, the ombudsman supported radical opposition leader Eduard Limonov, the leaders of the groups said in the letter, excerpts of which were published last week by the news site.

At least one of the so-called Primorye partisans was "a supporter and follower" of Limonov, they wrote.

A host of regional ombudsmen — ranging from the North Caucasus to the Volga region — were then reported to have complained to Medvedev about Lukin.

Penza region ombudsman Svetlana Pinishina said Lukin's activities had shown a "biased approach to human rights," the news site reported.

Last Friday, Lukin unexpectedly canceled an appearance in the Duma, where he was to present his annual human rights report. He told lawmakers that he had to chair a session of the national Paralympics Committee.

It remained unclear Thursday when he would reschedule the address. On Wednesday, Lukin said his account on the May 31 protests would probably not be published. It was sent "directly to the president … maybe he will react directly," Lukin said, Interfax reported.

A woman who picked up the phone in Lukin's office Thursday said he was unavailable for comment.

The Duma confirmed Lukin for a second and final five-year term in February 2009.

Supporters say the criticism resembles a campaign last fall against Ella Pamfilova, head of the Kremlin's human rights council. Nashi activists had called for Pamfilova's dismissal after she had condemned the pro-Kremlin youth movement for “persecuting” journalist Alexander Podrabinek for his criticism of World War II veterans.

Pamfilova said Thursday that Lukin should hang on and endure the criticism. "I have been through this. This is normal," she told The Moscow Times.

She argued that it was good news if human rights activists came under pressure. "This shows he is doing his job right. It would be another matter if he got praise from the government," she said.

In a statement on his web site Thursday, Lukin politely declined an invitation from Nashi to participate in one of their events on June 29, saying he was legally barred from any public political activity.

He offered to inform his Moscow counterpart of their concerns that their constitutional rights could be violated and said he would send his own observers to the event.