Finnish & Russian Activists Appeal to Medvedev

Finnish-Russian Civic Forum emblem. Source: Finrosforum.fiParticipants of the fourth annual Finnish-Russian Civic Forum have appealed to the presidents of both countries with a request to allow Russian opposition activists to exercise their constitutional right to free assembly, reports.

The forum, which is being held in Helsinki from July 21-22, brings together approximately 100 representatives of Russian and Finnish civil society “to promote cooperation between the peoples of Finland and Russia by supporting civic initiatives for democracy, human rights, and freedom of speech,” reads the forum’s website.

On Wednesday, representatives agreed on a statement asking that Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and Tarja Halonen turn their attention to the fact that Russian society continues to be deprived of the freedom of assembly.

“We are united all across Europe in our support of Russian activists who hold peaceful demonstrations under the Strategy 31 campaign. In another week, we will again express our solidarity with the Russians in Helsinki, Prague, Brussels, Berlin, and other cities all over the continent,” reads the statement. “We call upon you, President Medvedev, to ensure freedom of assembly both on July 31 and in the future.”

Forum participants also expressed concern over new federal legislation that would greatly expand the authority of the Russian Federal Security Services (FSB). Such legislation, said the participants, contradicts both the Russian constitution and international norms, and therefore should not be signed into law by the Russian president.

The statement also remarks upon the continued persecution of human rights advocates, participants of political movements, union leaders, and journalists in Russia.

“Instead of fighting terrorism and organized crime, thousands of law enforcement agents persecute civil and political activists, quite often under the pretense of the fight against extremism,” said the forum participants.

Civil activists from both countries expressed hope that Presidents Halonen and Medvedev would discuss these issues during their meeting on Wednesday. Whether or not they actually did remained unclear after a press conference later in the day.