U.S. asks Russia to review refusal to register opposition party

The U.S. has asked the Russian authorities to reexamine a decision not to allow an opposition party to take part in upcoming parliamentary polls, a State Department official said on Thursday.

Russia’s Justice Ministry said last month that it had refused to register the PARNAS (Party of People’s Freedom) opposition party over irregularities in its list of signatures of supporters, a legal requirement for registration. It said the list included dead people and teenagers.

The party, which brings together five previously separate opposition groups, denies the charges.

Speaking at a meeting of the Helsinki Commission, Deputy Secretary of State for Human Rights and Democracy Michael Posner said the U.S. had brought up the issue with the Russian government, as it was seriously concerned that the party would not be able to take part in December’s parliamentary elections if it could not register. He said the U.S. wanted Russia to look again at the decision.

President Dmitry Medvedev earlier said that he did not believe the refusal by the Justice Ministry had a political subtext. He promised though that registration rules for parties would be simplified in the future.

“Let them clean out these ‘ghost’ members and then get the party registered. But the existing system of registration should be gradually simplified. But whilst it is like this, any party must obey the rules,” he told journalists.

Posner also said the U.S. had on more than once occasion requested the Russian government pay more attention to ethnic minority rights, and the rights of those of a non-traditional sexual orientation.

He also expressed U.S. concern over investigations into the deaths of journalists in Russia, including Natalya Estemirova and Paul Klebnikov, the crackdown on demonstrations by the Strategy 31 group and the case of Sergey Magnitsky, a lawyer who died in custody whilst investigating corruption.

The U.S. State Department has also expressed its concern over what it said were grave violations committed during the second trial of former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev.

The State Department said Khodorkovsky and Lebedev’s convictions in their second trial clearly illustrate the partiality of Russia’s judicial system.

The Moscow District Court in late 2010 sentenced Lebedev and former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovsky to 14 years in prison for theft of oil and money laundering.

The trial was condemned by human rights groups in Russia and abroad, although the Russian government has consistently stated that the trial was legitimate and did not have any political overtones.

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