The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe voiced concerns on Friday about "barely disguised threats" made by Chechnya's president against the staff of Russia's Memorial human rights group.
Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov said last Saturday in televised comments that journalists and Memorial activists who criticize his policies are well paid by the West and "enemies of the people, enemies of the law, enemies of the state."
The head of Memorial, Oleg Orlov, said the group could close its branch in Chechnya as Kadyrov's statement might be interpreted by the republic's security forces as a call to action against human rights activists.
PACE's Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee rapporteur on the North Caucasus, Dick Marty, called the words of the Chechen leader "unacceptable and unworthy."
Marty said "such words, similar to those uttered by Mr Kadyrov against Natalya Estemirova, a member of Memorial's staff subsequently murdered last summer, are barely disguised threats."
Estemirova, a leading Memorial researcher in Chechnya, was abducted outside her home in Grozny, Chechnya's capital, on July 15 last year and found shot dead in the neighboring republic of Ingushetia later the same day.
Her murder, which sparked international outrage, was followed three weeks later by the killings of Zarema Sadulayeva and her husband, Alik Dzhabrailov, who both worked for a Chechen charity.
The PACE official called on Russia "to ask the Chechen authorities to ensure the protection of human rights defenders and further to intensify dialogue with civil society, following the example of President Dmitry Medvedyev's meeting with representatives of NGOs in May."
In a resolution passed in late June, PACE condemned Russia's policy in the North Caucasus, saying that "human rights violations and the climate of complete impunity were bound to foster the rise of extremist movements."
MOSCOW, July 9 (RIA Novosti)