Russian Rights Activists Seek Washington's Aid

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The Russian government's new restrictions on the activities of human rights and pro-democracy organizations has led some agencies to close, and their founders to flee the country. One of the new dissidents has come to Washington to seek help.

MICHELE KELEMEN: I'm Michele Kelemen in Washington.

One human rights organization that ran afoul of the Kremlin was the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, which now operates from Finland after being shut down in Russia. One of its members, Oksana Chelysheva came to Washington last week looking for support. She still travels to Chechnya, trying to tell the world about life there under the Moscow-backed leader, Ramzan Kadyrov.

Ms. OKSANA CHELYSHEVA (Russian-Chechen Friendship Society): It's very difficult to get information about of Chechnya because people right now are so much intimidated with Kadyrov that they hesitate a lot to reveal the truth about the crimes that are perpetrated by his people.

KELEMEN: Chelysheva was a friend of the slain Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya - and like her, has received death threats.

Ms. CHELYSHEVA: I know a lot of other human-right defenders who have been targeted, who have been threatened, and so none of us can feel safe and secure.

KELEMEN: A former professor, Chelysheva says she couldn't just watch the conflict in Chechnya from afar. Chechen-led attacks on a school in Beslan and a Moscow theater made it harder to speak out, but she says victims of those terrorist incidents met recently and agreed the Russian government had failed them.

Ms. CHELYSHEVA: All of us are in the same boat in the way that we are not protected with the state.

KELEMEN: On her trip here, Chelysheva says U.S. officials have been more attentive to her plight. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

BLOCK: Tomorrow, NPR's Gregory Feifer will bring us another report in our Resurgent Russia series on what happened to hopes for democracy in Russia.

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