U.S. Slams Russia 'Harassment' of Opposition Figuresإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
The United States on Monday voiced concern after Russian police raided the homes of top protest leaders ahead of a planned mass rally in Moscow against President Vladimir Putin.
"The United States is deeply concerned by the apparent harassment of Russian political opposition figures on the eve of the planned demonstrations on June 12," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.
Police armed with assault rifles carried out a coordinated sweep of homes of homes of young Russian politicians, who analysts believe represent the biggest threat to ex-KGB spy Putin's 12-year rule.
Nuland also criticized a new law in Russia that imposes "disproportionate penalties" for violating rules on public demonstrations.
Nuland said that Russian police were calling in opposition leaders for questioning one hour prior to the planned rally time on Tuesday in a move "clearly designed to take them off the streets during the demonstration."
"Taken together, these measures raise serious questions about the arbitrary use of law enforcement to stifle free speech and free assembly," she said.
U.S. criticism over freedom of expression has been a sore point in relations with Russia.
Putin, then prime minister as he prepared to return to the presidency, last year lashed out at U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she questioned the fairness of parliamentary polls.
Putin accused Clinton or orchestrating protests critical of him. The State Department dismissed the allegations, saying it supports pro-democracy work around the world but not specific parties.