U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested Russia’s elections were neither free nor fair as she made a broad plea on Tuesday for digital freedoms at a European security gathering.
Speaking to ministers of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, she accused Belarus of “unremitting persecution” of its opposition and suggested Ukraine prosecuted former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko for political reasons.
For a second day, Ms. Clinton cited “serious concerns” about Sunday’s election in Russia in which Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s parliamentary majority was cut in an vote marred by accusations of ballot-stuffing and other irregularities.
“When authorities fail to prosecute those who attack people for exercising their rights or exposing abuses, they subvert justice and undermine the people’s confidence in their governments,” Ms. Clinton said in a speech at the 56-nation OSCE.
“As we have seen in many places, and most recently in the Duma elections in Russia, elections that are neither free nor fair have the same effect,” she added, in comments that went a step further than her criticism of the vote on Monday.
Ms. Clinton said two former presidential candidates in Belarus remain imprisoned a year after a government crackdown and she voiced concern about the case of Ukraine’s Ms. Tymoshenko, who faces seven years in prison for abuse of office.
“There are growing restrictions on the exercise of fundamental rights through the OSCE region,” she said.
Russia’s Central Election Commission said Mr. Putin’s United Russia party was set to have 238 deputies in the 450-seat State Duma, down from 315 seats in the current lower house.
The result was Mr. Putin’s worst election setback since he came to power 12 years ago and signalled growing weariness with his domination of Russian politics as he prepares to reclaim the presidency in an election in March.
Ms. Clinton repeated U.S. concerns that independent Russian party Parnas was denied the right to register and that observers such as the Golos network suffered cyber attacks.
The United States is pushing the OSCE, formed during the Cold War in part as a way for the Western and Soviet blocs to discuss human rights, to embrace a draft “Declaration on Fundamental Freedoms in the Digital Age”.
“Rights exercised in cyber space deserve as much protection as those exercised in real space,” Ms. Clinton said.
“Fundamental freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, association and religion apply as much to a Twitter conversation and a gathering organized by NGOs on Facebook as they do to a demonstration in a public square.”
While Ms. Clinton said 28 OSCE members support the declaration, it appeared all but certain that it would not be adopted by the organization, which operates by consensus.
Russia and Belarus are both blocking the declaration but other countries such as Turkey also have reservations, diplomatic sources told Reuters.
“They (the Americans) are not getting to get it,” one source told Reuters.