U.S. says free expression was restricted in Russian election

People walk past a sign reading "United Russia" on a building in central Stavropol, Russia, People walk past a sign reading "United Russia" on a building in central Stavropol, Russia, September 18, 2016. REUTERS/Eduard Korniyenko

WARSAW, Sept 19 (Reuters) – Opposition politicians were at a sharp disadvantage in Russia’s parliamentary election because of limits on freedom of expression and barriers that made it hard for them to register, a U.S. human rights envoy said on Monday.

“The elections were well administered, but there were also significant restrictions to the rights of free expression and assembly,” Tom Malinowski, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, told reporters.

The ruling United Russia party took three-quarters of the seats, providing a likely springboard for President Vladimir Putin to seek re-election to another term in the Kremlin in 2018. Liberal opposition parties failed to win a single seat in the weekend election.

“There were obstacles to the registration of political parties and candidates,” Malinowski said in Warsaw, where he was attending a conference of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on human rights and democracy.

“For all these reasons, it remains very, very hard for non-systemic political parties and candidates in Russia to
compete with the ruling party.”

Earlier on Monday, the OSCE criticized the elections, saying they had been marred by curbs on basic rights and a lack of distinct political alternatives.

(Reporting by Wojciech Strupczewski and Maria Wejcman; Writing
by Marcin Goettig; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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