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HRW wary of Russian political freedom

Russian Prime Minister and presidential candidate Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting with his supporters from All Russian People's Front party in Moscow on February 29, 2012. The Russian presidential election is Sunday, March 4th. UPI/Yuri Gripas
Russian Prime Minister and presidential candidate Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting with his supporters from All Russian People's Front party in Moscow on February 29, 2012. The Russian presidential election is Sunday, March 4th. UPI/Yuri Gripas | License Photo

MOSCOW, March 1 (UPI) -- Russian authorities are putting pressure on government critics despite what appears to be a general tolerance for dissent, Human Rights Watch said.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin faces challenges from four other candidates in Sunday's election. Putin, who served as president from 2000-08, is expected to win a third non-consecutive term in the election.

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Human Rights Watch said authorities in Russia have "harassed" election monitors and "indirectly interfered" with independent media outlets that are viewed as critical of the Kremlin.

Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said while Moscow has allowed demonstrations to continue, it's also put pressure on some government critics.

"Despite the positive developments, the climate for civil society is as hostile as it ever was," he said in a statement.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe expressed concern following December elections for the State Duma in Russia. The OSCE said that, while Russian voters were able to make their voices heard at the ballot box, the vote was skewed in favor of Putin's United Russia party.

United Russia lost its constitutional majority for the first time since it was established more than a decade ago but managed to take 49.3 percent of the vote.

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