TALLINN - An appeal initiated on behalf of the Mari people, protesting the persecution of the media and opposition politicians in the Russian Federation, has gathered over 4,000 signatures, including some well-known international political commentators.
The Appeal on Behalf of the Mari People, published by the Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat and the Estonian daily Eesti Paevaleht on Feb.22, accuses the republic's authorities of reacting poorly to criminal pressure on the media and opposition leaders.
"The Mari people are an important part of the Finno-Ugric world, and this summer they are scheduled to host the next world congress of Finno-Ugric studies. Consequently, it is especially important that Russian authorities in Moscow and in Mari El do everything possible to end the abuse of the rights of the Maris," reads the appeal.
The appeal was signed by, among others, Tartu University professor Paul Goble, Vice-President of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the European Parliament Toomas Hendrik Ilves, former Estonian President Lennart Meri and other experts from Estonia and Finland.
As of March 1, the Web site on which the appeal was published had a little over 4,000 signatures, mostly by people from Estonia and Finland, with several signatures from Hungary, Germany, Romania, Latvia, the U.S.A., Sweden and other countries.
The Estonian Institute for Human Rights, an NGO, last week supported the appeal and expressed its hope that the Mari issue would be examined at the European Parliament. The authorities of the Republic of Mari El have not yet reacted to the move.
The appeal referred to the recent case of Mari movement leader and newspaper editor Vladimir Kozlov, who was beaten up in the Mari El capital of Yoshkar-Ola. The author of the appeal accused the authorities of not paying enough attention to the case.
Kozlov, head of Mer Kanash, the Mari movement in the Russian Federation, and editor of a Finno-Ugric newspaper Kudo+Kodu, was attacked in early February. He was beaten with an iron reinforcement bar on his way to work on Feb.4 and later hospitalized with a head injury, the Russian news agency Regnum reported.
Kozlov said he was hit from behind with an iron bar, knocked down and kicked by three unknown individuals. Since November 2001, six journalists supporting political opposition to authorities have been assaulted and three killed in the Republic of Mari El.