A leading media rights group urged French authorities Friday to strip Russian President Vladimir Putin of one of France’s highest awards, the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor.
Reporters Without Borders, which classifies Putin as one of the world’s press freedom “predators,” expressed shock and anger when he received the honor during a visit to France last month.
On Friday, the group appealed to French President Jacques Chirac and France’s Council of State, the body that issues the awards, to revoke it.
The request came the same day that Putin was meeting French President Jacques Chirac and other European leaders at a European Union summit in Finland.
“It is outrageous to say that Putin has rendered service to causes that France defends,” the group said in a statement. “It beggars belief that Putin has been given one of the greatest honors France can bestow on a person.”
RSF said 21 journalists have been killed in Russia since Putin became president. It also assailed him for waiting 48 hours before commenting on the slaying earlier this month of Anna Politkovskaya, a well-known journalist critical of the Kremlin and its war in Chechnya.
In Putin’s six years in power, Russia has seen a steady rollback of many of the media freedoms won after the Soviet collapse. Top independent television stations have been shut down and print and online media have faced increasing pressure from officials.