Office of Human Rights Group Raided by Russian Police

Russian police raided the office of a human rights group in central Tatarstan region, confiscating computers and detaining the director in a fresh blow to the country's beleaguered rights movement.

The raid Monday night on the Kazan Human Rights Center in the Tatarstan's capital was staged just days after a rights activist was killed in the southern province of Chechnya.

Tatarstan police described it as a routine search and part of an investigation into possible tax violations, saying it did not concern the group's human rights work.

Rights Center employee Andrei Suchkov said, however, that police detained the group's director for questioning and were likely seeking information on the group's ongoing investigation into alleged rights violations by Kazan police.

Suchkov said 10 officers confiscated computers and financial documents while locking employees inside until early Tuesday morning.

Rights activists face hurdles in Russia ranging from bureaucratic barriers and harassment to violent attacks.

Natalya Estemirova, a dogged activist who reported on abuses in war-scarred Chechnya, was abducted and killed last week in an attack that caused international outrage.

The Kremlin said Monday that President Dmitry Medvedev signed legislation easing restrictions on human rights groups and other non-governmental organization.

The legislation is one of the few palpable signs of change in the Kremlin's treatment of independent organizations since Medvedev succeeded Vladimir Putin as president last year. But activists say the law applies only to a limited number of groups, and that organizations that are internationally funded such as the Kazan Human Rights Center continue to be viewed with suspicion.