CIVICUS

MonitorTracking civic space

Russia

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Last updated on 27.03.2019 at 16:14

Russia Overview

Civic space in Russia has closed markedly since 2012 as the state and its agents have unleashed a brutal and insidious assault on civil society, human rights groups, independent media and anyone that opposes the state.

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Judicial harassment against the members of Open Russia movement

Judicial harassment against the members of Open Russia movement

On 21st January 2019, the first criminal investigation under Article 284.1 of the Criminal Code (participation in the activities of an undesirable organisation) was filed against human rights defender Anastasia Shevchenko.

Association

On 21st January 2019, the first criminal investigation under Article 284.1 of the Criminal Code (participation in the activities of an undesirable organisation) was filed against human rights defender Anastasia Shevchenko. Anastasia is the Coordinator of the Otkrytaya Rossiya (Open Russia) movement in Rostov-on-Don. She has been under house arrest since then. 

Since the adoption of the law in July 2015, several organisations have been added to the list of “undesirable” organisations. In April 2017, UK-registered Open Russia and Open Russia Civic Movement were declared undesirable by Russia's Prosecutor General’s Office. 

A few months later, in March 2019, Maxim Vernikov, former coordinator of the ”Open Russia” Regional Center, was taken to the Investigation Committee for interrogation and is facing the same charge as Shevchenko. 

Amnesty International said

“The criminal case against Anastasia Shevchenko is profoundly flawed, and by forging ahead with it regardless, the Russian authorities are creating an abhorrent precedent. Anastasia has lost her freedom and yet she has not committed any recognizable criminal offence. The authorities are casting their net ever more widely, with another former Otkrytaya Rossiya’s employee, Maksim Vernikov, now also facing criminal proceedings. We call on Russia to stop this increasingly ugly persecution." 

On 18 March 2019, a court convicted human rights defender Oyub Titiev to 4 years in a prison. Titiev, is the head of the Chechen office of the Human Rights Centre Memorial in Grozny. He was charged with large-scale drug possession under Article 228 of the Criminal Code. As reported previously by the CIVICUS Monitor, Titiev was arrested on 9th January 2018 with police claiming he was in possession of a package containing 180 grams of a substance smelling like a drug. Titiev had previously denied the accusations.

The European Union issued a statement calling for his immediate and unconditional release and stating: 

"The sentencing of Oyub Titiev is directly connected to his human rights work for Memorial, an organisation that has been the subject of ongoing intimidation and harassment in the North Caucasus and beyond. We also believe that Mr Titiev has not received a fair trial. His sentencing continues a trend of arrests, attacks and discrediting of human rights defenders and journalists who work in that region of the Russian Federation." 

Peaceful Assembly

On 10th March 2019, thousands of people took to the streets in Moscow to protest proposed legislation that critics believe could "lead to censorship and create an 'online Iron Curtain' that cuts Russians off from the rest of the world". 

On 12th February  2019, the State Duma adopted in first reading a bill with the aim to " create a domestic internet". The government stated that the legislation will improve cyber-security and "will reduce Russia's reliance on internet servers in the United States". 

Reports indicated that at least 16 individuals were arrested ahead of the protest. 

Association in Russia

Since 2012, Russia’s infamous ‘foreign agents’ law has become the state’s principal tool in its deliberate campaign to weaken independent civil society and silence human rights groups.

Since 2012, Russia’s infamous ‘foreign agents’ law has become the state’s principal tool in its deliberate campaign to weaken independent civil society and silence human rights groups. The law authorises the Ministry of Justice to register organisations receiving foreign funding and engaging in ‘political activity’ on a list of ‘foreign agents’ and for any reports or opinion pieces produced by that organisation to also be labelled as such. No consent from the organisation is needed. In May 2016, the Duma amended the definition of ‘political activity’ in the law in a way that now includes almost any research or advocacy activity. These new rules have had very real consequences for civil society. Between 2014 and 2016, 126 groups were labelled as ‘foreign agents’ - 16 of those have shut down and 11 others have had the label removed after they stopped receiving foreign money. Officials have also used the law to target specific organisations – such as Agora - through the courts. Agora, a countrywide network of human rights lawyers and activists was dissolved by the courts in February 2016. Environmental organisations like Dauria have also been labelled ‘foreign agents’ under the law. Many other organisations have chosen to close, rather than be labelled as traitors by the government. The state, its agents and supporters are also increasingly engaging in intimidation and harassment of human rights organisations in Russia. Fuelled by vicious anti-gay rhetoric from state officials, violence against LGBTI groups and individuals is also on the rise in Russia. Foreign and international organisations are also now being targeted through a draft ‘undesirable organisations’ law, which passed its second reading in 2015. As a result of Russia's military aggression towards Ukraine, CSOs in Crimea also face risks and challenges due to a restrictive legal framework imposed by the Russian Federation since Crimea was annexed in 2014.

Peaceful Assembly in Russia

Although the right to protest was previously constrained, its scope has been even further restricted in the years since large anti-government protests took place on the streets of Moscow in 2012.

Although the right to protest was previously constrained, its scope has been even further restricted in the years since large anti-government protests took place on the streets of Moscow in 2012. These demonstrations led to new regulations governing peaceful public assemblies and meetings in Russia. Although less well known than the ‘foreign agents’ law, the new assembly rules are potentially as insidious, falling well short of international standards for the management of peaceful assemblies. The law increases fines for violating the rules on gatherings, provides that no gathering can continue past 10pm and establishes ‘specialised locations’, which are often far from the centre of urban areas in which assemblies should ideally take place. Outside of those areas, demonstrators must seek permission to gather. As the number of protests has dwindled in the years since 2012, and spontaneous protest has become virtually impossible, pro-government counter protest groups have been allowed to operate unimpeded, often leading to violent clashes with legitimate protest groups. LGBTI groups are particularly unable to exercise their freedom of peaceful assembly and in 2015 the Moscow Gay Pride March was banned for the tenth year in a row. In 2014, even harsher measures were passed by the Duma, introducing a penalty of up to five years in jail for those repeatedly breaching rules governing assemblies. The law has since been used to target peaceful protestors, including Ilgar Dildin who was jailed for three years in December 2015.

Expression in Russia

People in Russia are only free to safely express views which align with the official political, economic and social narratives of the state.

People in Russia are only free to safely express views which align with the official political, economic and social narratives of the state. The expression of alternative or critical views is severely punished, and there is evidence that the state is becoming even less tolerant of any form of dissent. Journalists who dare to investigate corruption, organised crime or human rights abuses face the very real risk of violent attack, murder or imprisonment. Crimes against journalists are rarely successfully investigated or prosecuted. The state has passed numerous restrictive laws aimed at creating total control over the media in Russia. Some laws specifically aim at the control of media ownership and require websites with more than 3,000 visitors a day to keep users’ data on servers in Russia, a move aimed at limiting the influence and freedom of bloggers and social media. Media freedoms are undermined in major cities and remote regions alike where, despite the proliferation of media outlets, editorial independence is undermined through a combination of official and self-imposed censorship. Aside from the media, the state has also passed laws to silence minority views, including those promoting the rights of LGBTI people.