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.read more
On 25th July 2019, Russia’s Attorney General’s Office announced that the Washington-based think tank, the Atlantic Council, was declared an “undesirable organisation” on Russian territory.
Russia bans the Atlantic Council, a U.S. think tank https://t.co/3aGYZZHFDS— Dr Alina Polyakova (@apolyakova) July 25, 2019
On 25th July 2019, Russia’s Attorney General’s Office announced that the Washington-based think tank, the Atlantic Council, was declared an “undesirable organisation” on Russian territory. The statement explained the reasons for the decision as "it was established that the activities of this organisation pose a threat to the fundamentals of the Russian Federation’s constitutional system and security."
In a separate incident, on 22nd July 2019, Yelena Grigoryeva, an activist for the Alliance of Heterosexuals and LGBT People for Equal Rights was found murdered. Grigoryeva had reportedly notified the police that she was receiving death threats from unknown people, but the police did not take any further action.
After her death, the St. Petersburg LGBTQI rights organisation “Vykhod” (Exit) requested the police to investigate the involvement of the “Saw Against LGBT” movement. According to the organisation, the anti-LGBTQI movement published a list of activists against whom it claimed to be preparing “very dangerous and brutal gifts.” Yelena Grigoryeva was included in the list.
All our solidarity and love to Yelena Grigoryeva's family, friends and loved ones, and to all our communities in Russia https://t.co/Q6fKtHOwfM— ILGA World (@ILGAWORLD) July 23, 2019
Local elections in the spotlight: Protests for Moscow City Council
A wave of protests started in Moscow in mid-July 2019, sparked by the electoral committee's decision to prevent some opposition candidates from running in the next city council election scheduled for 9th September 2019. The authorities claimed that the candidates failed to provide valid signatures. This claim is denied by the opposition candidates. The protests continued over the following days, gathering around 20,000 people requesting fair elections.
On 27th July 2019, as citizens started gathering for another day of protest, the police blocked protesters from reaching the City Hall. According to an independent monitoring group, at least 1,300 people were arrested that day. Days before the protest -which was not authorised by the government- Aleksei A. Navalny, the opposition leader who had called for the demonstration, was sentenced to 30 days in jail for planning to lead the demonstration. Other candidates were also detained, including lya Yashin, the head of the Krasnoselsky municipal district of Moscow; Dmitry Gudkov, former State Duma member and municipal deputy Yulia Galiamina.
Amnesty International issued a statement calling for the release of peaceful protesters:
“Russian authorities today hit a new low by imposing military law-like security measures on the unsanctioned rally, blocking access to major Moscow streets and shutting down businesses in advance of the demonstration despite the absence of credible reports of potential violence."
On 3rd August 2019, the protests continued and authorities again used force against protesters, detaining at least 800 people, including minors. In addition, it was reported that at least 18 protesters were hospitalised due to injures suffered during their arrest.
The Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner, Dunja Miyatovic, sent an open letter to Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev. calling on decision-makers "to review the methods and criteria used by police to identify and detain people during peaceful gatherings."
Petition against police anonymity
Several citizens in Russia launched an online petition to request law enforcement officials to wear visible identification, including on their helmets. The initiative comes as a result of the numerous acts of violence used by law enforcement forces on citizens, especially during the protests. The authors of the petition claim that they want to eliminate the anonymity of police involved in acts of violence and to help identify those who are guilty of using force against citizens.
Moscow set for fresh protests, the latest in a wave of demonstrations after opposition figures were banned from local elections https://t.co/Ueg4s9kK18— AFP news agency (@AFP) August 17, 2019
📷 rally in Moscow August 10 after mass police detentions pic.twitter.com/SLD8YdOOKv
On 25th July 2019, Mikhail Romanov, a journalist for Yakutsk Vecherny (The Evening Yakutsk), was sentenced to a fine of 30,000 rubles ($475) by the city court of Yakutsk, on charges of “abuse of freedom of information by publishing false information that poses a threat to the public". According to reports, the charges were brought after Romanov published an article in April 2019 reporting claims that Federal Security Service agents tortured academic and activist Anton Ammosov.
On 6th June 2019, Meduza investigative journalist Ivan Golunov was detained in Moscow and charged with "possession of a controlled substance" after the police claimed to have found a package inside his bag containing an “unidentified substance,” which they later identified as mephedrone (a synthetic amphetamine). Golunov was only allow to see a lawyer after 14 hours in detention and he claimed he was beaten while in detention.
The media community and supporters protested the detention, arguing its link to his work exposing corruption. After the detention sparked a national and international outcry, the journalist was released and charges against him were dropped.
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.
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.
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.