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Human rights defenders (HRDs) in the Russian Federation have been subjected to acts of harassment, surveillance, violations of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, violent attacks, raids and searches on their offices and homes, slander and smear campaigns, judicial harassment, arbitrary detention and ill-treatment.
Among the HRDs who are particularly at risk are those involved on issues such as election monitoring, the situation in the North Caucasus (particularly Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan), xenophobia and nationalism, and LGBTI rights. Environmental rights defenders have been particularly exposed to physical and verbal attacks in recent years. Those expressing criticism of the authorities or attempting to organise protests are also routinely targeted.
The situation deteriorated with the return of Vladimir Putin to the presidency, for a third term, in May 2012. It was followed by a violent crackdown on peaceful protesters and the adoption of several laws restrictive of civil society space.
The entry into force of the so-called 'Foreign Agent' law, in December 2012, marked the start of the most severe crackdown against HRDs since the end of Soviet era. The law required organisations receiving foreign funding and carrying out “political activities” to register as foreign agents. However, the definition of “political activities” is extremely broad and has been interpreted as encompassing groups carrying out human rights advocacy or defending of voters' rights.
Following its entry into force, the Ministry of Justice and the Office of the Prosecutor issued warnings against more than 50 organisations, and 18 groups received official notices of violation of the law. The authorities filed nine administrative court cases and at least five civil law suits, and ordered two prominent election watchdog groups to suspend their work. Several groups received heavy fines for refusing to register. Human rights organisations appealed such decisions in courts, and in a number of cases the courts ruled in their favour. Ten organisations challenged “foreign agents” law as unconstitutional in Russia's Constitutional Court, but in April 2014 the Court upheld the law. Thirteen organisations have filed a complaint against the law before the European Court of Human Rights. In June 2014, new amendments were introduced allowing the Ministry of Justice to add organisations to the list of “foreign agents” without their consent or court order.
Since the entry into force of the law, no human rights organisation has voluntary registered. However, several groups had to shut down their activities. Judicial harassment was followed by smear campaigns in state-controlled media, presenting Russia's human rights defenders as traitors, spies or unpatriotic. As a result, a number of HRDs experienced attacks and threats from nationalistic groups and unidentified people.
In April 2013, Parliament adopted a federal law prohibiting “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships” (so-called “propaganda of homosexuality” law) which directly discriminated against Russia's LGBTI community and prohibited any form of advocacy on LGBTI issues. The adoption of this law contributed to promoting violence and intolerance against LGBT people. Dozens of LGBTI rights defenders were intimidated and attacked by nationalistic and pro-Kremlin groups, especially during public rallies, and were violently detained and fined by authorities.
Since the annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and the conflict in eastern Ukraine, peace activists, conscripts' and soldiers' rights defenders were targeted by the authorities and by aggressive nationalistic and pro-government groups. There were reports of deportations and arbitrary detention of Crimea Tatars' rights defenders.
Human rights defenders and NGOs working on the human rights situation in Chechnya remained subject to harassment, pressure from authorities, unfounded accusations and smear campaigns.
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22 December 2015
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