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 false accusations, judicial harassment, arbitrary detention, ill-treatment and killing.

Following the 2011 parliamentary and 2012 presidential elections, there has been an upsurge in the number of cases of harassment against HRDs by authorities at different levels. 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.

In July 2012 a new law posing further restrictions on the work of NGOs was passed. The law defines any NGO receiving funds from abroad as a "foreign agent" – a term which has particularly negative connotations in the Russian language. The law also explicilty claims that some foreign-funded NGOs might be involved in extremist activities. This is the latest in a series of restrictive pieces of legislation that have been adopted since the 2006 NGO Law, which have severely restricted the space for civil society activism. They appear to form part of a wider strategy aimed at limiting, discrediting and delegitimising the work of human rights defenders all over the country.

Other restrictive legal provisions were included in recently adopted laws on defamation and on public meetings. They received strong criticism as they limited the capacity of human rights defenders to report or publicly protest human rights violations. In particular, the law on defamation provides for high fines for "libel and slander against a judge, prosecutor, investigator, assizer and bailiff", which it is feared may be used against HRDs who fight against institutionalised corruption. The law on public meetings increases the possibility that HRDs organising a demonstration may be targeted through the use of agents provocateurs, as it introduces an administrative responsibility of the organisers for the actions of any of the participants.

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. Members of the Joint Mobile Group have been verbally attacked by the President of Chechnya. The 2009 murder of prominent HRD Natalia Estemirova remain unpunished.

Attacks on LGBTI rights defenders have also been on the increase, in parallel to state-sponsored homophobia. The 2010 decison of European Court on Human Rights regarding the prohibition of 2008, 2009 and 2010 Moscow Prides was ignored by Moscow authortities. A number of cities, including St. Petersburg, adopted local laws on the "propaganda of homosexuality", which were used to attack or detain HRDs involved in any public LGBTI-related activism.


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