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September 13, 2017

Gianni Infantino
Fédération Internationale de Football Association
FIFA-Strasse 20,
P.O. Box 8044, Zurich, Switzerland

Dear President Infantino,

We value the dialogue that we have had with FIFA to date regarding human rights concerns linked to the Russian government’s preparations for and hosting of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. We are writing to share additional human rights concerns regarding freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. As we outline below, FIFA can act to ensure that the 2018 FIFA World Cup is not improperly utilized to restrict freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.

We would also like to share information, attached, about Human Rights Watch’s methodology that we hope would be useful in our ongoing dialogue.

Undue Restrictions on Freedom of Expression and Peaceful Protest

On May 10, 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed Presidential Decree No. 202, which places restrictions on public assemblies unrelated to official Confederations or World Cup events. The restrictions apply before, during and after the Confederations Cup (from June 1, 2017 to July 12, 2017) and the World Cup (from May 25, 2018 to July 25, 2018) matches. During these time periods, public assemblies may only take place in World Cup host cities if Russia’s Federal Security Service and Ministry of Interior have officially approved the time, route, and number of participants, through an application the organizers file with local authorities.

Human Rights Watch found that in June and July 2017, Russian authorities relied on Presidential Decree No. 202 to detain at least 33 people who were peacefully assembling or peacefully expressing their views individually. In none of these cases did the individuals detained use or threaten violence. In none of these cases did these individuals’ activities pose security risks to events or people participating in or connected to the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup, or any other security or public order risk. 

Notably, several cases involved individuals detained for holding single-person pickets. The authorities had no grounds to qualify any single person action as a public gathering or to detain the individuals on the basis of any laws and decrees on public gatherings. Russian Federal Law states that single person pickets do not require permission or notification to the authorities. Decree No. 202 does not include requirements for or place restrictions on single pickets.

Also detained under the auspices of Decree No. 202 were a teenager silently protesting against internet restrictions near the Ministry of Communications in Moscow; at least a dozen anti-corruption protestors at a park in central in St. Petersburg on June 12; and two volunteers who distributed leaflets in Kazan in July in support of opposition presidential candidate Alexei Navalny, but who were not part of any public assembly. 

In some cases, individuals were charged with a violation of and found guilty of violating Decree No. 202. In other cases, court decisions cited Decree No. 202, but found those charged in violation of other laws on assemblies. In some cases, police cited Decree No. 202 as grounds for detaining an individual, but those detained were charged under laws related to assemblies or released without charge.

Details of each of these cases are attached.

The Russian authorities have severely restricted peaceful assembly in recent years. They have detained and brought criminal charges against peaceful, non-violent protestors and organizers and used disproportionate force to break up peaceful protests. They have also enacted laws that increase fines for unauthorized public gatherings and allow the authorities to press criminal charges, and to impose a maximum three-years prison sentence, against people for repeated participation in unsanctioned gatherings, even if they are peaceful. Human Rights Watch and others have documented these violations. For example, see:

International Standards on the Right to Free Expression and Peaceful Assembly

Russia is a party to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), both of which guarantee the rights to free expression and to peaceful assembly, as does the Russian constitution.

The Russian government has an obligation to provide security ahead of and during events such as the World Cup. To that end there may be legitimate reasons to restrict certain gatherings of people who pose a direct threat to the safety and security of those participating in or attending major sporting events. However, international law requires that any restrictions on peaceful assembly be proportionate and strictly necessary. The authorities have an obligation to seek out the least intrusive way to achieve its legitimate objective. 

Human Rights Watch believes that Presidential Decree No. 202 is in and of itself overly broad and a disproportionate restriction on freedom of assembly and free expression. In addition, the manner in which the authorities have invoked it has not been proportionate and has violated the rights of those detained to freedom of expression and to peaceful assembly.

In the cases documented by Human Rights Watch regarding Decree No. 202, those detained had not received permission for the picket or assembly in which they participated. The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly emphasized that a lack of authorization for a peaceful protest does not justify infringements on freedom of assembly, but rather that the authorities should show tolerance toward peaceful protesters.

In the cases documented by Human Rights Watch regarding Decree No.202, several of those detained were fined for allegedly violating laws on assemblies. The European Court of Human Rights has also made it clear that the freedom to take part in a peaceful assembly is so important that participants should not be subjected to any penalty – even at the lower end of the scale – for participation in a demonstration that has been prohibited, so long as the person does not commit any individual reprehensible act.

The government also has a duty to investigate and remedy violations of the right to assembly and free expression.

Recommendations on protections for peaceful demonstrators

Freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are fundamental rights. Human Rights Watch encourages FIFA to ask the Russian government to revise Presidential Decree No. 202 so that the authorities cannot use it to arbitrarily restrict peaceful assemblies and free expression during the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup.

We also encourage FIFA to insist that the Russian government conduct investigations into violations of the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly during the period before and during the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in the cases identified in this annex. 

By acting on these human rights concerns, FIFA can engender a safe environment for people to publicly speak out peacefully as individuals or to publicly gather peacefully with others without undue and arbitrary restrictions on their fundamental rights.

FIFA has made an important commitment in its human rights policy to “exercise its leverage ... in connection with adverse human rights impacts arising through its business relationships,” and “to promote the protection of human rights and positively contribute to their enjoyment, especially where it is able to apply effective leverage to help increase said enjoyment.”

Thank you for your continued engagement with Human Rights Watch on human rights issues. We look forward hearing from you, including with regard to the serious concerns raised in our June 28, 2017 letter, to which we have yet to receive a response. We note in particular that we are waiting to receive a response from you regarding the detention of Human Rights Watch’s researcher Semyon Simonov in Volgograd in April 2017.



Jane Buchanan

Associate Director

Europe and Central Asia Division, Children’s Rights Division

Human Rights Watch


Minky Worden


Global Initiatives

Human Rights Watch


Annex I: Cases of arrests for peaceful protests or other peaceful activities in which Presidential Decree No. 202, “Specifications for the use of enhanced security measures during the FIFA World Cup 2018 and the FIFA Confederations Cup 2017 in the Russian Federation,” was invoked. The information below is based on Human Rights Watch interviews and on Russian media sources.

Single Picketer Protests

Ildar Dadin

On July 5, 2017 activist Ildar Dadin[1] was arrested for holding an individual picket near the Federal Security Service building in Moscow. Dadin was calling for the release of a detained political activist who had been arrested for chanting slogans during a peaceful protest in May. The publicly-available court decision states that Dadin violated Presidential Decree No, 202 and Federal Law #54(2004) “On Assemblies, Meetings, Demonstrations, Marches and Picketing,” and fined him 20,000 rubles (US$349) for an administrative violation.[2]

Roman Petrishchev and Mikhail Lashkevich

Police detained Roman Petrishchev on July 4, 2017 when he held a single person picket near a Moscow court where a hearing in the trial against those charged with the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was taking place. A local court found Petrishchev had violated regulations on public gatherings and held an unauthorized picket while Decree 202 No. 202 was in effect. Petrishchev was fined 10,000 rubles (US$ 170) for an administrative violation. Petrishchev told Human Rights Watch:

When I held the picket, the police told me that I had to stop, and if I didn’t they would detain me under Decree 202. I told them that Decree 202 does not ban single-person pickets, and that according to the [Russian] Constitution, rights and freedoms of citizens can only be limited by federal law. I did not stop the picket, and the police detained me.[3]

Just before police detained Petrishchev, other officers detained Mikhail Lashkevich, an acquaintance of Petrishchev’s who was also holding a single picket near the court. The police also referred to Decree 202 when detaining Lashkevich, but later released him without charges.[4]

Vera Shikhova

Police detained Vera Shikhova four times on Manezh Square in central Moscow, near Red Square, on June 16, June 17, June 20, and July 12, claiming she was violating Decree No. 202. Shikhova was protesting alone on behalf of her son who has a physical disability, seeking to secure full implementation of a court decision awarding her son disability status so he could get the medicines and related benefits to which he is entitled. She was released on all occasions without charge.[5] 

Sergei Mitrokhin and other single picketers in Moscow

On June 14, 2017, police detained Sergey Mitrokhin, leader of the Moscow branch of the opposition political party “Yabloko,” near the Russian State Duma as he held a single person picket against proposed house reconstruction in Moscow and took him to a local police precinct. Shortly after detaining Mitrokhin, police detained at least 13 other individuals who also held single pickets in the area, taking them to the same precinct. Those detained stated that police told them their detentions were related to limits on assemblies during the Confederations Cup authorized by Decree 202. On August 8, a court ordered Mitrokhin to pay a fine of 15,000 rubles (US$261) for violating administrative regulations on public gatherings.[6]

Teenager protesting Internet restrictions

On June 27, police detained a 17-year old Nikita Martinov in front of the Ministry of Communications in Moscow. Martinov was one of a handful of activists in St. Petersburg and Moscow who took part in spontaneous actions called “A Funeral for the Ministry of Communications,” during which they laid carnations at ministry buildings to protest a new law banning virtual private networks (VPNs) and the web browser Tor, and the potential ban on the online messaging service Telegram. The activists did not organize a demonstration or shout slogans. According to Martinov, while detaining him, police referred to Decree No. 202 and restrictions on public gatherings in conjunction with the Confederations Cup. Police held Martinov for approximately two and a half hours, and issued a warning to his mother for “failing to perform parental duties.”[7] 

At Least 12 Anti-corruption Activists in St. Petersburg

On June 12, 2017 demonstrators gathered at the Marsovoe Polye park in central St. Petersburg for an anti-corruption protest, one of many such demonstrations that took place across Russia on the same day. Police detained hundreds of participants in different cities. In St. Petersburg, police detained dozens of demonstrators, finding at least some of them in violation of Decree No. 202.

Human Rights Watch reviewed the charge sheets and court rulings of two demonstrators detained in St. Petersburg. A court found the demonstrators to be in violation of Decree 202 and Federal Law 54(2004). They were each fined for administrative offenses.[8]

Aleksandr Peredruk, a St. Petersburg-based lawyer, documented at least 10 other cases of protesters detained on June 12 in Saint-Petersburg and sanctioned for violating regulations on public gatherings or disobeying police orders, or both. In one case, the court found a demonstrator in violation of Decree No. 202 and Federal Law 54(2004) and fined him under the Administrative Code. In the other nine cases the court decisions specifically reference Decree No. 202, but did not directly invoke it in finding the participants guilty of other administrative violations.[9]

Organizers had notified the St. Petersburg administration of the June 12 protest in advance, as required by law. The city administration denied permission to hold the demonstration at Marsovoe Polye, invoking Decree 202, but gave no specific reasons for not authorizing the demonstration in this location in central St. Petersburg, where it would be easily accessible to people wishing to participate. The authorities offered Udelny Park, on the outskirts of St. Petersburg, as an alternative location, which the organizers rejected.

Previously, on May 19, 2017, Peredruk and two others filed a notification with the St. Petersburg city administration for a gathering on June 1 at Marsovoe Polye on the theme of international Children’s Day. Peredruk expected around 600 participants. However, on May 23, the city authorities denied the permit and proposed Udelny Park as an alternative. The authorities referenced Decree No. 202 as justification for denying permission for the gathering in the city center. Peredruk and his co-organizers are appealing the decision of the city administration through the courts.[10]

Two Political Opposition Volunteers

In Kazan, on July 8, local anti-extremism police detained Anatoliy Malov and Andrey Boyarshinov, two supporters of opposition activist Alexei Navalny while they were handing out leaflets in support of Navalny’s 2018 presidential campaign.  A short time later, a local court determined that the distribution of leaflets constituted a public assembly.

On July 13, 2017, police came to Malov’s home and detained him, and a local court referenced Decree No. 202 when finding him in violation of Administrative Code regulations on assemblies. The court ordered Malov to perform 30 hours of public service.[11] On August 2, a court sentenced Boyarshinov to 15 days’ administrative detention for violating regulations on public gatherings and referenced Decree No. 202. Boyarshinvov had also been sanctioned for administrative offenses for his participation in peaceful protests on March 26 and June 12, 2017.[12]

[1] “Russia: Peaceful Protestor Alleges Torture,” Human Rights Watch News Release, February 27, 2017,

[2] In accordance with Administrative Code of the Russian Federation, article 20.2 part 5. Decision, no. № 5-2022/17, Meshchansky District Court, Moscow, July 7, 2017, (accessed September 6, 2017); “In Moscow Ilgar Dadin is Detained Near the FSB Building [В Москве у здания ФСБ задержан Ильдар Дадин], July 5, 2017, (accessed September 6, 2017);  “Dadin is Fined 20,000 for A Picket Near the FSB Building in Moscow, [Дадина оштрафовали на 20 тысяч рублей за пикет у здания ФСБ в Москве],”Novaya Gazeta, July 7, 2017, (accessed September 6, 2017).

[3] Human Rights Watch correspondence with Roman Petrishchev, August 29 and 30, 2017.

[4] Human Rights Watch correspondence with Roman Petrishchev on August 29 and 30, 2017. “An Activist, Picketing During the Hearing on the Nemtsov Murder, Was Detained Under the Prohibition on Assemblies during the Confederations Cup,” [Активиста, вышедшего с пикетом во время суда по делу об убийстве Немцова, задержали из-за запрета акций на время Кубка конфедераций], MediaZona, July 4, 2017, (accessed September 6, 2017).

[5] “On Manezh Square, Mother of a Minor, Vera Shikohva is Detained, [На Манежной площади задержана мать шахтера Вера Шихова],” Radio Liberty, June 16, 2017, (accessed September 6, 2017). “In Central Moscow, Mother of a Minor, Vera Shikhova is Detained Again, [В центре Москвы вновь задержана мать шахтера Вера Шихова],” Radio Liberty, June 17, 2017, (accessed September 6, 2017); “Sport Beats The Right to Assemblies, [Спорт победил право на митинги],” Kommersant, July 7, 2017, (accessed September 6, 2017); “In Central Moscow, Activist Vera Shikova is Detained Again [В центре Москвы вновь задержали активистку Веру Шихову], Radio Liberty, July 12, 2017, (accessed September 6, 2017).

[6] Administrative Code article 20.2, part 5. The court decision is not available online so it is not possible to determine if Decree No. 202 was invoked in the decision. “Near the State Duma Several Single Picketers Protesting Against Renovations Are Detained [У Государственной Думы задержаны несколько участников одиночных пикетов против реновации],, June 14, 2017,  (accessed September 6, 2017); “Sergei Mitrokhin is Fined for a Picket at the State Duma Building Against ‘Renovations’ [Сергея Митрохина оштрафовали за пикет против «реновации» у здания Совфеда], MediaZona, August 8, 2017 (accessed September 6, 2017).

[7] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Nikita Martinov, August 29, 2017. “A Minor is Detained in Moscow for Laying Flowers at the Ministry of Communications Building” [В Москве за возложение цветов к зданию Минкомсвязи задержали несовершеннолетнего],, June 27, 2017, (accessed September 6, 2017); “Sport Beats The Right to Assemblies, [Спорт победил право на митинги],” Kommersant, July 7, 2017.

[8] Court decision in the case of both demonstrators on file with Human Rights Watch. One of the demonstrators was charged with violating regulations on public gatherings (Administrative Code article 20.2, part 5) and disobeying police orders (Administrative Code article 19.3, part 1), and was fined 15,200 rubles (US$253). The other received same charges and was fined 11,000 rubles (US$192). In June 2017, Human Rights Watch interviewed several June 12 protesters detained in St Petersburg. See, Russia: Peaceful Protestors Detained, Abused,

[9] Human Rights Watch interview with Aleksandr Peredruk, August 30, 2017. Human Rights Watch reviewed the charge sheet and court decision in three of the cases.

[10] Human Rights Watch interview with Aleksandr Peredruk, August 30, 2017. Letter from St. Petersburg City Administration, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[11] Administrative Code article. 20.2, part 5. Decision on Administrative Case no. 5-1119/17, June 13, 2017, Vakhitovsk District Court, Kazan,;  “In Kazan, a Navalny Volunteer Got 30 Hours Compulsory Work for Distributing Leaflets [В Казани волонтеру штаба Навального дали 30 часов обязательных работ за раздачу листовок],” July 14, 2017,, (accessed September 6, 2017).

[12] Administrative code article 20.2, part 8. Decision on Administrative Case no. № 5-1186/2017, Vakhitovsk District Court, Kazan, (accessed September 6, 2017).

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