Home of the Kremlin and a vibrant civil society, Moscow was also the site of unprecedented mass demonstrations in 2011-2012 to protest election violations and Putin’s impending return to the presidency. After Putin’s 2012 election, the Kremlin unleashed a fierce crackdown on Russia’s civil society. Parliament adopted laws re-criminalizing libel, increasing by 30-fold maximum fines for violating rules on public assemblies, requiring certain nongovernment organizations (NGOs) to register as foreign agents, expanding the legal definition of treason, banning Russians who are also US nationals from heading Russian NGOs, criminalizing religious insult, banning “LGBT propaganda,” and banning adoptions of Russian orphans by foreigners from countries where same-sex marriage is legal. An inspection campaign hit hundreds of groups across Russia, and dozens are now in court protesting prosecutors’ warnings and orders to register as “foreign agents.” The “foreign agents” law forced the closure of Golos, an election watchdog in Moscow. The authorities are prosecuting over 20 participants of a mass demonstration at Bolotnaya Square in Moscow on the eve of Putin’s inauguration on disproportionate “mass rioting” charges as well as for alleged acts of violence against police officers. Fourteen are in pretrial custody, 9 for more than a year. One of the defendants was found guilty and sentenced to indefinite psychiatric detention.
On March 30, 2009, LGBT activist Irina Fedotova stood next to a secondary school in Ryazan with posters reading “Homosexuality is normal” and “I am proud of my homosexuality.” She was found in violation of a regional law banning “public actions aimed at propaganda of homosexuality among minors” and ordered to pay a 1,500-ruble ($45) fine. In October 2012, the UN Human Rights Committee called the Ryazan law “ambiguous and discriminatory” and found Russia had violated Fedotova’s right to free expression. This however, did not stop Russia’s federal parliament from adopting a similar ban in June 2013. In October 2013 Fedotova was acquitted.
In May 2013 a court fined the Kostroma Center for Support of Public Initiatives, an NGO, for violating the “foreign agents” law, pursuant to a complaint filed by the Ministry of Justice. The ministry singled out as “political activity” a roundtable the group held on US-Russia relations that a US embassy official attended. On August 12, 2013, the group lost its appeal against the ruling and immediately filed a complaint with Russia’s Constitutional Court.
On April 16, 2013, the local prosecutor’s office ordered the Yaroslavl regional hunters’ and fishermen society to register as a “foreign agent” due to elements of “political activity” reflected in its statute. Independent media outlets described the prosecutor’s decision as ridiculous.
St. Petersburg is one of Russia’s 11 regions that passed a local anti-LGBT “propaganda” law banning the promotion of “homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality, and transgenderism.” In April 2012, LGBT activist Nikolai Alexeyev picketed the city hall with a sign saying “homosexuality is not a perversion and was fined 5,000 rubles ($150) for violating this law. After the law’s adoption, harassment and physical attacks against LGBT persons and activists became more frequent. On June 29, 2013, after the adoption of the federal anti-“propaganda” law, a group of LGBT activists in St. Petersburg was attacked by counter-protestors during a demonstration in support of LGBT rights. At least six of the activists were hospitalized with various injuries.
Courts convicted and fined two St. Petersburg LGBT groups, Coming Out and the Side by Side film festival, for failing to register as “foreign agents.” On appeal, the case against “Coming Out” was sent for re-trial, but the ruling against “Side by Side” was at first upheld by a higher court, then vacated. Another LGBT group, the Sphere Foundation, was inspected by prosecutors in spring 2013. The local prosecutor’s office claimed that they had issued a notice requiring the group to register as a “foreign agent,” however the group said it never received the notice.
Kaliningrad region adopted an anti-gay “propaganda” law in January 2013. In contrast to 10 other regional anti-”propaganda” laws, which ban spreading “propaganda for homosexuality” among children, Kaliningrad’s law bans such “propaganda” among children and adults alike.
On September 18, the international environmental group Greenpeace organized a protest against oil drilling by the Russian state company Gazprom in the Barents Sea, with two activists attempting to climb up to an oil drilling platform. In response, Russian security forces raided the Greenpeace ship and towed it to Murmansk. A Murmansk court ordered all 30 activists detained without charges for two months pending an investigation into alleged piracy, and in early October all 30 were charged with piracy. On October 23 the Investigative Committee announced that it would drop the piracy charges against the activists and instead charge them with hooliganism, which is punishable by up to 7 years’ imprisonment.
Since 2012 the Federal Security Service has been subjecting Ivan Moseev, an academic and head of a local indigenous people’s group, to intrusive surveillance. They searched his home, confiscated his computers, hard drives, and research, questioned him about his trips abroad, and obtained a warrant to tap his phone. In March 2013, an Arkhangelesk court sentenced Moseev to a fine of 100,000 rubles ($3,200) on bogus insult charges.
The Komi Human Rights Commission “Memorial” (Memorial-Komi), an NGO in in Syktyvkar, carries out public oversight of police and defends prisoners’ rights. After the group publicly supported the protest movement in December 2011, local authorities detained some of its members, conducted a smear campaign against it in the regional media, and pressed trumped-up criminal charges against two staff members apparently in retaliation for a defamation suit the group filed against a local newspaper. In the wake of the campaign, there were several violent attacks against Memorial-Komi activists by neo-nationalists. On April 27, 2013, the group received an official warning that it could be in violation of the “foreign agents” law.
Three men kicked and stabbed 39-year-old Oleg Serdyuk to death in Kamchatka province on May 29, 2013 because they believed he was gay. Three suspects were arrested and the investigation is ongoing.
A geography teacher in Khabarovsk who is also an LGBT activist was forced to resign in September 2013 as a result of public pressure urging the local authorities to fire him because he is gay. Several days before his resignation, in an incident that appeared aimed at pressuring the teacher to quit, a group of anti-gay vigilantes forced the teacher into an alley, tried to grab his cell phone and make him talk about his sexual orientation. They did not physically injure him.
The Amur Environmental Club “Ulukitkan” defends the rights of indigenous peoples to preserve their traditional lifestyles and promotes sustainable use of natural resources. In April 2013 the local prosecutor’s office warned the group that it could be in violation of the “foreign agents” law. A local court upheld the warning after the group filed a complaint. In June 2013, it won a separate court case on alleged tax violations filed after a surprise inspection by the authorities.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man and former owner of the oil company Yukos, and his business associate, Platon Lebedev, were convicted in 2005 on fraud and tax evasion charges and handed an eight-year prison sentence, in what was widely believed to be a politically-motivated case in retaliation for Khrodokovsky’s open financial support to opposition political parties and nongovernmental groups. Khodorkovsky served part of his sentence in a hard labor camp in Chita province. In 2010, a court convicted Khodorkovsky and Lebedev on new, politically motivated money laundering and embezzlement charges with additional sentencing. Both men remain in prison.
As in other cities across Russia, in Ulan-Ude, people with disabilities struggle to obtain accessible housing, healthcare, transportation, and equal employment opportunities. For example, 45 year-old Irina, a single mother who uses a wheelchair, rarely leaves her municipal apartment because her building entrance lacks an accessible ramp, despite it being required by law. Irina is unable to work outside the home, buy groceries, or take her young daughter to school.
On April 23, 2013, the local prosecutor’s office ordered Baikal Environmental Wave, a prominent group that strives to protect Lake Baikal from industrial pollution, to register as a “foreign agent.” In June 2013 unidentified persons scrawled the words “Foreign Agents!” on the building where Baikal Environmental Wave has its office. Although the law exempts “defense of flora and fauna” from the definition of “political activity,” the prosecutor’s office issued “foreign agent” warnings to at least fourteen environmental groups in 13 cities.
On May 20, 2013, Krasnoyarsk doctor Aleftina Khorinyak and another woman were found guilty and fined 15,000 rubles ($450) on charges of illegal trafficking of controlled substances and forgery of documents after helping a man in the final stages of cancer and in debilitating pain obtain opioid pain medicines. An appeals court annulled the verdict due to the alleged failure by the defendants’ lawyer to provide effective legal defense and barred the lawyer from representing his clients in court. The court also ordered a retrial, which started on October 11. The accused appealed the ruling, which they consider unjust.
Police torture remains a serious problem throughout the Russian Federation. The largest number of torture complaints filed with the European Court of Human Rights are lodged against Russia. The story of Artur Leshko, documented by Public Verdict, an anti-torture group, in the city of Barnaul is a case in point. He was arrested in January 2011 and subjected to torture in custody, including beatings, chemical burns in his nose and mouth, and dousing with toilet water, in order to extract a confession. Despite severe injuries, he was denied immediate medical attention and has been unable to exercise his full legal rights, as authorities refuse to release all documentation relevant to his charges and his treatment. The case against Leshko’s torturers is finally in a Russian court, owing to the work of Public Verdict.
In April 2013 the local prosecutor’s office warned the Institute of Press Development - Siberia, which is based in Novosibirsk, that it could be in violation of the “foreign agents” law due to its public activities aimed at strengthening civil society and democratic principles in Russia and recommended that it register as a “foreign agent.” The group appealed the warning, but a court ruled in favor of the prosecutor’s office.
On April 26, 2013, the local prosecutor’s office warned the Information and Human Rights Center that it could be in violation of the “foreign agents” law. The warning singled out the group’s work to raise awareness of the country’s totalitarian past and promote the rule of law and protection of individual rights.
In April 2013 the local prosecutor’s office warned four NGOs that they could be in violation of the “foreign agents” law and recommended that they look into registering as such. The groups are “Golos - Urals” Foundation, the Urals Democratic Foundation, the Urals Human Rights Group, and For Nature.
In May 2013, the local prosecutor’s office warned the International Standard Foundation that it should consider registering as a foreign agent. The warning singled out the group’s foreign-funded project to promote security for human rights activists and skills training for housing committees, stating that these projects sought to influence public opinion and are therefore related to “political activity.”
Golos (“voice” or “vote” in Russian) is a large network of election monitoring groups in Russia’s regions. Its headquarters in Moscow became the first organization to be shut down because of the “foreign agents” law, and numerous regional Golos groups received warnings and notices to register as “foreign agent” organizations. In April 2013, the Golos - Volga Region Foundation, based in Samara, received its warning from the local prosecutor’s office.
In August 2012, several months before the “foreign agents” law entered into force, the administration chief for the Mari El Republic (of which Yoshkar-Ola is the capital) wrote a letter to local officials, warning them about the “activation of foreign and domestic non-profit organizations.” The letter urged them to make sure that their staff limits involvement in “programs and events by foreign and Russian non-profit groups.” The unmistakable message was to stop cooperating with these groups altogether.
On April 30, 2013, local authorities ordered the Agora Association, which provides free legal assistance to nongovernmental organizations and civil society activists, to register as a “foreign agent,” citing as “political activity” its project on Internet freedom and its official authorization to evaluate laws and regulations for compliance with anticorruption standards.
Perm region, which was home to many Stalinist gulags, has a strong human rights movement. In April 2013 the authorities ordered four leading civil society groups in the city of Perm to register as “foreign agents.” The groups- Perm Civic Chamber, Perm Human Rights Center, Youth “Memorial” and GRANI Center for Civic Analysis and Independent Research - are challenging the orders in court.
On July 18, 2013, a court in Kirov convicted anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny and his business partner, Pyotr Ofitserov, on politically-tainted embezzlement charges and sentenced them to five and four years of imprisonment, respectively. The next day a judge ordered their temporary release so that Navalny could run in the September 2013 Moscow mayoral election, which he then lost to the Kremlin-backed candidate. In October, their sentence was suspended on appeal.
Nizhny Novgorod is known for its active civil society and political opposition. In 2012 local authorities violently dispersed protest rallies and frequently harassed and detained local activists. Unknown assailants attacked several activists in 2012, and there has been no effective criminal investigation into these attacks.
NNadezhda Tolokonnikova, one of the three members of feminist punk group Pussy Riot sentenced to two years in prison, is serving her sentence in a penal colony in Mordovia region, of which Saransk is the capital. In August 2012 a judge found the three guilty of charges of “hooliganism” for a 40-second political prank in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral. In October 2012, one of the three, Ekaterina Samutsevich, was released on a suspended sentence. Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyekhina, however, have repeatedly been denied parole. In September 2013, Tolokonnikova went on a hunger strike to protest work and living conditions and sleep deprivation as well as alleged threats from the penal colony’s leadership. In October she was transferred to another penal colony.
No to Alcoholism and Drug Addiction is an NGO in Saratov that helps young people overcome drug and alcohol problems and raises awareness about addiction. On November 28, 2012, a regional department of the Ministry of Justice warned the group for allegedly failing to file a report on foreign funding in 2011, mistakenly citing the 2012 “foreign agents” law. The Ministry retracted its finding, but asked the group to correct other “errors” in its documents.
In April 2013, police officers and investigative personnel in Orel searched the apartments of prominent local human rights defenders, Dmitry Kraiukhin and Veronika Katkova. The search warrant stated that Kraiukhin and Katkova had met one of the leaders of the 2011-2012 protest movements, Sergei Udaltsov to discuss getting Orel residents involved in a large-scale public protest. Law enforcement officials took Krayukhin’s computer, a laptop, and several USB drives to the regional police’s “Center for Combating Extremism,” where they examined the equipment looking for documents related to “plotting mass riots,” found none, and returned the equipment
On January 20, 2013, a mob attacked six LGBT activists in Voronezh during a protest against the parliamentary vote on the federal anti-LGBT “propaganda” law. Counter-protesters threw plastic bottles filled with liquid and cans of paint at the LGBT activists and kicked one of them until he lost consciousness. Police present at the protest did not intervene. There has been no effective investigation into this attack.
On May 9, 2013, several men raped Vladislav Tornovoy, 23, with beer bottles and killed him by smashing his head with a large rock. One of the suspects allegedly confessed that they had killed Tornovoy after he said he was gay. The criminal investigation continues.
Spillover effects from Russia’s two wars in Chechnya in the 1990s have turned Dagestan into Russia’s conflict hot spot, with an intense Islamist insurgency. Dagestan is extremely dangerous for independent journalists investigating abuses and lawlessness. Akhmednabi Akhmednabiyev, deputy chief editor of a local independent weekly, was gunned down outside his home in July 2013 in connection with his work. His murder parallels the killing of another prominent local journalist, Gadzhimurad Kamalov, shot in December 2011, also in connection with his work. In September 2009, both men’s names appeared on leaflets calling for the killing of civic activists, journalists, and lawyers as alleged supporters of insurgents. Kamalov and Akhmednabiyev had each reported the threats to the authorities, but they took no action to protect those named on the leaflet’s list.
Natalia Estemirova, a leading human rights activist in Chechnya who worked for the Memorial Human Rights Center, was abducted near her home in Grozny and murdered in July 2009. Estemirova’s death is part of a broader pattern of violence and harassment against human rights defenders in the volatile North Caucasus that has only deteriorated since 2009. It is also a reminder of the Russian authorities’ failure to implement hundreds of rulings by the European Court of Human Rights, some of which resulted from cases Estemirova had helped bring forward. The authorities have yet to fully investigate Estimorova’s murder or bring the perpetrators to justice. Her case is emblematic of the culture of impunity for violence against human rights activists and journalists in the region.
On October 25, 2009, a popular local opposition activist and human rights advocate, Maksharip Aushev, was gunned down by unknown assailants who sprayed his car with more than sixty bullets. Aushev was an outspoken critic of law enforcement and security agencies and led several large public protests in Ingushetia, of which Magas is the capital, calling for an end to impunity for human rights violations in the republic. His killing which remains unpunished to this day.
Rasul Kudaev and over 50 others have been held in pre-trial detention in Nalchik for the past eight years, accused of participating in an October 2005 armed uprising against the local government. Kudaev, a former Guantanamo detainee, was severely tortured in custody in an attempt to extract a confession. Authorities also denied him immediate access to an independent medical examination and appropriate treatment after his health seriously deteriorated in December 2008. The trial against Kudaev and others has become the longest in modern Russian history. Authorities have yet to effectively investigate his mistreatment in detention.
Although they lacked a warrant, officials forced the NGO Environmental Watch of the North Caucasus (EWNC), which is based in Maykop, to provide access to its emails during a surprise inspection conducted in spring 2013. The inspectors urged the group not to publish its report on the environmental consequences of preparations for the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi in order “not to harm the country.” After the inspection, the local prosecutors’ office issued a EWNC a warning that it could be in violation of the “foreign agents” law and recommended that it register as a “foreign agent.”
Mikhail Savva, a professor and prominent leader of an independent nongovernmental group promoting interethnic understanding, was arrested on April 12, 2013, and charged with fraudulent use of a government grant. Police questioned Savva extensively about his connections with American organizations, raising concerns that the case is politically tainted. Hearings on the merits for the trial against Savva are scheduled to begin on November 5, 2013. If convicted Savva, who has been behind bars since his arrest, faces up to five years in prison.
The government’s preparations for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games resulted in numerous human rights abuses, including: exploitation of many workers engaged in Olympic construction; some evictions to make way for Olympic construction without fair compensation; the refusal to relocate people whose homes were severely damaged or affected by Olympic construction; and pressure on and harassment of environmental and human rights activists and journalists criticizing Olympic preparations or other government policies.
Ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, the Olympic Torch will travel through hundreds of cities across Russia, showcasing Russia’s human and geographic diversity. This map highlights a selection of human rights stories from across Russia that are less visible to Olympic fans and reveals the reach of the Kremlin’s crackdown on human rights.
Some are examples of the government’s 2013 campaign to demonize many human rights and other independent groups by trying to force them to register as “foreign agents.” Others show rising homophobia in Russia, especially after the adoption of anti-gay “propaganda” laws by local legislatures and the federal parliament. Still others tell stories of police torture; the authorities’ failure to adequately investigate killings of journalists and human rights advocates; as well as challenges to accessibility for people with disabilities and restrictions on palliative care for people in debilitating pain.