In 2022, the coalition of Russian society organizations prepared three alternative reports on the state of human rights in Russia for the sessions of the UN Human Rights Committee. The first report was submitted in January 2022, second report was submitted in May and third — in August. Overall, 12 organizations participated in drafting of these reports. The reports cover human rights violations existed before the start of the armed conflict in Ukraine on February 24, as well as internal repressions in the context of anti-war movement.

Due to the failure of the Russian delegation to attend firstly the 134th session and then 135th session, the Committee postponed the review of Russia twice. In this regard, the Committee called for the updates of the reports provided by civil society in January 2022. Thus, Russian human rights defenders prepared three alternative reports instead of one, as is usually the case. Each subsequent report complements the previous one and provides the updated data and additional information.

Information on the Russian Federation for the 134th session of the UN Human Rights Committee

Introduction

This report is submitted to the UN Human Rights Committee («Committee») by a coalition of civil society organizations in the Russian Federation in response to the Committee’s call for information regarding its 134th session. This report is presented in the form of responses to the paragraphs of the Committee’s List of issues (hereinafter «LOI») in relation to the eighth periodic report of the Russian Federation.

The following organizations contributed to this report:

OVD-Info, a leading Russian human rights project on freedom of assembly and political persecution.

Human Rights Center «Memorial», a Russian NGO that focuses on protecting human rights, especially in conflict zones in and around modern Russia since 1992.

SOVA Center for Information and Analysis was founded in 2002 and is focused on xenophobia, nationalism, freedom of religion and anti-extremism law and policies in Russia.

HR NGO Citizens’ Watch, a human rights NGO initiated in 1992 by a group of Russian human rights activists, lawyers, journalists, and deputies to the Russian Parliament and the St. Petersburg City Council. The goals were to assist in establishing parliamentary and civic control over police, security service, and armed forces and help prevent violations of constitutional rights by these governmental agencies.

Russia Behind Bars Foundation (Charitable Foundation for Assistance to Convicted Persons and Their Families), a non-governmental organization established in 2011. It offers legal, humanitarian and psychological assistance to victims of human rights violations in the Russian criminal justice and penitentiary system.

Public Verdict Foundation was founded in 2004 with the mission to nurture zero-tolerance to any forms of illegal violence and introduce civil oversight as the key instrument to achieve that goal. To manifest this role, PVF provides legal assistance to victims of power abuse and civil activists, offers them psychological rehabilitation to reintegrate into society, considers information support to cases as part of the defense strategy, has a professional research and analytical division, which puts the foundation into a unique position qualified to draw proposals for systemic changes.

Charitable Foundation «Sphere», a human rights organization which conducts advocacy programs and supports smaller initiatives to bring about systemic changes for the Russian LGBTQ community.

Mass Media Defence Centre, a Voronezh-based media freedom NGO, promoting freedom of expression since 1996. MMDC is providing legal assistance and court defense on domestic and international levels to Russian media, journalists, bloggers. MMDC was designated as a foreign agent NGO in 2015, challenging this decision of Russian authorities in the European Court of Human rights.

Hate speech and racial profiling — Paragraph 5 of the LOI

Hate speech

Racial profiling

Racial profiling and artificial intelligence

Questions to the Russian Federation:

LGBTQ rights — Paragraph 6 of the LOI

LGBTQ persecution in the North Caucasus

Violence and access to justice

Discrimination of LGBTQ

LGBTQ right to peaceful assembly

Counter-extremism — Paragraphs 14 and 18 of the LOI

Counter-extremism

Article

Brief description of the offense

2019

2020

The first half of 2021

205.2

Incitement to terrorism or justification of terrorism

103

147

77

280

Incitement to extremism

117

147

110

280.1

Incitement to separatism

2

3

0

282

Incitement of hatred

19

12

11

148 (part.1 and 2)

Insulting the feelings of believers

2

1

8

354.1

Justifying Nazism, slandering the USSR, insulting veterans, etc

1

8

6

TOTAL

244

318

212

Article

Brief description of the offense

2019

2020

The first half of 2021

20.3

Demonstration of Nazi and extremist symbols

2388

2279

1704

20.3.1

Incitement of hatred (if first time)

383

757

461

20.29

Mass distribution of prohibited materials

1591

1826

764

TOTAL

4362

4862

2929

Questions to the Russian Federation:

Regulation of speech — Paragraph 15 of the LOI

Peaceful assembly — Paragraph 19 of the LOI

Year

Guilty judgements

Average fine

Share of arrests

2017

3 849

12 946

4%

2018

3 412

17 247

13%

2019

4 045

16 218

6%

2020

2 454

16 260

9%

the first half of 2021

14 069

13 028

14%

Additional issues

Questions to the Russian Federation:

Freedom of association — Paragraph 20 of the LOI

Foreign Agents

NGOs
Public associations
Individuals

Undesirable organizations

  1. As of January 31, 2022, the registry of undesirable foreign organizations and international NGOs consisted of 49 organizations. From 2021, foreign organizations and international NGOs campaigning for or against the nomination of candidates or otherwise participating in election campaigns and referendums may be recognized as undesirable. Moreover, organizations may be recognized as such if they provide intermediary services by carrying out transactions with funds or other property belonging to undesirable organizations. Russian citizens are prohibited from participating in the activities of such organizations even outside of Russia. Penalties for violating the law on undesirable organizations have been expanded and toughened.
  2. In 2019–2021, the courts of about 20 constituent entities of Russia considered dozens of cases under Article 20.33 of the CAO, a vast majority of them related to the «Open Russia». The Moscow Magistrates Courts’ database lists 378 cases under Article 20.33 throughout the application of this provision. Additionally, in 2019–2021, 8 criminal cases were initiated against activists of the «Open Russia», three guilty verdicts were delivered, including against Anastasia Shevchenko. Moreover, «Team 29» had to self-dissolve under pain of criminal liability, as authorities associated it with «Společnost Svobody Informace».
  3. Consequently, despite public demand to repeal or revise the relevant laws to comply with Russia’s human rights obligations, these legal acts were amended only to introduce more intrusive and discriminatory measures against associations and individuals.

Questions to the Russian Federation:

COVID-19 measures in detention facilities — Paragraph 25 of the LOI

Measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among those who are in detention facilities

Inaccessibility of personal protective equipment to people in prisons and other places of detention

Lack of reliable morbidity, mortality and vaccination data

Violations of the right to respect for private and family life

Violations of the right to legal aid

Questions to the Russian Federation:

Information on the Russian Federation for the 135th session of the UN Human Rights Committee

Introduction

This report is submitted to the UN Human Rights Committee («Committee») as a follow-up to the alternative report by a coalition of civil society organizations in the Russian Federation in response to the Committee’s call for information regarding its 135th session. This report is presented in the form of responses to the paragraphs of the Committee’s List of issues (hereinafter «LOI») in relation to the eighth periodic report of the Russian Federation and focuses on the rapid developments on the human rights issues in the context of ongoing war in Ukraine.

The following organizations contributed to this report:

OVD-Info, a leading Russian human rights project on freedom of assembly and political persecution.

Mass Media Defence Centre, a Voronezh-based media freedom NGO, promoting freedom of expression since 1996. MMDC is providing legal assistance and court defense on domestic and international levels to Russian media, journalists, bloggers. MMDC was designated as a foreign agent NGO in 2015, challenging this decision of Russian authorities in the European Court of Human rights.

SOVA Center for Information and Analysis was founded in 2002 and is focused on xenophobia, nationalism, freedom of religion and anti-extremism law and policies in Russia.

Regulation of speech — Paragraphs 15 and 16 of the LOI

Censorship and blocking of independent media in the context of armed conflict in Ukraine

  • Since 2012, the Russian authorities have been creating and developing a legislative framework for the possibility of unlimited blocking — 84 amendments have been made to the law «On Information» over the past two years. At the same time, state regulators (media and digital watchdog Roskomnadzor and other state bodies) ordered and financed the development of technologies for automated control over the dissemination of information on the Internet. Finally, the mechanisms of blockings — judicial and extrajudicial; the blocking of individual pages, entire sites or domains; with the ability to unlock, «slow down» and completely separate domains, etc, were developed. After February 24, 2022, most of these tools have become fully operational. Most of the information resources were blocked immediately and out of court on the basis of Article 15.3 of the Law «On Information».
  • From February 24 to May 5, according to the independent media outlet Roskomsvoboda, more than 3,000 sites were subjected to «military censorship» (this statistics does not include blocking for other reasons, therefore, this is already much more than in the same four months of 2021). State information policy still formally refers to legislation, but the range of laws adopted in recent years makes it possible to block almost any page, site or media outlet.
  • On February 24, Roskomnadzor informed the media that they should only use official information about the armed conflict in Ukraine and demanded that the media delete any publications where the words «war» or «invasion» are used instead of «a military operation», and reports on shelling cities or claiming Russian personnel losses, otherwise threatening to block and fine them (up to ~78 200 USD). Moreover, the agency claimed that the blocking by foreign countries of Russian propagandist media is an act of censorship; and promised similar countermeasures.
  • On February 26, Roskomnadzor published the news about the increasing cases of dissemination of «false information» with a threat to restrict access to the materials of several media outlets, as well as «Wikipedia» — for the article «Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine». According to the agency, these resources «under the guise of reliable messages posted socially significant false information about the shelling of Ukrainian cities and the death of civilians in Ukraine as a result of the actions of the Russian Army, as well as materials in which the ongoing operation is called an attack, an invasion, or a declaration of war.»
  • On February 28, «Current Time», «Crimea. Realii», student magazine «Doxa», «The New Times» were blocked for «false socially significant information about the Russian servicemen allegedly killed and captured on the territory of Ukraine during a special military operation carried out by the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.» On the same day, Roskomnadzor demanded from the administration of TikTok Pte. Ltd. «exclude any military or political content from recommendations for minors.»
  • On March 1, the websites of two media outlets were blocked, which soon ceased their activities: Echo of Moscow and TV Rain. The reason was «the targeted and systematic publication of deliberately false information about the actions of the Russian military as part of a special operation to protect the DPR and LPR.» On March 2, the editorial office of TV Rain ceased its activities, and on March 2, the board of directors of Echo decided to liquidate the radio and the website, deleting their social media accounts. Frequency «Echo of Moscow» was transmitted for broadcasting to the state channel Sputnik. TV Rain is the only independent TV outlet in Russia, which produces daily broadcasts watched by thousands. Their YouTube channel boasted 2 billion views, their final video was watched 1.3 mln times. The Echo of Moscow is the oldest independent radio station, continuously operating since 1990.
  • Euronews TV channel was also taken off the air. The next day, a state channel «Russia 24» was launched on their frequency, and starting on April 7, a new TV channel began broadcasting there. It was the channel «Solovyov.Live» by journalist Vladimir Solovyov, who was included in the EU sanctions lists for supporting Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine.
  • From March 1 to March 6, with various justifications («calls for extremism», «inaccurate socially significant information», etc.), all the major independent news outlets were blocked. Overall, since February 24, at least:
    • 181 media outlets were blocked;
    • 21 had stopped or paused their work;
    • 11 decided to completely stop writing about the war.
  • At the same time, only on May 20, at a court hearing regarding the Meduza’s blocking, Roskomnadzor showed a request from the Prosecutor General’s Office dated February 24, on the basis of which the decision to block was made. It lists eight publications from Russia, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Armenia and Estonia, which, according to the department, contain «information that does not correspond to reality», namely, «materials about Russia’s alleged attack on the territory of Ukraine.»
  • The document does not mention Meduza’s publications at all. At the same time, the document says: «In the case of reproduction of similar materials on other Internet resources, I also demand that access to them be restricted.» Such information, according to the prosecutor’s office, «forms panic among people, creates the prerequisites for a mass violation of public order and public safety.» Previously, the Prosecutor General’s Office refused to show this document, saying that it «contains information, the disclosure of which may entail a violation of the rights of third parties.»
  • The blockings also affected major media and social platforms. On February 25, the Prosecutor General’s Office, in agreement with the Foreign Ministry, recognized the Meta company as «involved in the violation of fundamental human rights and freedoms, as well as the rights and freedoms of Russian citizens» and throttled their traffic. On March 4, the Facebook network was blocked in Russia, on March 14, Instagram, and on March 21, Meta was recognized as extremist. On March 1, Roskomnadzor began to slow down Twitter, and on March 4 it blocked the social network. On March 6, the Zello application was blocked after «a demand to stop sending messages to users that contain false information about the course of a special operation of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine.»
  • In addition to Russian and foreign media, the websites of human rights organizations (Voice, For Human Rights movement and Amnesty International), as well as individual pages of anti-war activists (Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Ilya Yashin, fan groups of political scientist Ekaterina Shulman and others) were blocked.
  • The State Duma also submitted — and already adopted in the first reading — amendments to the laws on information. After coming into force, the Prosecutor General’s Office will have the right to close down Russian media outlets without judicial intervention and to initiate a ban on the work of foreign media outlets in Russia. The initiators of the bill called these measures «mirror», referring to the blockings of official Russian media on foreign sites (Youtube, Facebook, etc.)
  • According to the bill, the Prosecutor General’s Office will be able to invalidate the registration of any media outlet if it:
    • disseminates «fake news» or information that «offends human dignity and public morality»;
    • «expresses clear disrespect for society, the state, the official state symbols of the Russian Federation, the Constitution, state authorities»;
    • disseminates information containing «calls for participation in unauthorized public events» or for the imposition of sanctions;
    • contain propaganda, substantiation or justification of «extremist activity».
  • In this case, the activities of the media will be prohibited, and employees will lose their accreditation.
  • Moreover, this bill provides for extrajudicial blocking of sites containing «false information distributed under the guise of reliable messages» about the use of the armed forces, the activities of government agencies abroad, their discrediting or calls for sanctions. After the adoption of the new amendments, the Prosecutor General’s Office when finding «repeated dissemination of such information, ” will have the right to send a request to Roskomnadzor to immediately block the site, as well as resources «confusingly similar to it.»
  • Thus, the blockings complement the wide crackdown of the media and freedom of expression sphere in Russia. The majority of significant non-state outlets are now closed and there is no way to predict if they will be back to work. The essence of journalism is being prosecuted. On March 5, Important Stories and OCCRP were added to the list of undesirable organizations. This entails a complete ban on their activities in Russia (including a ban on all their published materials) and criminal liability for people who cooperate with them.
  • The new restrictive practices also target journalists. Apart from being detained during the peaceful protests — we know about at least 101 such cases since February 24 — they get direct threats for speaking against the war, and now they are the main targets of new laws. For example, «Kommersant» veteran foreign policy correspondent Yelena Chernenko was expelled from the Russian Foreign Ministry’s pool of journalists. Irina Dolinina, Important Stories journalist, and a cameraman were roughly detained and forced to leave the city while filming a report about residents of the Rostov region and refugees from the LDNR. Plus, at least 10 criminal cases under the new article on «fakes» about the Russian army are initiated against journalists. At least two of them are against the editors of regional media outlets who published anti-war articles: Mikhail Afanasyev and Sergei Mikhailov. Sergei Mikhailov’s newspaper «Listok» was also fined 5200 USD for discrediting Russian armed forces after such publications.
  • Thus, the blockings, censorship and restrictions against journalists have risen to an unprecedented level and will most certainly only intensify.

Administrative prosecution for expression of anti-war positions

  • In a week after the start of the war, new articles of the Criminal Code and the Code of Administrative Offences were adopted and came into force all in one day. Article 20.3.3 of the CAO makes public discrediting the use of the military, including calls against its use punishable with up to 520 USD and 5 200 USD for natural and legal persons, respectively. The article was further amended to cover the activities of other state bodies abroad. Calls for «unsanctioned» anti-war rallies are punishable with fines twice that. Given that the aims of an anti-war rally are considered «illegal» under this legislation, in practice it covers any calls for anti-war rallies.
  • More than 2 100 cases were brought under Article 20.3.3 of the CAO as of 26 May 2022, according to the court data. At least 1 386 punishments were imposed. In 715 cases where the amount is known, fines total 420 324 USD. In addition, people are often separately charged for breaking assembly rules by mere participation, leading to a duplicate punishment imposed in violation of the non bis in idem principle.
  • In practice, the law is interpreted broadly and in an unpredictable manner, outlawing any expression of anti-war sentiments. People were found guilty of displaying signs or elements of clothings with phrases such as «No to war», «Peace», «Fascism will not pass», «*** ****» (a censored slogan «Нет войне» — no to war); taking part in anti-war rallies or their «silent support»; displaying Ukrainian flags or green ribbons; posting photos, comments or even liking anti-war posts on social media; sharing information about the death of civilians, destruction of civilian objects and claims of war crimes committed in Ukraine by the Russian army; expressing opposition to war in conversations; opposing the state-promoted pro-war symbols (such as «Z» used on military vehicles).
  • 47% of cases with a published court decision were initiated for participation in a public event, such as an assembly or a solo demonstration. 26% were brought for social media posts (including posts expressing an opinion, comments, memes, photos and profile photos) either calling for peace, criticising the war, reporting facts denied by the authorities (regarding the existence of civilian deaths or military personnel losses), questioning the motives of the war.
  • Courts motivated their decisions by «analogous anti-war calls published on the Internet», charged people for spreading false information about the very existence of the war (as opposing to «special military operation»), used official denials of facts by the Ministry of Defence as proof (for instance, claims that photos of victims of Mariupol maternity ward bombing are fake), refered to Article 20 of the Convenant in their decisions to impose punishments on people opposing the war, considered anti-war calls as illegal incitement of breaking a military oath. Even a banner reading «Freedom, truth, peace» was interpreted as a negative statement towards the military and the Supreme Commander-in-Chief (president Putin) leading to a punishment being imposed.
  • In one case, the court went as far as to find a person guilty of «spreading false information about the existence of administrative and criminal prosecution for disapproval of the actions of the military» (for showing a sign reading «Freedom to political prisoners») and for «misleading people to believe they can express their opinion in a similar way» (for a phrase «I am expressing my personal opinion»).
  • Newly introduced Article 20.3.4 of the CAO bans calls for political or economic sanctions to be imposed on Russia, its companies or citizens under the threat of a 520 USD fine. At least 4 such cases have been brought so far.

Criminal prosecution for expression of anti-war positions

  • In March, along with new administrative offences, several Criminal Code articles were also introduced — and already amended.
  • Repeat offence under the Article 20.3.3 of the CAO is now punishable with up to 5 years imprisonment under Article 280.3 of the Criminal Code. Punishment varies from a fine of 1 600 USD to imprisonment for up to three years. If these actions caused death by negligence and/or harm to the health of citizens, property, mass violations of public order and/or public safety, or interfered with the functioning of life support facilities, transport or social infrastructure, credit institutions, energy, industry or communications facilities, the maximum penalty increases up to a fine of 1 million rubles or imprisonment for up to five years. There is information about at least four criminal cases under this article.
  • Repeat offence under the Article 20.3.4 is now also a punishable criminal offence under Article 284.2 of the Criminal Code. The maximum penalty for this crime is imprisonment for up to three years (with or without a fine).
  • Another newly introduced criminal offence is public dissemination of deliberately false information about the use of the Russian armed forces or government authorities’ activities outside Russia — article 207.3 of the Criminal Code. The punishment varies from a fine of 11 000 USD to imprisonment for three years and under aggravating circumstances up to five years. For the same acts that have entailed aggravating consequences, a penalty of up to 15 years in prison may be imposed.
  • There are currently at least 52 criminal cases initiated under Article 207.3, and the vast majority of them were initiated also after anti-war comments and posts on social media, verbal disagreement with the war or distributing leaflets. Identical actions have been prosecuted under the administrative provision on discreditation (Article 20.3.3 of the CAO), making it impossible to predict whether such an action may lead to administrative or criminal prosecution.
  • For example, authors of the similar posts on the social network about the shelling of civilians by the Russian military were prosecuted in some cases under Article 20.3.3 and in other cases — under Article 207.3. The same situation happened with cases on:
    • distributing anti-war leaflets — Alexander Tarapon made anti-war leaflets, scattered them in mailboxes and pasted them along the streets of the city, at public transport stops, and now faces criminal prosecution. In at least 30 other cases where the defendants distributed similar leaflets, they were convicted under Article 20.3.3 of the CAO.
    • putting anti-war leaflets in grocery stores — Sasha Skochilenko and Vladimir Zavyalov placed anti-war leaflets instead of price tags in grocery stores and now are in custody facing criminal charges. Other instances of the same actions are prosecuted only under Article 20.3.3 of the CAO.
    • criticising «Z» sign — Isabella Yevloyeva is under criminal prosecution after writing on a Telegram channel that the Z sign used by supporters of the Russian «special operation» in Ukraine is «synonymous with aggression, death, pain and shameless manipulation.» Authors of the posts comparing the Z sign with nazi symbols or approving of destroyed property with this sign were prosecuted under administrative provision.
    • sharing the articles of independent media outlets — Andrei Novashov was charged with a post where he shares an article by Novaya Gazeta journalist Victoria Ivleva about bomb shelters in Kyiv. Authors of posts with links to a report by Novaya Gazeta journalist Yelena Kostyuchenko about the destroyed city of Mykolaiv, or to the post on Garry Kasparov’s blog critiquing the military actions, have been prosecuted under administrative provisions instead.
  • Moreover, the total number of criminal cases related to anti-war protests is now exceeding 150. The cases were initiated under various grounds: for example, at least 9 were initiated against people who took part in anti-war rallies. All of them are prosecuted under the provision on the use of violence against a representative of the authorities (Article 318 of the Criminal Code provides for punishment, depending on the part from a fine of up to 3 100 USD to imprisonment for up to 10 years).
  • These cases also include another example of arbitrariness of choice between administrative and criminal articles are the criminal cases on «vandalism» — Article 214 of Criminal Code. There are currently 23 criminal cases under this provision and the main reasons for prosecutions are anti-war graffiti or defacement of patriotic banners (for example, installations with the letter «Z»). The same actions are being prosecuted also under the Article 20.3.3 of CAO.
  • Another instance of a case related to the protests is the case against the «Vesna» movement. After the anti-war protests on May 9 were announced, police started to come with searches to their organizers and other civil society activists. On May 7, police came to the houses of two coordinators of the protest movement «Vesna», Bogdan Litvin and Valentin Horoshenin, in Saint-Petersburg. Valentin was arrested, along with his colleague Evgeny Zateev, and their whereabouts were unknown for more than 10 hours, and then they were found in the Investigative Committee of Moscow, where they were forcibly moved.
  • On the night of May 9, journalist of «Skat» media outlet Angelina Roshchupko, human rights defender Timofey Vaskin, Anti-Corruption Foundation ex-employee Ivan Drobotov had their apartments searched and were later detained. The search was also conducted at the home of activist Daria Pak, who is abroad. All of them are now being charged under the same case with creation of a non-profit organization that infringes on the personality and rights of citizens (Part 3 of Article 239 of the Criminal Code).
  • There is also a wave of criminal cases, at first glance unrelated to anti-war activism but used to target anti-war activists and civil society actors directly. One of the the provisions used for this is Article 207 of the Criminal Code — deliberately false report of a terrorist attack. Possible punishment is up to ten years in prison, depending on the part of the article.
  • At least 16 people in Saint-Petersburg were accused under this article. The authorities claim the accused had sent varioud threats that a bomb was planted in the governmental buildings. Moreover, the cases under this provision are accompanied with the apartments’ searches. At least 60 instances of such searches in several different cities have happened since March. The searches are usually carried out before announced major protest actions (e.g. on March 5, May 7-9) and, along with threats of criminal prosecution, are used as additional pressure on anti-war activists.
  • Overall, the number of initiated criminal cases is increasing almost daily, making the number of anti-war related cases the most rapidly growing group of related criminal cases in Russia. The number is expected to continue growing. Given the arbitrariness of the law enforcement and the repressive legislation, this creates a dangerous instance of severe punishments for any anti-war actions and statements.
  • Moreover, authorities are seemingly eager to further criminalize any actions that counter theirs. For instance, on May 25, a new draft law introducing criminal prosecution for «public calls for action against the security of Russia», as well as for «confidential cooperation with special services of foreign states» was submitted to the State Duma.
  • Deputies are proposing to introduce Article 275.1 into the Criminal Code titled «Confidential cooperation with special services of foreign states», the punishment for which will include imprisonment for up to eight years or a fine up to 17 000 USD. The following actions are proposed to be criminalized: cooperation with foreign special services, international or foreign organizations acting «in the interests of the special service of foreign states», as well as foreign PMCs and private intelligence companies. Due to the vague wording of the article, such «cooperation» can be found even in cooperation of a journalist from Russia with a community of journalists from other countries to write a joint investigation or participation of a scientist in a project supervised by foreign funds.
  • Another article 280.4 of the Criminal Code, which the authors of the bill propose to introduce, should introduce liability for calls for «actions against security» and «obstruction of the authorities and their officials from exercising their powers to ensure security» in Russia — the maximum punishment for it can be up to seven years of imprisonment. The first two parts of this article involve the same actions directed towards this goal, but without the use of violence.
  • The authors of the bill also propose to expand the concept of «espionage» (Article 276 of Criminal Code) to transfer, collect, steal information that can be used against the army and state bodies of Russia «in the context of an armed conflict, hostilities or other actions using weapons and military equipment». This is a very ambiguous wording — what kind of information can be used against the Russian army and in what context is not yet clear.

Counter-extremism — Paragraphs 14 and 18 of the LOI

  • The number of persons prosecuted for «crimes of extremist nature», excluding violent crimes, almost doubled in 2021 compared to 2020. See updated tables:
  • The number of people convicted under the Criminal Code articles (based on the Supreme Court data, principal charge only):

Article of CC

Brief description of the offense

2019

2020

2021

205.2

Incitement to terrorism or justification of terrorism

103

147

199

280

Incitement to extremism

117

147

255

280.1

Incitement to separatism

2

3

0

282

Incitement of hatred

19

12

43

148 (parts 1 and 2)

Insulting the feelings of believers

2

1

14

354.1

Justifying Nazism, slandering the USSR, insulting veterans, etc

1

8

30

 

TOTAL

244

318

541

  • The number of people convicted under the articles of the Code of Administrative Offenses (based on the Supreme Court data):

Article of CAO

Brief description of the offense

2019

2020

2021

20.3

Demonstration of Nazi and extremist symbols

2388

2279

3183

20.3.1

Incitement of hatred (if first time)

383

757

936

20.29

Mass distribution of prohibited materials

1591

1826

1319

 

TOTAL

4362

4862

5438

  • Extensive application by law enforcement of Article 354.1 of the Criminal Code (see in the table), which we see as mostly inappropriate, is supported now by the new law, signed by the President in April. This new law (Article 13.48 of the CAO) established administrative responsibility for equating the «goals, decisions and actions» of the leadership of the USSR and Nazi Germany and for «denying the decisive role of the Soviet people» in its defeat. The wording of the new article of the Code of Administrative Offences contains no explanations as to which statements can be interpreted as «equating actions» and «denying the decisive role.»
  • Moreover, in our previous report we mentioned one Jehovah’s Witness who was acquitted at the end of 2021. However, his case is under revision now.

Peaceful assembly — Paragraph 19 of the LOI

  • According to the data recently published by the Supreme Court’s judicial department, in 2021, the courts received 17 123 cases under Article 20.2 (violating assembly rules). 15 601 persons were punished under this provision: 12 709 fines (averaging 13 300 RUB, or, currently, 207 USD), 676 compulsory work orders and 2 200 administrative arrests. The share of arrests in 2021 thus is over 14%.
  • Large-scale anti-war protests began in Russia on the first day of the armed conflict with Ukraine and were held almost daily for three consecutive weeks. Over the first days of anti-war protests in different cities, various attempts have been made to authorise public events, but they were not successful.
  • At the same time, a large number of police officers and paddy wagons on the streets of Russian cities indicated that the authorities were ready for assemblies and were initially determined to stop them and detentain their participants. Since the beginning of the war, we are aware of at least 16 000 detentions: protesters, journalists, and bystanders. The peak of detentions occurred in the first weeks of the war; most people were detained during the rallies on March 6 — at least 5,558 people in 77 Russian cities. People with children, animals and means of transportation were detained. Mass protest rallies and spontaneous walks with a large number of participants were not the only reasons for detentions. Solo demonstrations and various forms of protest against the war, including the use of anti-war symbols, the colours of the Ukrainian flag, laying flowers at the Embassy of Ukraine or the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier became grounds for detention.
  • The detentions were accompanied by police violence: people were knocked to the ground, beaten with police truncheons, strangled, punched in the stomach, face, eyes, hit their heads against the wall, twisted and wrung their hands. In at least 39 cases detainees reported ambulance calls and hospitalization from police departments in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Rostov-on-Don.
  • In at least 30 police departments in 9 cities the use of force was reported by protesters during detention, in a police van or police departments. Only during the rallies on March 6, police officers used force against 34 detainees. In three cities detainees were handcuffed.
  • At least in four cities protesters were detained by officers in plain clothes or without the necessary identification marks.
  • In the police stations, detainees are forced — with the use of violence — to take fingerprints and photographs, and sometimes even to take DNA samples — more than 300 such cases in 34 police departments. The police also take away phones — in at least 75 police departments — and documents. When refusing to fingerprint, detainees are threatened with charges for disobeying the lawful request of a police officer (Article 19.3 of the CAO) and being left overnight in the department — in some cases, such threats materialized in administrative arrests.
  • Moreover, the lawyers are en masse not allowed to help the people detained at peaceful protests. Since February 24 until May 24 there have been at least 173 cases of non-admission of lawyers coming to help detainees in police departments. Moreover, there were cases when detainees were forced to write a refusal from the defender. In at least 8 cases, defenders were kicked out of the department — or faced other forms of pressure. After the beating of a lawyer by police officers at the St. Petersburg police station on the night of March 7, further detentions of lawyers, use of violence against them and searches in their apartments came to light.
  • Anti-war rallies were mainly peaceful — and the materials of the administrative cases against the detainees do not say that the protesters organize mass riots or otherwise violate public order. In general, people protesting in rallies are accused of shouting anti-war slogans calling for peace: «No war», «Putin, hands off Ukraine», «No war with Ukraine», etc. Such slogans do not contain insults and do not contradict the standards of freedom of expression. However, in practice, pacifist ideology has been outlawed leading to imminent fines and arrests of its supporters. From February 24 to April 12, the courts ordered at least 960 arrests in connection with the protests in Russia.
  • The detainees were accused of disobeying a lawful order of a police officer (Article 19.3 of the CAO), violating the restrictions imposed to combat the spread of COVID-19 (Article 20.6.1 of the CAO, or its regional analogues), organizing an unauthorised event (Part 2, Article 20.2 of the CAO), and most often — violating the procedure for holding a public event (Part 5 of Article 20.2 of the CAO). In addition, other parts of Article 20.2 of the CAO were also applied: Part 6.1 on participation in an event that interfered with the functioning of infrastructure, pedestrian traffic and transport, or Part 8 on repeated violation of the procedure for holding a public event. On the websites of district courts that deal with the cases of «violation of the rules for holding public events», as of May 20, we managed to find information on 12 471 cases under article 20.2 and 20.2.2 of the CAO that have been submitted to the courts since February 24. Plus, after March 4 which marked the adoption of the Article 20.3.3 of the CAO the courts started to charge the protesters under this article along with aforementioned articles.
  • Moreover, the freedom of assembly is additionally hindered by the various means of extra pressure on protesters.
  • One of the methods of pressure on protesters is to create a risk of being drafted into the army. The Russian Constitution provides for an obligation to serve in the army for male citizens. Detention for a protest action frequently attracts attention of military registration and enlistment offices to such detainees. This may lead to initiation of criminal cases on evasion of military service (under Article 328 of the Criminal Code) or deprivation of deferment from the army in case of expulsion.
  • This practice has been in existence since at least 2019. After the backdrop of a wave of protests in Moscow in 2019, the Moscow Department of Regional Security and Anti-Corruption reported that on the day of the protest action on July 27, «in the central part of the city, including near the Moscow government building, it is planned to use special groups to identify these citizens in order to their subsequent conscription» with additional threats to minors. After the protests, the Investigative Committee claimed that 134 detainees evaded military service and pre-investigation checks in respect of 16 such citizens were being conducted. Later, the protesters began to receive summons to the military prosecutor’s office.
  • Since then, there have been multiple instances of illegal conscription of activists, including cases when the person was expelled from the educational institution to be conscripted. At least 3 criminal cases under Article 328 had been initiated against protesters and activists.
  • In the context of ongoing armed hostilities in Ukraine, the threat of being drafted into the army for those protesting against the war becomes more real and realizable.
  • According to DOXA, as of April 14, at least 50 higher education institutions held talks about the inadmissibility of participating in rallies and publicly expressing a position that differs from the official one, and criminal liability for this. The police routinely report holding such talks in schools. There are also at least 15 known cases of expulsion for expressing an anti-war position or participating in anti-war rallies.
  • This is especially dangerous in the context of war and military conscription, as expulsion from a university deprives conscripted men over the age of 18 of a deferment from such a conscription. Conscription seasons run twice a year in Russia — from April 1 until July 15 (spring) and between October 1 and December 31 (autumn). During these periods, men aged between 18 and 27, with no health issues or outstanding convictions could be called on to serve.
  • There have already been several proven instances of participation of conscripts in the armed conflict in the Ukraine. Thus, this practice creates additional constraints on participating in peaceful anti-war assemblies and expressing anti-war opinions.

Freedom of association — Paragraph 20 of the LOI

«Foreign agents» and «undesirable organizations»

  • As of May 27, 2022, the register of non-profit organizations (hereinafter «NPOs») operating as «foreign agents» contained 73 organizations. 5 new NPOs have been included since February 24, 2022. 5 NPOs have been excluded and thus, the total number has not changed. The register of unregistered public associations-«foreign agents» contained 7 associations (almost all of them protect the rights of LGBTQ).

  • Since the start of the war in Ukraine, the register of media-«foreign agents» increased in 3 legal entities, including Deutsche Welle, and 39 individuals, among them were journalists, bloggers, politicians, artists and other activists. As of May 27, this registry contained 160 media-«foreign agents». 6 individuals (members of association protecting electoral rights «Golos») were excluded upon request.
  • Even before the war in Ukraine, the «foreign agents» law was used by the Russian authorities to suppress civil society initiatives and dissent. During the war, this law also became a tool for silencing those who were against activities of the Russian army in Ukraine. Several organizations and individuals of various occupations were recognized as «foreign agents» allegedly for their anti-war positions expressed publicly. Among them are Deutsche Welle, political scientist Ekaterina Shulman, journalist Yuri Dud, historian Evgeny Ponasenkov and even rappers such as «Face» (Ivan Dryomin) and Alisher Morgenstern.
  • In addition, on April 5, 2022, journalists Evgeny Kiselev and Matvey Ganapolsky were included in the previously empty register of individuals (not media) — «foreign agents» by virtue of the fact that «they conduct political activities, receiving foreign funding from Ukraine». A few weeks later this register was expanded by opposition politicians Leonid Volkov and Vladimir Kara-Murza, as well as Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Garry Kasparov.
  • Moreover, the authorities kept shutting down NPOs- «foreign agents». On February 28, 2022, the court of the second instance approved the decision to liquidate International Memorial i.e. the decision has entered into force. On April 5, 2022, the court of the second instance approved the decision to liquidate the Human Rights Centre Memorial as well, despite the decision of the ECtHR under Rule 39 to suspend the liquidation. Moreover, International Memorial and Human Rights Centre Memorial were excluded from the state register of legal entities in violation of legal procedure. The organizations’ accounts were blocked.
  • Additionally, on April 21, the Kuibyshevsky District Court of St. Petersburg issued a decision to liquidate the Charitable Foundation «Sphere». The court decided that the foundation under the guise of charity carried out political activities. Prior to this, the Ministry of Justice stated that «all the actual activities of the organization are aimed at supporting the LGBT movement in Russia» which is inconsistent with «constitutional traditional values».
  • As of May 27, the registry of undesirable organizations contained 55 organizations. Since the start of the war, 5 organizations were added to the register, including Heinrich Böll Stiftung and the Royal Institute of International Affairs. On April 5, the State Duma Commission on Investigation of the Facts of Interference by the Foreign States proposed to recognize 14 foreign NGOs as undesirable in Russia, among them was Heinrich Böll Stiftung.
  • Moreover, the bill introduced to the State Duma on May 24 about «strengthening responsibility for creating threats to the national security of the Russian Federation», also proposes to amend the legislation on «undesirable organizations» and extend criminal liability to participation in the work of such organizations outside of Russia.

The new bill on «foreign agents»

  • On April 25, a group of deputies submitted to the State Duma a bill «On control over the activities of persons under foreign influence.» As emphasized in the explanatory note, the draft law is aimed at improving the effectiveness of the regulation of the institution of «foreign agents», taking into account «the current challenges to security and sovereignty». The expected time for consideration of the draft law in the first reading is June 2022.
  • Contrary to the existing 4 different legislative acts on «foreign agents» this bill will combine them into a single piece of legislation. Four existing «foreign agents» registries will be consolidated into a single one. All segmental requirements and restrictions existing for different types of «foreign agents» will become universal.
  • Under this bill, any Russian or foreign legal entity, regardless of its organization or legal form may be recognized as a «foreign agent», including commercial companies. Previously to be declared «foreign agents», commercial companies had to be associated with the media. A public association operating without the formation of a legal entity, another association of persons; a foreign structure without the formation of a legal entity or an individual, regardless of his citizenship or lack thereof may also be recognized as «foreign agents».
  • There are two criteria for obtaining this status:
    • receiving foreign financial support or being «under the foreign influence of any kind» which is support from a foreign source or other forms of influence from it, «including coercion and persuasion» and
    • engaging in at least one of the following activities: political activity, collecting information about the Russian military and military logistics, participating in the creation of information and materials, or distributing them to an unlimited number of people.
  • The category of «support» also includes the provision of organizational, methodological, scientific, technical, and other assistance by a foreign source.
  • Therefore, it would no longer be necessary to receive money from abroad to be included in the list of «foreign agents», it would be enough to be under «foreign influence». This will result in even more excessive and arbitrary application of the legislation on «foreign agents».
  • The terms «coercion and persuasion», also determining «foreign influence» are not specified in the bill. Since the wording of a new universal criterion of «foreign influence» is vague and ambiguous, an association or individual that disseminates information to the public or engages in human rights activities can be defined as a foreign agent if they have any relationship with a foreign or international organization or any foreign or stateless person. This will give the authorities almost unlimited powers to decide who will be the next «foreign agent» which is very convenient in the context of the ongoing war, military censorship, and the hunt for anti-war activists.
  • After adoption, all «foreign agents» will be required to voluntarily be included in the relevant registers. The bill also introduces a uniform procedure for getting off of the «foreign agents» list. Possible reasons to be excluded include death, liquidation of a legal entity, and a confirmation of the Ministry of Justice that shows the «foreign agent» has not received foreign support for at least a year. In addition, a separate opportunity to leave the register will be provided for an individual who was included in the register for the first time. Such a person has the right to file a free-form application with the Ministry of Justice for exclusion from the register, attaching confirmation that the circumstances that served as the basis for inclusion in the register have been terminated.
  • All existing human rights restrictions imposed on «foreign agents» will remain and become universal for any type of a «foreign agent», while new restrictions will be introduced. For example, «foreign agents» will be banned from:
    • taking part in the activities of commissions, committees, advisory, deliberative, expert, and other bodies that exist under the authorities;
    • being a member of an election commission, a referendum commission;
    • receiving state financial support;
    • carrying out teaching, educational activities to minors;
    • producing information products for minors;
    • organizing assemblies.
  • Furthermore, the Ministry of Justice will be able to request to block the websites of «foreign agents» for any violation of the law on «foreign agents». As for labeling requirements, the bill allows not to label posts of a «personal nature». However, it is not yet clear how effective this will be applied, since when it comes to activists, there is usually a fine line between the personal and «political» content of their publications.
  • The Ministry will be also entitled to conduct inspections not only to organizations but also to individuals. In addition, it will have the right to send its representatives to participate in events held by «foreign agents». The Ministry will submit an annual report on «foreign agents» activity to the Federation Council and the State Duma.
  • Along with foreign agents, «affiliated persons» will be included in the register. «Affiliated persons» are those who:
    • Are or were members of the bodies of the NPO-“foreign agent», are or were its founder, member, participant, leader, or employee;
    • Are or were members of the bodies of an unregistered public association — «foreign agent», are or were its founder, member, participant, leader;
    • Are or were members of the management bodies, were or are the founder, head, or employee of a «foreign agent» included in the register in connection with the distribution or participation in the creation of messages and materials (media- «foreign agents»);
    • Carry out or have carried out political activities and receive or have received money or other property from NPOs, unregistered public associations, and people recognized as «foreign agents» (including through intermediaries).
  • Thus, anyone who is in any way connected (or was connected) with NPOs, public associations, the media, or individuals who were previously recognized as «foreign agents» can be recognized as an «affiliated person» with a «foreign agent». «Affiliated persons» will be able to be excluded from the register if they have not been associated with a «foreign agent» within two years after being included in the list. Despite the fact that they will not be subject to general restrictions, the mere fact of their public inclusion will violate at least their right to privacy.
  • The Ministry of Justice even before had to respond to applications received in a general manner, but now the bill establishes the direct duty of the department to check applications from government agencies, parties and public associations, the Public Chamber, the media, citizens, and organizations about those who need to be included in the register.
  • All the existing administrative and criminal sanctions will remain the same.
  • Therefore, the new bill targets a large group of entities and persons, violating a wide range of their human rights. However, the most affected will be those who are expressing alternative and oppositional views and conducting the relevant activities, including human rights defenders, journalists, oppositional politics, artists, academics, bloggers, and other activists.

Questions to the Russian Federation:

  • Is it illegal in Russia to call a «special military operation» in Ukraine a «war»?
  • Why are the decisions of Roskomnadzor about extrajuducial blockings not made available to the public?
  • Why are people brought under double responsibility for participating in anti-war assemblies (under Article 20.3.3 of the CAO for «discreditation» and under Articles 20.2/20.2.2 for the peaceful assembly itself)?
  • Why are pacifist inscriptions and slogans considered to be «discrediting the use of the Russian armed forces»?
  • Why for the same actions people can be brought with the same probability to administrative liability under Article 20.3.3 of the CAO, and to criminal responsibility under Article 207.3 of the CC?
  • Is the punishment of up to 15 years in prison for spreading false information proportionate?
  • Does the removal of the foreign funding criterion for being recognized as a foreign agent by the new bill entail the risk of arbitrary application of the law? If not, explain why.
  • Will Russia assist a country-specific mandate of a Special Rapporteur assigned to investigate human rights issues in the context of the war in Ukraine and beyond, if one is appointed?

Information on the Russian Federation for the 136th session  of the UN Human Rights Committee

Introduction

This report is submitted to the UN Human Rights Committee («Committee») as a follow-up to the alternative report by a coalition of civil society organizations in the Russian Federation in response to the Committee’s call for information regarding its 136th session.

The following organizations contributed to this report:

OVD-Info, a leading Russian human rights project on freedom of assembly and political persecution;

No to Violence, an abuse problem resolution center;

Stitching Justice Initiative is dedicated to the legal protection of victims of human rights violations connected to armed conflict and counter-terrorism operations, torture and gender-based violence in the post-Soviet region;

International Committee of Indigenous Peoples of Russia is the international coalition led by indigenous human right defenders and leaders to promote IP rights and bring Russian IP independent voice to the globe;

Mass Media Defence Centre, a Voronezh-based media freedom NGO, promoting freedom of expression since 1996;

Citizens Watch, a St. Petersburg based human rights NGO established in 1992. The goals were to establish parliamentary and civic control over police, security service, and armed forces, and to help prevent violations of constitutional rights by these governmental agencies;

Charitable Foundation Sphere, a human rights organization which conducts advocacy programs and supports smaller initiatives to bring about systemic changes for the Russian LGBTQ community;

Movement of conscientious objectors, a non-profit organisation since 2014 helping young people to legally exempt themselves from conscription to the army;

Memorial Human Rights Defence Centre, a Russian NGO that focuses on protecting human rights, especially in conflict zones in and around modern Russia, founded in 2022 by supporters of Memorial Human Rights Centre, a Russian NGO that existed in 1992-2022;

Public Verdict Foundation, a Russian human rights organisation that combines legal protection for victims of law enforcement arbitrariness with in-depth law enforcement research and professional media support for human rights work.

Freedom of speech

«Media foreign agents»

  • As of September 12, 2022, the register of media foreign agents contained 176 media outlets and individuals (7 individuals were excluded from this list, however information about their inclusion and subsequent delisting remains publicly available). Around three quarters of the designations of media or individuals as «foreign agents» have been made after February 24, 2022, including opposition politicians Yulia Galyamina and Lyubov Sobol, artist Yulia Tsvetkova, journalist Alexey Pivovarov, poet Dmitry Bykov etc. In general, «media foreign agents» in Russia are now leading journalists, scientists, opposition figures, human rights defenders, bloggers etc. It goes without saying that those who were listed had spoken against the war or expressed their alternative opinion on other issues.

«Foreign agents» individuals

  • As of September 12, 2022, the register of «foreign agent» individuals contained 22 persons. From December 2020, any natural person, regardless of citizenship, can be recognized as a «foreign agent» individual and included to the separate register. However, the list of such persons was empty till the beginning of April 2022. Since our last report of May 27, 15 individuals were added in the list, including opposition politicians Ilya Yashin and Maxim Katz, actress Tatyana Lazareva, journalists Dmitry Gordon and Katerina Gordeeva and singer Andrey Makarevich. The grounds for their inclusion were political activity and receiving funding from Ukraine.

Blockings and shut downs of media outlets

  • According to Roskomsvoboda, about 7 thousand sites were blocked by «military censorship». According to Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov, 138 thousand Internet resources have been blocked and deleted since the beginning of the war with Ukraine. The authorities also continue to block VPN services to further restrict the flow of independent information. Moreover, the authorities prosecute independent media under the provision of «discrediting the use of Russian armed forces» (Article 20.3.3 of Code of Administrative Offences (CAO)). Only in August «Journalists' and Media Workers' Union», «Novaya Rasskaz-gazeta», «Odintsovo-Info» and «Vechernie Vedomosti» were fined under this article.
  • The Lukhovitsky District Court of the Moscow Region rejected OVD-Info’s request to unblock the project website. The court instituted the blocking in December 2021. The court ruling states that this measure cannot be lifted, since OVD-Info is «an independent human rights project about political persecution in Russia, which, using a hotline, collects information about detentions at public rallies and other cases of political pressure, and also publishes and coordinate legal assistance for detainees.» In addition, the court refers to the fact that the project receives funding from the liquidated HRC «Memorial» and the European Commission FIDH, which aim to «influence public opinion within the country», and is also included in the register of «foreign [agents]».
  • Moreover, the OVD-Info’s VK page was blocked in August. The reason for the extrajudicial blocking was «information materials containing unreliable socially significant information about the special military operation conducted by the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, its form, methods of conducting military operations, as well as information about attacks on civilian infrastructure facilities, numerous victims among the civilian population of Ukraine and in the ranks of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, regarding general mobilization and others».
  • On September 5, the Basmanny District Court of Moscow declared the license of Novaya Gazeta, a major independent news outlet, invalid due to the fact that the publication changed its founder in 2006, but did not submit the charter to Roskomnadzor. On September 6, The Basmanny District Court of Moscow annulled the certificate of registration of Novaya Rasskaz-gazeta. Roskomnadzor filed a lawsuit due to the fact that the magazine had not been published for more than a year. The publication was registered on March 6, 2009, and the first issue was published in July 2022. The representative of the editorial office provided the court with several copies of the Novaya Rasskaz-Gazeta, including the August issue. However, the court still declared the certificate of registration invalid. On September 15, the Russian Supreme Court is expected to pass a verdict on whether to terminate the registration of Novaya Gazeta’s website following another lawsuit by Roskomnadzor.
  • In March, the ECtHR issued interim measures under Rule 39 ordering the Russian government to refrain from obstructing the work of Novaya Gazeta.

Persecution of journalists

  • On August 17, in Kazan at least 9 searches were conducted in the houses of journalists who are working with «Radio Liberty» related to the case of incitement to terrorism via the Internet (part 2 of Article 205.2 of the Criminal Code (CC)) initiated because of the post dedicated to the attack on the Russian ambassador in Warsaw on the YouTube channel «Objective-TV». The journalists argue they had not heard about it before and did not work with it. On September 9, the searches continued, this time in the houses of anti-war activists and the members of the election observer’s association.
  • On September 8, in several Russian cities at least 7 searches in the houses of journalists and activists were carried out allegedly in connection with the criminal case opened under Article 207.3 of the CC against former State Duma deputy Ilia Ponomarev. Law enforcement officials claimed that searches were being carried out because of the posts and «discrediting the Russian army» by the journalists, as well as «because of connections with Ilya Ponomarev». Yet, none of the journalists and activists admit knowing Mr. Ponomarev or working with him in any manner. On the next day, their bank accounts started getting blocked.
  • Over the past year, at least 504 employees of 27 Russian media outlets have moved to a permanent place of work abroad, according to the estimates of the «Project», based on a survey of editorial staff. Most of them left in the last six months, after the start of the war in Ukraine. For instance, the editorial offices of Meduza, Project, Important Stories, the BBC Russian Service, Mediazona, Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s media projects, most of the employees of Radio Liberty, the Current Time project left Russia.

Prosecution for expression of anti-war positions

  • The number of criminal cases initiated against the people expressing anti-war positions is now exceeding 240. At least 27 Criminal Code provisions are used to prosecute them. Among the prosecuted, there are 23 journalists.
  • Yet, the articles specifically adopted after the start of the war with Ukraine are still the ones used most often against anti-war activists. As of September 12, there are now more than 100 cases initiated under criminal Article 207.3 («Public dissemination of deliberately false information about the use of the Russian armed forces or government authorities’ activities outside Russia»). There are also 13 cases under part 1 of Article 280.3 («Repeat discreditation of the use of the Russian armed forces or government authorities’ activities outside Russia»).
  • Yet, there are now more than 3800 cases initiated under the administrative Article 20.3.3 («Discreditation of the use of the Russian armed forces or government authorities) — every person found guilty under this provision risks criminal persecution for the repeated offence. According to the Judicial Department, only in Moscow and Saint-Petersburg, in 6 months of 2022, 616 cases were received by district courts and 569 were considered in the first instance, 490 people were indicted, all of them were fined. The amount of fines imposed by the courts: 20 529 000 rubles (340 731 USD), the average fine — 44,378 rubles in Moscow (738 USD) and 34 242 in Saint-Petersburg (569 USD).
  • Another frequently used articles are Article 205.2 («Public calls for terrorist activities») — 12 cases, Article 318 («The use of violence not dangerous to life or health, or the threat of violence against a representative of authority») — 10 cases, Article 207 («Knowingly false report about an impending explosion, arson or other actions») — 17 cases.
  • Under Article 207.3, as of September 12, 8 sentences have been already handed down. They include 2 fines — 1 000 000 rubles and 3 000 000 rubles (16 300 and 48 900 USD, respectively); 2 cases of assignment of corrective labor — 6 months and 8 months; 2 suspended sentences of 5 years; and 2 cases of deprivation of liberty. The first one is 6 months, and the second one is 7 years for the independent member of Moscow’s municipal council Mr Alexey Gorinov. His case attracted a lot of media attention — and he did not plead guilty, and continued to express his anti-war position even in court. He was sentenced mainly for saying at his local council meeting that civilians had been killed in Ukraine.
  • Among ongoing cases — prominent opposition figure Mr Ilya Yashin is in pre-trial detention for denouncing war crimes in Bucha, Mr Dmitry Talantov, an attorney, is in pre-trial detention for a post on Facebook about the massacres of civilians on the territory of Ukraine and Mr Vladimir Kara-Murza, a politician, for a public speech before members of the House of Representatives of the State of Arizona, where he spoke about the bombing of civilian objects. 30 other defendants under Article 207.3 are also in detention pending trial. Those who are outside the country are hit with asset freezes.
  • Generally, out of 100 cases initiated under Article 207.3, 25 are initiated for statements (spoken on YouTube, in a private dialogue, or in public places), 66 are initiated for posts and comments on social media, 3 — for anti-war leaflets, 2 — for articles in media outlets, 1 for a solo picket and 1 for a mass SMS sending. The reasons for the other 2 are yet unknown, but both of them were initiated against military personnel.
  • The main categories of «fakes» — that is, the information that investigators and courts consider deliberately false, is information:
    • about the killing of civilians on the territory of Ukraine;
    • about the shelling of civilian objects on the territory of Ukraine, in particular, Zaporozhye NPP;
    • about the losses of the Russian military;
    • that war is being conducted on the territory of Ukraine (and not «special military operation»);
    • on the participation of conscripts in the armed conflict on the territory of Ukraine;
    • about other war crimes of the Russian army — e.g. obstruction of humanitarian aid, looting, robbery.
  • The main and only ground for claiming such information as «deliberately false» is that the Russian officials (most frequently, Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Foreign Affairs) do not confirm or contradict the information disseminated by the people. No other sources are being checked or even considered by the investigators and courts.
  • For example, in the case of Mr Gorinov, the defense cited official United Nations figures on the number of children who died on the territory of Ukraine, since Aleksey said that «children die there every day.» However, the court considered such assessment to be one-sided, not fully reflecting the essence of Gorinov’s act and evaluated by the defense in isolation from other evidence available in the case.
  • At the same time, the investigation often refers to specific briefings and statements of the Ministry of Defense — without taking into account the fact that the position and information may change over time. This was the case with statements that there were no conscripts on the territory of Ukraine — which was later refuted by the Ministry of Defense itself.

Other criminal legislation

  • In July, Article 275.1 of the CC (‘cooperation on a confidential basis with a foreign state, international or foreign organization’) was adopted. Responsibility with up to 8 years of imprisonment is provided for the establishment and maintenance by a citizen of the Russian Federation of cooperation on a confidential basis with a representative of a foreign state, international or foreign organization in order to assist them in activities knowingly directed against the security of the Russian Federation.
  • In this regard, essentially confidential contact with any representative of a foreign state or foreign / international organization (and not only with a representative of the special services) creates a threat of prosecution under this article. At the same time, the article does not contain an explanation of what will be considered «cooperation on a confidential basis», there is a risk of a broad interpretation of this term in practice. There are also additional risks in the note to this article. It exempts a person from criminal liability if they voluntarily and timely informed the authorities about the establishment and maintenance of such cooperation, did not take any actions to fulfill the assignment received, and if the actions of this person do not contain a different corpus delicti.
  • According to the judicial department of the Russian Supreme Court, for the entire period from 2009 to 2013, 25 people were convicted of treason (Article 275) and espionage (Article 276). However, since 2014 there has been an increase in the number of such cases. So, in 2015 alone, 15 sentences were handed down, and 17 in 2021.
  • In at least 20 cases of treason and espionage, the investigation tried to falsify documents or evidence. Under the Russian law, the very list of information constituting a state secret is a state secret in itself. At least 21 convicted of treason did not have access to state secrets.
  • Cases of treason are classified as «secret», their consideration in courts takes place behind closed doors, only verdicts are officially reported. Moreover, the accused are often isolated and deprived of visitation and even correspondence rights.
  • These articles are frequently used against military personnel, former intelligence officers, scientists, journalists. In 2018–2022, at least 14 cases were initiated against scientists in the context of their work under Article 275. The loose interpretation of the concept of «state secret» by law enforcement officers makes the position of scientists participating in research projects with international participation very vulnerable. They are charged with alleged transfer of secret data to foreign countries, giving lectures in foreign countries, sending CVs to foreign organisations, having the abstract of the presentation on a USB flash drive while being on a work trip abroad, etc.
  • One of the latest most prominent cases is the case of Ivan Safronov — an independent journalist. He is accused of allegedly handing over to the citizen of the Czech Republic Martin Larisch and the German political scientist Demuri Voronin seven files with secret information about Russia’s military-technical cooperation with several countries. Yet, according to the investigation of Project Media all the information from those same seven files, which the investigation considers a state secret, was found in open sources. In court, Safronov asked the court to attach the study of the Project to the case file, but it was refused. On September 5, Ivan Safronov was sentenced to 22 years in prison and a fine of 500,000 rubles (8250 USD).
  • Furthermore, Article 280.4 of the CC was adopted which prohibits public calls to carry out activities directed against the security of the Russian Federation, or to prevent the authorities and their officials from exercising their powers to ensure such security. The maximum sanction under this article is imprisonment for up to 4 years. Here, the responsibility will appear for any public expressions calling (in the opinion of law enforcement officers) to commit crimes from a specific list, which is in the footnote to this article.
  • Moreover, the first cases under Part 1 Article 282.3 of CC (‘financing extremist activities’) were opened, almost a year after Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Fund was declared as extremist. One of the accused is Andrei Zayakin, a Novaya Gazeta journalist and one of the founders of the Dissernet project. The case against Zayakin was opened because of the transfer of a 1000 rubles (17 USD) to the Anti-Corruption Fund on the day after they were recognized as extremist.

Freedom of association

  • As of September 12, 2022, the register of non-profit organizations (hereinafter «NPOs») operating as «foreign agents» contained 69 organizations. Since our last report of May 27, no NPO was included in the register, but several organizations were excluded due to termination of receiving foreign funding or dissolution (more than 100 since the adoption of the law). Not a single organization was able to successfully challenge this decision at court on the substantial basis (‘political activity’ criterion).
  • The register of unregistered public associations-«foreign agents» contained 8 associations. The Russian NPO Committee against Torture was recognized as such on June 10, and the next day the association decided to self-dissolve. They continue their activities under the new name — Crew Against Torture. It is the third time when this project is recognized as «foreign agents» and they are forced to change its organizational form or other characteristics.
  • Moreover, the prosecutor’s office demanded to liquidate the «Trade Union of Journalists» for non-compliance with the requirements of foreign agency legislation, and the court began the bankruptcy procedure of Radio Liberty due to non-payment of fines for the absence of foreign agency labellings.
  • The bill on «On control over the activities of persons under foreign influence» reforming the law on «foreign agents» was adopted and will enter into force on December 1, 2022. The bill did not undergo significant changes during its readings. Among the amendments that the State Duma deputies decided to reject at the stage of the second reading are:
    • A ban on recognizing lawyers, bar associations, FCL (Federal Chamber of Lawyers), notaries, notary chambers, FCN (Federal Chamber of Notaries) as «foreign agents»;
    • An indication that «foreign agent activity» is an activity in the interests of foreign sources;
    • A ban on recognizing scientific organizations and scientific workers as «foreign agents»;
    • A ban on recognizing obtaining a foreign education, studying in foreign educational organizations, foreign academic degrees and titles, participating in international scientific research projects, in scientific conferences outside of Russia, studying in Russian educational institutions with foreign teachers, receiving grants for implementation of scientific programs and projects, receiving scholarships, publishing in foreign journals indexed in the international databases Scopus, Web of Science, receiving royalties for publishing books by foreign publishers, royalties for publishing in foreign media as «foreign influence»;
    • Exemption from «foreign agent» labeling of procedural documents within the framework of constitutional, civil, arbitration, administrative and criminal procedures.
  • On June 14, 2022, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in the Ecodefence and Others v. Russia case and found a violation of freedom of association by the state labelling several organizations as «foreign agents». However, Russia refuses to implement all the judgements that entered into force after March 15, 2022, which is the date of filing by the Russian Federation of the application for withdrawal from the Council of Europe.
  • As of September 12, the registry of undesirable organizations contained 65 organizations. Since May 27, 9 organizations were added to the list: Stichting Bellingcat, Bellingcat Ltd., The Insider, CEELI Institute, Avatud Eesti Fond SA, Open Estonia Foundation, Calvert 22 Foundation, Ukrainian Canadian Congress, Macdonald-Laurier Institute, Ukrainian National Federation of Canada.
  • On July 15, Andrey Pivovarov, former director of «Open Russia», was sentenced to 4 years of imprisonment because of carrying out the activities of an «undesirable organization» (Article 284.1). The case was initiated because of 30 posts and one repost of Open Russia on Facebook. On July 27, the case under the same article was initiated against politician Vladimir Kara-Murza.
  • On August 14, 2022 in at least five Russian cities, houses of alleged members of the New Generation were searched as part of a criminal case under Article 284.1. This is a first known criminal case under this article against religious organizations.
  • On September 2, it became known that the police initiated an administrative case under the provision on participation in the activities of an undesirable organization (Article 20.33 of the CAO against the coordinator of the Kirov «Golos» (Voice) Denis Shadrin due to monitoring the elections of the mayor of Tbilisi in October 2021. The police believe that, while observing the elections, Shadrin cooperated through Golos with the European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations (ENEMO) recognized as «undesirable». Earlier, a similar case was brought against activist Yevgeny Dolgopolov, who also observed the Georgian elections in October 2021. In the course of the proceedings in the case of Dolgopolov, political scientist Anton Shmelev, at the request of the prosecutor’s office, prepared an examination that the Russian movement Golos was allegedly a «member and founder» of ENEMO. These precedents may lead to official association of Golos with «undesirable organizations» and to persecution of its members. It is particularly relevant and alarming now since September 11 is a voting day in Russia and Golos is a leading Russian organization for public observation of elections.
  • Since July 2022, participation in any events held by undesirable organizations abroad is banned for Russian citizens.

Freedom of assembly

  • We are aware of at least 16,437 detentions related to anti-war protests. This number, in addition to street detentions, includes 138 detentions for anti-war posts in social networks, 118 detentions for anti-war symbolics and 62 detentions after anti-war protests.
  • Moreover, the authorities continue to refuse authorising any peaceful anti-war protest, which leads to all such assemblies being de facto unlawful. Since the start of the year authorities refused to authorize rallies against pollution, increase of public transport fares, demolition of historical buildings and even in support of political prisoners.
  • According to the Judicial Department, in the first six months of 2022, in Moscow and Saint-Petersburg alone district courts received 13 748 cases under Articles 20.2 (assembly rules violations) and 20.2.2 (mass simultaneous presence) of the CAO, 13 709 were considered. In 12 203 cases, punishment was imposed: 10 886 fines, 1 152 arrests, 163 compulsory work orders, 2 warnings.
  • The total amount of fines imposed by the courts in the first instance amounted to 151 093 561 rubles (2 507 781 USD).
  • In addition to detentions at the rallies and after them, the authorities also practice «preventive» detentions using a facial recognition system. We had documented at least 115 detentions based on facial recognition in the Moscow subway on state holidays of May 9, June 12 and August 22.
  • The majority of detainees report that they were detained based on the ‘Sphere’ system that the authorities use to track wanted criminals. However, none of the detainees were wanted criminals but most had participated in anti-war protests.
  • The peculiarity here is that at least 9 people were not participating in anti-war protests — only in protests several years ago. Moreover, at least 3 people did not participate in the protests at all — the grounds for their detention were, consequently ‘running an anti-war Telegram channel’, ‘anti-war inscription on the car windows’ and ‘being an assistant to the local independent deputy’. Still, all of these people were included in the list of potential protesters — and police officers openly claim they will be detained before any major holiday or potential protest because they are on that list.
  • Plus, many of the detainees claim that the pictures of their face used for comparison are from official sources — for example, a passport picture or a picture from the police station. During the protests, police officers often force detainees to have their pictures taken — during anti-war protests OVD-Info recorded such practice in at least 75 police departments.
  • The mass application of facial recognition system for post factum detentions of protesters was identified by OVD-Info in 2021, when we recorded at least 454 such detentions. Although this was most often reported in Moscow, similar evidence came from at least 17 other cities.
  • The use of facial recognition is not regulated by law. There are no restrictions on the use of CCTV footage in public places. The procedure for storing and reviewing data is unknown. It is not known which state body directly carries out measures to identify the person recorded on the video. The protocol of interaction between the police and the structures responsible for storing data is not regulated in any way. There are also no effective remedies for people from arbitrary interference in their private lives.
  • On July 22, the Constitutional Court of Russia refused to consider the application submitted by Ekaterina Bazhanova, who staged a solo picket in June 2020 in support of Konstantin Kotov, a civil activist sentenced to imprisonment for repeated participation in a peaceful action not approved by the authorities. Ekaterina Bazhanova was fined 15 000 RUB (250 USD) for staging a solo picket and thus violating the ban on «public and other mass events», including solo demonstrations, that still exists in Moscow. In her application Ms. Bazhanova argued that such a ban on events that are not mass in nature is not legal and proportionate, considering the fact that all other restrictions except for political rallies had been already lifted. However, the Constitutional Court ignored her arguments and decided that even a solo demonstration involves the potential to attract the other citizens and thus, this ongoing ban «is due to the objective need to respond to the threat of the spread of coronavirus infection, is of an exceptional nature and pursues the constitutionally enshrined goals of protecting the life and health of citizens».

Crime of torture

  • The Federal Law No. 307-FZ, aimed at increasing criminal liability for torture was adopted on July 14, 2022. The authorities ignored comments and proposed amendments to the bill from the human rights community.
  • The law contains two separate provisions: an abuse of authority involving the use of violence and an abuse of authority involving the use of torture (Article 286 of the CC). The maximum penalty for the latter can be up to 15 years if the victim was seriously injured or died from torture. Thus, rather than conceptualize torture as an independent crime, the new law defines it as a type of «abuse of authority».
  • It is not clear how the authorities should distinguish between the use of violence and the use of torture. This uncertainty grants virtually unlimited discretion to authorities in choosing either option for qualifying an offence. This also leaves a room for manipulation and bargaining, as sanctions for torture are tougher. This may be used to put unlawful pressure on suspects and to allow perpetrators evade full responsibility and fair punishment.
  • Known and investigated cases of torture indicate that it is usually perpetrated in a preplanned manner by a group with roles distributed among its members. However, these aggravating circumstances — a crime committed by a group by prior conspiracy — are recognized only for the crime of «abuse of power involving violence» but not for the crime of torture. Thus, authorities may be inclined to use the former qualification as more familiar to them and better reflecting the typical circumstances of such crimes, while the new provision on «torture» is likely to be applied rarely and selectively.
  • The actual prevalence of torture in the country will remain unclear, because the judicial statistics will only include cases in which the perpetrator was sentenced under the heading of «torture, ” while a large part of acts that essentially constitute torture will be hidden under the «use of violence» heading, which includes a wide range of different practices.
  • The punishment imposed by the court on the person who committed torture may be canceled or mitigated at the stage of its execution. This can be achieved through existing procedures to reward well-behaved prisoners. Torture victims are in a particularly vulnerable position in such situations. They are effectively denied access to the proceedings: in practice, courts do not notify the victims either of a scheduled hearing on the matter or of the decision to mitigate the perpetrator’s sentence.
  • Marina Ruzaeva survived hours of torture at a police station in Usolie-Sibirskoe. After six years of ineffective investigation, the case was finally sent to court that found the police officers guilty and sentenced them to custodial penalties (3,5 and 4 years in prison). Three months after being admitted to a penal colony, two convicted perpetrators were effectively relieved from their custodial sentences. Having considered a request to replace the remaining unserved part of their sentences with non-custodial sanctions, a court mitigated the punishment, sentencing the perpetrators to correctional labor which involved their release from the penal colony. Marina Ruzaeva, who had received numerous, well-documented, threats, and had her family’s possessions destroyed during the investigation and trial, was excluded from the proceedings, and her opinion was not considered by the court.
  • April 2022 marked the end of the trial in the case of Abubakar Tsagalayev, a prisoner subjected to ill-treatment and collective beatings in the punishment cell of Corrective Colony No. 1 in Yaroslavl. Nine officers of the colony were sentenced to actual prison terms. Four of the defendants were previously sentenced to real imprisonment on other similar episodes of the Yaroslavl case. The investigations and trials in the Yaroslavl case confirmed that collective «correctional» beatings of prisoners were a routine practice at the colony, perpetrated in the same manner by the same officers of the same facility.
  • In addition, police used indiscriminate force during the anti-war protests in February and March 2022. The extent of cruelty and humiliation and the demonstrative nature of police violence were unprecedented. Brutally beaten and injured protesters were either denied medical assistance or it was provided with a long delay.
  • Women arrested during anti-war protests were subjected to sexualized humiliation and abuse, including in the infamous case of torture in Brateevo Police Department in Moscow. Strip searches of women and non-binary people at police stations were reported in several Russian cities after peaceful protests. No information is available on whether these incidents are being investigated, although, in the case of Brateevo, BBC even identified the perpetrators.

Extrajudicial persecutions of civil society

  • Since the start of the war with Ukraine, the long-developed practices of threats, attacks and vandalism had been used against the anti-war activists. Such attacks are not a new notion Russian authorities use.

  • For instance, the workers and activists of Navalny’s organisations had their offices and homes vandalized with inscriptions in previous years, the same happened with «Open Russia» activists. The data from Novaya gazeta shows that by 2021, out of 92 cases of physical attacks on public figures, activists, journalists, bloggers only in one case the perpetrator was found.
  • Since the start of the war, there have been various forms of attacks on dissenters. For instance, there have been at least 57 cases of dissenters’ property vandalism — mainly, by the signs ‘Z’ and ‘V’ spray-painted on house doors, cars and inside offices of human rights organisations. This happened with human rights defenders Oleg Orlov and Alla Frolova, journalists Oleg Yelanchik, Alexey Venediktov and Alexey Milovanov, independent municipal deputies Evgeny Stupin and Nodari Hananashvili. Moreover, in the case of vandalism in the office of ‘Memorial’ the ‘Z’ and ‘V' signs were left by the police officers. There are no cases or investigations by the police initiated after these actions — instead, there are open refusals to do so.
  • There also have been at least 14 physical attacks on anti-war activists, at least 23 instances of direct threats (from the police or from unknown numbers — for example, for notifying the authorities about the anti-war rally). Among those, SOTA journalist Petr Ivanov was diagnosed with a fracture of the bones of the nose and contusion of the soft tissues after the attack, and human rights defender Lev Ponomarev was being filmed by the state-controlled TV channel while being attacked. As regarding the threats — there are at least 2 cases where people are forcibly made to apologize after their anti-war statements. Others, for example, received threats for trying to organize an anti-war protest or for signing an appeal to the Russian President calling for the withdrawal of troops from Ukraine. At least 4 local deputies have been expelled from their political parties or deprived of the deputy status after expressing their anti-war position.
  • Moreover, the authorities are also quite cautious about the cultural events. In total, there are at least 24 people or music bands whose events were cancelled or disrupted because of their anti-war statements.

Domestic, gender based violence and related issues

Domestic violence

  • Domestic violence in Russia is indeed a systemic problem. It has been highlighted in numerous reports by NGOs and by regional and international mechanisms. Official statistics are fragmented, missing or outdated. Currently, acts of domestic violence are prosecuted under the general provisions of the СС or the CAO. Russian law does not provide for the offence of domestic violence. Domestic violence is not recognised as an aggravating factor in the commission of any other offence. Thus, Russian law does not contain any penalty-enhancing provisions relating to acts of domestic violence or make a distinction between domestic violence and violence inflicted by strangers.
  • Also, while Russian legislation provides several general protection measures for victims of crimes, none of these are specifically tailored to victims of domestic violence and sufficiently address specific risks associated with such a situation. In November 2020, Russian NGOs working with victims of domestic violence wrote to the Head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) asking them to introduce risk assessment and risk management protocols that are used in many countries around the world. However, the MIA refused, stating: «the need to assess and manage the risks of violence is indicated in Article 51 of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence… Due to the fact that one of the prescriptions of the Convention is to lift the ban on propaganda of a free gender orientation, the Russian Federation has not ratified it».
  • None of the numerous draft bills on domestic violence (including those proposed by human rights defenders) has been adopted. The state-sponsored 2019 bill on domestic violence has been subject to massive criticism since its publication — it fails to provide an adequate level of protection. However, even this law is not on the agenda or under discussion anymore because of the pressure from the Russian Orthodox Church.
  • According to statistics from the National Domestic Violence Helpline (non-governmental), a critical number of victims — more than 96% of women — were not satisfied with the help they received when they contacted the police.
  • According to «Domestic violence in the context of COVID-19 in Russia» report of seven women’s rights organisations, levels of domestic violence increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Human rights defenders analysed verdicts from 2011 to 2019 and discovered that 65,8% of women murdered were victims of domestic violence. Then, they analysed verdicts for 2020 and 2021 and found that the proportion of intimate partner/family-related homicide has increased significantly compared to previous years, i.e., in 2020, it was 70,9%; in 2021, it was 71,7%.

Sexual violence

  • In conflict with international standards, Russia’s legislation lacks consent-based definitions of rape and other forms of sexual violence. Instead, the provision on rape focuses on the requirement of force, threat of force or helplessness when it comes to defining rape (Articles 131 and 132 of CC). Marital rape is neither explicitly criminalised as a separate article, nor included as an aggravating factor of sexual violence crimes. The criminal legislation of Russia fails to ensure ex officio prosecution for sexual violence crimes, classifying these crimes as the ones prosecuted under private-public prosecution procedures.

Psychological violence

  • Psychological violence is almost completely overlooked in Russian legislation. While the Criminal Code criminalises psychological violence, i.e., the infliction of systematic psychological suffering (Article 117) and the threat of murder or infliction of grave injury (Article 119), the prosecution of domestic violence under Article 117 is very rare and the threshold of Article 119 is high.
  • In Volodina v. Russia, the ECtHR stated that the existing criminal-law provisions were insufficient to offer protection against many forms of violence and discrimination against women, such as harassment, stalking, coercive behaviour, psychological or economic abuse, or a recurrence of similar incidents protracted over a period of time. In Volodina v. Russia No. 2, the ECtHR found that Russian authorities fail to protect victims from repeated acts of cyberviolence.
  • In addition, women’s access to justice is hindered by judicial bias and discriminatory stereotypes among judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officials towards women reporting violations of their rights.
  • In general, an overview of what Russia should do to change the appalling situation is given in the ECtHR pilot judgment in Tunikova and Others v. Russia. However, despite the fact that the judgement entered into force on March 14, 2022, in terms of general measures, the judgment is unlikely to be implemented. So far, the law on combating domestic violence is not on the agenda or under discussion.

Negative impact of the exclusion of Russia from the Council of Europe

  • Due to the expulsion of Russia from the CoE, women experiencing violence in Russia soon will no longer be able to apply to the ECtHR and at least receive monetary compensation. The UN treaty bodies do not award specific compensation, leaving it to the national authorities, which is likely to mean either no compensation at all or insignificant compensation.
  • Therefore, it would be very helpful if the UN treaty bodies could increase their capacity. Particularly, it is extremely important to focus on how Russia complies with interim measures indicated by the Committees. So far, there is at least one case in which Russia has not complied with the CCPR request (not to extradite a woman to Belarus). Further non-compliance and lack of response from the UN treaty bodies will seriously worsen the already existing climate of impunity.

Impact of armed conflict in Ukraine

  • Firstly, a general atmosphere of violence and impunity in Russian society cannot lead to a reduction in violence, including within the family. Secondly, the level of violence in society increases after conflict. Thirdly, women and girls forced to flee are one of the most vulnerable groups.
  • On the one hand, these are the women and girls of Ukraine — some come to Russia because it was the nearest available destination, others are evacuated by force. They are extremely vulnerable to trafficking and various forms of exploitation.
  • According to data from the Judicial Department of the Supreme Court, an average of 25 persons per year are prosecuted for human trafficking. A representative of the Supreme Court commented on these statistics as follows: «We are aware that these figures unfortunately do not mean that we are on the way to defeating this monstrous crime for the 21st century. We are aware of how many traffickers, given the high level of latency, go unpunished».
  • It is clear that these isolated convictions do not reflect the real scale of Russia’s human trafficking problem. The low number of detected cases of human trafficking is a result of imperfections in Russian legislation.
  • On the other hand, women who leave Russia are vulnerable and may encounter various forms of violence due to, for example, their lack of knowledge of the language, local context, and laws.

Other issues

  • Persistent problem of the non-enforcement of decisions granting custody over children remains generally, as well as in specific context of non-enforcement of custody decisions in the North Caucusus, where the problem is compounded by regional particularities: the support by regional authorities of gender-discriminatory practices originating in customary law, which follow an extreme form of patrilineality. Following the death of a child’s biological father, or following divorce, only the paternal side of the family has any claim to children, with no obligation to involve the mother in their upbringing. Especially in the Chechen Republic and Republic of Ingushetia, the majority of mothers who are divorced or widowed are denied custody of their minor children, a role in their children’s upbringing, regular or any contact with them. As a result, despite the national decision to award custody to the mother, in practice, enforcement of these decisions is simply ignored by the local authorities. It is not uncommon for mothers not to see their children for years and some lose contact altogether.

LGBT rights

  • Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion to Ukraine, the number of cases of prosecution for LGBT propaganda has increased. In the six months of 2022, we are aware of 7 such cases. In April, Meta and TikTok were fined for propaganda. In May, a lawyer at the LGBT Resource Center in Yekaterinburg was fined twice for posting information on the organisation’s website.
  • Sphere is aware that since 2019, the Federal Security Service (FSB) has been systematically engaged in identifying «propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations» on the Internet. The involvement of the FSB shows us that countering information about LGBT is part of high-level government policy.
  • The bill on new legislation around 'LGBT propaganda' proposed in July of 2022 suggests all information that either denies family values or is a 'propaganda of non-traditional relations' be banned, which would potentially restrict access to information. Additionally, in explanatory note the deputies authoring the bill equate information on LGBT with the propaganda of suicide, drugs, extremism and criminal behavior, and the LGBT people are equated with pedophiles, terrorists and those who are childfree.
  • In 2021, right after the case of Memorial’s shutdown, Russian authorities started a campaign against other human rights activists. One of the target groups was LGBT organisations and activists. The Ministry of Justice selects key organisations and activists working with LGBT rights to be recognized as foreign agents. Now there are 7 individuals and 6 organisations on the list.

Indigenous peoples

  • While the war itself has no declared Indigenous dimension, it will certainly have serious repercussions on Ukraine’s and Russia’s Indigenous peoples and the international Indigenous movement. As Ukraine’s Indigenous peoples traditionally mostly reside on the Crimean peninsula, they have been subject to Russia’s aggression since 2014.
  • Draconian laws enacted since 2012 regulate the work of organizations engaged in activities deemed political by the government. The constant harassment of these organizations by the authorities have made it next to impossible to openly and freely discuss issues relating to Indigenous peoples rights, especially where they concern the right to self-determination, and more specifically land rights. A particularly worrisome aspect was the expansion of extractive industries on Indigenous peoples’ territories without their Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC), actions broadly supported by Western businesses and governments.
  • As a result, today, the once vibrant Indigenous activist movement in Russia has been reduced to a handful of people. Those activists must be extremely careful about what they say and do as anyone who openly questions the political and economic choices made by the authorities is at risk of criminal prosecution. A number of prominent Indigenous rights defenders left the country fearing for their safety and freedom. Some of those who chose to stay in Russia are experiencing arbitrary criminal prosecution initiated by the state or extractive companies.
  • Soon after the start of the war, Russia unprecedentedly restricted the flow of information by adopting censorship and persecuting independent sources. Yet, the reality for the overwhelming majority of people living in remote areas like Russia’s Indigenous communities is that they have no access to the Internet, let alone the skills to avoid restrictions on information access imposed by the government.
  • The Russian media reported that the overwhelming majority of Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine are coming from smaller and poorer localities in Siberia and the Far East and the Volga and Caucasus regions. The percentage of Indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities among soldiers in the Russian armed forces who are fighting and dying in the war seems to be disproportionately high. There have been confirmed deaths of Indigenous soldiers from Chukotka, Khabarovsk Krai, Tyva, Buryatia, and other Russian regions. While any loss of life is a tragedy, for small-numbered Indigenous peoples it could be a question of their very survival.
  • The Russian government’s decision to wage a war against its neighbor had a devastating effect on its Indigenous peoples’ participation in international advocacy mechanisms. Following the start of the war on Ukraine, the Arctic Council, a unique institution in which the Arctic’s nations, Indigenous peoples, and NGOs work on sustainable environmental development and protection of the region, has suspended its work.
  • Meanwhile speaking out at the UN has become extremely dangerous for independent Indigenous voices from Russia. Anyone voicing opposition to Russian government decisions at international fora risks intimidation and prosecution in Russia. This is a huge challenge, as participating in international fora is of great importance for the many marginalized Indigenous peoples of Russia. Just how far Russian government representatives may go in their attempt to intimidate independent Indigenous activists was seen at the July 2022 session of the United Nations’ Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP). On July 4, the first day of EMRIP’s 15th session in Geneva, indigenous Shor activist Yana Tannagasheva was verbally assaulted and physically intimidated by a representative of the Russian state.
  • Indigenous peoples whose ancestral lands are divided by national borders suffer additional impacts of the war when contacts with brethren across the border are severely limited. The cross-border dimension is particularly evident in the case of the Sámi, who live in both Russia and Nordic countries. Here, the war in Ukraine has resulted in suspension of all cooperation between Russian and non-Russian members of the Sámi Council, the Sámi people’s main representative body. The suspension followed an explicit expression of support by some Sámi leaders in Russia for the Russian government’s decision to launch the war against Ukraine. And although not all Russian Sámi organizations endorsed the government on that issue, the decision to suspend Russian participation was made unanimously by the Executive Board of the Sámi Council, a body that consists of four people, one of which is a representative of Russian Sámi.

Military courts, army and conscripts

  • Russian military courts examine cases both against military personnel and civilians as prescribed by certain provisions under the Code of Criminal Procedure. Generally, the trials of civilians in military courts raise serious concerns relating to the fair trial. In the Concluding Observations adopted in 2018, the Human Rights Committee expressed concerns about the jurisdiction of military courts in Lebanon extending to civilians. In 2018, the HRC concluded that the trial and sentencing of civilians by a Belorrusian military court violated article 14 (1) of the ICCPR.
  • Russian military courts are regulated by the Federal Constitutional Law «On military Courts of the Russian Federation», the Federal Constitutional Law «On the Court System in the Russian Federation», and the Code of Criminal Procedure. According to the Law On Military Courts, military courts are the part of Russian courts of general jurisdiction (Article 1) and have jurisdiction to hear civil and criminal cases involving military personnel (Article 7).
  • Before 2009, only military officers could become military judges. On June 29, 2009, the law was amended, and non-military personnel obtained the right to become a judge of a military court. However, military officers on active duty or in the reserve currently retain a priority right to be appointed as judges of military courts. Moreover, a number of the judges of military courts appointed before the reform of 2009 are military officers, which calls into question their independence. According to international trial observers, the fact that all three judges of the panel, which found a journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva guilty of justifying terrorism (a verdict considered by the Commissioner for Human Rights and representative of the EU a violation of the right to freedom of speech), were appointed before 2009 as members of the military taken together with «widely reported abuse of anti-extremism and anti-terrorism laws to silence critics of the government» gives significant reasons to doubt the independence and impartiality of the judges. National trial monitoring by Citizens’ Watch raises similar concerns regarding the trial of Viktor Filinkov and Igor Shishkin sentenced for terrorism despite their claims of torture in custody.
  • These judges whose independence raises questions are entitled to consider such charges, which often constitute cases of political persecution: terrorism and extremism. Only military courts have jurisdiction to examine such cases. The Human Rights Committee found that the legal definitions of «extremist» and «terrorist» activities are too broad and vague and recommended Russia to make the definitions narrower and in line with the ICCPR. Russia did not comply with these recommendations. The vagueness of the legislation in question makes it an ideal tool for persecution and harassment of the human rights defenders and other people opposing the Russian government. Moreover, the defendants in such cases cannot file a petition to have their case tried by the jury, which deprives them of important guarantee of the right to a fair trial without an objective reason.
  • The vague definition of extremism and terrorism, denial of the right to a jury trial for defendants in these categories of cases taken together with, firstly, the general recommendation not to examine cases against civilians in military courts and, secondly, serious doubts in the independence of the judges of Russian military courts leads to conclusion that trials of civilians in Russian military courts pose serious concerns in relation to the observance of the right to the fair trial.
  • According to Agora’s report, the rights of the conscripts and army servicemen are violated in the context of war with Ukraine. On March 8, Vladimir Putin said that neither conscripts nor reservists are involved in Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, and would not be involved in future. The next day, on March 9, the Defence Ministry officially admitted that conscript soldiers were not only involved in combat operations, but several had been taken prisoner.
  • At least three group cases of Russian Guard fighters refusing to be sent to Ukraine are known. In general at least 17 cities, military personnel and Russian Guard fighters reported pressure, dismissals and threats of criminal charges due to refusals to go to Ukraine. At the end of March, the media started to publish the first evidence of desertion by Russian servicemen from units stationed in Ukraine. In particular, reports have pointed to the use of violence against them by officers.
  • A citizen of the Russian Federation has the right to ask to replace military service with an alternative civilian one. According to MCO statistics, in 50% of cases people are denied alternative civilian service. Courts cancel decisions of Draft commissions only in 10% of cases. Persons serving in the military cannot apply for alternative civilian service. In practice, the decision regarding applications to replace military service with alternative civil service is made by representatives of the Military сommissariat.
  • Alternative civilian service in Russia remains punitive and discriminatory in terms of duration and conditions. The military service in the Russian Federation is 12 months, while the alternative civilian service is 21 months or 18 months for alternative service in organizations affiliated to armed forces, such as military factories and construction departments. The conditions for alternative service are punitive in nature, including the practice to perform such services outside places of permanent residence, inadequate housing, the receipt of low salaries, which are below the subsistence level for those who are assigned to work in social organizations.

Political prisoners

  • The number of political prisoners is growing and currently stands at 478 in the Memorial’s deliberately incomplete lists. ¾ of them are prosecuted in connection with the exercise of the right to freedom of conscience, mainly Jehovah’s Witnesses and those accused of participating in Hizb ut-Tahrir, including a large number of Crimean Tatars. This number increased by 10% since the beginning of the year. These lists are based on the notion of political prisoners in the 2012 PACE resolution and are in a sense certified by this year’s June PACE Resolution 2446.
  • Particular attention is drawn to those prosecuted under «political» articles like the new anti-war ones, but in general, about 50 different articles of the CC are used to prosecute those in the lists. An obvious trend this year is the suppression of the anti-war movement in any form.
  • The new anti-war articles and their application (the presumption that only state sources are true) are only the most striking example of this. The new repressive norms (as, indeed, many of the old ones) do not meet the fundamental requirements of legal certainty. In general, the standard of proof of guilt in politically motivated cases has sharply decreased. This is evident from the Gorinov, Navalny, and Pivovarov cases.
  • As recently as last year, there was a clear trend toward expanding the practice of criminal prosecution for desacralization of the sacred (primarily cases involving the rehabilitation of Nazism and insulting the feelings of believers). Politically motivated criminal repression is clearly aimed at suppressing:
    • freedom of assembly (cases of violence against representatives of the authorities, violation of sanitary norms, repeat assembly violation (Article 212.1 of the CC), «blocking transport communications»);
    • freedom of expression (cases of justification of terrorism, incitement to extremism, incitement to hatred and hostility, the new anti-war articles of the СС, hooliganism, vandalism, rehabilitation of Nazism, defamation);
    • freedom of association (cases involving participation in activities of extremist and terrorist communities and organizations, undesirable organizations, and the establishment of NGOs that infringe on the civil rights);
    • freedom of conscience (cases involving participation in terrorist and extremist communities and organizations, and now potentially including undesirable organizations).
  • The Russian regime supports the Belarusian dictatorship: refugees from Belarus, persecuted on far-fetched political charges, are regularly extradited to Belarus.
  • In a situation of war, we can expect a wide scale illegal criminal prosecution of prisoners of war and illegally captured civilians in the occupied territories, based on false accusations of war crimes, participation in terrorist organizations, and illegal armed formations not only through a proxy of the LDPR (Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republic) but also directly in the Russian Federation, as well as an increase in falsified cases of sabotage, spying and treason against the motherland on behalf of Ukraine.
  • Repressions are selective, often choosing victims of politically motivated criminal prosecution at random. The main purpose of such selective repression is to control society. It was years long practice of these repressions in conjunction with a large number of other tools for restricting human rights and freedoms that provided the opportunity to unleash and wage a war of aggression against Ukraine, and today their intensification provides the opportunity to continue it.

Recommendations to the Russian Federation

  • Stop the persecutions for the anti-war positions and for the dissent views, lift the de facto adopted military censorship and repeal the laws, restricting the freedom of speech, including Articles 20.3.3 of the Code of Administrative Offences, Articles 207.3, 280.3 etc. of the Criminal Code. Stop administrative and criminal prosecution under these articles and acquit all the persons already prosecuted under these articles for expression of their positions.
  • Stop the extrajudicial blockings of sites and other sources of information.
  • Repeal the laws on foreign agents and undesirable organizations, empty the relevant registries and acquit all the persons already prosecuted for cooperation with undesirable organizations or violating foreign agent restrictions.
  • Stop the illegal use of the facial recognition system against protesters and activists.
  • Lift the ban on public events, including solo demonstrations, introduced due to COVID-19 and still in force in several regions of Russia.
  • Adopt the law on domestic violence in line with international standards in this area and implement the general measures indicated in the relevant judgments of the ECtHR. Comply with and implement the decisions, including interim measures, of other international mechanisms, in particular the UN Treaty Bodies.
  • Stop the persecutions, including the extrajudicial ones, of human rights defenders, journalists and media outlets, LGBT* and women’s rights activists, indigenous peoples and other activists. Investigate promptly and impartially the existing cases and bring perpetrators to justice.
  • Prevent and put an end to torture and ill-treatment, effectively investigate existing cases and bring perpetrators to justice.

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