Freedom curtailed in the Russian Federation

Journalist being beaten up by police during peaceful demonstration in Moscow, 14 April 2007

Journalist being beaten up by police during peaceful demonstration in Moscow, 14 April 2007

© Tanya Lokshina


26 February 2008

There has been a clampdown on the freedoms of assembly and expression in the run-up to parliamentary and presidential elections in the Russian Federation. The authorities have violently dispersed some opposition demonstrations, while pro-government events have gone ahead without interference.

Human rights activists and journalists who monitored demonstrations and public meetings have been harassed by law enforcement bodies. The space to express critical views in the Russian Federation has been gradually and progressively curtailed in recent years, according to a new Amnesty International report.

The report "Freedom limited. The right to freedom of expression in the Russian Federation" examines the effect of arbitrary interpretation of vague legislation. It reveals increasing harassment of people in the Russian Federation seeking to express their opinions and to stand up for their rights.

"The rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association are a cornerstone for a functioning civil society. The Russian authorities are curtailing these rights as part of their strategy to counter so-called western influence," said Nicola Duckworth, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International.

"In doing so, they fail their national and international obligations to guarantee these rights for all."

In a country where TV and many other media outlets are controlled by the state, there is less and less space for independent reporting. Those journalists who attempt to report independently are obstructed from conducting their professional work and they may face intimidation and possibly prosecution.

The radio station Ekho Moskvy has repeatedly been asked to provide transcripts of their programmes to the prosecutor's office in relation to preliminary investigations into allegations that they had aired extremists' views.

The investigation into the murder of human rights journalist Anna Politkovskaya appears to be making no progress in determining who ordered the killing.

The 2006 law on non-governmental organizations (NGOs), with its burdensome reporting requirements, is one of the legal instruments being used to target some organizations seen as a threat to state authority.

Many NGOs now find themselves entangled in bureaucratic procedures set by the authorities. This takes valuable time away from their real work without adding to the fulfilment of the NGO law's stated aims, to make them more accountable to society.

Other legal instruments used against human rights activists, independent organizations and media include the 2002 law to combat extremist activities, the tax law and the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

Golos (Voice), an NGO working to promote fair elections and conducting training for election observers, is involved in a legal battle to prevent the closure of its branch in Samara. Rainbow House, an NGO of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights activists, was denied registration.

Before that, the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, which collected and distributed information about the human rights situation in Chechnya and other parts of the Russian Federation, was closed down.

"Freedom of expression is first and foremost the freedom to express alternative viewpoints. The continuing attack on this right, including by restrictions to the rights to freedom of assembly and association, has a stifling effect on the whole society,” Nicola Duckworth said.

"Without the right to freedom of expression, other basic human rights may be violated more easily. Silence is the best breeding ground for impunity – a powerful tool to undermine the rule of law."

Russian Federation: Freedom limited - the right to freedom of expression in the Russian Federation

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Index Number: EUR 46/008/2008
Date Published: 26 February 2008
Categories: Russian Federation

On the eve of the Russian presidential elections on 2 March 2008, Amnesty International is publishing its concerns relating to the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly in the Russian Federation. The organization concludes that all three fundamental rights have been curtailed in recent years. Human rights defenders, independent civil society organizations, political opponents, and ordinary citizens have all been victims of this roll-back on civil and political rights.


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