Russia: Increasingly repressive climate turns human rights work into minefield

Since Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012, new repressive laws and policies, and reprisals against human rights defenders and activists, have had a crippling effect on vital human rights work in the country, said Amnesty International in a new briefing Unfair Game: Persecution of Human Rights Defenders in Russia Intensifies released today.

“Human rights work in present-day Russia is like navigating a minefield. Every day poses a new threat to a human rights defender; whether it’s severe beatings by ‘unknown’ assailants who have never been found, criminal prosecution and imprisonment for a crime that has never been committed, financial starvation through bank account freezes and extortionate fines, or intrusive state media attention targeting close relatives,” said Natalia Prilutskaya, Amnesty International’s Russia Researcher.

Every day poses a new threat to a human rights defender; whether it’s severe beatings by ‘unknown’ assailants who have never been found, prosecution for a crime that has never been committed, financial starvation through bank account freezes and extortionate fines, or intrusive state media attention targeting close relatives
Natalia Prilutskaya, Amnesty International's Russia Researcher

The briefing exposes the wide range of instruments the authorities have used over the past seven years to restrict, obstruct or halt human rights work in Russia. These include the passing of new restrictive laws, persecution of human rights defenders, and condoning the attacks on and threats to activists.

According to the briefing, those protecting human rights in Chechnya and Russia’s LGBTI activists are among the most targeted, with numerous vicious attacks recorded. For example, Igor Kochetkov from St Petersburg, whose organization Russian LGBT Network exposed the crimes against gay men in Chechnya, received death threats in January 2019 through a video that circulated widely on social media. To date there is no indication that police have effectively investigated the matter. 

Since the head of the Chechen Memorial Human Rights Centre, Oyub Titiev, was arrested and imprisoned for drug possession on politically motivated charges, human rights work has been near-impossible in Chechnya, where many activists have ceased their activities and the few remaining operate mostly from remote locations. These restrictions have had a severe impact in the rest of the North Caucasus.

“We call on the authorities to end the reprisals and smear campaigns that have become their modus operandi, and to impartially and effectively investigate all crimes committed against human rights defenders and activists. They should also repeal the excessively restrictive laws undermining the work of NGOs, and abide by Russia’s international human rights obligations to protect those who protect others’ rights,” said Natalia Prilutskaya.