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Russia: more than 21,000 people targeted in sustained crackdown on anti-war dissent - new briefing

© Daniil Danchenko/NurPhoto

New briefing shows how thousands have been subject to detention, labelled ‘foreign agents’ or been jailed under new laws penalising discussion of the armed forces 

Amateur radio broadcaster Vladimir Rumyantsev serving three years in jail for citing material from banned bloggers

‘New, absurd laws that criminalise those who freely express their views have been adopted and immediately put to use’ - Oleg Kozlovsky

More than 21,000 people in Russia have been the target of repressive laws and practices by the Russian authorities to suppress the country’s anti-war movement, said Amnesty International in a new briefing today.

Amnesty’s briefing shows how the Russian authorities are using a wide range of repressive tactics to crack down on anti-war activists as its full-scale war of aggression against Ukraine goes past its 500th day. 

In particular, administrative proceedings have been widely used to target anti-war protesters as these lack any effective fair trial safeguards. In these proceedings, judges have regularly dismissed compelling defence evidence and relied solely on police reports - which have sometimes been manifestly false - to find protesters in violation of public assembly regulations or of committing newly-introduced “discreditation” offences, issuing “offenders” with heavy fines or administrative detention. Last year, more than 21,000 people in Russia were penalised for such “offences”, with 2,307 given administrative detention and the remainder fined, primarily for participating in peaceful anti-war street protests or for criticising the war on the internet. 

Last year the Russian authorities also introduced new offences concerning the “dissemination of knowingly false information about the use of the Armed Forces” and “repeated discreditation of the Armed Forces or state bodies”, and more than 150 individuals have faced criminal proceedings under these charges. Many have already been convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms, with the laws - respectively - carrying possible prison sentences of up to 15 years and seven years.

Among those to have been jailed is the amateur radio broadcaster Vladimir Rumyantsev from Vologda in northern Russia, who was sentenced to three years in jail for broadcasting from his apartment reports about the war by independent media and bloggers banned by the authorities. Amnesty considers Rumyantsev a prisoner of conscience - convicted solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression - and is calling for him to be released immediately and unconditionally. 

The Russian authorities have also deployed other tactics to harass, pressure and intimidate critics, including arbitrary job dismissals and the cancellation of concerts and other public events that had involved those who oppose the war. Some people have also been coerced into making videoed “apologies” for their past actions.

Amnesty has also documented an increasing trend of labelling well-known individuals “foreign agents” over their public criticism of the war. These arbitrary designations have often resulted in severe restrictions being placed on their personal and professional activities, a loss of employment and having to live with the public stigma of being branded a spy or traitor. 

Amnesty is urging the Russian authorities to repeal these repressive laws, to immediately and unconditionally release all those held solely for peacefully expressing their views, and to ensure the right to freedom of expression is fully protected in the country.

Oleg Kozlovsky, Amnesty International’s Russia Researcher, said: 

“Peaceful protesters against the war in Ukraine and those who share critical information about the Russian armed forces face severe criminal, administrative and other sanctions. 

“New, absurd laws that criminalise those who freely express their views have been adopted and immediately put to use. 

“The flawed criminal justice system - characterised by deeply unfair trials - has been deployed to dish out prison sentences and hefty fines to silence critics in response to the slightest dissent.

“We call on the international community to raise these cases with the Russian authorities, to support persecuted activists in Russia and abroad - including by attending court hearings, and ensuring fair and effective asylum procedures - and to strengthen international mechanisms to address human rights violations in Russia.” 


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