Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the constitution prohibits such practices, numerous credible reports indicated law enforcement personnel engaged in torture, abuse, and violence to coerce confessions from suspects, and authorities generally did not hold officials accountable for such actions. If law enforcement officers were prosecuted, they were typically charged with simple assault or exceeding their authority. According to human rights activists, judges often elected instead to use laws against abuse of power, because this definition better captures the difference in authority between an officer of the law and the private individual who was abused.
There were reports of deaths as a result of torture (see section 1.a.).
Physical abuse of suspects by police officers was reportedly systemic and usually occurred within the first few days of arrest. Reports from human rights groups and former police officers indicated that police most often used electric shocks, suffocation, and stretching or applying pressure to joints and ligaments because those methods were considered less likely to leave visible marks. In the North Caucasus, local law enforcement organizations as well as federal security services reportedly committed torture (see section 1.g.).
In one example the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that on August 1, police tortured one of the newspaper’s employees, Uzbek journalist Khudoberdi Nurmatov (pen name Ali Feruz), while authorities detained him on charges of violating immigration law. The newspaper reported that police beat and used electric shocks on Nurmatov while transporting him to a detention center for foreign nationals. On the day of his detention, the Basmannyy District Court in Moscow charged Nurmatov with violating immigration law and ordered his deportation. Nurmatov previously filed multiple asylum claims in the country. On June 6, Nurmatov filed an appeal, and on August 3, the Presidential Human Rights Council released a statement asserting his deportation would be against the constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights because his family members were Russian citizens. On August 8, the Moscow City Court ruled to suspend Nurmatov’s deportation pending review of his case by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Nurmatov’s asylum case was pending, and he remained in a temporary detention facility.
Arrests and court decisions related to police torture continued to come from the Republic of Tatarstan. On October 19, Ilnaz Pirkin, a resident of Nizhnekamsk, Tatarstan, reportedly committed suicide after being detained on charges of theft. In a video message, Pirkin accused police of torture. Three police officials were arrested in the case. The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Tatarstan completed an investigation resulting in the dismissal of the head of the Nizhnekamsk Ministry of Internal Affairs, Robert Khusnutdinov.
Police and individuals who appeared to be operating with the tacit approval of authorities conducted attacks on political and human rights activists, critics of government policies, and persons linked to the opposition. For example, on March 18, officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB) detained, interrogated, and beat a Moscow State University student who hung a Ukrainian flag out his window.
Reports by refugees, NGOs, and the press suggested a pattern of police carrying out beatings, arrests, and extortions of persons whose ethnic makeup was assumed to be Romani, Central Asian, African, or of a Caucasus nationality.
There were multiple reports of authorities detaining defendants for psychiatric evaluations for up to 30 days or longer as a means exerting of pressure, or sending defendants for psychiatric treatment as a means of punishment them. A July report released by the Federation Global Initiative on Psychiatry described at least 12 cases of punitive psychiatric incarceration in the country since 2012 and noted that the phenomenon was likely underreported. On June 1, a district court in Chelyabinsk ordered the release of activist Aleksey Moroshkin, who was forcibly committed to a psychiatric hospital in 2015 after making online calls for the establishment of an “Ural people’s republic.”
Nonlethal physical abuse and hazing continued to be a problem in the armed forces, although violations related to hazing in the military were fewer than in previous years. Activists reported suspicious military deaths were often tied to extortion schemes. The NGO Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers confirmed a decrease in incidents of “dedovshchina” (a pattern of hazing) in 2015 continued into 2016, but that extortion of conscripts had become “the norm.” In February the news outlet Media Zone reported 306 criminal cases of hazing were initiated in the first half of 2016. In 2015 some 901 cases were initiated.
There were continued problems with recruits medically unfit for duty being forced to enter into the army. NGOs reported complaints from conscripts drafted into service despite their claims of poor health.
There were reports Russian-led forces and Russian occupation authorities in Ukraine engaged in torture (see Country Reports on Human Rights for Ukraine).
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in prisons and detention centers varied but were often harsh and life threatening. Overcrowding, abuse by guards and inmates, limited access to health care, food shortages, and inadequate sanitation were common in prisons, penal colonies, and other detention facilities.
Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding remained a serious problem. While the penal code establishes the separation of women and men, juveniles and adults, and pretrial detainees and convicts into separate quarters, there was anecdotal evidence that not all prison facilities followed these rules.
Penal Reform International reported conditions were generally better in women’s colonies than in those for men, but they remained substandard. Thirteen women’s facilities also contained facilities for underage children of inmates who had no options for housing them with friends or relatives.
On February 20, Minister of Justice Aleksandr Konovalov asserted publicly that the overall mortality rate in the Russian penitentiary system declined by 9.6 percent in 2016, while deaths from diseases declined by 11.8 percent.
In 2016 some 99 persons died in police stations and pretrial detention or temporary detention facilities according to a tally maintained by the prison monitoring website Russian Ebola.
Physical abuse by prison guards was systemic. For example, on April 24, special forces police beat Ivan Nepomnyashchikh, a 26-year-old Bolotnaya Square defendant serving 2.5 years in a Yaroslavl prison colony. According to media reports sourced to Nepomnyashchikh’s lawyer, special forces allegedly entered the prison and began beating inmates, including Nepomnyashchikh, for disobeying security search orders from prison guards. On April 21, authorities reportedly moved Nepomnyashchikh to a solitary confinement/punishment cell.
Prisoner-on-prisoner violence was also a problem. In some cases, prison authorities encouraged prisoners to abuse certain inmates. There were elaborate inmate-enforced caste systems in which certain groups, including informers, gay inmates, rapists, prison rape victims, and child molesters, were considered “untouchables.” Prison authorities provided little or no protection to these groups.
In the case of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who died of medical neglect and abuse while in pretrial detention in 2009, as of year’s end, authorities had not, brought those reportedly responsible for his death to justice. The investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death remained officially closed.
Health, nutrition, ventilation, and sanitation standards varied among facilities but generally were poor. Potable water sometimes was rationed. Access to quality medical care remained a significant problem in the penal system. According to the NGO Torture Territory, 18 prisoners held in the LIU-3 prison (Therapeutic Corrective Institution 3) in Saratov went on a hunger strike in June to protest poor conditions in the prison. There were reports of officials beating the strikers. Torture Territory appealed to the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman on behalf of the strikers.
In its annual report released in February, Amnesty International noted that during the year the ECHR found in 12 cases of prisoners being subjected to torture or other mistreatment through failure to provide adequate medical care in prisons and pretrial detention centers. On May 26, lawyers from the NGO Zona Prava appealed to the ECHR on behalf of Ivan Shaydullin, a prisoner at the Trans-Baikal prison. According to his lawyers, Shaydullin had advanced brain cancer that required radiation therapy, but the prison lacked a staff oncologist or the license necessary to provide such treatment.
Tuberculosis and HIV among the country’s prison population remained significant problems. In 2015 the Federal Penitentiary Services reported that nearly 4 percent of the country’s prison population was infected with tuberculosis, while the HIV rate among prisoners increased 6 percent from 2014 levels (see section 6, HIV and Social Stigma).
In a 2012 pilot judgment in the case of Ananyev v. Russia, the ECHR noted that inadequate conditions of detention were a recurrent and systemic problem in the country and ordered the government to draft a binding implementation plan to remedy the situation. In 2012 the government submitted an action plan for implementing the court’s ruling. Since release of the action plan, however, there have been no significant indications of progress.
There were reports political prisoners were placed in particularly harsh conditions of confinement and subjected to other punitive treatment within the prison system, such as solitary confinement or punitive stays in psychiatric units.
Administration: Both convicted inmates and inmates in pretrial detention facilities had visitation rights, but authorities could deny access to visitors depending on the circumstances. Authorities allowed prisoners serving a regular sentence four three-day visits with their spouses per year. By law those prisoners with harsher sentences are allowed fewer visitation rights. On occasion prison officials cancelled visits if the prison did not have enough space to accommodate them. The judge in a prisoner’s case could deny the prisoner visitation rights. Authorities could also prohibit relatives deemed a security risk from visiting prisoners.
While prisoners could file complaints with public oversight commissions or with the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, they were often afraid of reprisal. Prison reform activists reported that only prisoners who believed they had no other option risked the consequences of filing a complaint. Complaints that reached the oversight commissions often focused on minor personal requests.
NGOs reported that many prisoners who alleged torture were subsequently charged with making deliberately false denunciations, which often resulted in additional prison time. For example, on July 17, the District Court of Kirov sentenced former inmate Alexey Galkin to two years in prison for making a deliberately false denunciation. Upon release in March 2016 from a penal colony in the Omutninskiy District, Galkin appealed to the Investigative Committee, citing frequent torture and beatings while in prison. Galkin claimed that damage from one beating resulted in the removal of two of his ribs.
Independent Monitoring: There were no prison ombudsmen. The law regulating public oversight of detention centers allows public oversight commission representatives to visit facilities. According to the Russian Public Chamber, there were public oversight commissions in 81 regions with a total of 1,154 commission members. By law, there should be five to 40 members on each commission. Authorities permitted only the oversight commissions to visit prisons regularly to monitor conditions. Human rights activists expressed concern that several of the most active members of the commissions had been removed and replaced with individuals close to authorities, including many from law enforcement backgrounds. In one notable example, Dmitriy Komnov, who had overseen the prison where lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died in 2009, was elected to the Moscow public oversight commission in 2016. According to the NGO Committee for the Prevention of Torture, public oversight commissions were legally entitled to have access to all prison and detention facilities, including psychiatric facilities, but prison authorities often prevented such access. The law does not establish procedures for federal authorities to respond to oversight commission findings or recommendations, which are not legally binding.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
While the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, authorities engaged in arbitrary arrest and detention with impunity. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention, but successful challenges were rare.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The Ministry of Internal Affairs, the FSB, the Investigative Committee, the Office of the Prosecutor General, and the National Guard are responsible for law enforcement at all levels of government. The FSB is responsible for security, counterintelligence, and counterterrorism as well as for fighting organized crime and corruption. The national police force, under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, is organized into federal, regional, and local directorates. In 2016 President Putin established the Russian Federal National Guard Service under the direct control of the president. The National Guard secures borders alongside the Border Guard and the FSB, administers gun control, combats terrorism and organized crime, protects public order, and guards important state facilities. The National Guard also participates in armed defense of the county’s territory in coordination with Ministry of Defense forces.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces. While mechanisms to investigate abuses existed, the government generally did not investigate and punish rights abuses by law enforcement officers, and impunity was widespread. National-level civilian authorities had, at best, limited control over security forces in the Republic of Chechnya, which were accountable only to head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov. Authorities investigated and prosecuted numerous cases of corruption by law enforcement officials, but in many instances, corruption investigations appeared to be a means of settling political scores or turf battles among law enforcement entities.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
By law, authorities may arrest and hold a suspect for up to 48 hours without court approval, provided there is evidence of a crime or a witness; otherwise an arrest warrant is required. The law requires judicial approval of arrest warrants, searches, seizures, and detentions. Officials generally honored this requirement, although bribery or political pressure sometimes subverted the process of obtaining judicial warrants. After arrest, police typically take detainees to the nearest police station, where they inform them of their rights. Police must prepare a protocol stating the grounds for the arrest, and both detainee and police officer must sign it within three hours of detention. Police must interrogate detainees within the first 24 hours of detention. Prior to interrogation, a detainee has the right to meet with an attorney for two hours. No later than 12 hours after detention, police must notify the prosecutor. They must also give the detainee an opportunity to notify his or her relatives by telephone unless a prosecutor issues a warrant to keep the detention secret. Police are required to release a detainee after 48 hours, subject to bail conditions, unless a court decides, at a hearing, to prolong custody in response to a motion filed by police not less than eight hours before the 48-hour detention period expires. The defendant and his or her attorney must be present at the court hearing.
By law, police must complete their investigation and transfer a case to a prosecutor for arraignment within two months of a suspect’s arrest, although an investigative authority may extend a criminal investigation for up to 12 months. Extensions beyond 12 months need the approval of the head federal investigative authority in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the FSB, or the Investigative Committee. According to some defense lawyers, the two-month time limit often was exceeded, especially in cases with a high degree of public interest.
A number of problems exist related to detainees’ ability to obtain adequate defense counsel. Federal law provides defendants the right to choose their own lawyers, but investigators generally did not respect this provision, instead designating lawyers friendly to the prosecution. These “pocket” defense attorneys agreed to the interrogation of their clients in their presence while making no effort to defend their clients’ legal rights. In many cases, especially in more remote regions, defense counsel was not available for indigent defendants. Judges usually did not suppress confessions taken without a lawyer present. Judges at times freed suspects held in excess of detention limits, although they usually granted prosecutors’ motions to extend detention periods.
Except in the North Caucasus, authorities generally respected the legal limitations on detention. There were reports of occasional noncompliance with the 48-hour limit for holding a detainee. At times authorities failed to issue an official detention protocol within the required three hours after detention and held suspects longer than the legal detention limits. The practice was widespread in the North Caucasus (see section 1.g.) and unevenly applied.
Arbitrary Arrest: There were many reports of arbitrary arrest, often in connection with demonstrations. In one example, on June 12, police in St. Petersburg arrested attorney and human rights activist Dinar Idrisov after he attempted to provide legal assistance to protestors detained during anticorruption demonstrations. On June 14, the Dzerzhinskiy District Court in St. Petersburg found Idrisov guilty of petty hooliganism for allegedly swearing at police and sentenced him to 14 days of administrative detention.
There were reports that Russian-led forces and Russian occupation authorities in Ukraine engaged in arbitrary detention (see Country Reports on Human Rights for Ukraine).
Pretrial Detention: Observers noted that lengthy pretrial detention was a problem, but data on its extent was not available.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: According to the law, a detainee may challenge the lawfulness of detention before an investigator, prosecutor, or court. The challenge can take the legal form of a referral or complaint. The defense typically submits a referral to ask for a certain procedural motion, be it with the prosecution or court, and a complaint is submitted with respect to action that was already taken. Using these instruments a detainee or his or her lawyer can cause the prosecution or court to change the type of detention used (from arrest in a detention facility to house arrest, for example) or complain that a certain type of pretrial restraint is unlawful. The investigator and the court have absolute discretion to impose limits on the type of detention used if they have sufficient grounds to believe that the defendant will escape from prosecution, continue criminal activity, threaten witnesses or other individuals connected with the criminal case, destroy evidence, or otherwise hamper the investigation. The judge typically agrees with the investigator’s position and dismisses defense referrals or complaints on the problem.
Amnesty: In July, President Putin pardoned Annik Kesyan and Marina Dzhandzhgava, two women convicted of treason for sending text messages about the movement of Russian military equipment on the eve of the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The law provides for freedom of assembly, but local authorities increasingly restricted this right. The law requires organizers of public meetings, demonstrations, or marches by more than one person to notify the government, although authorities maintained that protest organizers must receive government permission, not just provide notification. Failure to obtain official permission to hold a protest resulted in the demonstration being viewed as unlawful by law enforcement officials, who routinely dispersed such protests. While numerous public demonstrations took place, on many occasions local officials selectively denied groups permission to assemble or offered alternate venues that were inconveniently or remotely located.
The law provides heavy penalties for engaging in unsanctioned protests and other violations of the law on public assembly up to 300,000 rubles ($5,140) for individuals, 600,000 rubles ($10,290) for organizers, and one million rubles ($17,140) for groups or companies.
The law requires that “motor rallies” and other “tent city” gatherings in public places receive official permission. It requires gatherings that would interfere with pedestrian or vehicle traffic to receive official agreement 10 days prior to the event; those that do not affect traffic require three days’ notice. As a consequence single-person pickets remained the sole form of public protest that do not require official approval.
Under the law the government may punish “mass rioting,” which includes teaching and learning about the organization of and participation in “mass riots.” The law provides that authorities may prohibit nighttime demonstrations and meetings and levy fines for violating protest regulations and rules on holding public events. Protesters who violate the regulations multiple times within a six-month period may be fined up to one million rubles ($17,140) or imprisoned for up to five years.
In the 2015 case of activist Ildar Dadin, who was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for participation in four protests, the Supreme Court ruled on February 22 to revoke the verdict and release him. On May 12, police detained at least 11 activists, including Dadin, for reading aloud the country’s constitution on Red Square. On June 12, the Tverskoy District Court of Moscow fined Dadin 20,000 rubles ($340).
In March, Moscow’s Zamoskvoretskiy District Court convicted protester Maxim Panfilov of taking part in a mass riot and assaulting a police officer and sentenced him to psychiatric treatment. Panfilov was arrested in April 2016 in connection with the 2012 Bolotnaya Square case, which observers widely believed was politically motivated. In June a Moscow City Court upheld the ruling, and in July authorities transferred Panfilov to a psychiatric hospital.
There were reports activists were subject to threats and physical violence in connection with organizing or taking part in public events or protests. On April 28, opposition Yabloko Party member Natalia Fyodorova temporarily lost her vision after an unknown assailant splashed chemicals on her face. The party reported that the attack was believed linked to Fyodorova’s opposition to Moscow city authorities’ plan to demolish 8,000 five-story Soviet-era apartment buildings.
Police often broke up demonstrations that were not officially sanctioned, at times using disproportionate force. On March 26, Moscow authorities arrested as many as 1,000 protesters participating in an anticorruption protest organized by opposition leader Aleksey Navalny. Police beat many detainees, and authorities arrested and subsequently convicted at least five protesters, including Aleksandr Shpakov, for violating the laws on assembly. Authorities charged Shpakov with violence against a police officer. On May 24, a judge sentenced him to 18 months in prison. Observers believed the case against Shpakov was politically motivated.
On August 22, St. Petersburg governor Georgiy Poltavchenko prohibited unsanctioned rallies and other public events on the Field of Mars, the only free assembly area in central St. Petersburg where rallies of up to 200 participants could be held without a permit. On November 2, a city court in St. Petersburg refused to reinstitute the status of the Field of Mars as a free assembly area.
On May 10, President Putin signed a decree limiting protests in connection with enhanced security surrounding the 2017 Confederations Cup and the 2018 World Cup soccer tournaments. During the tournaments, protests in seven cities will only be possible with the approval of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the FSB.
Although they do not require official approval, authorities restricted single-person pickets, requiring that there be at least 164 feet separating protesters from each other. On March 27, the Constitutional Court published a decree that allows police officers to stop a single-person picket to protect the health and safety of the picketer. On June 14, Moscow police arrested the opposition Yabloko Party’s Moscow leader, Sergey Mitrokhin, for conducting a single-person picket outside the Federation Council building in protest of a bill on the renovation of Moscow housing. On August 8, the Tverskoy District Court of Moscow fined Mitrokhin 15,000 rubles ($257) for violating procedures for holding a mass event.
Authorities continued to deprive LGBTI individuals and their supporters of free assembly rights. Despite a Supreme Court ruling that LGBTI individuals are a “protected class” and should be allowed to engage in public activities, the law prohibiting so-called propaganda of homosexuality to minors (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) provides grounds to deny LGBTI activists and their supporters the right of assembly and was used on multiple occasions to interrupt public demonstrations by LGBTI activists. In June Moscow municipal officials refused an application by representatives of the LGBTI community to hold a parade, upholding a 2012 decision to prohibit gay parades in Moscow for 100 years, notwithstanding an ECHR ruling that the ban contravened the European Convention on Human Rights.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The constitution provides for freedom of association. During the year, however, the government instituted new measures and expanded existing restrictive laws to stigmatize, harass, fine, close, and otherwise raise barriers to membership in organizations that were critical of the government.
Public organizations must register their bylaws and the names of their leaders with the Ministry of Justice. The finances of registered organizations are subject to investigation by tax authorities, and foreign grants must be registered.
The government continued to use a 2012 law, which requires NGOs that receive foreign funding and engage in “political activity” to register as foreign agents, to harass, stigmatize, and in some cases halt the operation of NGOs, although fewer organizations were registered than in previous years. The Ministry of Justice revised its official website listing domestic “foreign agent” NGOs, which resulted in a reduction in the number organizations on the list. The ministry removed from the list NGOs that closed or that successfully petitioned for removal from the list by refusing foreign funding and not engaging in so-called political activity. These organizations previously remained on the ministry’s website with a date noting when they “ceased performing the functions of a foreign agent.” As many as 20 organizations successfully petitioned for removal from the “foreign agent” list. At least 30 organizations shut down their operations rather than work under the “foreign agent” label. On November 30, President Putin signed legislation to expand the potential application of the “foreign agent” designation to foreign media working in the country as well as Russian news publications receiving funding from abroad (see section 2.a.).
During the year the Ministry of Justice designated 16 new NGOs as well as nine media organizations as “foreign agents” (see section 2.a.). As of December the Ministry of Justice’s registry of organizations designated as “foreign agents” included 86 NGOs and nine media organizations.
In May 2016 at the behest of President Putin, the government clarified and ultimately expanded the definition of political activities covered under the “foreign agent” law. Putin signed the related amendments in June. Under the new definition, political activities include: organizing public events, rallies, demonstrations, marches, and pickets; organizing and conducting public debates, discussions or presentations; participating in election activities aimed at influencing the result, including election observation and forming commissions; public calls to influence local and state government bodies, including calling for changes to legislation; disseminating opinions and decisions of state bodies by technology; and attempts to shape public political views, including public opinion polls or other sociological research.
To be delisted, an NGO must submit an application to the Ministry of Justice proving that it did not receive any foreign funding or engage in any political activity within the previous 12 months. If the NGO received any foreign funding, it must have returned the money within three months. The ministry would then initiate an unscheduled inspection of the NGO to determine whether it qualified for removal from the list.
In addition to continued inspections of NGOs designated as foreign agents, authorities began to levy heavy fines against NGOs for failing to disclose foreign agent status on websites or printed materials. According to Human Rights Watch, while authorities inspected a wide range of designated civil society groups from nearly every region of the country, groups that were warned, fined, or prosecuted generally were those active in areas such as election monitoring, human rights advocacy, anticorruption work, and environmental protection. On February 21, the Basmannyy District Court fined the SOVA Center 300,000 rubles ($5,140) for neglecting to register as a “foreign agent.”
During inspections of NGOs, law enforcement agencies typically brought representatives from as many as a dozen different bodies, including fire, tax, health, and safety inspectors, to issue citations. In addition, state-controlled media crews frequently accompanied authorities during such inspections.
Organizations the government deemed as “foreign agents” reported experiencing the social effects of stigmatization, such as being targeted by vandals and online criticism, in addition to losing partners and funding sources and being subjected to smear campaigns in the state-controlled press. As a result some organizations discontinued their work and closed their doors.
Use of the law on “undesirable” foreign organizations expanded during the year with the addition of Open Russia, Open Russia Civic Movement, the Institute for Modern Russia (all organizations tied to exiled former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky), and the Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation. The organizations joined the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, the Media Development Fund, the National Endowment for Democracy, Open Society, Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation, and the U.S.-Russia Foundation. According to the definition of the law, a foreign organization may be found “undesirable” if that group is deemed “dangerous to the foundations of the constitutional order of the Russian Federation, its national security, and defense.” Authorities have not clarified what specific threats the “undesirable” NGOs posed to the country.
In accordance with the law, any foreign organization deemed “undesirable” must cease its activities, any money or assets found by authorities may be seized, and any citizens found to be continuing to work with the organization in contravention of the law may face up to seven years in prison. In March the State Duma amended the law to prohibit “undesirable” foreign organizations from establishing legal entities in the country. In July a Krasnodar court fined Open Russia coordinator Jan Antonov 15,000 rubles ($257) for carrying out activities of an “undesirable” organization. On September 7, SOVA Center director Aleksandr Verkhovskiy reported that the Moscow Prosecutor General’s Office opened an investigation into his NGO because of web links on their website to the “undesirable” National Endowment for Democracy and Open Society. The SOVA Center published links to both “undesirable” organizations as past donors. On December 25, a Moscow court ruled that the statute of limitations had run out since the web links had been discovered and ordered the administrative case against the organization to be closed. In November, President Putin signed into law amendments to legislation allowing for extrajudicial blocking of websites that include links to the materials of “undesirable” organizations.
NGOs engaged in political activities or activities that “pose a threat to the country” that receive support from U.S. citizens or organizations are also subject to suspension under the “Dima Yakovlev” law, which prohibits these NGOs from having members with dual Russian-U.S. citizenship.
Authorities continued to misuse the country’s expansive definition of extremism as a tool to stifle freedom of association. On April 20, the Supreme Court criminalized the activity of members of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The decision prohibited all activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ legal entities throughout the country, effectively banning their worship. On July 17, the Appellate Chamber of the Supreme Court upheld this decision. On August 17, the parent organization of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country and 395 regional branches were formally placed on the justice ministry’s list of “extremist” groups, a procedural move following the Supreme Court’s decision. There were as many as 171,000 members of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country.
There were multiple reports that civil society activists were beaten or attacked in retaliation for their professional activities and that law enforcement officials did not adequately investigate the incidents. For example, on August 15, activist Ivan Skripnichenko was tending to a makeshift memorial erected at the site of the 2015 killing of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. According to press reports, an unknown assailant saying, “You don’t like Putin, or something?” attacked Skripnichenko and punched him in the face. Skripnichenko was treated for a broken nose and was rehospitalized a few days later for complications. He died on August 21, apparently of a pulmonary embolism connected to the injury. As of the end of the year, no criminal case was opened in connection with the attack.
In multiple cases authorities arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted civil society activists in political retaliation for their work. For example, on June 1, a trial began in the case against human rights activist and historian Yuriy Dmitriyev, known for his decades of work documenting the mass repression of the Stalin era. Dmitriyev was arrested in December 2016 and charged with possession of child pornography. In late December, Dmitriyev was unexpectedly transferred to Moscow to undergo psychiatric evaluation at the Serbskiy State Scientific Center. Observers and rights activists contended Dmitriyev was framed and that the case is in retaliation for his work.
There were reports that authorities targeted NGOs and activists representing the LGBTI community for retaliation (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).