The Russian Federation has a highly centralized, authoritarian political system dominated by President Vladimir Putin. The bicameral Federal Assembly consists of a directly elected lower house (State Duma) and an appointed upper house (Federation Council), both of which lacked independence from the executive. State Duma elections in September 2016 and the presidential election in 2012 were marked by accusations of government interference and manipulation of the electoral process.
Security forces generally reported to civilian authorities, except in some areas of the North Caucasus.
The occupation and purported “annexation” of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula continued to affect the human rights situation significantly and negatively. The government continued to arm, train, lead, and fight alongside, forces in eastern Ukraine. Credible observers attributed thousands of civilian deaths and injuries, as well as widespread abuses, to Russian-led forces in Ukraine’s Donbas region and to Russian occupation authorities in Crimea (see the Country Reports on Human Rights for Ukraine). Authorities also conducted politically motivated arrests, detentions, and trials of Ukrainian citizens in Russia, many of whom claimed to have been tortured. Human rights groups asserted that numerous Ukrainian citizens remained in Russia as political prisoners.
The most significant human rights issues included extrajudicial killings, including of LGBTI persons in Chechnya; enforced disappearances; torture that was systematic and sometimes resulted in death and sometimes included punitive psychiatric incarceration; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons; arbitrary arrest and detention; lack of judicial independence; political prisoners; severe interference with privacy; severe restrictions on freedom of expression and the media, including the use of “antiextremism” and other vague laws to prosecute peaceful dissent; and violence against journalists and bloggers; blocking and filtering of internet content and use of cyberattacks to disrupt peaceful internet discussion; severe restrictions on the rights of peaceful assembly; increasingly severe restriction on freedom of association, including laws on “foreign agents” and “undesirable foreign organization”; restrictions on freedom of movement of those charged with political offenses; refoulement; severe restriction on the right to participate in the political process, including restrictions on opposition candidates’ ability to seek public office and conduct political campaigns, and on the ability of civil society to monitor election processes; widespread corruption at all levels and in all branches of government; thousands of fatal incidents of domestic violence to which the government responded by reducing the penalty for domestic violence, and honor killings and other harmful traditional practices against women in parts of the North Caucasus; thousands of fatal incidents of child abuse; trafficking in persons; institutionalization in harsh conditions of a large percentage of persons with disabilities; and state-sponsored as well as societal violence against LGBTI persons, especially in Chechnya.
The government failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish most officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity.
Conflict in the North Caucasus between government forces, insurgents, Islamist militants, and criminals led to numerous abuses of human rights, including killings, torture, physical abuse, politically motivated abductions, and a general degradation in the rule of law. Ramzan Kadyrov’s government in Chechnya committed abuses with impunity. Virtually none of these abuses was credibly investigated or prosecuted by either the federal government or local Chechen authorities.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were numerous reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, particularly in Chechnya. In the North Caucasus, both authorities and local militants reportedly carried out numerous conflict-related extrajudicial killings (see section 1.g.).
On April 1, the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that, during an “antigay purge” that took place from December 2016 through March, local Chechen security services kidnapped, held prisoner, and tortured more than 100 male residents in Chechnya based on their suspected sexual orientation, resulting in at least three deaths. Multiple independent human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, the Russia LGBT Network, and Memorial, subsequently confirmed Novaya Gazeta’s allegations. On April 19, following international condemnation, the government authorized a “preinvestigative check” of the allegations by the Investigative Committee. Chechen officials denied the killings had taken place, while simultaneously making statements that condoned extrajudicial killings of LGBTI persons. In May Human Rights Ombudswoman Tatyana Moskalkova also began an investigation and requested the Investigative Committee to look into the fate of individual alleged victims, based on information provided to her by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). On July 6, she received an interim response from the Investigative Committee that did not confirm any violence against the LGBTI community in Chechnya, citing a lack of specific information on the victims. She publicly noted her dissatisfaction with the response and traveled to Chechnya in September. According to Novaya Gazeta and credible NGO reports, during her visit to Chechnya, local authorities misled her and attempted to cover up the killings. On October 16, a surviving victim of the “antigay purge,” Maksim Lapunov, filed a complaint with the Investigative Committee in which he alleged torture and provided information about extrajudicial killings. On November 1, Moskalkova stated she would ensure that Lapunov’s allegations were properly investigated, stating, “I believe there are grounds to open a criminal case and provide state protection to Maxim Lapunov.” On December 27, Novaya Gazeta published a report that included interviews with 12 victims of the purge, describing in detail their arrests, imprisonment, and torture at the hands of authorities. According to Novaya Gazeta, by the end of the year, the Russia LGBT Network had evacuated 106 persons from Chechnya, all of whom left Russia.
Prison officials and police allegedly subjected inmates and suspects in custody to physical abuse that in some instances resulted in death. In one case, on September 27, police in Nizhiy Tagil arrested Stanislav Golovko on suspicion of robbery and allegedly brutally beat him. As a result of his injuries, he died in a local hospital on September 30. According to media reports, the coroner’s report documented 26 injuries on his body, including nine broken ribs, three skull fractures, and broken fingers and toes on all four extremities. On October 25, a district court in Nizhniy Tagil confirmed the detention of police investigator Dmitriy Panov and Senior Lieutenant Yegor Yalunin on charges of “causing fatal injuries” and “exceeding official authority” leading to Golovko’s death.
In the 2016 torture and extrajudicial killing of Magomed Daliyev, a suspect in police custody in connection with a robbery, authorities arrested three Ministry of Internal Affairs personnel, including Timur Khamkhoyev, the head of the local ministry’s counterextremism center (CCE). In May the Investigative Committee of Ingushetia combined five criminal cases of torture brought against CCE officials, including Daliyev’s case, into one criminal case.
Physical abuse and hazing, which in some cases resulted in death, continued to be a problem in the armed forces. The Main Military Investigative Department opened an investigation into the circumstances of the March 8 death of conscript Denis Khamidullin in Yekaterinburg. While his commanders asserted he had committed suicide, an examination of the body indicated that he had been beaten shortly before his death. A criminal case was initiated against the commander of the unit for alleged official misconduct.
In the 2015 killing of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, who was deputy prime minister during the Yeltsin administration, a court on July 13 convicted Zaur Dadayev, Anzor Gubashev, Khamzat Bakhayev, Shadid Gubashev, and Temirlan Eskerkhanov of murder as part of an organized group and illegally purchasing, carrying, transporting, and storing firearms. The court sentenced the five to prison terms of between 11 and 20 years. Human rights activists and the Nemtsov family believed the court intentionally ignored the question of who ordered and organized the killing and noted that these individuals were still at large.
The country played a significant military role in conflicts in eastern Ukraine and Syria, where human rights organizations attributed thousands of civilian deaths as well as other human rights abuses to Russian-led forces and Russian occupation authorities in Crimea (see Country Reports on Human Rights for Ukraine). Since 2015 the country’s forces have conducted military operations, including airstrikes, in the continuing conflict in Syria. According to human rights organizations, the country’s forces took actions such as bombing urban areas during the conflict, including purposefully targeting civilian infrastructure (see Country Reports on Human Rightsfor Syria).
Enforced disappearances for both political and financial reasons continued in the North Caucasus (see section 1.g.). According to the 2016 report of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, there were 480 outstanding cases of enforced or involuntary disappearances in the country. Security forces were allegedly responsible for the kidnapping and disappearance of asylum seekers from Central Asia, particularly Uzbekistan and Tajikistan (see section 2.d.).
On August 8, singer Zelimkhan Bakayev disappeared in Chechnya. According to media sources, police detained him in the center of Groznyy, although Chechen authorities have denied the claim. On August 18, Chechen Press and Information Minister Dzhambulat Umarov issued a public statement that Bakayev was safe and would “appear soon.” On September 18, Umarov claimed that he had information that Bakayev had secretly left the country. On September 24, a video surfaced online in which a man claiming to be Bakayev said that he was in Germany. Human rights activists maintained that the video was a fabrication, noting differences from Bakayev’s usual appearance and conduct and the fact that the video showed “Bakayev” drinking an energy drink not sold in Germany. According to human rights activists, German officials reported they had no record of Bakayev entering the country, and they believed he might have been detained because of his sexual orientation. In October LGBTI advocacy groups and some websites reported that an unnamed source alleged that Bakayev had been tortured to death on the same day he was allegedly detained. As of December, Bakayev’s whereabouts remained unknown.
There were reports Russian-led forces and Russian occupation authorities in Ukraine engaged in enforced disappearances (see Country Reports on Human Rights for Ukraine).
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.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, but judges remained subject to influence from the executive branch, the armed forces, and other security forces, particularly in high-profile or politically sensitive cases, as well as corruption. The outcomes of some trials appeared predetermined.
There were reports of pressure on defense attorneys representing clients being subjected to politically motivated prosecution. Human rights lawyer Mark Feygin stated in November that authorities were seeking to have him disbarred.
Judges were subject to pressures that could influence the outcome of cases. In a 2016 interview, former Supreme Court judge Tamara Morshchakova indicated judges were concerned by how their rulings would be seen by higher courts and often consulted with contacts in the higher courts to make a decision that would not cause them to lose favor or be later overturned. Morshchakova also indicated that the number of individuals instructing judges on rulings was expanding to include local officials, not just superiors.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but executive interference with the judiciary and judicial corruption undermined this right.
The defendant has a legal presumption of innocence and the right to a fair, timely, and public trial, but these rights were not always respected.
Defendants have the right to be informed promptly of charges and be present at the trial. The law provides for the appointment of an attorney free of charge if a defendant cannot afford one, although the high cost of legal service meant that lower-income defendants often lacked competent representation. There were few qualified defense attorneys in remote areas of the country. Defense attorneys may visit their clients in detention, although defense lawyers claimed authorities electronically monitored their conversations and did not always provide them access to their clients. Prior to trial defendants receive a copy of their indictment, which describes the charges against them in detail. They also have the opportunity to review their criminal file following the completion of the criminal investigation.
Non-Russian defendants have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, although the quality of interpretation is not always good. During trial the defense is not required to present evidence and is given an opportunity to cross-examine witnesses and call defense witnesses, although judges may deny the defense this opportunity. Defendants also have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt.
Defendants have the right of appeal. The law allows prosecutors to appeal acquittals, which they did in most cases. Prosecutors may also appeal what they regard as lenient sentences. Appellate courts reversed approximately 1 percent of sentences where the defendant had been found guilty. In 37 percent of trials where the defendant had been found not guilty, appellate courts remanded them for a new trial, although these cases often ended in a second acquittal.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were credible reports of political prisoners in the country and that authorities detained and prosecuted individuals for political reasons. Charges commonly applied to reported political prisoners included “terrorism,” “extremism,” “separatism,” and “espionage.” There were also 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.
As of October, the Memorial Human Rights Center’s updated list of political prisoners included 117 names, including 70 individuals wrongfully imprisoned for their exercise of religious freedom. Those added to the list during the year included Vladimir Lapygin, a 77-year-old aerospace engineer sentenced to seven years in prison for treason for passing software to academic colleagues in China. According to Memorial and advocates in the scientific community, the software in question was publicly available and therefore could not be a state secret.
In the continuing, multiple political prosecutions of opposition leader Aleksey Navalny, on October 17, the ECHR ruled he had been unfairly convicted in the “Yves-Rocher” case. On February 7, a court reconvicted Navalny in the “Kirovles” case; in 2016 the ECHR issued a decision overturning the original “Kirovles” conviction. The court gave Navalny a five-year suspended sentence.
After the country’s attempted “annexation” of Crimea in 2014, judicial authorities in 2015 began to transfer court cases to Russia from occupied Crimea for trial.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Although the law provides mechanisms for individuals to file lawsuits against authorities for human rights violations, these mechanisms often did not work well. For example, the law provides that a defendant who has been acquitted after a trial has the right to compensation from the government. While this legal mechanism exists in principle, in practice it was very cumbersome to use. Persons who believed their human rights had been violated typically sought redress in the ECHR after domestic courts had ruled against them. A 2015 law enables the Constitutional Court to review rulings from international human rights bodies and declare them “nonexecutable” if the court finds that the ruling contradicts the constitution. In April 2016 the Constitutional Court for the first time declared a ruling by the ECHR, in which the ECHR found the country’s absolute ban on the voting rights of prisoners was in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, to be nonexecutable under this law.
The country is a signatory to the Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Restitution but declined to endorse the 2010 Guidelines and Best Practices. The government has laws in place providing for the restitution of cultural property, but according to the law’s provisions, claims can only be made by states and not individuals.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law forbids officials from entering a private residence except in cases prescribed by federal law or when authorized by a judicial decision. The law also prohibits the collection, storage, utilization, and dissemination of information about a person’s private life without his or her consent. While the law previously prohibited government monitoring of correspondence, telephone conversations, and other means of communication without a warrant, these legal protections were significantly weakened by the “Yarovaya package” of amendments to antiterrorism laws that came into effect in July 2016. The “Yarovaya” amendments grant authorities sweeping powers and require telecommunications providers to store all electronic and telecommunication data, including telephone calls, text messages, images, and videos, for six months and to make them available to the security services upon request. Metadata on all communications must be stored for three years and be provided to law enforcement authorities upon request. The telecommunications provisions were scheduled to come into effect in July 2018. NGOs, human rights activists, and journalists alleged that authorities routinely employed surveillance and other active measures to spy on and intimidate citizens.
Law enforcement agencies required telecommunications service providers to grant the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the FSB continuous remote access to client databases, including telephonic and electronic communications, enabling police to track private communications and monitor internet activity without the provider’s knowledge. The law permits authorities to monitor telephone calls in real time, with a warrant. The Ministry of Information and Communication requires telecommunications service providers to allow the FSB to tap telephones and monitor information over the internet. The Ministry of Information and Communication maintained that authorities would not access information without a court order, although the FSB is not required to show it upon request.
In an August report Russia under Surveillance, the human rights NGO Agora described the development in recent years of a system of “total oversight targeted at civic activists, independent journalists, and representatives of the political opposition.” According to Agora, since 2007 authorities, in the name of national security, vastly increased surveillance of telephone calls and online messages, increased the use of hidden audio and video recordings, and expanded the use of biometric data gathering.
There were reports authorities in the Republic of Chechnya routinely punished family members for alleged offenses committed by their relatives.
g. Abuses in Internal Conflict
Violence continued in some North Caucasus republics, driven by jihadist movements, interethnic conflict, personal and clan-based vendettas, and excesses by security forces. According to statistics compiled by the Caucasian Knot, the total number of deaths and injuries during the year resulting from armed the conflict decreased to 173 (125 deaths, 48 injured) from 280 (198 deaths, 82 injured) in 2016 across the North Caucasus. Dagestan remained the most violent area in the North Caucasus, accounting for approximately 32 percent of all casualties in the region during the year, although according to the Caucasian Knot, the overall number of casualties in Dagestan decreased by 73 percent. Local media described the level of violence in Dagestan as the result of Islamic militant insurgency tactics dating back to the Chechen conflict as well as of the high level of organized crime in the region. Chechnya was a close second, accounting for 25 percent of all casualties in the region.
Killings: The Caucasian Knot reported that at least 125 deaths in the North Caucasus resulted from armed conflicts in the region. With 46 and 35 deaths from armed conflict through December 2017, Dagestan and Chechnya, respectively, were the most deadly regions. Of the deaths in Chechnya, 18 were militants, five were civilians, and 12 were law enforcement officers. The independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta alleged in a July report that between 27 and 56 individuals detained as a result of counterterrorism operations were summarily executed by Chechen law enforcement authorities, although the government denied the allegations and remains of those allegedly executed were not produced. Of the deaths in Dagestan, 35 were militants, five were civilians, and six were law enforcement officers.
There continued to be reports that use of indiscriminate force by security forces resulted in numerous deaths or disappearances and that authorities did not prosecute the perpetrators.
In the wake of a December 2016 terror attack in Groznyy, Chechen security forces conducted broad “counterterror” operations in December 2016 and January in which they claimed to have detained “hundreds” of suspected militants. On July 9, Novaya Gazetareported that on January 27, Chechen security services summarily executed 27 individuals detained in the raids. When Human Rights Ombudswoman Tatyana Moskalkova investigated the allegations, Chechen authorities claimed that several of the alleged victims were either alive, had died of “natural causes,” or had left to fight in Syria. Authorities sought to disprove the deaths of two individuals allegedly executed by ostensibly presenting them in person to Moskalkova on her visit to Chechnya’s capital. The Memorial Human Rights Center reported, however, that the two young men presented to Moskalkova were in fact the brothers of those allegedly killed. On July 27, the BBC Russian Service reported authorities forced the relatives of the 27 missing Chechens to sign documents saying the missing persons fled Chechnya to Syria or simply had left home. Novaya Gazeta reported intense pressure on the families to cease their cooperation with investigators, the human rights ombudswoman, and the press.
Local militants engaged in isolated violent acts against local security forces, at times resulting in deaths. On August 28, two police officers in Dagestan were killed by militant retaliatory fire and one was injured.
Abductions: Government personnel, militants, and criminal elements continued to engage in abductions in the North Caucasus. According to the prosecutor general, as of 2011 there were more than 2,000 unsolved disappearances in the North Caucasus District. According to data from Caucasian Knot, the official list of missing persons in the North Caucasus contained 7,570 names. Local activists asserted that the number of missing persons in Chechnya was much higher than officially reported, potentially up to 20,000 individuals.
According to independent observers, Chechnya saw a marked increase in disappearances of citizens during the year. Independent observers and journalists believed that in most cases in which individuals disappeared they had been detained or abducted by government forces or law enforcement officials and had been imprisoned or killed. The Caucasian Knot news website reported that since the beginning of the year, relatives of at least 43 persons reported their abduction or disappearance. In many cases relatives of missing persons who informally or publicly appealed to regional or federal authorities for help ultimately recanted their pleas and apologized for making “false statements.”
On November 17, Amnesty International issued a statement of concern about the welfare of Chechen asylum seeker Imran Salamov, whom authorities forcibly returned to the country from Belarus on September 5. Although Salamov’s wife and lawyer met with him at the Groznyy City Police Headquarters on September 11, Salamov subsequently disappeared and authorities claimed that he was not in their custody. On October 6, Salamov’s wife and lawyer lodged a complaint with the prosecutor’s office of the Chechen Republic and subsequently received threats from members of the Ministry of Internal Affairs warning them of future problems for Imran Salamov if they failed to withdraw their complaint. At year’s end, Salamov’s whereabouts remained unknown.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Armed forces and police units reportedly abused and tortured both militants and civilians in holding facilities.
On April 1, Novaya Gazeta reported that Chechen security services kidnapped, secretly held prisoner, and tortured more than 100 male residents in Chechnya based on their suspected sexual orientation, resulting in at least three deaths (see section 1.a.).
The law requires relatives of terrorists to pay the cost of damages caused by an attack, which human rights advocates criticized as collective punishment. The Memorial Human Rights Center reported Chechen Republic authorities upheld the principle of collective responsibility by punishing the relatives of alleged members of illegal armed groups.