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Russia

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).

b. Disappearance

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.

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.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

While the constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, the government increasingly restricted those rights. The government instituted several new laws restricting both freedom of expression and of the press, particularly in regards to online expression. Regional and local authorities used procedural violations and restrictive or vague legislation to detain, harass, or prosecute persons who criticized the government. The government exercised editorial control over media, creating a media landscape in which most citizens were exposed to predominantly government-approved narratives. Significant government pressure on independent media constrained coverage of numerous problems, especially the situation in Ukraine and Syria, LGBTI problems, the environment, elections, criticism of local or federal leadership, as well as problems of secessionism or federalism. Censorship and self-censorship in television and print media, and on the internet was increasingly widespread, particularly regarding points of view critical of the government or its policies. The government used direct ownership or ownership by large private companies with government links to control or influence major national media and regional media outlets, especially television.

Freedom of Expression: Government-controlled media frequently used terms such as “traitor,” “foreign agent,” and “fifth column” to describe individuals expressing views critical of or different from government policy, leading to a climate intolerant of dissent.

Authorities continued to misuse the country’s expansive definition of extremism as a tool to stifle dissent. As of November 13, the Ministry of Justice expanded its list of extremist materials to include 4,294 books, videos, websites, social media pages, musical compositions, and other items, an increase of nearly 300 items from 2016. According to the Investigative Committee, detectives referred more than 500 extremism cases to prosecutors in 2015, a number of which included charges of “extremism” levied against individuals for exercising free speech on social media and elsewhere. According to the SOVA Center, as of August courts issued eight inappropriate verdicts against 27 individuals for participating in activities of an organization declared extremist and issued seven inappropriate verdicts against seven persons for inciting hatred.

On August 11, the Tverskoy District Court of Moscow found journalist Aleksandr Sokolov of the independent news company RBK guilty and sentenced him to three and one-half years in a penal colony on charges of organizing an extremist group and attempting to overthrow the government. Authorities arrested Sokolov in 2015 on a charge of participating in the activities of the People’s Will Army, which the Moscow City Court declared an extremist organization. Sokolov maintained he simply provided professional services to the group, such as registering its website. Sokolov had previously reported on state corruption and embezzlement in connection with the construction of the Vostochnyy space center. In 2015 the Memorial Human Rights Center recognized Sokolov as a political prisoner and called for the court to drop its prosecution of him.

Several persons, including in some instances minors, were charged with extremism under the criminal code for comments and images posted in online forums. On March 16, a municipal court in Chebaksary fined Dmitriy Semyonov 1,000 rubles ($17) for “distributing extremist materials” by posting information about his 2014 conviction for “distributing extremist materials.” The first case began in 2013 when Semyonov posted a photograph on VKontakte (a social media platform) of former St. Petersburg lawmaker Vitaliy Milonov wearing a shirt with an Orthodox slogan that authorities ruled extremist.

On August 17, the Vyborg City Court ruled that a Jehovah’s Witness publication, the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, a translation of the Bible, and three Jehovah’s Witness brochures were extremist. The court relied on the findings of an “expert panel” that determined the book was not a Bible. The case against the publication dated to 2015, when customs officials stopped and impounded a shipment of the books from Finland at the border on suspicion of extremism. On December 20, the Leningrad Regional Court upheld the ruling. On April 20, the Supreme Court banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist organization (see section 2.c.).

By law, authorities may close any organization that a court determines to be extremist, including media outlets and websites. Roskomnadzor, the country’s media oversight agency, routinely issued warnings to newspapers and internet sources suspected of publishing extremist materials. Three warnings in one year sufficed to initiate a closure lawsuit.

During the year authorities invoked a 2013 law prohibiting the “propaganda” of nontraditional sexual relations to minors to restrict the free speech of LGBTI persons and their supporters. On July 26, authorities charged LGBTI activist Evdokia Romanova of Samara under the law. According to Human Rights Watch, Romanova was accused of sharing information on Facebook in 2015 and 2016 about the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, an international group that advocates for young persons’ access to accurate information about health and sexuality. On October 18, a Samara court convicted Romanova and fined her 50,000 rubles ($857), making her the seventh LGBTI activist convicted under the “propaganda” law.

During the year authorities prosecuted individuals for speech allegedly violating a 2013 law that prohibits “offending the feelings of religious believers.” In one such case, on August 2, a Sochi court fined Viktor Nochevnov 50,000 rubles ($857) for posting satirical images of Jesus Christ on his social media pages.

During the year authorities prosecuted individuals for speech that allegedly violated a 2013 law prohibiting the “rehabilitation of Nazism.” In June a Trans-Baikal regional court convicted a 36-year-old citizen of Krasnokamensk for justification of Nazism. On his personal page in social networks the man posted comments justifying the Holocaust, Nazism, and Hitler. He received two years’ imprisonment with a probation period of two years, as well as a fine of 350,000 rubles ($6,000).

The law bans the display of Nazi symbols and the symbols of groups placed on the government’s list of “extremist” organizations. There was no official register or list of banned symbols.

Press and Media Freedom: The government continued to restrict press freedom. As of 2015, the latest year for which data was available, the government and state-owned or state-controlled companies directly owned more than 60 percent of the country’s 45,000 registered local newspapers and periodicals. Most other outlets were owned by government-friendly oligarchs. The federal government or progovernment individuals completely or partially owned all of the so-called federal television channels, the only stations with nationwide reach. The 29 most watched stations together commanded 86 percent of television viewership; all were owned at least in part by the federal or local governments or by progovernment individuals. Government-owned media outlets often received preferential benefits, such as rent-free occupancy of government-owned buildings. At many government-owned or controlled outlets, the state increasingly dictated editorial policy. In January 2016 a law came into effect that restricts foreign ownership of media outlets to no more than 20 percent. Another provision of the ambiguously worded law seemingly bans foreign ownership entirely. The government used these provisions to consolidate ownership of independent outlets under progovernment oligarchs and to exert pressure on outlets that still retained foreign backers. In its annual report on freedom of the press, Freedom House rated the country “not free.”

Violence and Harassment: Journalists continued to be subjected to arrest, imprisonment, physical attack, harassment, and intimidation as a result of their reporting. The Glasnost Defense Fund reported numerous such actions against journalists. As of September incidents of violence and harassment included three killings, 40 attacks, 82 detentions by law enforcement officers, 14 prosecutions, 42 threats against journalists, 21 politically motivated firings, and one attack on media offices. Journalists and bloggers who uncovered various forms of government malfeasance or who expressed criticism of the government often faced harassment, either in the form of direct threats to their physical safety or threats to their security or livelihood, frequently through legal prosecution.

On March 9 in St. Petersburg, unknown assailants severely beat journalist Nikolay Andrushchenko. He was found several hours later and placed in a medically induced coma. He never regained consciousness and died on April 20. Andrushchenko had been subjected to two prior attacks, in 2007 and 2016. Independent reporting connected the attacks to Andrushchenko’s investigations into local government corruption and links between St. Petersburg city officials and organized crime networks. Authorities opened an investigation but did not identify any suspects as of year’s end. Andrushchenko’s colleagues expressed doubts about the rigor and objectivity of the investigation.

On October 23, an assailant broke into the studios of the independent radio station Ekho Moskvy and stabbed journalist Tat’yana Felgengauer in the neck with a knife. Authorities detained the assailant; a government newspaper reported that investigators believed the assailant to be psychologically unstable and saw no other motivation for the attack, although state television directly linked his alleged psychosis to his extensive listening to Echo Moskvy. Weeks earlier Felgengauer had been targeted in a series of reports on a state-run news channel alleging she took money from a foreign government to train bloggers and citizen journalists opposed to the government.

On September 9, independent journalist Yuliya Latynina announced she had left the country after suffering a string of attacks. On September 3, unknown individuals set fire to her car. On July 20, unknown individuals sprayed an unidentified noxious-smelling poisonous substance through the windows of her home in the suburbs of Moscow, sickening her and her family members. In August 2016 an unknown attacker threw feces at her as she left the radio station where she worked. Authorities opened investigations into the attacks, but no arrests were made as of year’s end.

Journalists reporting on the North Caucasus remained particularly vulnerable to physical attacks or prosecution for their reporting. Following their expose on the large-scale violations of human rights against gay men in Chechnya, Chechen officials made threats against the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which first broke the story. At an April 3 gathering of some 15,000 men at a mosque, Chechen presidential adviser Adam Shahidov called Novaya Gazeta journalists “enemies of our faith and our motherland” and threatened “vengeance.” A resolution adopted at the gathering included a promise that “retribution will catch up with the hatemongers wherever and whoever they are, without a statute of limitations,” which Novaya Gazeta believed to constitute a call to violence against its journalists. On April 15, Novaya Gazeta journalist Elena Milashina announced that the she had left the country following threats against her life. On April 19, Novaya Gazeta reported that it received an envelope mailed from Chechnya containing an unidentified white powder.

In April a Chechen court upheld the 2016 conviction in Chechnya of Caucasian Knot journalist Zhalaudi Geriyev on drug possession charges, which resulted in a three-year prison sentence. In July the Supreme Court refused to consider the case. Human rights groups maintained the verdict was politically motivated and in direct retaliation for Geriyev’s independent reporting on Chechnya.

There was no progress during the year in establishing accountability in a number of high-profile killings of journalists, including the 2006 killing of Anna Politkovskaya and the 2009 killing of Natalia Estemirova. In November, Ukrainian authorities arrested Magomed Dukuzov, the chief suspect in the, 2004 killing of Forbes Russia editor Paul Klebnikov, reportedly at the request of authorities. Klebnikov’s relatives emphasized that authorities still have never adequately investigated and identified the person who ordered the killing.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Self-censorship in independent media was reportedly widespread. For example, on June 24, journalist Ilya Rozhdestvenskiy announced his resignation from the RBC news outlet because it refused to publish his investigative report about the existence of an FSB secret prison near Moscow where torture was reportedly used against detainees. Rozhdestvenskiy reported his editors rejected the article six times, claiming that it was in the incorrect format. A different newspaper subsequently published the article.

On November 25, the government approved legislation expanding the scope of the Foreign Agent Law to include media organizations that receive funding from foreign sources. The amendments will potentially restrict designated organizations’ ability to operate freely in Russia. On December 4, the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and seven of their affiliate media organizations received notices from the Ministry of Justice requiring that they register as “foreign agents.” On December 6, the State Duma (the lower house of Russia’s parliament) banned reporters credentialed by media organizations registered as foreign agents from its premises.

Libel/Slander Laws: Officials at all levels used their authority, sometimes publicly, to restrict the work of journalists and bloggers who criticized them, including taking legal action for alleged slander or libel. In one such case, on June 26, a Kursk court fined local journalist and opposition legislator Olga Li 90,000 rubles ($1,540) for allegedly defaming a local judge. The charges stemmed from a series of online videos in which Li criticized national and local politicians belonging to the United Russia party.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government took significant new steps to restrict free expression on the internet. Threats to internet freedom included: physical attacks on bloggers; politically motivated prosecutions of bloggers and social media users for “extremism,” separatism, treason, libel, or other crimes; blocking of specific sites by national and local service providers; distributed denial-of-service attacks on sites of opposition groups or independent media, including on the site of the independent pollster Levada Center less than two weeks before State Duma elections; monitoring by authorities of all internet communications; and attempts by national, local, and regional authorities to regulate and criminalize content.

The internet was widely available to citizens in all parts of the country, although connection speeds varied by region. According to data compiled by the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 73 percent of the country’s population used the internet in 2015.

A report issued by the legal services NGO Agora stated that the number of cases in which authorities infringed the rights of internet users increased dramatically in 2016, from 15,022 cases in 2015 to 116,103. The majority of cases (111,498) involved content filtering and blocking in one form or another. The report attributed some of the surge in cases to improved data published by Roskomnadzor, the country’s communications authority, but reported a substantial increase in pressure on internet freedom overall. The number of regions in the country in which internet users were subjected to serious pressure remained at 30 in 2016. The report stated that 82 million residents lived in areas where internet users faced severe pressure.

A law passed in July requires that commercial virtual private network (VPN) services and internet anonymizers block access to websites and internet content prohibited in Russia. Under the law Roskomnadzor can block sites that provide instructions on how to circumvent government blocking. The law also authorizes law enforcement agencies including the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the FSB to identify VPN services that do not comply with the subsequent ban by Roskomnadzor. When the law came into force on November 1, Roskomnadzor announced that the majority of commercial VPNs and anonymizers used in Russia had registered and intended to comply with the law, although most foreign-based VPNs had not. As of mid-December, there were no reports Roskomnadzor blocked specific VPN services.

Another law passed in July prohibits companies registered as “organizers of information dissemination,” including online messaging applications, from allowing unidentified users. Messaging applications and platforms that fail to comply with the requirements to restrict anonymous accounts can be blocked. The law was scheduled to come into force in January 2018.

On August 11, according to press reports, the communications ministry published a draft order outlining the kinds of user data “organizers of information dissemination” will have to share with the FSB. Beginning in July 2018, the law will require these companies to store and provide to the FSB in-depth user information, including user name; full real name; date of birth; exact address; internal passport number; lists of relatives, friends, contacts, all foreign languages spoken; date and time of account’s creation; date and time of all communications; full text of all communications; full archives of all audio and video communications; all shared files; records of all e-payments; location for use of each service; IP address; telephone number; email address; and software used.

Human rights activists and NGOs widely criticized both laws. Human Rights Watch noted that journalists, human rights activists, students, and others often use VPNs to protect the privacy and security of their online activity as well as to circumvent internet censorship. On August 11, the social media application Snapchat registered as an “organizer of information dissemination.” A spokesperson for the company stated it did not know whether information provided to Roskomnadzor would be used for the law’s purpose. On May 4, Roskomnadzor blocked the Chinese messaging application WeChat for not complying with its registration request. On April 10, Roskomnadzor blocked the mobile push-to-talk messaging application Zello, frequently used by truck drivers and first responders, on the grounds that it failed to register as an “organizer of information dissemination.” A group of long-haul truckers had used Zello to organize a strike.

On January 1, amendments to the Federal Law on Information, Information Technologies, and Protection of Information and to the administrative code came into force requiring owners of internet search engines (“news aggregators”) with more than one million daily users to be accountable for the truthfulness of “publicly important” information before its dissemination. Authorities can demand that content deemed in violation be removed, and they can also impose heavy fines for noncompliance. Dunja Mijatovic, the special representative on freedom of the media of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), raised concerns the law “could result in governmental interference of online information and introduce self-censorship in private companies.”

In June 2016 the Ministry of Telecommunications and Mass Communications published amendments to the Information Society State Program, drafted by order of the Security Council, according to which domestic networks must handle 99 percent of internet traffic by 2020.

The law requires domestic and foreign businesses to store citizens’ personal data on servers located in the country. Critics expressed concern the law would have negative commercial effects and provide the government with further access to citizens’ private information. In November 2016 Roskomnadzor blocked the U.S.-based professional networking website LinkedIn for failure to comply with the law, the first social networking site targeted under the law. On March 7, Roskomnadzor released a statement confirming LinkedIn would remain blocked.

In April, Roskomnadzor blocked three online messaging applications: BlackBerry Messenger, LINE, and Imo.im, as well as the video chat application Vchat, for failing to share data about their users with authorities. A law on the “right to be forgotten” allows individuals in the country to block search engine companies from showing search results that contain information about them.

Roskomnadzor maintained a federal blacklist of internet sites and required internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to web pages that the agency deemed offensive or illegal, including information that was already prohibited, such as items on the Federal List of Extremist Materials. The law gives the prosecutor general and Roskomnadzor authority to demand that ISPs block websites that promote extremist information or “mass public events that are conducted in violation of appropriate procedures.” The NGO Roskomsvoboda reported that, as of October, more than four million domains were blocked without a legitimate basis. On December 12, Roskomnadzor blocked the website of the opposition movement “Open Russia” along with several related sites including “Open Elections,” “Open University,” and khodorkovsky.ru, the website of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the exiled former oligarch who founded Open Russia, on the grounds that they were “undesirable foreign organizations.” On December 14, Roskomnadzor threatened to block Twitter.com in Russia if it did not block Open Russia’s twitter feed.

In 2016 the State Duma passed the “Yarovaya package” of security-related amendments to the law that require telecommunications providers to provide authorities with “backdoors” around encryption technologies used by applications such as WhatsApp, Viber, and Telegram. Providers face fines of one million rubles ($17,140) for noncompliance.

In August 2016 the FSB announced it had the capability to collect encryption keys from internet companies that could decrypt unreadable data on the internet. Although many experts doubted it was possible to decrypt all forms of encryption, particularly end-to-end encryption, it was believed that the country’s security services were able to intercept messages on at least some messaging platforms. On October 16, the Meshchanskiy District Court of Moscow fined Telegram 800,000 rubles ($13,715) for refusing to pass to the FSB keys for decoding user messages. According to the case file, on July 12, the FSB sent a request to Telegram’s office, giving the company until July 16 to provide information on six telephone numbers. As of December the case was still being litigated.

In August the communications ministry published a draft order outlining the kinds of user data that would be collected by the security services from “organizers of information dissemination” as part of implementation of the 2016 Yarovaya Law. Beginning in July 2018, the law requires companies to store in-depth user information that could be collected by the FSB through the System of Operative Investigative Measures (SORM) equipment that the law requires to be connected to the data storage servers.

During the year authorities blocked or threatened to block some websites and social network pages that either criticized government policy or violated laws on internet content. On April 2, the Prosecutor General’s Office requested that Roskomnadzor block five websites that were calling for participation in protests the government considered “unsanctioned.”

During the year authorities prosecuted individual bloggers for alleged illegal content published online, including other users’ comments on their pages. According to media reports, on July 21, authorities in Kurgansk Oblast opened an administrative case against 14-year-old Dmitry Morozov for displaying banned symbols after another minor posted a swastika on Morozov’s social media page. Authorities claimed Morozov did not delete the symbol with sufficient speed.

The government continued to employ its longstanding use of SORM, which requires ISPs to install, at their own expense, a device that routes all customer traffic to an FSB terminal. The system enabled police to track private email communications, identify internet users, and monitor their internet activity.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government took new steps during the year to restrict academic and cultural freedom.

On March 21, authorities revoked the license of the European University at St. Petersburg, which was known for its liberal views, in a move observers believed to be politically motivated. Local authorities terminated the university’s lease in September. The university came under criticism from nationalist politicians in 2016 because of a gender studies course it had offered.

On August 22, authorities arrested well-known theater director Kirill Serebrennikov on embezzlement charges punishable by up to 10 years in prison, alleging he took state funds for a Shakespeare play that was never produced. According to media outlets, however, the play had been staged more than 15 times. Observers believed the charges were politically motivated, citing Serebrennikov’s participation in antigovernment protests and criticism of government policies.

Authorities often censored or shut down cultural events or displays that they considered offensive or that expressed views in opposition to the government and in some cases initiated criminal proceedings against organizers. According to state-controlled press reports from July 11, Culture Minister Vladimir Medinskiy ordered the last-minute cancellation of a ballet at Moscow’s Bolshoy Theater about the life of Soviet ballet dancer Rudolf Nuriyev because it addressed the topic of Nuriyev’s sexual orientation. Medinskiy denied the allegations of censorship, but noted that he supported the theater’s decision to “postpone” the ballet. The ballet was later staged at the Bolshoy for two performances in December.

Persons expressing views of historical events that run counter to officially accepted narratives faced harassment. For example, some Russian Orthodox and nationalist political figures led a campaign to ban the film Matilda, which depicted Tsar Nikolas II’s romance with a ballerina. On August 31, unknown individuals threw Molotov cocktails at the studio of the film’s director, Aleksey Uchitel. On September 11, unknown individuals set fire to two cars outside the legal firm that represents Uchitel’. Screenings of the film around the country were cancelled after bomb threats. News outlets linked a September 6 arson attack on the Cosmos cinema in Yekaterinburg to opposition to the film.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

While the law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, citizens could not fully do so because the government limited the ability of opposition parties to organize, register candidates for public office, access media, and conduct political campaigns.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: State Duma elections in September 2016 and the presidential election in 2012 were marred by accusations of government interference and manipulation of the electoral process.

In a statement on the 2016 State Duma elections, the OSCE’s election observation mission noted, “Democratic commitments continue to be challenged and the electoral environment was negatively affected by restrictions to fundamental freedoms and political rights, firmly controlled media and a tightening grip on civil society…Local authorities did not always treat the contestants equally, and instances of misuse of administrative resources were noted. The election day generally proceeded in an orderly manner, but numerous procedural irregularities were noted during counting.”

In its final report on the 2012 presidential election, the OSCE’s election observation mission stated, “Although all contestants were able to campaign unhindered, the conditions for the campaign were found to be skewed in favor of one candidate. While all candidates had access to media, one candidate, the then Prime Minister, was given clear advantage in the coverage. State resources were also mobilized in his support. On election day, observers assessed voting positively, overall; however, the process deteriorated during the count due to procedural irregularities…There was…a general lack of confidence among many interlocutors in the independence of election officials at all levels, mostly due to their perceived affiliation with local administration and the governing party.”

On September 10, the country held regional and local elections for governors, regional legislatures, and municipal deputies. The independent election monitoring organization Golos noted barriers to the appearance of opposition candidates on ballots in many regions as well as the mobilization of administrative resources and state-controlled media in support of candidates of the United Russia party. Golos also received reports of election rigging, including ballot box stuffing; pressure on voters by their employers or superiors; illegal campaigning; illegal transportation and bribing of voters; violations of procedures for voting outside of voting precincts; violations of the rights of observers, members of commissions, and representatives of media; and violations of counting procedures.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law requires political parties to have a minimum of 500 members in order to be able to register. While parties represented in the State Duma may nominate a presidential candidate without having to collect and submit signatures, prospective self-nominated presidential candidates must collect 300,000 signatures, no more than 7,500 from each region, from supporters and submit the signatures to the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) for certification. Nominees from parties without State Duma representation must collect 100,000 signatures. An independent candidate is ineligible to run if the commission finds more than 5 percent of signatures to be invalid.

Gubernatorial candidates nominated by registered political parties are not required to collect signatures from members of the public, although self-nominated candidates are. The law also requires gubernatorial candidates not nominated by a registered party to meet a “municipal filter” requirement. Such candidates must obtain signatures of support from a defined portion of municipal deputies, the portion of which varies by region, as well as collect signatures from at least one deputy in each of a specified portion of municipal council districts.

Observers and would-be candidates said the municipal filter was not applied equally under the law, and that authorities pressured municipal deputies not to provide signatures of support for candidates who were not preapproved by authorities. They asserted that no independent candidate with the potential to defeat authorities’ favored gubernatorial candidates was permitted to pass through the municipal filter. Golos also stated in a report that independent candidates were not able to collect the necessary number of municipal deputy signatures as a result of pressure from authorities. For example, in Sverdlovsk region, the mayor of Yekaterinburg and would-be gubernatorial candidate Yevgeniy Royzman stated, “They (the authorities) cleared the entire field. There’s not a single strong challenger, not a single strong candidate was even allowed to get close. They weren’t given a chance to participate. They just weren’t allowed. I tried but became convinced that the municipal filter is insurmountable.” Another would-be gubernatorial candidate who was not able to run, Vyacheslav Markhayev, stated publicly, “The municipal filter has turned into a political club that they want to use not to let me into the (gubernatorial) elections.”

After allegations of voter fraud in the 2011 State Duma elections sparked mass protests in Moscow and St. Petersburg, authorities sought to curtail the work of independent monitors and promote government-sponsored monitoring. In 2016 the State Duma passed legislation prohibiting observers from being accredited to more than one polling station, limiting the ability of civil society to monitor elections. Critics contended that the law made it difficult for domestic election monitors to conduct surprise inspections due to provisions requiring observers to register with authorities, including the polling station they intend to monitor, three days before elections. The law also increased the registration requirements for journalists wishing to monitor elections. Such regulations also hampered the work of independent or nonparty-affiliated groups, whose monitors registered as journalists for their affiliated publications. The independent election-monitoring organization Golos reported the number of independent observers fell by half since 2011.

Authorities continued to hamper the efforts of Golos, whose work was curtailed by a law prohibiting NGOs listed as “foreign agents” from taking part in the election process as well as by continuing harassment and intimidation by authorities.

Once elected, many opposition politicians reported efforts by the ruling party to undermine their work or remove them from office. On August 22, the Presnenskiy Court of Moscow extended the arrest of Kirov governor Nikita Belykh by six months. In June 2016 authorities arrested him on corruption charges, and President Putin dismissed him from office several weeks later. Observers believed the actions against Belykh were politically motivated.

According to a September 6 Human Rights Watch report, authorities “systematically interfered” with the presidential campaign of opposition leader Aleksey Navalny. Authorities engaged in a pattern of harassment that included police raids on Navalny campaign offices in cities across the country, seizures of campaign materials and equipment on pretexts of “extremism,” extensive arbitrary detention of campaign volunteers, and refusals to authorize campaign events and displays. The report also described frequent physical attacks on Navalny and his supporters by ultranationalist groups, which included vandalizing campaign offices and campaigners homes, blocking entrances to campaign events, burning campaigners’ cars, beating campaigners or throwing eggs and other objects at them, and calling in bomb scares to interfere with campaign events. According to the report, in many cases, police stood by and did not interfere with the attackers or arrived too late to apprehend them. Official investigations of the incidents have not yielded results.

On April 27, an anti-Navalny activist splashed a harsh chemical solution in Navalny’s face, burning one of his eyes and resulting in a temporary partial loss of vision. Although video footage enabled Navalny to identify the attacker, police suspended the investigation on June 23, claiming they could not establish the perpetrators’ identity.

On June 23, the CEC ruled Navalny was not eligible to be a presidential candidate, citing prior criminal convictions that were widely believed to be politically motivated. The conviction was overturned by the ECHR, but a Russian court subsequently reconvicted Navalny based on the same evidence and issued the same sentence, using language to the initial conviction. On December 25, the CEC formally voted that Navalny was ineligible to run for president.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. While members of national minorities took an active part in political life, ethnic Russians, who constituted approximately 80 percent of the population, dominated the political and administrative system, particularly at the federal level.

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