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 lack independence from the executive. The 2016 State Duma elections and the 2018 presidential election were marked by accusations of government interference and manipulation of the electoral process, including the exclusion of meaningful opposition candidates.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Investigative Committee, the Office of the Prosecutor General, and the National Guard are responsible for law enforcement. The FSB is responsible for state security, counterintelligence, and counterterrorism as well as for fighting organized crime and corruption. The national police force, under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, is responsible for combating all crime. The National Guard assists the FSB Border Guard Service in securing borders, 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 country’s territory in coordination with Ministry of Defense forces. Except in rare cases, security forces generally reported to civilian authorities. National-level civilian authorities, however, had, at best, limited control over security forces in the Republic of Chechnya, which were accountable only to the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov.
The country’s occupation and purported annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula continued to affect the human rights situation there significantly and negatively. The Russian government continued to arm, train, lead, and fight alongside Russia-led forces in eastern Ukraine. Credible observers attributed thousands of civilian deaths and injuries, as well as numerous abuses, to Russia-led forces in Ukraine’s Donbas region (see the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Ukraine). Authorities also conducted politically motivated arrests, detentions, and trials of Ukrainian citizens in Russia, many of whom claimed to have been tortured.
Significant human rights issues included: extrajudicial killings, including of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in Chechnya by local government authorities; enforced disappearances; pervasive torture by government law enforcement personnel that sometimes resulted in death and occasionally involved sexual violence or punitive psychiatric incarceration; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners; severe arbitrary interference with privacy; severe suppression of freedom of expression and media, including the use of “antiextremism” and other laws to prosecute peaceful dissent; violence against journalists; blocking and filtering of internet content and banning of online anonymity; severe suppression of the right of peaceful assembly; severe suppression of freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on “foreign agents” and “undesirable foreign organizations”; severe restrictions of religious freedom; refoulement of refugees; severe limits on participation 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; coerced abortion and sterilization; trafficking in persons; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence against persons with disabilities, LGBTI persons, and members of ethnic minorities.
The government failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish most officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law criminalizes the distribution of “propaganda” of “nontraditional sexual relations” to minors and effectively limits the rights of free expression and assembly for citizens who wish to advocate publicly for rights or express the opinion that homosexuality is normal. Examples of what the government considered LGBTI propaganda included materials that “directly or indirectly approve of persons who are in nontraditional sexual relationships” (see section 2.a.). The law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing or employment or in access to government services, such as health care.
During the year there were reports of state actors’ committing violence against LGBTI individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, particularly in the Republic of Chechnya (see sections 1.a. and 1.c.).
There were reports government agents attacked, harassed, and threatened LGBTI activists. For example, on June 17, an LGBTI activist from Novocherkassk told media outlets that an officer from the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Center for Combating Extremism had surveilled and harassed him in early June and then attacked him on June 14. Doctors diagnosed him with a closed head injury and concussion. When he went to file a police report, the officers allegedly laughed and joked about his situation.
Openly gay men were particular targets of societal violence, and police often failed to respond adequately to such incidents. For example, according to the Russian LGBT Network, in July police refused to reopen a criminal case into the 2017 beating of Volgograd teenager, Vlad Pogorelov, because they did not see “hatred and enmity” as the assailants’ motive. Instead, they fined each of the attackers 5,000 rubles ($78). In June 2018 Pogorelov had filed a complaint with the local prosecutor’s office against the local police decision to close a criminal investigation into the 2017 attack. Pogorelov, then 17 years old, was lured into a meeting by homophobic persons posing as gay youth on a dating website. They beat and robbed Pogorelov, who filed a police report. Police opened a criminal investigation into the attack but closed it within a month, citing the “low significance” of the attack and informing Pogorelov that police were unable to protect LGBTI persons. According to the Russian LGBT Network, the case was emblematic of authorities’ unwillingness to investigate adequately or consider homophobia as a motive in attacks on LGBTI persons.
There were reports that authorities failed to respond when credible threats of violence were made against LGBTI persons. For example, authorities failed to investigate the appearance of a website in spring 2018 called the Homophobic Game “Saw,” which called for acts of violence against specific LGBTI persons and human rights defenders. While the site was blocked several times by Roskomnadzor, it would periodically reappear under a new domain name. After the July 23 killing of LGBTI activist Yelena Grigoryeva, whose name appeared on the “Saw” list, the site was blocked again. Although police arrested a suspect on August 1 who apparently confessed to the crime, authorities gave no indication of his motive, and human rights defenders believed that investigators were pursuing the theory that the killing was unrelated to Grigoryeva’s activism for the rights of LGBTI persons. On August 4, the Ministry of Internal Affairs informed individuals who had filed a complaint about the “Saw” site that, since the site was blocked and inaccessible, they were unable to investigate its contents. On August 14, the FSB informed the individuals who filed the complaint about the site that they had examined it and found no evidence of a crime.
In April 2018 the Russian LGBT Network released a report that documented 104 incidents of physical violence, including 11 killings, towards LGBTI persons in 2016-17. The report noted the continuing trend of groups and individuals luring gay men on fake dates to beat, humiliate, and rob them. The report noted that police often claimed to have found no evidence of a crime or refused to recognize attacks on LGBTI persons as hate crimes, which impeded investigations and perpetrators’ being fully held to account. During investigations of attacks, LGBTI persons risked being outed by police to their families and colleagues. LGBTI persons often declined to report attacks against them due to fears police would mistreat them or publicize their sexual orientation or gender identity.
There were reports that police conducted involuntary physical exams of transgender or intersex persons. For example, according to press reports, on May 1, police in Makhachkala, Dagestan, arrested Olga Moskvitina, who is intersex, at a protest. When police discovered that she was marked as male in her passport, she was forced to strip to the waist so that officers could examine her and was questioned about her genitals. She was reportedly humiliated and threatened by the officers. On May 1, her personal identifying information was published on social networks along with threats against her, which Moskvitina believed was done by or with the support of local police. On May 5, Moskvitina’s landlord was reportedly visited by plainclothes officers, who pressured him to evict her from her apartment, which he did.
The Association of Russian Speaking Intersex reported that medical specialists often pressured intersex persons (or their parents, if they were underage) into having so-called normalization surgery without providing accurate information about the procedure or what being intersex means.
The law prohibiting the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual orientations” restricted freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly for LGBTI persons and their supporters (see sections 2.a. and 2.b.). LGBTI persons reported significant societal stigma and discrimination, which some attributed to official promotion of intolerance and homophobia.
High levels of employment discrimination against LGBTI persons reportedly persisted (see section 7.d.) Activists asserted that the majority of LGBTI persons hid their sexual orientation or gender identity due to fear of losing their jobs or homes as well as the risk of violence.
LGBTI students, as well as those suspected of being LGBTI persons, also reported discrimination at schools and universities. Roman Krasnov, a vice rector at the Ural State University of Economics in Yekaterinburg, admitted that the institution monitored the social media accounts of its students in order to ensure that they showed proper “moral character,” which students claimed was monitoring targeted at LGBTI individuals. A student who wished to remain anonymous told media outlets in September that Krasnov threatened him with expulsion after his social media accounts showed that he might identify as LGBTI because he was sympathetic to LGBTI matters.
Medical practitioners reportedly continued to limit or deny LGBTI persons health services due to intolerance and prejudice. The Russian LGBT Network’s report indicated that, upon disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity, LGBTI individuals often encountered strong negative reactions and the presumption they were mentally ill.
Transgender persons faced difficulty updating their names and gender markers on government documents to reflect their gender identity because the government had not established standard procedures, and many civil registry offices denied their requests. When documents failed to reflect their gender identity, transgender persons often faced harassment by law enforcement officers and discrimination in accessing health care, education, housing, transportation, and employment.
There were reports that LGBTI persons faced discrimination in the area of parental rights. The law does not allow for same-sex couples to adopt children together, only as individuals. The Russian LGBT Network reported that LGBTI parents often feared that the country’s prohibition on the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual orientation” to minors would be used to remove custody of their children. For example, Andrey Vaganov and Yevgeniy Yerofeyev fled the country in August after the Investigative Committee announced that it had opened a criminal negligence case against the officials who had allowed the adoption of their two sons. Although the couple had married in Denmark in 2016, only Vaganov had a legal relationship to the children. A statement on the Investigative Committee’s website accused the men of “promoting nontraditional relationships, giving the children distorted perceptions about family values and harming their health and their moral and spiritual development.” The state learned that the children were living with two fathers after a doctor treating one of the children reported it to police. The couple told media outlets they had no choice but to leave the country in view of the probability that their children would be removed from their home.