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.
Credible nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and independent media outlets published reports indicating that in December 2018-January 2019, local authorities in the Republic of Chechnya renewed a campaign of violence against individuals perceived to be members of the LGBTI community. According to the NGO Russian LGBT Network, local Chechen authorities illegally detained and tortured at least 40 individuals (see section 1.c.), including two who reportedly died in custody from torture. According to human rights organizations, as of year’s end, authorities failed to investigate the allegations or reports of extrajudicial killings and mass torture of LGBTI persons in Chechnya from 2017 and continued to deny that there were any LGBTI persons in Chechnya.
On May 24, Maksim Lapunov, a survivor of the 2017 “antigay purge” in Chechnya who came forward publicly and offered to cooperate with investigative bodies, filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), claiming that federal authorities failed to investigate his case properly.
On July 23, the human rights NGOs Memorial Human Rights Center and Committee against Torture, as well as the investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta, published new information about a summary execution of 27 men alleged to have taken place in 2017 at the A.A. Kadyrov patrol police unit headquarters in Grozny, Chechnya. According to the new information, at least 14 eyewitnesses, who were detained at the unit at the same time as the 27 victims but were tortured rather than killed, were able to corroborate that the victims were in police custody at the time of their alleged killings. Local authorities continued to deny that the 27 men were ever in custody and maintained that they left the country to join ISIS in Syria. The 14 witnesses described the involvement of several high-ranking Chechen officials, including unit head Aslan Iraskhanov, in the killings and subsequent cover-up. The NGOs detailed continuing pressure on the families of the 27 victims not to file police reports about the disappearance of their family members. On September 16, relatives of eight of the 27 victims filed a complaint with the ECHR.
There were reports that police beat or otherwise abused persons, in some cases resulting in their death. For example, according to press reports, on April 11, Moscow police officers severely beat Sulli Yunusilau, a 46-year-old man from Dagestan. Yunusilau died in a hospital a week later from his injuries. On April 24, authorities charged three officers with assault and abuse of authority. As of December the investigation continued; one suspect was under house arrest while the other two were in pretrial detention.
There were multiple reports that, in some prison colonies, authorities systematically tortured inmates (see section 1.c.), in some cases resulting in death or suicide. According to media reports, on March 12, Ayub Tuntuyev, a former bodyguard to former president of Chechnya Akhmad Kadyrov, was found dead in Penal Colony Number 6 (IK-6) in the Vladimir region. Since his placement in the colony, Tuntuyev had complained repeatedly about abuse by prison officials, including severe beatings and torture by electric shock. In 2016 he filed a complaint about the abuse with the ECHR. While prison authorities maintained that Tuntuyev committed suicide, his relatives reported that his body was bruised and that his lungs and kidneys had been removed; they told journalists that they did not believe he committed suicide. On March 25, the Investigative Committee concluded that there was no sign that Tuntuyev had been beaten and as of November there were no indications of any further investigation into the case.
Physical abuse and hazing, which in some cases resulted in death or suicide, continued to be a problem in the armed forces. On February 10, Stepan Tsymbal, a 19-year-old conscript, died at the Pogonovo military base in the Voronezh region. His family reported that his unit initially informed them that he had died naturally of a heart attack, although his arms and legs had been taped together and a plastic bag was wrapped around his head. According to the human rights organization Zona Prava, Tsymbal’s commanding officer beat him and accused him of stealing vodka on the day he died, threatening that Tsymbal would face consequences if the vodka did not reappear by the evening. Medical examiners concluded that Tsymbal committed suicide that night. His relatives cast doubt on these findings and insisted that investigators considered that his death was not self-inflicted. On March 19, the Investigative Committee charged Tsymbal’s commanding officer with “exceeding authority” and “incitement to suicide.”
On February 5, the deputy chairman of the Investigative Committee told the Kommersant newspaper that there were new developments in the investigation of the 2015 killing of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, but it was premature to make them public. Human rights activists and the Nemtsov family continued to believe that authorities were intentionally ignoring the question of who ordered and organized the killing and noted that these persons were still at large.
On August 23, in a case related to the 2011 death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow pretrial detention center, the ECHR ruled that authorities had provided “manifestly inadequate” medical treatment that “unreasonably put his life in danger,” that Magnitsky had been abused by guards, and that he had been unjustly held for too long in pretrial detention.
There were reports that the government or its proxies committed, or attempted to commit, extrajudicial killings of its opponents in other countries. For example, on December 3, German federal prosecutors announced they had concluded that Russian intelligence was behind the August 23 killing in Berlin of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, an ethnic Chechen from Georgia. Khangoshvili had fled to Germany in 2016 and was fatally shot at point blank range in a park by a man who was arrested after fleeing the scene by bicycle; Khangoshvili had survived several earlier attempts on his life in other countries. The independent investigative news website Bellingcat identified the man arrested as Vadim Krasikov, who had reportedly committed a killing in Moscow with similar methods. Bellingcat pointed to multiple indications that the killer was acting with the support or at the direction of Russian authorities, including the fact that he was reportedly traveling on a passport issued by the Russian government under a pseudonym. On December 12, presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov admitted that Russia had made several requests to Germany to extradite Khangoshvili based on his purported involvement in terrorist acts.
The country played a significant military role in the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, where human rights organizations attributed thousands of civilian deaths and other abuses to Russia-led forces. Russian occupation authorities in Crimea also committed widespread abuses (see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Ukraine).
Since 2015 the country’s forces have conducted military operations, including airstrikes, in the conflict in Syria. According to human rights organizations, the country’s forces took actions, such as bombing urban areas that intentionally targeted civilian infrastructure (see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Syria).
The news website Caucasian Knot reported that violent confrontations with security forces resulted in at least 31 deaths in the North Caucasus during the first half of the year. Kabardino-Balkaria was the most affected region with 10 deaths in the first half of the year, followed by Dagestan, where nine persons were killed.
There were reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. Enforced disappearances for both political and financial reasons continued in the North Caucasus. According to the July 30 report of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, there were 849 outstanding cases of enforced or involuntary disappearances in the country.
There were reports that police committed enforced disappearances and abductions during the year. In one case according to press reports, on May 5, police in the village of Chulpanovo in the Republic of Tatarstan arrested a 47-year-old local resident, Idris Sadykov, purportedly on suspicion of robbing a grocery store. Police initially brought Sadykov to a police station, but later that evening police transported him to the home of the father of two police officers, Dinar and Lenar Gafiyatov, where he was held incommunicado for 20 days, severely beaten, abused, starved, and forced to engage in agricultural work. After his sister filed a missing persons complaint, Sadykov was dropped off on the side of a road and threatened that if he told anyone what had occurred, the officers would frame him for a crime that would lead to lengthy imprisonment. On July 11, the Investigative Committee of Tatarstan opened an investigation, but as of December no charges had been announced. As of September an internal police investigation into the officers’ conduct reportedly continued.
Security forces were allegedly complicit in the kidnapping and disappearance of individuals from Central Asia, whose forcible return was apparently sought by their governments (see section 2.d.).
There were continued reports of abductions related to alleged counterterrorism efforts in the North Caucasus. For example, Memorial reported in October that Ramzan Shaikhayev had disappeared on September 9 while visiting his ailing father in Argun, Chechnya, and that his whereabouts were unknown. Relatives stated that, while he was with his father, he got a call asking him to go outside; video footage showed him getting into a car and leaving. According to reports, police had previously illegally detained Shaikhayev and his wife in July. His wife was released after a week, and Shaikhayev was released after a month. Based on these and other prior interactions with police, Memorial concluded that there was a basis to believe that Shaikhayev had been abducted by Chechen security services and that they had targeted him as a suspected militant because of his long beard and devout Muslim beliefs.
There were reports Russia-led forces and Russian occupation authorities in Ukraine engaged in enforced disappearances (see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 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 only occasionally held officials accountable for such actions.
A Levada Center poll released in June indicated that one in 10 persons in the country had been subjected to what they perceived to be torture by law enforcement bodies.
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 in pretrial detention facilities. 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. The problem was especially acute in the North Caucasus.
There were reports that security forces used torture as a form of punishment against detained opposition and human rights activists, journalists, and critics of government policies. For example, according to human rights groups, on July 12, in Nazran, Ingushetia, the FSB detained Rashid Maysigov, a reporter for the news website Fortanga, after raiding his home, where they allegedly found drugs and printed materials promoting Ingush separatism. Maysigov was reportedly tortured during interrogation, including by electric shock; he was also forced to confess to possessing drugs and questioned about his coverage of human rights violations, corruption, and the protest movement in Ingushetia. In November a district court in Magas, Ingushetia, extended his pretrial detention through January 7, 2020.
In several cities police reportedly subjected members of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a religious group the Supreme Court banned under antiextremism laws in 2017, to physical abuse and torture following their arrest. For example, on February 15, Investigative Committee officials in the city of Surgut reportedly subjected at least seven Jehovah’s Witnesses to torture involving beatings, stun guns, and suffocation at a police precinct.
There were multiple reports of the FSB using torture against young anarchists and antifascist activists who were allegedly involved in several “terrorism” and “extremism” cases. For example, on February 1, the FSB detained Moscow State University postgraduate mathematics student and reported anarchist Azat Miftakhov on suspicion of making an unexploded homemade bomb found in the Moscow region several weeks earlier. Miftakhov reported that during his detention, he was severely beaten, subjected to electric shock, threatened with rape, and denied access to a lawyer. Miftakhov attempted to commit suicide to end the abuse, leading to his hospitalization. On February 7, after Miftakhov’s initial period of detention expired, security officials briefly released him but then immediately detained him again in the courthouse, this time accusing him of attacking a local office of the United Russia party in January 2018. As of December he remained in pretrial detention; he did not admit guilt and claimed that security forces had fabricated the case against him. Memorial considered Miftakhov to be a political prisoner.
In the North Caucasus region, there were widespread reports that security forces abused and tortured both alleged militants and civilians in detention facilities.
According to human rights defenders, during the year police in Chechnya continued a campaign of unlawful detentions and torture of men presumed to be gay or bisexual. Media reports and human rights groups estimated that the number of victims during the year was as high as 50. In May, for example, the NGO Human Rights Watch released a report based on interviews with four men who were detained for periods of three and 20 days between December 2018 and February 2019 at the Grozny Internal Affairs Department compound, where law enforcement officials reportedly kicked them, beat them with sticks and pipes, denied them food and water, and tortured three of the four with electric shocks. One was reportedly raped with a stick. In an interview the four men described being held with many others subjected to the same treatment because of their real or perceived sexual orientation. According to the Russian LGBT Network, as of April 1, more than 150 LGBTI persons had fled Chechnya because of this campaign, the majority of whom had also left the country.
Reports by migrants, NGOs, and the press suggested a pattern of police officers and prison personnel carrying out beatings, arrests, and extortion of persons whom they believed to be Roma, Central Asian, African, or from the North Caucasus. In one case, on January 16, police in Magnitogorsk arrested Husniddin Zainabidinov, a labor migrant from Kyrgyzstan, on suspicion of involvement in a gas leak that led to an explosion in an apartment. According to lawyers from Memorial representing Zainabidinov, he was tortured to coerce a confession, including by electric shocks, severe beatings, and other abuse. According to press reports, police in Magnitogorsk had increased pressure on Central Asian labor migrants following the blast, including through raids, arrests, and increased document checks.
There were reports of rape and sexual abuse by government agents. For example, according to press reports, on August 27, two police officers in the city of Anapa in the Krasnodar region threatened a 17-year-old girl with arrest and administrative charges in order to force her to engage in sexual acts. Following an internal investigation, 11 police officers were fired, including the Anapa police chief. As of December authorities had not opened a criminal case.
There were reports of authorities detaining defendants for psychiatric evaluations to exert pressure on them or sending defendants for psychiatric treatment as punishment. Prosecutors and certified medical professionals may request suspects be placed in psychiatric clinics on an involuntary basis. For example, on April 8, authorities in the Perm region subjected opposition activists Aleksandr Shabarchin, Danil Vasiliyev, and Aleksandr Kotov to forced psychiatric evaluations, during which they were interrogated by doctors, according to their claims. The activists were on trial for “undermining public order” for placing a scarecrow with President Putin’s face and the words “war criminal” and “liar” in the center of downtown Perm, charges which carry up to a seven-year prison term. The activists claimed psychiatrists insisted that they reveal “who was paying them” for their actions, how they met each other, and other details about their organization. As of December the investigation continued.
On June 27, the investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta published a report about the use of punitive psychiatry in prisons. The article focused on the case of prisoner Zelimkhan Medov, who was serving a 17-year sentence for a 2004 attack on a military base. Medov alleged that in retaliation for filing complaints about abuses to which he was subjected in prison, he was sent for multiple lengthy punitive stints in prison psychiatric facilities between 2015 and 2018. During one of these periods, he was tied to a bed with restraints for six months and given daily injections of unnecessary psychotropic drugs until he agreed to sign a document to become an informant for the prison administration. As of December authorities had not opened an investigation into the allegations.
Nonlethal physical abuse and hazing continued in the armed forces. Activists reported such hazing was often tied to extortion schemes. For example, on April 25, military investigators opened an investigation into the Mikhailovskiy Military Artillery Academy in St. Petersburg after reports of severe hazing of recruits surfaced on social media. According to press reports, young soldiers were filmed being beaten and humiliated by their superiors.
There were reports Russia-led forces in Ukraine’s Donbas region and Russian occupation authorities in Crimea engaged in torture (see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Ukraine).
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
While the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, authorities engaged in these practices with impunity. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention, but successful challenges were rare.
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 to corruption. The outcomes of some trials appeared predetermined. Acquittal rates remained low. In 2018 courts acquitted 0.43 percent of all defendants.
There were reports of pressure on defense attorneys representing clients who were being subjected to politically motivated prosecution and other forms of reprisal. According to a June report from the Agora International Human Rights Group, it has become common practice for judges to remove defense attorneys from court hearings without a legitimate basis in retaliation for their providing clients with an effective defense. The report also documented a trend of law enforcement authorities’ using physical force to interfere with the work of defense attorneys, including the use of violence to prevent them from being present during searches and interrogations. On September 12, for example, a judge in the city of Novomoskovsk in the Tula region removed defense lawyer Dmitriy Sotnikov from a court hearing after he objected to being barred from cross-examining a witness. Bailiffs beat and handcuffed him, and the judge appointed a different lawyer to represent his client. Police took Sotnikov for drug testing and then transported him to the local office of the Investigative Committee. There, investigators reportedly beat Sotnikov again after he complained about the earlier abuse and violations of detention procedures. Sotnikov had traveled to the hearing from Moscow and had previously defended the head of the Tula branch of the opposition party Yabloko.
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 laws passed since 2016 granting authorities sweeping new powers and requiring telecommunications providers to store all electronic and telecommunication data (see section 2.a., Internet Freedom). NGOs, human rights activists, and journalists alleged that authorities routinely employed surveillance and other measures to spy on and intimidate citizens.
Law enforcement agencies required telecommunications providers to grant the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the FSB continuous remote access to client databases, including telephone and electronic communications, enabling them to track private communications and monitor internet activity without the provider’s knowledge. The law permits authorities with a warrant to monitor telephone calls in real time, but this safeguard was largely pro forma. 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 its 2017 report Russia under Surveillance, the Agora International Human Rights Group described the development in recent years of a system of “total oversight targeted at civic activists, independent journalists, and representatives of the political opposition” in the name of national security. According to Agora, since 2007 authorities have greatly increased surveillance of telephone calls and online messages, increased the use of hidden audio and video recording devices, and expanded the use of biometric data-gathering.
In March 2018 Agora published a report on politically motivated searches of private homes, which analyzed the searches of the residences of 600 political activists that security services had conducted over the previous three years. The report concluded that authorities often used the searches to intimidate and threaten political activists. In 98 cases police used the threat of violence, actual violence, and the display of firearms during the searches; in 47 cases authorities searched the premises of the activists’ relatives and friends; and in 70 cases they broke down the doors or entered the residence through a window.
On September 12, authorities conducted coordinated searches of the offices of opposition activist Aleksey Navalny’s Anticorruption Foundation (FBK), as well as of the homes of FBK activists in more than 40 cities across the country. The searches, which mostly took place in the middle of the night and which observers said were designed to intimidate activists, were ostensibly in connection with money-laundering charges the Investigative Committee had initiated against the FBK in August, at the height of the mass protests over the Moscow City Duma elections. On October 9, the Ministry of Justice declared the FBK a “foreign agent” because the organization allegedly received donations from two foreign persons. The FBK pointed to indications that the donations from foreign persons may have been orchestrated to trigger its “foreign agent” designation.
There were an increasing number of reports that authorities threatened to remove children from the custody of parents engaged in political activism or some forms of religious worship, or parents who were LGBTI persons. For example, on August 26, prosecutors in Moscow filed a request to remove three minor children from the custody of their parents, Pyotr and Yelena Khomskiy, because they had purportedly endangered the children by bringing them to an opposition protest on August 2. On September 2, a Moscow court denied the prosecutor’s request to remove the children from the home.
The law requires relatives of terrorists to pay the cost of damages caused by an attack, which human rights advocates criticized as collective punishment. Chechen Republic authorities reportedly routinely imposed collective punishment on the relatives of alleged terrorists, including by expelling them from the republic.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides that workers may form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, but it does not require employers to reinstate workers fired due to their union activity. The law prohibits reprisals against striking workers. Unions must register with the Federal Registration Service, often a cumbersome process that includes lengthy delays and convoluted bureaucracy. The grounds on which trade union registration may be denied are not defined and can be arbitrary or unjustified. Active members of the military, civil servants, customs workers, judges, prosecutors, and persons working under civil contracts are excluded from the right to organize. The law requires labor unions to be independent of government bodies, employers, political parties, and NGOs.
The law places several restrictions on the right to bargain collectively. For example, only one collective bargaining agreement is permitted per enterprise, and only a union or group of unions representing at least one-half the workforce may bargain collectively. The law allows workers to elect representatives if there is no union. The law does not specify who has authority to bargain collectively when there is no trade union in an enterprise.
The law prohibits strikes in the military and emergency response services. It also prohibits strikes in essential public-service sectors, including utilities and transportation, and strikes that would threaten the country’s defense, safety, and the life and health of its workers. The law also prohibits some nonessential public servants from striking and imposes compulsory arbitration for railroad, postal, and municipal workers as well as other public servants in roles other than law enforcement.
Laws regulating workers’ strikes remained extremely restrictive, making it difficult to declare a strike but easy for authorities to rule a strike illegal and punish the workers. It was also very difficult for those without a labor contract to go on a legal strike. For example, in October 2018, 99 gold miners in Kamchatka walked off their jobs at Zoloto Kamchatki to protest their poor working conditions and low pay. According to media reports, the governor urged the miners not to speak to journalists, while other miners reported threats from police. After a few weeks, the company agreed to raise salaries but fired 54 of the 99 strikers. The company also initiated a lawsuit to declare the strike illegal. The Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia noted that they were unable to do anything since the miners were not unionized.
Union members must follow extensive legal requirements and engage in consultations with employers before acquiring the right to strike. Solidarity strikes and strikes on matters related to state policies are illegal, as are strikes that do not respect the onerous time limits, procedures, and requirements mandated by law. Employers may hire workers to replace strikers. Workers must give prior notice of the following aspects of a proposed strike: a list of the differences of opinion between the parties that triggered the strike; the date and time at which the strike was intended to start, its duration, and the number of anticipated participants; the name of the body that is leading the strike and the representatives authorized to participate in the conciliation procedures; and proposals for the minimum service to be provided during the strike. In the event a declared strike is ruled illegal and takes place, courts may confiscate union property to cover employers’ losses.
The Federal Labor and Employment Service (RosTrud) regulates employer compliance with labor law and is responsible for “controlling and supervising compliance with labor laws and other legal acts which deal with labor norms” by employers. Several state agencies, including the Ministry of Justice, the Prosecutor’s Office, RosTrud, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, are responsible for enforcing the law. These agencies, however, frequently failed to enforce the law, and violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining provisions were common. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.
Employers frequently engaged in reprisals against workers for independent union activity, including threatening to assign them to night shifts, denying benefits, and blacklisting or firing them. Although unions were occasionally successful in court, in most cases managers who engaged in antiunion activities did not face penalties.
For example, in March and April, the medical workers’ union in Anzhero-Sudzhensk led a series of strikes, including a hunger strike by nurses, to protest layoffs and staff transfers. Authorities publicly criticized the striking personnel, with Kemerovo governor Sergey Tsiliyev accusing them of “discrediting the honor of the region.” After the first picket on March 11, police ordered the interrogation of all participants. On April 11, the city’s mayor demanded that nurses give up their union membership.