Annual Report: Russian Federation 2011

May 28, 2011

Annual Report: Russian Federation 2011

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Following widespread criticism of police abuse, including from within the law enforcement agencies, the government presented a new draft law on police. Human rights organizations expressed concern that the proposal failed to introduce effective mechanisms to make law enforcement officials accountable for abuses and human rights violations.

In a move intended to increase the independence of criminal investigations, the government announced in September that the Investigative Committee would be transformed, as of 2011, into an independent investigative body. It would be answerable directly to the President and removed from the control of the Prosecutor General's Office. The Committee had been originally created in 2007 in order to separate investigative and prosecutorial functions.

Widespread concern over deaths in custody resulting from the denial of adequate medical care led to changes in the law governing pre-trial detention. House arrest and restrictions on the use of pre-trial detention were introduced for people suspected of economic crimes. The Prosecutor General's Office concluded that inadequate medical treatment had caused the death in custody of lawyer Sergei Magnitskii in November 2009, though no one was prosecuted for this.

Concerns over the independence of prosecutors and the judiciary grew in the course of the second trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev on charges relating to the theft of oil produced by YUKOS. The charges appeared to be politically motivated. On 30 December they were each sentenced to a total of 14 years' imprisonment following an unfair trial that was marred by procedural violations, including the harassment of witnesses and the court's refusal to hear key defence witnesses. The two men would therefore be due for release in 2017, taking account of time already spent in detention.

Freedom of assembly

The clampdown on social activism continued, especially on those groups which raised controversial issues, were capable of mobilizing public dissent or were funded from abroad. Organizers often faced harassment and intimidation, including from law enforcement officials and members of pro-government organizations. Several peaceful demonstrations in Moscow and St. Petersburg were declared unauthorized and forcibly dispersed resulting in scores of demonstrators being held for several hours in police custody. Some demonstrators were sentenced to several days of detention solely for exercising their right to freedom of assembly.

In October, activists united in the "Strategy 31" movement were finally allowed to organize a peaceful demonstration in support of freedom of assembly in Triumfalnaya Square in Moscow. Since May 2009, the movement had been denied permission to assemble in the square on at least 10 occasions.

Widespread public protests against the planned construction of a highway through Khimki forest near Moscow led to the project being halted for a few months while at the same time activists faced intimidation and harassment. Konstantin Fetisov, a peaceful protester against the project, was assaulted in November by unknown men and seriously injured.

In an unprecedented decision in October, a court in St Petersburg declared the banning of a parade by LGBT rights activists by the city council had been unlawful. Later that month, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the banning of Pride marches by the Moscow city authorities in 2006, 2007 and 2008 had violated the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and that the organizers had been discriminated against on the grounds of their sexual orientation.

Freedom of expression

Journalists, ecological activists, members of the political opposition and human rights defenders faced harassment, intimidation and attacks. The authorities continued to send out mixed messages on freedom of expression. They promised greater respect and protection for journalists and civil society activists, while at the same time launching, or failing to curb, smear campaigns against prominent government critics.

In November, journalist Oleg Kashin was violently attacked in Moscow. The attack sparked widespread outrage and a promise from President Medvedev that the attack would be diligently investigated.