Head of state Vladimir Putin (replaced Dmitry Medvedev)
Head of government Dmitry Medvedev (replaced Vladimir Putin)
Increasing peaceful political protest was met with repression. New laws restricting the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association were introduced. Human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers continued to face harassment, while investigations into violent attacks were ineffective. Torture and other ill-treatment remained widespread, and were seldom effectively prosecuted. Trials did not meet international standards of fairness, and the number of apparently politically motivated decisions grew. Insecurity and volatility in the North Caucasus persisted, and security operations launched in response were marred by systematic human rights violations with near-total impunity for the perpetrators.
Vladimir Putin's return as President, following widely criticized elections, led to a surge in popular protest and demands for greater civil and political freedoms, particularly around his inauguration in May. The result was increased restrictions. Protests were frequently banned and disrupted. New laws were adopted, often without public consultation and in the face of widespread criticism, which introduced harsh administrative and criminal penalties that could be used to target legitimate protest and political and civil society activities, and to restrict foreign funding for civic activism.
The Russian Federation responded belligerently to international criticism of its human rights record. A law on travel and other sanctions on officials allegedly responsible for the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in custody in 2009 was passed in the USA and proposed in several other countries. The Russian authorities retaliated with reciprocal sanctions and by banning the adoption of Russian children by US citizens and prohibiting Russian NGOs from receiving funding from the USA.
Russia continued to enjoy economic growth, although this slowed with falling oil prices, the global economic downturn and the lack of structural reforms at home. Public protest decreased by the end of 2012, but so did public support for the political leadership, according to opinion polls.
Freedom of assembly
Peaceful protests across Russia, including gatherings of small groups of people who presented no public threat or inconvenience, were routinely dispersed by police, often with excessive force. The authorities regarded every such event, however peaceful and insignificant in number, as unlawful unless expressly sanctioned, although gatherings of pro-government or pro-Orthodox Church activists were often allowed to proceed uninterrupted even without authorization. There were frequent reports of police brutality towards peaceful protesters and journalists, but these were not effectively investigated.
- On 6 May, the day before the inauguration of President Putin, a column of protesters moving along a permitted route to Bolotnaya Square in Moscow was halted by police, resulting in a stand-off and localized skirmishes. Subsequently, 19 protesters faced criminal charges in connection with events characterized by authorities as “mass riots”; one pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four-and-a-half years' imprisonment; the remainder were still awaiting trial at the end of the year. Several leading political activists were named as witnesses in the case and had their homes searched in operations that were widely broadcast by state-controlled television channels. Over 6 and 7 May, hundreds of peaceful individuals were arrested across Moscow, some merely for wearing white ribbons as a symbol of protest against electoral fraud.
The law governing public events was further amended in June. It expanded the list of violations, introduced new restrictions and increased sanctions.
Freedom of expression
The right to freedom of expression was increasingly restricted. Most media remained under effective state control, except for some outlets with limited circulation. Prime-time national television was regularly employed to smear government critics.