Libel was re-criminalized, eight months after its decriminalization. Changes to the Criminal Code expanded the definitions of treason and espionage and made them vaguer by including sharing information with, or providing miscellaneous assistance to, foreign states and organizations whose activity is “directed against security of the Russian Federation”.
New legislation gave the government powers to blacklist and block websites publishing materials considered “extremist” or otherwise harmful to public health, morals or safety. By the end of the year, this legislation was already being used to shut down sites publishing content protected by the right to freedom of expression.
- Maria Alekhina, Ekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, members of the punk group Pussy Riot, were arrested in March after a brief and peaceful, albeit provocative, political performance in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow. They were convicted of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” in August and were each sentenced to two years in prison, although Ekaterina Samutsevich received a conditional sentence on appeal and was released on 10 October.
- On 29 November a Moscow court declared video footage of the group's church performance “extremist”, rendering its publication on the internet unlawful.
Discrimination on grounds such as race, ethnicity, gender, religion or political affiliation remained widespread. Discriminatory legislation targeting LGBTI individuals was introduced in several regions and proposed at the federal level. A law banning “propaganda of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexualism and transgenderness among minors” came into force in St Petersburg in April. Similar laws were also introduced in Bashkiria, Chukotka, Krasnodar, Magadan, Novosibirsk and Samara regions, and tabled before the State Duma. A number of public LGBTI events were forbidden and participants dispersed by police.
Across Russia, LGBTI individuals and members of various minority groups continued to face attacks. Such attacks were not effectively investigated by the authorities, and the perpetrators often unidentified.
- On 4 August, four men forcibly entered an LGBTI club in Tyumen and physically and verbally assaulted several customers. Police detained the attackers. When the victims came to the police station to file complaints, they were left in the same room with the perpetrators, who continued to threaten them and were later released without charge.
Human rights defenders
Reports of harassment of human rights defenders continued. In the North Caucasus and elsewhere, activists, journalists and lawyers representing victims of human rights violations continued to face physical threats, including from law enforcement officials.
Investigations into many past attacks, including the killing of Natalia Estemirova, made no ostensible progress.
New legislation introduced further administrative hurdles and a legal obligation for NGOs to register as “organizations performing the functions of foreign agents” (language evocative of espionage) if they received foreign funding and engaged in broadly defined “political activities”. Failure to comply with these provisions might lead to heavy fines, and imprisonment for NGO leaders.
Public officials routinely sought to blacken the reputation of individual human rights defenders and specific NGOs, as well as the work of human rights NGOs in general.