Newly elected members of Russia’s State Duma, or lower house of parliament, must not shirk their duty to urgently address the country’s increasingly dismal human rights record by amending repressive legislation and resuming parliamentary scrutiny of the executive, Amnesty International said today.
The organization set out what it considers to be key human rights priorities for members of the State Duma elected in the September 17-19 vote, including rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association which are currently being crushed in the Kremlin’s crackdown on opposition figures, independent media and human rights groups.
“These relentless attacks on human rights in Russia demand urgent action. There must be comprehensive reforms of the country’s legislation to meet its obligations to respect, protect, promote and fulfill human rights,” said Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director.
“As a first step, the Duma should revise laws concerning the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, including the Code of Administrative Offenses and the Criminal Code. It must be ready to reject any further attempts to curtail human rights. Newly re-elected deputies who have previously voted for repressive bills, must seize this opportunity to reverse the damage done to human rights in Russia.”
Russia has witnessed an escalating crackdown on dissent in the run-up to the elections. Several opposition figures were barred from seeking public office under new, repressive laws. Others were forced to leave Russia to escape persecution. Some were jailed. Authorities have sought to silence many critical voices, such as prisoner of conscience Aleksei Navalny, whose Anti-Corruption Foundation and network of offices were deemed “extremist” and banned.
Independent media and human rights activists have also come under pressure. At least 18 media organizations including Dozhd TV, one of the last remaining independent television channels in Russia and news website, Vazhnye Istorii, have been branded “foreign agents.” So-called “undesirable organizations” include the investigative news outlet Proekt.Media. There have also been raids on journalists’ homes and other reprisals.
Overturn restrictions on freedom of expression, peaceful assembly
Amnesty International is calling for the State Duma to reverse the catastrophic restrictions on the right to freedom of expression by abolishing the executive’s powers to block online content without judicial review, decriminalizing libel which has been used as a pretext to clamp down on dissent and repealing the laws on “offending religious feelings” and “fake news” among other measures.
The State Duma must also immediately abolish laws on “foreign agents” and “undesirable organizations” that have been used to eradicate political activism and prosecute human rights defenders, with disastrous consequences for civil society and independent media. The “anti-extremism” legislation that has been weaponized against the opposition should be brought in line with Russia’s obligations under international human rights law and its Constitution, to prevent it being abused for political purposes ever again.
Another priority for Russian lawmakers must be a comprehensive reform of national legislation on public gatherings, which has been used against peaceful protesters and has led to arbitrary restrictions, prohibitions and huge penalties for their actions.
Amnesty International is also calling for Article 212.1 (the so-called “Dadin’s article”) of the Criminal Code that established criminal liability for repeated “violations” of the unduly restrictive Law on Assemblies to be repealed, as well as the ban on spontaneous, unplanned protests.
“Repressive legislation has accelerated the erosion of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association in Russia and suppressed the voices of millions of people. The State Duma must show that the status quo is unacceptable by initiating reforms to overturn these laws,” Natalia Zviagina said.
Protect women and LGBTI people
Everyone should be able to enjoy the same legal rights, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and not face violence or discrimination on any grounds.
Amnesty International is calling for the repeal of Russia’s homophobic law banning “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors” which has provoked new levels of hate crimes against LGBTI people and hindered their activism.
The new Duma must also adopt a long-overdue law on domestic violence, and begin to undo the harm done by the decriminalization of battery in 2017.
“During their election campaigns, the new State Duma deputies spent weeks promising Russian people a better life and brighter future. Now is the time to fulfill their promises. The list of human rights priorities that Amnesty International has outlined is not comprehensive, but it is an important start,” said Natalia Zviagina.
Contact: Gabby Arias, [email protected]