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Russia: “I Would Love to Hug Her, but it is Impossible.” Imprisoned Dissenters Deprived of Family Contact

Russian artist Alexandra Skochilenko, 33, smiles as she is escorted by police officers after being sentenced to seven years in prison for spreading disinformation about the army after she swapped supermarket price tags with slogans criticising Russia's offensive in Ukraine, at a court in Saint Petersburg on November 16, 2023. Photo by OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP via Getty Images
(OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP via Getty Images)

For years, the Russian authorities have suppressed peaceful protest and all forms of dissent. Those who have dared to disagree with the government and make their views public, have faced harassment, intimidation, unlawful use of force by police and violence from pro-government groups, and in the most severe cases prosecution and imprisonment under trumped-up charges.

Over the years, arbitrary arrests, unfounded prosecution and imprisonment have become more frequent, particularly as legislation was increasingly transformed to suit the government’s growing appetite for crackdown on all dissent. After the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, and with the adoption of new laws, which criminalized criticism of the war itself, imprisonment for speaking out – particularly speaking out against Russia’s aggression in Ukraine – has become the authorities’ common response.

Russia’s authorities are systematically denying arbitrarily imprisoned government critics contact with their families. Using several emblematic cases, this research briefing documents how authorities have exploited legal loopholes and fabricated pretexts to further isolate dissidents, including those imprisoned for speaking out against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Another form of harassment widely used by the penal authorities is arbitrarily placement of the prisoner in disciplinary cells, which under Russian legislation automatically deprives prisoners of visits and phone calls, and often just before the family come on a pre-approved visit.

Such practices go against Russia’s obligations under international law, to say nothing of the arbitrary prosecution, detention, and imprisonment itself. International standards on treatment of detainees and prisoners clearly dictate that they must be able to remain in touch with their families. Not only is Russian law far from compliance with these standards, it also enables authorities to continue harassing and persecuting their opponents behind bars. Moreover, practice in Russia today is such that it often does not conform with the country’s own legislation.

Read “Russia: ‘I Would Love to Hug Her, but it is Impossible.’ Imprisoned Dissenters Deprived of Family Contact”