On Wednesday, a UN independent human rights expert urged the Russian government to stop its crackdown on advocates for human rights.
Mary Lawlor also urged authorities to remove “restrictive and discriminatory regulations” in response to their ongoing conflict in Ukraine. She reaffirmed the appeal she and other experts made in July to stop Russia’s “civil society lockdown”.
“I…continue to be concerned about the criminal measures implemented soon after the invasion of Ukraine being used to silence dissenting views. Since the “false war news” law was adopted on March 4th, 2022, 114 persons have already faced legal action, according to her statement.
Restrictions on defenders
The introduction of new punitive measures by the government that target human rights advocates and have “a smothering effect on civil society,” Ms Lawlor continued, is “very worrying.”
She said that the Russian Parliament amended the criminal code on July 14th, imposing sentences of up to eight years for those guilty of “confidentially cooperating” with a foreign state, international organisation, or foreign group.
Only ‘co-operation’ intended to aid in ‘actions knowingly targeted against the state security is considered punished. However, in reality, there is no assurance that human rights activity won’t be viewed as a threat to the state’s security; she noted that the same law has made “public appeals for activities targeted against state security,” which is widely defined as illegal.
In international organisations, pressure
The UN Special Rapporteur also voiced her worry about the expansion of regulations intended to target “foreign agents” and “undesirable organisations,” which, in her opinion, the Government has been using for years to impose restrictions on, stigmatise, and discriminate against, human rights defenders.
Without any legal challenge, Russia has since 2015 banned 65 foreign and international non-governmental organisations as being “undesirable.”
“Several of them have programmes promoting human rights and helping others. People run the possibility of serving up to six years in prison if they continue to support or organise these organisations, she said.
Two hundred seventy-six persons, many of whom defend and advance human rights, are currently listed on various “foreign agents” registers that restrict their activities, Ms Lawlor continued. A related new law that takes effect on December 1 will enable authorities to broaden the prohibitions.
“Russian human rights advocates explained to me how this derogatory label drives away certain partners and even individuals whose rights they defend. It is entirely unacceptable that new, ambiguous, and expansive legal provisions further marginalise the human rights community, she cautioned.
The unbiased expert expressed “regret” over the Russian government’s “ongoing, extensive measures to stifle critical voices and undermine civic society.”
She mentioned the 138,000 websites that have been blocked since the invasion of Ukraine, the 16,400 detentions associated with anti-war protests, and the limitations placed on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
She emphasised that “the work of most independent media outlets continues to be suspended or stopped,” citing the removal of the print licence from Novaya Gazeta, a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and one of the first Russian news organisations to cover human rights issues as well as other investigative work.
Ms Lawlor pleaded with the international community to aid human rights activists in exile and Russia.
“The Russian Government is dismantling civil society daily, and if the world does not support Russian human rights activists now, it will suffer for decades,” she said.
The Geneva-based UN, Human Rights Council, appoints UN Special Rapporteurs to provide reports on particular national circumstances or broad concerns.
These independent experts work independently and are not employed by the UN or receive compensation for their services.
Analysis by: Advocacy Unified Network