Widespread demonstrations and arrests of hundreds of peaceful protesters followed disputed election results in December. Throughout the year, freedom of assembly had been frequently violated in the context of political, environmental, social and other protests. The media continued to operate in a restricted environment. Some members of religious minorities faced persecution, and concerns persisted about arbitrary use of anti-extremism legislation. Human rights defenders and journalists continued to experience pressure, and most investigations into past attacks showed no progress. Torture remained widely reported despite superficial police reforms. The security situation in the North Caucasus remained volatile and serious human rights abuses were committed by both armed groups and security officials.
High oil prices and significant government stimulus spending enabled Russia to post relatively strong growth rates by the end of the year. However, the government’s stated priorities in the area of continuing modernization, combating corruption and reforms of the criminal justice system showed few tangible results.
Following parliamentary elections marred by widespread allegations and numerous documented instances of vote rigging, the ruling United Russia party was returned to power in December with a significantly reduced share of the vote.
The results appeared to indicate a growing demand for civil and political freedoms and social and economic rights as opposed to the stability promised – and largely delivered – by the Putin/Medvedev “tandem”.
The demonstrations that followed the elections grew to become the largest seen in the country since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The protests tapped into the growing civic engagement shown through the year by individuals, interest groups and local communities around issues such as corruption, declining welfare support, police abuses and the environment.
TV and other mass media continued to follow the official line. Harsh public criticism of the authorities was mostly confined to minor print media outlets and the internet, which continued to grow in influence.Top of page
The authorities continued to restrict freedom of assembly of critical civil society movements, but some street rallies, banned in previous years, were allowed to go ahead. However, numerous demonstrations were banned and a number of people involved in peaceful political protest were repeatedly detained, some pre-emptively (on their way to the demonstration), and frequently sentenced to administrative arrest.
Numerous spontaneous peaceful demonstrations took place across the country in the days following the disputed parliamentary elections of 4 December. More than 1,000 protesters were arrested and more than 100 sentenced to administrative arrest in proceedings that frequently violated fair trial standards. Subsequent authorized demonstrations on 10 and 24 December brought together over 50,000 protesters in Moscow and tens of thousands elsewhere in the country and passed off peacefully.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights activists continued to face harassment and attacks. Attempted pride marches and pro-LGBT rights pickets in Moscow and Saint Petersburg were banned and promptly dispersed by police.
State control over television broadcasting and other mass media remained strong. The importance of the internet as an alternative source of information and a forum for exchanging comment and opinion continued to grow. Although the internet continued to be relatively free from state interference, several well-known websites and blogs reporting on electoral abuses were brought down by attacks, both before and immediately after the parliamentary elections in December.
Journalists continued to face threats and physical attacks for writing about politically sensitive issues, including corruption. Such attacks were rarely effectively investigated or prosecuted.
Anti-extremism legislation was often used arbitrarily to clamp down on those critical of the authorities. In response, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in June clarifying that criticism of government officials or politicians did not constitute incitement to hatred under anti-extremism legislation. Religious minorities such as non-traditional Muslim groups or Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to face persecution. Laws banning “propaganda of homosexuality among minors” were adopted in Arkhangelsk Region. In a positive development, defamation was decriminalized at the end of the year.
Restrictive regulations imposed on NGOs in previous years were partly eased, and a Higher Court of Arbitration decision lifted some restrictions on foreign funding for NGOs. However, human rights defenders and journalists continued to face harassment and threats, including by officials whose wrongdoings they exposed. Most investigations into past cases of killings and physical attacks on human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers, continued to make little or no progress.
The new law on the police, which came into force in March, introduced the formal appraisal of all officers and reduced their numbers. However, there were no substantive new provisions for strengthening the accountability of the police or to combat impunity for violations by law enforcement officials, and the law’s benefits remained elusive. Reports of torture and other ill-treatment remained widespread. Allegations were seldom effectively investigated and documented injuries were often dismissed as resulting from the legitimate use of force. The successful prosecution of perpetrators was rare. The denial of adequate medical care in custody was widely reported, and was allegedly used to extract confessions. Convicted prisoners frequently reported being subjected to violence, by both prison officials and inmates, shortly after their arrival in prison.
Despite ongoing attempts to improve the efficiency and independence of the judiciary, alleged political interference, corruption and the collusion of judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officials continued to result in frequent reports of unfair trials.
The security situation in the North Caucasus remained volatile and uneven. Armed groups continued to target law enforcement and other officials, with civilians caught in the crossfire and sometimes deliberately attacked. Security operations across the region were often accompanied by serious human rights violations. There were reports of witnesses being intimidated and journalists, human rights activists and lawyers being harassed and killed.
The rapid post-conflict reconstruction of Chechnya continued with high levels of federal funding, though unemployment remained a problem. Activity by armed groups declined compared to other regions in the North Caucasus. Law enforcement operations continued to give rise to reports of serious human rights violations. In a letter to the human rights NGO the Interregional Committee against Torture, a senior Chechen prosecutor acknowledged that investigations into enforced disappearances in Chechnya were ineffective.
The local human rights community continued to be scarred by the unsolved killing of Natalia Estemirova in 2009 and subjected to intimidation and harassment.
The resurgence of “Chechen traditions”, actively promoted by the Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov, resulted in growing gender inequalities and increased the vulnerability of women and girls to domestic and sexual violence.
Armed groups continued to attack security officials, members of local administrations and prominent members of the public, including mullahs preaching traditional Islam. Law enforcement operations gave rise to numerous allegations of enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions and torture. Past violations in which state security officials were allegedly implicated were neither promptly investigated nor effectively prosecuted.
The security situation in Ingushetia appeared to improve significantly in the early part of the year. However, attacks by armed groups and reports of serious human rights violations by security officials, particularly enforced disappearances, increased in later months.
In February, two attacks by armed groups on civilian targets in a tourist resort in the Elbrus area resulted in three deaths. Dozens of suspected armed group members were killed in the ensuing security operations, and many were arrested. There were repeated allegations of enforced disappearances and torture by law enforcement officials.
There were sporadic incidents of violence. Local and federal law enforcement forces based in North Ossetia launched security operations in the republic and neighbouring Ingushetia, reportedly resulting in numerous human rights violations.