Daily Telegraph, London, on April 24, 2013, reported that Vladimir Putin is presiding over the worst era for Russian human rights since the Soviet Union, according to two new reports by Amnesty and Human Rights Watch. Excerpts below:
Mr Putin, who was re-elected as president almost a year ago, stands accused of bringing in new laws to stifle criticism of his regime and adapting existing laws to silence dissent.
“The Russian government has unleashed a crackdown on civil society unprecedented in the country’s post-Soviet history,” the HRW report states.
“The authorities have introduced a series of restrictive laws, harassed, intimidated and in several case imprisoned political activists, interfered in the work of NGOs and sought to cast government critics as clandestine enemies.”
Since the start of the year, the Russian authorities have carried out more than 200 inspections of organisations campaigning to protect human rights. Amnesty’s Moscow office was “inspected” by prosecutors and tax inspectors on 25 March.
In several cases the inspectors demanded to go through computers or emails. In one case, officials demanded that an organisation prove that its staff had been vaccinated for smallpox, and in another the officials asked for chest X-rays of staff to ensure they did not have tuberculosis.
Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at HRW:
“The campaign is unprecedented in its scope and scale, and seems clearly aimed at intimidating and marginalising civil society groups. This inspection campaign can potentially be used to force some groups to end advocacy work, or to close them down.”
Another law, adopted in December, essentially banned funding emanating from the United States for “political” activity by non-governmental organisations, and bans groups whose work is “directed against Russia’s interests.”
A third law, the treason law, expands the legal definition of treason in ways that could criminalise involvement in raising awareness of human rights.
The publication of the reports comes at a time of mounting pressure for Mr Putin.
On April 24 a high-profile critic of the president went on trial for what he said were trumped-up charges.
Alexei Navalny, 36, told a court in the city of Kirov that they should throw out the charges of stealing from a timber firm.
Mr Navalny has suggested that Mr Putin ordered the trial to stop his criticism of “swindlers and thieves” in government and sideline him as a potential presidential rival.
Mr Navalny, who organised the biggest protests since Mr Putin rose to power 13 years ago, is accused of stealing 16 million roubles (£335,000) from a timber firm in Kirov that he was advising in 2009.
He also insisted his innocence would be apparent even if he was convicted.
“At the end of the trial, we will certainly win. I’m sure that a lack of guilt will be established.
“Even if it is not formally acknowledged by the court, it will be clear for everyone who attends the trial.”