May 15th, 2014
11:20 AM ET

Don't ignore what's happening inside Russia

By Tanya Lokshina, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Tanya Lokshina is the Russia program director at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

As the crisis in Ukraine escalated this spring, the Kremlin’s vicious crackdown on civil society also escalated. Space for independent civic activity in Russia is shrinking dramatically, but international policymakers and the media have been understandably too distracted to do much about it.

Since early spring, it seems as though every week brings a new pernicious law or legislative proposal.

The authorities have blocked or essentially took editorial control over a number of independent news portals and are pushing new laws to stifle freedom of expression. Just a week ago, President Vladimir Putin signed a law requiring Russian bloggers with significant followings to register with the authorities and comply with the same regulations as media outlets without the same protections and privileges. The same law requires blogging services and social networks to store user activity for six months.

Another legislative proposal reportedly prompted by independent media coverage of the crisis in Ukraine would introduce administrative and criminal offenses for editors who publish “false anti-Russian” information or offer media support to “anti-Russian extremist and separatist forces.” Another new draft law introduces a ban on publishing negative information about the Russian government and military.

Also, amendments presently under review by the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, would enable the authorities to throw people behind bars for up to five years for repeated participation in unauthorized public protests.

At the same time as Russia is putting forward these new proposals, the infamous Russian law “on foreign agents” is part of the anti-Western hysteria here that is driving other aspects of the crackdown. The law, which Putin pushed through the parliament following his return to the presidency, and which the Russian Constitutional Court recently upheld, requires advocacy groups that accept foreign funding to register as “foreign agents.” This term, popular in Russia during the Cold War and beyond, demonizes these groups to the public as foreign spies and traitors.

Russian advocacy groups however, have put up a united front in resisting the government’s efforts to make them brand themselves foreign agents. Not a single rights group has registered. For about a year now, they’ve been fighting tough court battles trying to assert their independence.

After it became clear that independent groups would not yield to this pressure, the parliament introduced a new legislative proposal authorizing the Justice Ministry to register them as “foreign agents” at its own discretion, without the groups’ consent. The Justice Ministry appears to be resisting the idea. However, I sincerely doubt the Justice Ministry is seeking to assert itself as a champion of freedom of association. Most likely, it would rather avoid the responsibility, the extra work, and the inevitable courtroom confrontations with adamant groups since the draft law would allow groups to appeal the registration.

So, the Justice Ministry just proposed an alternative draft that would empower the prosecutor's office to suspend groups for up to six months without a court order for alleged failure to register as "foreign agents." Groups could in theory appeal the suspension, but in this version it’s the prosecutor’s office that would confront them in court.

Whoever loses this legislative dispute and gets tasked with these courtroom battles, it’s still Russia’s independent groups that will suffer another powerful blow. The key question is how many more blows these groups can withstand before crumbling under the heel of the Kremlin. Russia’s international partners should not allow the crisis in Ukraine to eclipse the zealous attempts by the Russian government to stifle all forms of independent criticism and activism on its home turf.

 

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Topics: Human Rights • Media • Russia

soundoff (67 Responses)
  1. Frank Anderson

    What's happening inside Russia is important, and important mostly for the Russians. It's about time that we seriously take a closer look at what's happening inside of the United States. We are not getting a clear and most of all unbiased view just through the tiny profit driven lenses of the 6 major corporations which have monopolized our media, nor special interests driven congress.

    June 3, 2014 at 10:38 am | Reply
    • Naina

      My boyfriend Aleksei was atdpoed, he has been trying to find vodka from his home town in Krosnodar and we cannot find it anywhere. Do you know what it is called and where we may be able to find it? If not can you recommend a good vodka for me to get him? Thank you- Sara

      July 7, 2014 at 7:13 pm | Reply
    • Danny

      In reference to the first prtucie of the soldier heating water on an iron; this is the case with most soldiers. In the US Army we do things like this because in some places hot plates are not authorized. One of my roommates made a stand for his iron and although it took about 10 minutes longer to boil water we had coffee regularly. It's nice to see soldiers are the same everywhere

      July 21, 2014 at 4:36 pm | Reply
    • Alexander

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      July 26, 2014 at 3:24 am | Reply
  2. Evgeny

    You Americans and Europeans supporting the genocide of the population of the South-East of Ukraine will have to pay for the Pro-Nazi policy of your leaders. The punishment for their crimes is inevitable. (russian dot rt dot com/article/34779)

    June 10, 2014 at 7:56 am | Reply
  3. Alexzi

    The name of this vodka is Vodka Tsarskaya Zolotaya translates as Emperor's Golden Vodka or Vodka Imperial Gold. Below is some info from the markes of this vodka:Vodka Imperial Gold is an elite brand made from the water of glacial origin from lake Ladoga near Saint Petersburg. Purest grain alcohol from durum wheat is used, as well as multiple filtration through quartz sand and birch charcoal. It also passes through filters with gold threads of 24-karat gold, enriching it with gold ions. Production ends with a unique process vodka is left to rest before bottling.

    July 5, 2014 at 10:17 pm | Reply
  4. Fae

    Howdy! This blog post could not be written any bteter! Looking at this post reminds me of my previous roommate! He always kept preaching about this. I will forward this article to him. Pretty sure he's going to have a good read. I appreciate you for sharing!

    July 21, 2014 at 11:59 am | Reply
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