Russian authorities are using increasingly vicious tactics to crack down on anti-war activists at home, as its full-scale war of aggression against Ukraine has passed its 500th day. Amnesty International’s new publication exposes the various repressive laws and practices employed by Russia to suppress the anti-war movement in the country, with over 20,000 individuals already subjected to heavy reprisals.
“Repression in Russia runs deep where a complex and extensive range of tactics are increasingly being weaponized to silence anti-war dissent. Peaceful protesters against the war in Ukraine and those who share critical information about the Russian armed forces face severe criminal, administrative and other sanctions. New, absurd laws that criminalize those who freely express their views have been adopted and immediately put to use. The flawed criminal justice system, characterized by deeply unfair trials, has been deployed to dish out prison sentences and hefty fines to silence critics in response to slightest dissent,” stated Oleg Kozlovsky, Amnesty International’s Russia Researcher.
Administrative proceedings are frequently used to target anti-war protesters as they effectively lack any fair trial safeguards. Judges often dismiss compelling defence evidence and rely solely on police reports, sometimes manifestly false, to find protesters in violation of public assembly regulations or committing absurd newly introduced “discreditation” offences, and issue them with heavy fines or administrative detention. In 2022, over 21,000 individuals in Russia were penalized for such “offences”, with 2,307 given administrative detention and the rest heavy fines, primarily for participating in peaceful anti-war street protests or criticizing the war on the Internet.
Since the introduction at the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine of the offences of “dissemination of knowingly false information about the use of the Armed Forces” and “repeated discreditation of the Armed Forces or state bodies”, more than 150 individuals have faced criminal proceedings under these charges. Many have already been convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms with these laws carrying up to 15 years and seven years in prison, respectively.
Among those affected is amateur radio broadcaster Vladimir Rumyantsev from Vologda (northern Russia), who was sentenced to a three-year prison sentence for broadcasting from his apartment reports about the war by independent media and bloggers that have been banned by the authorities. Amnesty International considers Vladimir Rumyantsev a prisoner of conscience as he has been convicted solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression. He must be released immediately and unconditionally.
In addition, the Russian authorities have deployed a long list of brazen tactics used to harass, pressure and intimidate critics, including arbitrary dismissals, cancellation of concerts and other public events with the participation of those who oppose the war, and coerced ‘apologies’ on video.
Amnesty International has also documented an increasing trend of labelling well-known individuals as ‘foreign agents’ specifically for their public criticism of the war. These arbitrary designations often result in severe restrictions placed on their personal and professional activities, loss of employment and the stigma of being branded a spy or a traitor.
Amnesty International urges the Russian authorities to repeal these repressive laws, immediately and unconditionally release all those held solely for peacefully expressing their views, and ensure protection of the right to freedom of expression.
“We call on the international community to raise these cases with the Russian authorities, support persecuted activists in Russia and abroad, including by attending court hearings, ensuring fair and effective asylum procedures, and strengthening international mechanisms to address human rights violations in Russia,” said Oleg Kozlovsky.