Russia must end unprecedented crackdown on human rights defenders


Russia must end its unprecedented attacks, restrictions and reprisals against human rights defenders and civil society organisations.

Russia must end its unprecedented crackdown on human rights defenders and civil society organisations, the International Service for Human Rights said today.

The call comes as one of Russia's most celebrated human rights defenders, Pussy Riot member Maria Alekhina, bravely labelled her release from jail on Monday as a 'public relations' stunt.

'The Kremlin's moves in recent days to release prominent dissidents will continue to be seen as a cynical effort to ease international pressure in advance of the Winter Olympics without more fundamental reform of laws restricting human rights defenders and civil society organisations,' said ISHR Director Phil Lynch.

Over the last year, Russia has engaged in what Human Rights Watch has labelled an 'unprecedented' crackdown on civil society organisations.

Since March 2013, more than 1000 non-governmental organisations have been scrutinised, raided or shut down under Russia's notorious 'foreign agents' law, which seeks to restrict and stigmatise the work of NGOs which receive funding from foreign sources and undertake advocacy to influence public opinion. In practice, the law applies to almost all human rights organisations. 

Human rights defenders have also been criminalised under Russia's so called 'homosexual propaganda law', which makes it a criminal offence to 'promote' or even speak positively about homosexuality. The law has been linked to a disturbing increase in homophobic attacks and harassment.

Human rights defenders who have sought to speak out about the crackdown on the international stage have been especially targeted. One of Russia's most prominent NGOs, Anti-Discrimination Memorial, has recently been prosecuted and ordered to register as a 'foreign agent' for submitting information to the UN Committee against Torture.

'The persecution and prosecution of non-governmental organisations for providing information to UN human rights bodies is a clear violation of international law,' said Mr Lynch.

'Reprisals against human rights defenders are manifestly incompatible with the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and with recent resolutions of the UN Human Rights Council,' Mr Lynch said.

The UN Committee's Chairperson, Claudio Grossman, similarly expressed deep concern 'with any measure that undermines the independence and activities of non-governmental organisations'.

'The actions by the Russian prosecutors against Memorial reflect a worrying shift in the legislative environment governing the enjoyment of the freedoms of assembly, association, speech and information,' Professor Grossman said.

Human rights defenders who work on issues of corporate accountability have also been targeted in Russia, where there are strong links between State officials and many large enterprises. Just last week, Russian activist Yevgeny Vitishko of Environmental Watch on the North Caucasus was sentenced to three years in prison for activities associated with his efforts to highlight environmental damage associated with Olympics constructions.

'ISHR condemns the prosecution of Yevgeny Vitishko. Human rights defenders who work to expose environmental destruction and other corporate human rights violations should be protected rather than persecuted by the State,' Mr Lynch said.

'ISHR calls on Russian authorities to repeal all laws and policies which criminalise and restrict the invaluable work of human rights defenders and civil society organisations. Human rights defenders have the right to, and Russia has the obligation to provide, a safe and enabling environment for their work,' he said.

Contact: Phil Lynch, Director of the International Service for Human Rights, on or + 41 76 708 4738.




  • Europe
  • Corporate accountability
  • Human rights defenders
  • LGBT rights
  • NGOs
  • Reprisals and intimidation
  • Committee against Torture (CAT)
  • UN Human Rights Council
  • Russia