Russia limiting free speech rights ahead of elections: Amnesty News
Russia limiting free speech rights ahead of elections: Amnesty

[JURIST] Russia is clamping down "on the freedoms of assembly and expression in the run-up to parliamentary and presidential elections," according to a report [text; press release] released by Amnesty International Tuesday. Amnesty expressed concern that authorities are harassing rights activists and journalists monitoring opposition demonstrations, and said that police have used violence in breaking up some opposition events while allowing pro-government events to proceed without incident. According to the report's introduction:

The organization concludes that all three fundamental rights have been curtailed in recent years. Human rights defenders, independent civil society organizations, political opponents, and ordinary citizens have all been victims of this roll-back on civil and political rights.

The right to freedom of expression, as well as the rights to freedom of assembly and association, which are ultimately specific forms of exercising the right to freedom of expression, are guaranteed in the Russian Constitution and are enshrined in international human rights law. The Russian Federation, as a party to human rights treaties including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR), is obliged to promote and protect these rights, to ensure that people can fully enjoy these rights.

However, there appear to be more and more limitations on these rights. Laws have been introduced whose overly broad provisions allow for arbitrary interpretation to the detriment of these rights, or which in other ways restrict these fundamental rights. The very existence of these laws has had a chilling effect on the right to freedom of expression. Moreover, Russian authorities have used laws to clamp down on dissent by human rights defenders and others expressing alternative viewpoints. The findings of this report give cause for concern that the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly in Russia are not guaranteed for all. Failure to protect these rights has serious implications for the whole civil society in the Russian Federation. The right to freedom of expression is a cornerstone for a functioning civil society and in itself a safeguard for the protection of other basic human rights.

Amnesty expressed concern in particular with the implementation of a 2006 law increasing state control over non-governmental organizations [JURIST report]. Human Rights Watch has similarly expressed concern with implementation of the NGO law, saying in a report [PDF text] last week that regulations under the law are "choking independent activism" [press release].

Elections are scheduled to take place on Sunday, with First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev [BBC profile], backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, expected to succeed Putin as president. BBC News has more.