The Russian Federation has a highly centralized, weak multi-party political system dominated by President Vladimir Putin. The bicameral Federal Assembly consists of a directly elected lower house (State Duma) and appointed upper house (Federation Council). Presidential elections in March 2012 featured accusations of government interference and manipulation of the electoral process. Security forces generally reported to civilian authorities; however, in some areas of the Northern Caucasus, civilian authorities did not exercise full control over security forces. Security forces throughout the country committed human rights abuses.
The most significant human rights problems during the year involved:
1. Restrictions of Civil Liberties: The government continued its crackdown on dissent that began after Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency. The government selectively employed the law on “foreign agents,” the law against extremism, and other means to harass, pressure, discredit, and/or prosecute individuals and entities that had voiced criticism of the government, including nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), independent media outlets, and the political opposition. The Office of the Prosecutor General, Ministry of Justice, Federal Security Service, tax authorities, and other agencies carried out inspections of hundreds of NGOs suspected of being “foreign agents.”
2. Government Discrimination against Racial, Ethnic, Religious, and Sexual Minorities: The country adopted several laws that discriminated against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons, including a ban on the so-called propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors, which effectively criminalizes public expression and assembly for anyone who would advocate LGBT equality. The government continued to use laws against extremism to prosecute some religious minorities and made “offending the religious feelings of believers” a criminal offense. Authorities in many cities also discriminated against ethnic minorities, arbitrarily detaining thousands of migrant workers amid a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment. Laws, actions, and official rhetoric restricting the rights of the LGBT community, migrants, and other minorities coincided with a marked increase in violent attacks against these groups.
3. Administration of Justice: Officials denied due process in politically motivated cases initiated by the Investigative Committee, including the continued detention and trial of protesters arrested following the May 2012 demonstration on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow; the sentencing of Bolotnaya demonstrator Mikhail Kosenko to indefinite psychiatric detention; the detention, trial, and sentencing of anticorruption blogger and opposition leader Alexey Navalnyy; and the searches of, and criminal cases opened against, several other political activists and human rights advocates. Two members of Pussy Riot, who were released two months before the end of their sentences, and five defendants in the Bolotnaya case were among the individuals authorities released in an amnesty in December. Authorities had yet to bring to justice the individuals responsible for the deaths of prominent journalists, activists, and whistleblowers, notably Sergey Magnitskiy. Other problems reported during the year included: allegations of torture and excessive force by law enforcement officials, life-threatening prison conditions, interference in the judiciary and the right to a fair trial, restrictions on freedom of speech and press, restrictions on free assembly and association, restrictions on religious freedom of some religious minorities, electoral irregularities, widespread corruption, societal and official intimidation of civil society and labor activists, violence against women and limits on the rights of women in certain regions, trafficking in persons, and limitations on workers’ rights. The government failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish most officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity. Rule of law was particularly deficient in the North Caucasus, where conflict among government forces, insurgents, Islamist militants, and criminal forces led to numerous human rights abuses, including killings, torture, physical abuse, and politically motivated abductions.