Online and On All Fronts: Russia’s assault on opposition ‘reaching new heights’


Russia has introduced significant restrictions to online speech and invasive surveillance of online activity and prosecutes critics under the guise of fighting extremism, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The 83-page report, “Online and On All Fronts: Russia’s Assault on Freedom of Expression,” documents Russian authorities’ stepped-up measures aimed at bringing the internet under greater state control:

Since 2012, Russian authorities have unjustifiably prosecuted dozens of people for criminal offenses on the basis of social media posts, online videos, media articles, and interviews, and shut down or blocked access to hundreds of websites and web pages. Russian authorities have also pushed through parliament a raft of repressive laws regulating internet content and infrastructure. These laws provide the Russian government with a broad range of tools to restrict access to information, carry out unchecked surveillance, and censor information the government designates as “extremist,” out of line with “traditional values,” or otherwise harmful to the public.

Interference with the Russian opposition is reaching new heights, notes OVD-Info, launched by volunteers in 2011 as a means of quickly monitoring arrests during mass protests.

But Russia’s opposition is growing as fear of the state fades, Nick Schifrin reports (above).

“We can change things if we stay together. We need to stay active,” says activist Alexey Kotorev. “It’s very important right now to recreate civil society. For the last five years, civil society has almost disappeared.”

The Russian government’s clampdown on free speech comes as a part of a larger crackdown on civil society, unleashed after the 2011-2012 mass protests and Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency in May 2012, the HRW report (right) adds:

  • At this writing, the prosecutor general’s office has banned 11 foreign organizations as “undesirable.”[15] All but one are American democracy promotion or civil society capacity-building organizations, including the Open Society Foundations and the National Endowment for Democracy, which for many years provided solid financial support to leading Russian human rights groups.
  • There has also been a sharp increase, since 2014, in the number of criminal cases on “high treason” charges, including a high-profile case that was ultimately dropped but seemed aimed at sending a chilling message to people in Russia to be extremely cautious about taking actions that might expose Russia’s role in the armed conflict in Ukraine.[16]
  • Finally, in recent years the government has actively promoted “traditional values”–in partnership with the Russian Orthodox Church—as part of a new Russian national ideology.


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