Human Rights Abuses

According to Human Rights Watch, Russia today is “more repressive than it has ever been in the post-Soviet era.” Vladimir Putin’s government continues to crack down on freedom of expression, assembly, and speech. Amnesty International says anti-extremist legislation increasingly is being used to silence online commentary, pointing out in its 2016/2017 annual report that “90% of all convictions under anti-extremism legislation were for statements and reposts on social media websites.”

The Putin regime is known to resort to even more violent measures to silence investigative media and political opposition. In February 2017, Moscow journalist and opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza found himself poisoned for the second time in two years. It happened as he was promoting a documentary about his friend, former deputy prime minister and fellow Putin critic Boris Nemtsov, who was shot dead on a bridge in Moscow in February 2015. Other high profile killings include the assassination of prominent journalist and outspoken Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya, who was murdered in the elevator of her apartment building on October 7, 2006 (Putin’s birthday), and Natalya Estemirova, a human rights activist who was kidnapped and shot in the head and chest on July 15, 2009.

Then there is the highly publicized case of Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB agent turned Putin critic living in exile in London, who died from polonium 210 poisoning on November 23, 2006. The results of an official British inquiry released on January 2016, more than 10 years later, found strong circumstantial evidence indicating orders to kill Litvinenko came from the highest levels of the Kremlin.

In his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on March 30, 2017, Clint Watts, counterterrorism and active measures expert, explained one good way for the U.S. to track Russia’s influence is to “follow the trail of dead Russians.” Eight high-profile Russians have died since the November 8, 2016 U.S. presidential election. Buzzfeed has been investigating 14 suspicious deaths on British soil with ties to Russia that have taken place under Putin’s regime. The news site also has filed a lawsuit to speed up the FBI’s possible release of information pertaining to the suspicious death of Putin’s former media czar, Mikhail Lesin, in a DC hotel the night before he was scheduled to meet with the U.S. Department of Justice back in November 2015.

As for day-to-day life in Russia, the U.S. Department of State issues its own annual report on international human rights abuses, and as of 2016, it acknowledges Putin’s government does whatever it deems necessary to dissuade and/or punish political dissent. In July 2016, Russia passed the “Yarovaya law,” a package of amendments framed as anti-terrorism measures designed for national security but increasingly used to silence internal opposition. The law mandates all telephone and Internet providers keep communication records for six months and metadata for three years and assist Russian authorities in cracking encryption. LinkedIn refused to comply, and since November 2016, Russia has blocked the site. The law also makes it illegal to preach religion outside officially approved settings and conduct missionary work.

The State Department’s long list of Russia’s most significant human rights abuses includes the following:

  • Restricting free expression, assembly, speech, and media

  • Expanding the definition of political work to include environmental and health issues so as to classify nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) as “foreign agents” in order to fine or terminate them

  • Ongoing discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities, the LGBT community, people with disabilities, and women

  • Use of excessive and sometimes lethal force by law enforcement

  • Violence against women

  • Human trafficking

  • Lack of due process in politically motivated cases

  • Executive control over the judiciary

  • No punishment for government abuse

For more on the extensive human rights abuses in Russia, visit

Human Rights Watch

Amnesty International