Russian laws increasingly encroach on rights of assembly, expression

April 24, 2013 at 2:16 PM
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MOSCOW, April 24 (UPI) -- Free-speech rights in Russia are increasingly abridged despite constitutional guarantees and Russia's human rights treaties, watchdog groups said.

New "foreign agent" laws are being used to suppress civil rights organizations in ways unprecedented in post-Soviet history, says a report.

The laws, passed since President Vladimir Putin was elected to a third term, seek to limit or even end independent advocacy, Human Rights Watch said in a 78-page report released Wednesday.

"The new laws and government harassment are pushing civil society activists to the margins of the law," said Hugh Williamson, HRW's Europe and Central Asia director.

The laws require non-governmental organizations to register as "foreign agents" if they receive foreign funding and engage in "political activities."

Groups that work "against Russia's interests" are banned, while an expanded treason law could make involvement in international human rights advocacy a criminal act.

The report documents a campaign of intrusive inspections by numerous governmental agencies.

Golos, an election-monitoring group that documented violations in the 2011 parliamentary vote, is the first organization to be charged under the laws. A Moscow court is scheduled to rule on the case Thursday.

Eleven existing laws have been amended and at least two new laws were introduced that include sweeping provisions permitting arbitrary interference with freedoms of expression, association and assembly. The laws fly in the face of legally binding regional and universal human rights bodies' decisions, Amnesty International said.

Further dangers for freedom of expression currently before the Duma -- Moscow's lower house in the Federal Assembly of Russia -- are those of once again making defamation a crime, passage of a new treason law and proposed blasphemy legislation.

Amnesty International said freedom of assembly has been narrowed via tight approval procedures, drastically increased sentences, additional responsibilities for organizers and greater liability for participants' actions.

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