The Russian Federation has a highly centralized, authoritarian political system dominated by President Vladimir Putin. The bicameral Federal Assembly consists of a directly elected lower house (State Duma) and an appointed upper house (Federation Council), both of which lacked independence from the executive. State Duma elections during 2016 and the presidential election in 2012 were marked by accusations of government interference and manipulation of the electoral process.
Security forces generally reported to civilian authorities, except in some areas of the North Caucasus.
The continuing occupation and purported “annexation” of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula continued to affect the human rights situation significantly and negatively. The government continued to train, equip, and supply pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine, who were joined by numerous fighters from Russia. Credible observers attributed thousands of civilian deaths and injuries, as well as widespread abuses, to Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine’s Donbas region, and to Russian occupation authorities in Crimea (see the Country Reports on Human Rights for Ukraine). Authorities also conducted politically motivated arrests, detentions, and trials of Ukrainian citizens in Russia, many of whom claimed to have been tortured. Human rights groups asserted that numerous Ukrainian citizens remained in Russia as political prisoners.
The most significant human rights problems were:
Restrictions on Political Participation and Freedom of Expression, Assembly, and Media: Authorities restricted citizens’ ability to choose their government through free and fair elections and increasingly instituted a range of measures to suppress dissent. The government passed repressive laws and selectively employed existing ones to harass, discredit, prosecute, imprison, detain, fine, and suppress individuals and organizations critical of the government. Amendments to antiterrorism laws, known as the “Yarovaya package,” granted authorities sweeping powers. Authorities especially targeted individuals and organizations that professed support for the government of Ukraine or opposed the Russian government’s activities in Ukraine.
Suppression of Civil Society: Authorities further stymied the work of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) through the “foreign agents” and “undesirable foreign organization” laws. Authorities also significantly expanded the definition of political activities to bring more NGOs under the “foreign agents” category. Authorities began fining NGOs for not disclosing “foreign agent” status, while courts closed NGOs for violations involving the foreign agents’ list. Under the expanded definition of political activities, authorities added environmental and HIV-prevention organizations to the list.
Government Discrimination against Minorities: Authorities continued to discriminate against members of some religious and ethnic minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and migrant workers. The Yarovaya package restricted “missionary activity,” including preaching, proselytizing, disseminating religious materials, or engaging in interfaith discussion; authorities used it to harass religious minorities. Authorities utilized a law prohibiting “propaganda” of nontraditional sexual relations to minors to harass the LGBTI community.
Other problems included allegations of torture and excessive force by law enforcement officers that sometimes led to deaths; prison overcrowding, and substandard and life-threatening prison conditions; executive branch pressure on the judiciary; lack of due process in politically motivated cases; electoral irregularities; extensive official corruption; violence against women; limits on women’s rights; trafficking in persons; discrimination against persons with disabilities; social stigma against persons with HIV/AIDS; 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.
Conflict in the North Caucasus between government forces, insurgents, Islamist militants, and criminals led to numerous abuses, including killings, torture, physical abuse, politically motivated abductions, and a general degradation in the rule of law. Ramzan Kadyrov’s government in Chechnya generally did not investigate or prosecute abuses, and security forces committed abuses with impunity.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
While the constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, the government increasingly restricted those rights. The government instituted several new laws that restrict both freedom of speech and press. Regional and local authorities used procedural violations and restrictive or vague legislation to detain, harass, or prosecute persons who criticized the government. The government exercised greater editorial control over state-controlled media than it had previously, creating a media landscape in which most citizens were exposed to predominantly government-approved narratives. Significant government pressure on independent media constrained coverage of numerous problems, especially the situation in Ukraine and Syria, LGBTI problems, the environment, elections, criticism of local or federal leadership, as well as issues of secessionism or federalism. Self-censorship in television and print media was increasingly widespread, particularly on points of view critical of the government or its policies. The government used direct ownership or ownership by large private companies with government links to control or influence major national media and regional media outlets, especially television.
Freedom of Speech and Expression: Government-controlled media frequently used terms such as “traitor,” “foreign agent,” and “fifth column” to describe individuals expressing views critical of or different from government policy, leading to a climate intolerant of dissent. Authorities also invoked a law prohibiting the “propaganda” of nontraditional sexual relations to minors to restrict the free speech of LGBTI persons and their supporters (see section 6).
Authorities continued to misuse the country’s expansive definition of extremism as a tool to stifle dissent. As of November 9, the Ministry of Justice expanded its list of extremist materials to include 3,897 books, videos, websites, social media pages, musical compositions, and other items, an increase of nearly 800 items from 2015. According to the Investigative Committee, detectives referred more than 500 extremism cases to prosecutors in 2015, a number of which included charges of “extremism” levied against individuals for exercising free speech on social media and elsewhere.
In July 2015 journalist Alexander Sokolov of the independent news company RBK was arrested on a charge of participating in the activities of the People’s Will Army, which was declared an extremist organization by the Moscow City Court. Sokolov maintained he was simply providing professional services to the group, such as registering its website. Sokolov had previously reported on state corruption and embezzlement connected with the construction of the Vostochnyy space center. In November 2015 the Memorial Human Rights Center recognized Sokolov as a political prisoner, demanding that the court drop its prosecution. In June, Human Rights Ombudswoman Tatyana Moskalkova appealed to the prosecutor general, requesting verification of the lawfulness and legality of the decisions taken in the case against Sokolov. On August 1, Reporters without Borders requested that authorities immediately release Sokolov. He remained in prison.
Several persons, including minors in some instances, were charged with extremism under the criminal code for comments and images posted in online forums. In April, Yekaterina Vologzheninova, a single mother working as a cashier in the central Russian city of Yekaterinburg, was charged after she shared links online critical of the country’s role in the Ukraine conflict. She was subsequently sentenced to 320 hours of “corrective labor.” According to the indictment, Vologzheninova shared and liked posts deemed “insulting and degrading to Russian people.”
By law authorities may close any organization that a court determines to be extremist, including media outlets and websites. Roskomnadzor, Russia’s media oversight agency, routinely issued warnings to newspapers and internet sources suspected of publishing extremist materials. Three warnings in one year were enough to initiate a closure lawsuit.
Press and Media Freedoms: The government increasingly restricted press freedom. As of 2015, the latest year for which data was available, the government and state-owned or state-controlled companies directly owned more than 60 percent of the country’s 45,000 registered local newspapers and periodicals. The federal or local governments or progovernment individuals completely or partially owned approximately 66 percent of the 2,500 television stations, including all six national channels. Government-owned media outlets often received preferential benefits, such as rent-free occupancy of government-owned buildings. At many government-owned or controlled outlets, the state increasingly dictated editorial policy. A 2014 law, effective in January, restricts foreign ownership of media outlets to no more than 20 percent.
In May the owner of RBK, Mikhail Prokhorov, who was widely seen as under pressure from the government, fired the chief editors of RBK’s newspaper, television channel, and web portal. Following several of RBK’s high-profile investigations into corruption on the part of President Putin, his family, and alleged business associates, culminating in reporting on the “Panama Papers” scandal in April, the government allegedly demanded changes in the holding company’s editorial policies. The editors in chief were replaced by new personnel from the state-owned TASS news agency. The new editors instructed staff that there would now be a “double line” editorial policy–a line that cannot be crossed–concerning certain types of topics, according to a transcript of an RBK staff meeting published by the newspaper Meduza and a source cited in Reuters.
In April the FSB raided the Prokhorov-owned ONEXIM Group’s Moscow premises on suspicion of tax evasion. According to a number of analysts, the raids resulted from the government’s displeasure with RBK’s extended coverage of the Panama Papers leak of documents that detailed how private individuals and public officials used offshore accounts to conceal financial activity, at least some of questionable legality. The Ministry of Internal Affairs also opened a criminal case against RBK on suspicion of alleged fraud.
In July, Svetlana Bababeva, the chief editor of Gazeta.ru, one of the most widely read independent digital media sites in the country, was abruptly fired without explanation when her contract expired. Press reports subsequently indicated that the leadership of Rambler & Co, the media-holding firm that owns Gazeta.ru, faced government pressure to terminate Bababeva because of her opposition to the government and its policies.
Many newspapers ensured their financial viability by agreeing to various types of “support contracts” with government ministries, under which they agreed to provide positive coverage of government officials and policies in news stories. Absent direct government support, independent news publications reported difficulty attracting advertising and securing financial viability, since advertisers feared retaliation if their brands became linked to publications that criticized the government.
Violence and Harassment: Journalists continued to be subjected to arrest, imprisonment, physical attack, harassment, and intimidation as a result of their reporting. The Glasnost Defense Fund reported numerous actions against journalists in 2014, including five killings, 52 attacks, 107 detentions by law enforcement officers, 200 prosecutions, 29 threats against journalists, 15 politically motivated firings, and two attacks on media offices.
On July 12, the Federal Financial Monitoring Service, tasked with monitoring legal entities’ and individuals’ compliance with the country’s terrorist and extremist financing laws, published a list of some 6,000 individuals on its website that included Crimean journalists Nikolay Semena and Anna Andriyevskaya from the Center for Journalistic Investigations. OSCE media freedom representative Dunja Mijatovic expressed concern over the government’s placing of journalists on a list of alleged terrorists and extremists.
In September a criminal court in Chechnya’s Shali District convicted Caucasian Knot journalist Zhalaudi Geriyev of drug possession for personal use and sentenced him to three years in prison. The defense maintained that the prosecutor’s case was marred by inconsistencies and flawed evidence as well as by violations of the criminal procedure code. Although Geriyev had signed a confession while in custody, he completely recanted during the trial, claiming he signed the confession under duress. Caucasian Knot published a statement stating it believed the criminal case against Geriyev was fabricated and calling accusations of his drug use “completely far-fetched.” The statement continued that the “absence of direct evidence” and the pressure placed on Geriyev suggested that the prosecution was “connected with his professional activities.”
Journalists reporting in or on the North Caucasus remained particularly vulnerable to physical attacks for their reporting. Rumors also persisted of an alleged “hit list” that included prominent journalists such as Aleksey Venediktov, chief of the independent radio and news organization Ekho Moskvy.
There was no progress during the year in establishing accountability in a number of high-profile killings of journalists, including the 2004 killing of Paul Klebnikov, the 2006 killing of Anna Politkovskaya, or the 2009 killing of Natalia Estemirova.
Journalists and bloggers who uncovered various forms of government malfeasance also faced harassment, either in the form of direct threats to their physical safety or threats to their security or livelihood, often through legal prosecution. In March journalists on a reporting tour organized by the Committee for the Prevention of Torture were stopped and beaten by a group of masked assailants as they traveled from Ingushetia to Chechnya. No one was prosecuted for the attack (see section 1.c.).
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government continued to use laws and decrees to censor or restrict media content.
On January 23, political analyst Andrey Piontkovskiy posted an article to the Ekho Moskvy website entitled “A Bomb Ready to Explode” which implied that federal authorities had “lost the war for Chechnya” and suggested federal authorities were complicit in acts of corruption by Chechnya’s leaders. The final two paragraphs of the article suggested that authorities allow Chechnya to secede from the Russian Federation and were removed from the text shortly after the article was uploaded. The State Duma called for the prosecution of Ekho Moskvy over the article, and the FSB began an investigation of the station for incitement to violate the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation. The FSB conducted searches at Ekho Moskvy’s editorial office, where they seized Piontkovsky’s correspondence. A number of Ekho Moskvy employees were also summoned for questioning. A criminal case was opened against Piontkovskiy, who subsequently left the country.
According to the Glasnost Defense Fund and other NGOs, authorities used media’s widespread dependence on the government for access to property, printing, and distribution services to discourage critical reporting. Approximately 90 percent of print media relied on state-controlled entities for paper, printing, and distribution services, and many television stations relied on the government for access to the airwaves and office space. Officials continued to manipulate the price of printing at state-controlled publishing houses to pressure private media rivals.
Libel/Slander Laws: Officials at all levels used their authority, sometimes publicly, to restrict the work of journalists and bloggers who criticized them, including taking legal action for alleged slander or libel.
National Security: The law places limits on free expression on national security grounds, notably in statutes against extremism and treason (see Freedom of Speech and Expression).
The government utilized antiextremism laws to censor an array of online content (see Internet Freedom, below).
The government took significant new steps to restrict free expression on the internet. Threats to internet freedom included: physical attacks on bloggers; politically motivated prosecutions of bloggers for “extremism,” libel, or other crimes; blocking of specific sites by national and local service providers; distributed denial-of-service attacks on sites of opposition groups or independent media, including to independent pollster Levada Center less than two weeks before State Duma elections; monitoring by authorities of all internet communications; and attempts by national, local, and regional authorities to regulate and criminalize content. The internet was widely available to citizens in all parts of the country, although connection speeds varied by region. According to data compiled by the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 73 percent of the country’s population used the internet in 2015.
A report issued by the legal services NGO AGORA stated that the number of cases in which authorities infringed the rights of internet users increased in 2015, from 2,951 cases to 15,022. The report attributed the surge in cases in part to improved reporting and noted that the number of requests to block, edit, or remove information also increased significantly. Such types of administrative pressure accounted for 11,800 of the reported cases, and occurred in Russian-occupied Crimea as well as in a number of regions of Russia. The number of regions in Russia in which internet users were subjected to serious pressure increased more than twofold to 30 regions.
New laws place additional restrictions on internet freedom. On June 24, President Putin signed into law amendments to the Federal Law on Information, Information Technologies, and Protection of Information and to the administrative code requiring owners of internet search engines (“news aggregators”) with more than one million daily users to be accountable for the truthfulness of “publicly important” information before its dissemination. Authorities can demand that content deemed in violation be removed, and they can also impose heavy fines for noncompliance. Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE special representative on freedom of the media, raised concerns that the law “could result in governmental interference of online information and introduce self-censorship in private companies.” The law’s provisions enter into force on January 1, 2017.
In September 2015 the country’s data on-shoring law went into effect, requiring domestic and foreign businesses to store citizens’ personal data on servers located in the country. Critics expressed concern that the law might have negative commercial effects and provide the government with further access to citizens’ private information. On November 17, Roskomnadzor, Russia’s communications authority, announced that it would block the U.S.-based professional networking website LinkedIn for failure to comply with the law. LinkedIn was the first social networking site targeted under the new law.
On January 1, the country’s “right to be forgotten” law entered into force, allowing individuals in the country to block search engine companies from showing search results that contain information about them. Figures with ties to the regime made several attempts to use the law to stifle reporting about their business and political activities. In June the Kuibyshev district court of St. Petersburg began hearings on claims of St. Petersburg billionaire Evgeniy Prigogine against the Yandex search engine. The applicant sought to remove from search engine results links to the website of the NGO Fund to Fight Corruption that contained reporting on Ministry of Defense contracts awarded to Prigogine’s companies. Another target was the Fontanka news site, which covered the entrepreneur’s funding of an internet “trolling factory” that posted progovernment comments on a paid basis. By August, out of 11 such claims against Yandex, none had been upheld by the courts. In four instances, decisions were favorable to Yandex, in two the plaintiffs dropped their claims, and in two others, the cases were dismissed without hearing.
In August the public organization Roskomsvoboda filed a lawsuit against Google in the Moscow Arbitration Court to require that pages containing reference materials hosted on the website of the SOVA Center be restored in search engine results. These pages had earlier been removed from search results in accordance with provisions of the “right to be forgotten” law. The deleted pages contained reports on two trials related to incitement of hatred. The plaintiffs’ representatives asserted that citizens have the right to know that such crimes were committed, who committed them, and where they were committed and that the decision (to remove the material) infringes on the provision in the constitution providing for free flow of information.
Roskomnadzor maintained a federal blacklist of internet sites and required internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to web pages that the agency deemed offensive or illegal, including information that was already prohibited, such as items on the Federal List of Extremist Materials. The law gives the prosecutor general and Roskomnadzor authority to demand that ISPs block websites that promote extremist information or “mass public events that are conducted in violation of appropriate procedures.” Roskomsvoboda reported that its registry included more than 25,000 sites as of April and estimated that almost 600,000 sites were blocked within the country. Sites other than those officially blacklisted often ended up themselves blocked when they shares the same internet address as a blocked site.
Cell phone service providers cooperated with government security agencies’ surveillance of telephone users. In May political activists Oleg Kozlovskiy and Gregoriy Alburov threatened to sue mobile operator MTS for abetting the hacking of their Telegram accounts, an encrypted messaging service popular among activists for its security features. According to Kozlovskiy and Alburov, on April 29, MTS temporarily disabled text messaging services on their phones, allowing a third party trying to hack their accounts to intercept log-in codes sent via text messaging from Telegram.
On July 7, the State Duma passed the “Yarovaya package” of security-related amendments to the law that require telecommunications providers to provide authorities with “backdoors” around encryption technologies used by apps like WhatsApp, Viber, and Telegram. Providers face fines of one million rubles ($15,000) for noncompliance. Later that month President Putin ordered the FSB to produce encryption keys to decrypt all data on the internet. In the beginning of August, the FSB announced that it finally had the capabilities to collect encryption keys from internet companies that could decrypt unreadable data on the internet. The statement met with skepticism in the professional community; due to the nature of encryption key technology, many considered this not feasible.
During the year authorities blocked or threatened to block some websites and social network pages that either criticized government policy or violated laws on internet content. On May 11, users in occupied Crimea and several Russian regions reported that Krym.Realii, the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty website dedicated to covering events in occupied Crimea, was no longer accessible. In August, after the government alleged Ukrainian “incursions” into the Crimean peninsula, authorities disconnected internet access in the northern part of Crimea, allegedly for security reasons.
During the year authorities prosecuted individual bloggers for alleged extremist content they published online, including the content of other users’ comments on their pages. On August 11, a court refused to grant early release on parole to Darya Polyudova, who was sentenced in December 2015 to two years’ imprisonment for inciting separatism and extremist activities. The charges derived from three posts related to Ukraine on her VKontakte page that criticized the government for supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine. In February the Investigative Committee opened a case against the prominent blogger Anton Nosik for inciting hatred and humiliation of human dignity. The charges stemmed from a November 2015 post on Nosik’s LiveJournal blog, titled “Wipe Syria off the Face of the Earth,” in which he compared the Assad regime in Syria to the Nazis. Nosik refused to take down the post, asserting that his words did not constitute extremism. His trial remained underway, and he faced four years in prison if convicted. The newspaper Kommersantreported that Luzgin faced criminal prosecution under a highly controversial law signed by President Putin in 2014 that imposes penalties ranging from fines to five years’ imprisonment for the “rehabilitation of Nazism.”
There were multiple reports that authorities fined libraries, schools, and internet clubs during the year for failing to block content listed on the Federal List of Extremist Materials or covered under the law “protecting” children from harmful information. The SOVA Center described 27 cases of sanctions directed at the management of educational facilities for various content filtration-related failures from January to August.
The government continued to employ a “system for operational investigative measures,” which requires ISPs to install, at their own expense, a device that routes all customer traffic to an FSB terminal. The system enabled police to track private e-mail communications, identify internet users, and monitor their internet activity.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were indications that the government took new steps during the year to restrict academic and cultural freedom.
Authorities often censored or shut down cultural events or displays that they considered offensive or that expressed views in opposition to the government and in some cases initiated criminal proceedings against organizers. On June 10, a museum dedicated to the newly controversial subject of American and Soviet cooperation in World War II was closed under pressure from administrators of the government school in which it had been located for 12 years. The museum director stated he was offered a lease that would have allowed him to rent space at the school, but the rent was set at an exorbitant rate because administrators knew he had no way of paying. The director subsequently created a mobile version of the museum to travel to different cities in the country.
Those expressing views of historical events that run counter to officially accepted narratives faced harassment. During an annual student essay competition on 20th century Russian history held by the Memorial Human Rights Center in April, progovernment protesters attacked participants, including students and teachers, throwing eggs and green fast-dye antiseptic liquid at them. The protesters yelled “national traitors” at the participants. Prominent Russian novelist Lyudmila Ulitskaya, who chaired the competition’s jury, was among those attacked. Some assailants wore World War II-era uniforms, and the group hoisted a replica Soviet Victory flag and held placards reading, “We don’t need alternative history.”
FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY
The law provides for freedom of assembly, but local authorities increasingly restricted this right. The law requires organizers of public meetings, demonstrations, or marches by more than one person to notify the government, although authorities maintained that protest organizers must receive government permission, not just provide notification. Failure to obtain official permission to hold a protest resulted in the demonstration being viewed as unlawful by law enforcement officials, who routinely dispersed such protests. While numerous public demonstrations took place, on many occasions local officials selectively denied groups permission to assemble or offered alternate venues that were inconveniently or remotely located. The law provides heavy penalties for engaging in unsanctioned protests and other violations of the law on public assembly, up to 300,000 rubles ($4,500) for individuals, 600,000 rubles ($9,000) for organizers, and one million rubles ($15,000) for groups or companies.
Under the law the government may punish “mass rioting,” which includes teaching and learning about organization of and participation in “mass riots.” The law provides that the government may levy fines for violating protest regulations and rules on holding public events and prohibit nighttime demonstrations and meetings. Protesters who violate the regulations multiple times within a six-month period may be fined up to one million rubles ($15,000) or imprisoned for up to five years. In December 2015 a Moscow court sentenced Ildar Dadin to three years’ imprisonment for participation in four protests constituting “repeated violations of the rules on conducting public acts.” Two more activists, Irina Kalmykova and 76-year-old Vladimir Ionov, fled the country to avoid similar charges. In January, Presidential Human Rights Council chairman Mikhail Fedotov criticized the law and called on authorities to remove it from the criminal code.
In April authorities arrested Maxim Panfilov in Astrakhan on charges of taking part in a mass riot and assaulting a police officer, making him the 36th and most recent person charged in connection with the 2012 Bolotnaya Square case. Originally initiated in connection with clashes between police and protesters at demonstrations on the eve of President Putin’s inauguration (see section 1.e.), the term for Bolotnaya investigations was extended through September.
There were reports that activists were subject to threats and physical violence in connection with organizing or taking part in public events or protests. In February in Chelyabinsk, unknown attackers beat Vyacheslav Kislitsin, an organizer of a local march to commemorate the killing of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, outside of the factory where he worked. Kislitsin suffered a heart attack and a broken rib and had to be hospitalized. Kislitsin was quoted as claiming that local police officers were among his attackers.
Police often broke up demonstrations that were not officially sanctioned and at times used disproportionate force when doing so. On April 8, Moscow authorities arrested several protesters, including Dmitriy Boynov, for protesting the construction of a building at Park Dubki. Boynov was beaten by police and hospitalized with a fractured leg as well as contusions on his back and chest (see section 1.c.). On April 29, police in Sochi attacked and dispersed a protest by approximately 100 residents of the Lazarev district against the closure of a pedestrian crossing leading to the sea, according to Caucasian Knot. According to witnesses, law enforcement authorities arrived at the peaceful demonstration and began forcibly removing and beating people, leading to the hospitalization of several protesters.
In its annual report in February, AI noted that the right to freedom of peaceful assembly remained severely curtailed. The report also noted that protests were infrequent, their number having declined following severe restrictions introduced in earlier years.
On February 26, the State Duma adopted a law requiring that “motor rallies” and other “tent city” gatherings in public places receive official permission. The new law requires gatherings that will interfere with pedestrian or vehicle traffic to receive official agreement 10 days prior to the event; those that do not affect traffic require three days’ notice. Consequently, single-person pickets remained the sole form of public protest that does not require official approval.
Although they do not require official approval, authorities restricted “single-person pickets,” which require there be at least 164 feet separating protesters from each other. On June 15, Moscow police arrested opposition leader Leonid Volkov for a single-person picket outside the Federation Council building in Moscow protesting the reappointment of Yuriy Chayka as prosecutor general. According to police, the street where Volkov was protesting was considered “protected territory” and therefore, an illegal venue to stage a picket.
Authorities continued to deprive LGBTI individuals and their supporters of free assembly rights. Despite a Supreme Court ruling that LGBTI individuals are a “protected class” and should be allowed to engage in public activities, the law prohibiting so-called propaganda of homosexuality to minors (see section 6) provides grounds to deny LGBTI activists and their supporters the right of assembly and was used on multiple occasions to interrupt public demonstrations by LGBTI activists. In May, Moscow City officials refused an application by representatives of the LGBTI community to hold a parade, upholding a 2012 decision to prohibit gay parades in Moscow for 100 years, despite an ECHR ruling that the ban contravened the European Convention on Human Rights.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The Russian Constitution provides for freedom of association. During the year, however, the government instituted new measures and expanded existing restrictive laws to stigmatize, harass, fine, close, and otherwise raise barriers to membership in organizations that were critical of the government.
Public organizations must register their bylaws and the names of their leaders with the Ministry of Justice. The finances of registered organizations are subject to investigation by tax authorities, and foreign grants must be registered.
The government expanded its use of a 2012 law, which requires NGOs that receive foreign funding and engage in “political activity” to register as foreign agents, to harass, stigmatize, and in some cases halt the operation of NGOs. During the year the Ministry of Justice added 37 NGOs to the list of foreign agents. At the end of the year, 150 NGOs were designated as foreign agents.
In addition to continued widespread inspections of NGOs designated as foreign agents, authorities began to levy heavy fines against NGOs for failing to disclose foreign agent status on websites or printed materials. According to HRW, while authorities inspected a wide range of designated civil society groups from nearly every region of the country, groups that were warned, fined, or prosecuted generally were those active in areas such as election monitoring, human rights advocacy, anticorruption work, and environmental protection. During inspections law enforcement agencies typically brought representatives from as many as a dozen different bodies, including fire inspectors, tax inspectors, and health and safety inspectors, to issue citations to NGOs. In addition, state-controlled media crews frequently accompanied authorities during such inspections. On June 27, authorities also initiated criminal charges for the first time under the foreign agents law against the NGO Union of the Women of the Don. As of August 30, the case was still under consideration.
Organizations the government deemed as foreign agents reported experiencing the social effects of stigmatization, such as being targeted by vandals and online criticism, in addition to losing partners and funding sources and being subjected to smear campaigns in the state-controlled press. As a result some organizations discontinued their work and closed their doors. Notable NGOs that closed included St. Petersburg’s Antidiscrimination Center Memorial and the Committee against Torture. In February the Supreme Court of Tatarstan ruled to liquidate the NGO AGORA at the request of the Ministry of Justice for violations of the law on foreign agents. This was the first case of a so-called foreign agent forced to close based on a court ruling.
In May at the behest of President Putin, the government clarified and ultimately expanded the definition of political activities covered under the foreign agent law. Putin signed the related amendments in June. Under the new definition, political activities include: organizing public events, rallies, demonstrations, marches, pickets; organizing and conducting public debates, discussions or presentations; participating in election activities aimed at influencing the result, including election observation and forming commissions; public calls to influence local and state government bodies, including calling for changes to legislation; disseminating opinions and decisions of state bodies by technology; and attempts to shape public political views, including public opinion polls or other sociological research.
On September 5, the Ministry of Justice added the first polling organization, the Levada Center, to the register of foreign agents, for the first time making use of the expanded definition of political activity. The addition came two weeks before the State Duma election and only days after the Levada Center published a poll showing a significant decline in support for the ruling United Russia party. The Levada Center indicated in the press that it would have to close if the decision was not canceled, because conducting polling with such a stigma attached would be impossible. The expanded definition of political activity was widely criticized by civil society NGOs, as well as the government’s own Presidential Human Rights Council.
In 2015 the foreign agent law was amended to create a mechanism to allow qualifying NGOs to be removed from the foreign agent list. To be delisted, the NGO in question must submit an application to the Ministry of Justice proving it received no foreign funding or engaged in no political activity within the previous 12 months. If the NGO received any foreign funding, it must have returned the money within three months. The ministry would then initiate an unscheduled inspection of the NGO to determine whether it qualified for removal from the list. During the year only six NGOs were successful in their efforts to qualify for removal from the foreign agent list. In such cases, however, the Ministry of Justice did not remove the organizations from the list on its website but noted in a separate column the date the NGO qualified for removal and “ceased performing the functions of a foreign agent.”
Use of the law on “undesirable” foreign organizations expanded during the year with the additions of the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, and the Media Development Fund to the list of such organizations. The organizations joined the National Endowment for Democracy, Open Society, Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation, and the U.S.-Russia Foundation. According to the definition of the law, a foreign organization may be found undesirable if that group is deemed “dangerous to the foundations of the constitutional order of the Russian Federation, its national security, and defense.” To date, authorities have not clarified what specific threats the undesirable NGOs posed to the country. In accordance with the law, any foreign organization deemed undesirable must cease its activities, any money or assets found by authorities may be seized, and any citizens found to be continuing to work with the organization in contravention of the law may face up to seven years in prison.
NGOs engaged in political activities or activities that “pose a threat to the country” that receive support from U.S. citizens or organizations are also subject to suspension under the “Dima Yakovlev” law, which prohibits these NGOs from having dual Russian-U.S. citizen members.
There were multiple reports that civil society activists were beaten or attacked in retaliation for their professional activities and that law enforcement officials did not adequately investigate the incidents. On March 16, a mob of unidentified individuals attacked Igor Kalyapin, head of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, in Chechnya. No arrests were made in connection with the attack. The attack occurred a week after masked men, armed with baseball bats, attacked a group of foreign and Russian journalists and activists from Kalyapin’s organization, setting their bus on fire. No arrests were made in connection with the attack (see section 1.c.).
In multiple cases authorities arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted civil society activists in political retaliation for their work (see sections 1.d. and 1.e.).
There were reports that authorities targeted NGOs and activists representing the LGBTI community for retaliation (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. With the exception of refugees from Ukraine, who as a group were well received, the government provided minimal assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and NGOs stated that police at times detained, fined, and threatened migrants, refugees, and stateless persons with deportation and that citizens subjected them to racially motivated assaults.
The government seldom cooperated on asylum and refugee problems with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations.
In-country Movement: Although the law gives citizens the right to choose their place of residence, adult citizens must carry government-issued internal passports while traveling domestically and must register with local authorities after arriving at a new location. Persons with official refugee or asylum status must request permission to relocate to a district other than the one that originally granted them status. Authorities often refused to provide government services to individuals without internal passports or proper registration, and many regional governments continued to restrict this right through residential registration rules that closely resembled Soviet-era regulations.
Authorities required intercity travelers to show their internal passports when buying tickets to travel via air, long-distance railroad, water, or road. Commuter travel on road, water, or via railroad did not require identification. Authorities imposed travel restrictions on individuals facing prosecution for political purposes. In August authorities charged Leonid Volkov, the head of the Democratic Opposition’s election movement in Novosibirsk, with obstructing the work of a journalist. Authorities reportedly restricted his freedom to travel while they investigated the case.
Foreign Travel: The law provides for freedom to travel abroad, but the government introduced new restrictions on this right during the year, including an amendment that allows for the temporary restriction of citizens’ rights to exit the country if they are bankrupt.
The law on procedures for departing from and entering the country stipulates that a person who violates a court decision has no right to leave the country. A court may prohibit a person from leaving the country for failure to satisfy debts, if the individual is suspected, accused, or convicted of a crime, or if the individual has access to classified material. Authorities imposed travel restrictions on individuals facing prosecution for political purposes.
According to press reports, in 2014 the government restricted foreign travel by approximately five million government employees, mostly from the security services. This included employees of the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Defense, the Federal Prison Service, the Federal Drug Control Service, the Federal Bailiff Service, the Federal Migration Service (FMS, now GAMI, see next paragraph), and the Ministry of Emergency Situations. Freedom House reported that often employees who were not themselves prohibited from travel felt obliged not to go abroad to be consistent with colleagues. The law requires citizens to disclose any dual citizenship.
On April 5, the FMS was abolished, and President Putin announced the Ministry of Internal Affairs would take over all FMS duties. The move was part of the larger restructuring of the ministry, which included the creation of the new Russian Federal National Guard Service (see section 1.d, Role of the Police and Security Apparatus). The new entity carrying out the FMS’s previous duties is the General Administration for Migration Issues (GAMI). The transfer of responsibility was underway during the year, although officially the FMS ceased operations in April.
Exile: There were many high-profile cases of self-imposed exile during the year, primarily involving leaders of political opposition movements, NGOs, environmental organizations, and protesters who feared reprisals for their participation in anti-Putin demonstrations or for their opposition activities.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS
In December 2014 the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimated that Russia was home to at least 27,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), most of whom remained in the North Caucasus as a result of the Chechen conflict. The situation for the IDPs displaced after the conflict in Chechnya remained poor, with the majority still living in substandard accommodations without proper sanitation and electricity. The government’s official statistics showed the number IDPs decreased from 28,292 in 2015 to 25,359 during the year.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The country’s laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. NGOs reported applicants commonly paid informal “facilitation fees” of approximately 33,000 rubles ($500) to GAMI/the FMS adjudicators to have their application reviewed. Applicants who did not speak Russian had to pay for a private interpreter. Human rights organizations noted that nearly all newly arrived refugees and temporary asylum seekers in large cities, in particular Moscow and St. Petersburg, were forced to apply in other regions, allegedly due to full quotas. With the exception of Ukrainians, GAMI/the FMS approved a small percentage of applications for refugee status and temporary asylum.
Some observers pointed out that GAMI/the FMS data failed to include asylum seekers who were forcibly deported or extradited before exhausting their legal remedies. Some asylum seekers, especially those from Central Asia, also reportedly chose not to make formal applications for asylum because doing so often led to criminal investigations and other unwanted attention from the security services.
Human rights organizations criticized the country’s reported preferential treatment of Ukrainian applicants for refugee status and temporary asylum. According to UNHCR and local NGOs, authorities had blanket authority to grant temporary asylum to Ukrainians and prioritized Ukrainian nationals over other nationalities, especially those from African nations. As of November 2015, the vast majority of Ukrainian nationals who applied for temporary asylum received this status on a one-year basis and were eligible to apply twice for renewals. This prioritization resulted in longer waiting periods and drastically fewer approvals for non-Ukrainian applicants. As of November 2015, authorities reportedly also had blanket authority to grant temporary asylum to Syrians. According to local NGOs, GAMI/the FMS stopped granting them temporary asylum and refugee status. Local migration experts noted a decrease in the number of Syrians with temporary asylum, indicating that GAMI/the FMS did not renew the temporary asylum of hundreds of Syrians. Authorities did not release up-to-date data on non-Ukrainian refugees during the year. According to official statistics, there were 311,134 Ukrainian citizens holding temporary asylum; in contrast, 1,302 Syrians held the same status.
According to official statistics, 770 persons were granted refugee status during the year, down from 790 in 2015 but more than the 632 reported in 2014.
According to a Sky News report from May, only two Syrians received full asylum status since the conflict there began in 2011. The country’s official statistics indicated that two Syrians per year were granted refugee status since 2013. The Sky News report stated that five Syrian asylum seekers in Makhachkala, Dagestan, who had been behind bars for over a year, remained incarcerated indefinitely due to a lack of proper paperwork related to their asylum claims. Human rights groups believed numerous Syrians sat in similar circumstances throughout the country.
In the fall of 2015, approximately 5,500 migrants and asylum seekers crossed Russia’s border with Norway by utilizing a loophole that allowed border crossing via bicycle without documentation check by Russian border guards. When Norway began returning the migrants to Russia, HRW noted “a lack of assurance from the Russian authorities that they would provide those sent back with any hearing of their asylum claims, much less a fair consideration of their applications.” According to HRW, UNHCR and Norway’s country-of-origin office noted deficiencies in Russia’s asylum system that could prevent the fair and effective assessment of a person’s refugee claims.
Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of persons to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. The responsible agency, GAMI/the FMS, did not maintain a presence at airports or other border points and did not adequately publicize that asylum seekers had the ability to request access to the agency. Asylum seekers had to rely on the goodwill of border guards and airline personnel to call immigration officials. Otherwise, they faced immediate return to their countries of origin, including in some cases to countries where they may have had reasonable grounds to fear persecution.
A Sky News report stated that Russian officials had tried to deport five detained asylum seekers directly back to Syria, but their attorney succeeded in blocking the deportation while they were waiting to board a plane at a Moscow airport. According to UNHCR and other human rights monitors, at least 18 Syrians have been directly returned to Syria, contravening the country’s constitution.
By law an applicant may appeal the decision of a GAMI/the FMS official to a higher-ranking authority or to a court. During the appeal process, the applicant is legally entitled to the rights of a person whose application for refugee status was being considered.
Human rights groups continued to allege that authorities made improper use of international agreements that permit them to detain, and possibly repatriate, persons with outstanding arrest warrants from other former Soviet states. This system, enforced by informal ties between senior law enforcement officials of the countries concerned, permitted authorities to detain individuals for up to one month while the Prosecutor General’s Office investigated the nature of the warrants. UNHCR and human rights groups noted several cases of disappearances and extralegal return of persons of UNHCR concern, in which officials detained individuals (most commonly from Central Asia) and returned them to their country of origin clandestinely. Rights groups and UNHCR maintained that this could not have happened without the cooperation of several different federal agencies.
In July, Khursheddin Fazylov, a citizen of Tajikistan who had applied for political asylum in Russia, was returned to Tajikistan before his application and appeals process had been completed. The government of Tajikistan accused him of recruiting Tajik citizens to go to Syria through Turkey to take part in jihad and requested his extradition. According to his lawyer, Fazylov was transported out of the country to Tajikistan on the day his detention period would have expired. At the time, his asylum case was still under appeal. Fazylov’s family reported that, within a week of that date, he was back in Tajikistan in prison.
In July the government returned Olim Ochilov, a 27-year-old citizen of Uzbekistan, to his home country, where he allegedly faced the threat of torture. The deportation took place even though the ECHR had ruled that Russia should grant Ochilov temporary asylum. The government of Uzbekistan accused Ochilov of “antistate activities.” His location in Uzbekistan was unknown.
Access to Basic Services: By law successful temporary asylum seekers and persons whose applications were being processed have the right to work, receive medical care, and attend school. NGOs reported authorities provided some services to Ukrainian asylum seekers, but applicants from other countries were routinely denied them. During the year authorities closed the majority of government-funded temporary accommodation centers specially erected for Ukrainian nationals waiting to receive temporary asylum. These centers provided shelter, food, medical care, and job-placement assistance. As of November 2015, some 16,112 Ukrainian nationals remained in these centers throughout the country, although NGOs reported that many inhabitants were Ukrainians with legal status who were paying to live in the facilities. Non-Ukrainian asylum applicants did not have access to these benefits.
While federal law provides for education for all children, regional authorities occasionally denied access to schools to children of temporary asylum and refugee applicants who lacked residential registration. When parents encountered difficulties enrolling their children in school, authorities generally cooperated with UNHCR to resolve the problem. Authorities frequently denied applicants the right to work if they lacked residential registration, which was common due to landlords’ preference not to register occupants for tax reasons.
Temporary Protection: A person who did not satisfy the criteria for refugee status, but who could not be expelled or deported for humanitarian reasons could receive temporary asylum after submitting a separate application. There were reports, however, of authorities not upholding the principle of temporary protection.
UNHCR estimated there were approximately 113,470 stateless persons in the country at the end of 2014. Official statistics did not differentiate between stateless person and other categories of persons seeking assistance. UNHCR reported a significant number of Afghans resided in Russia for more than 20 years, including some orphans brought back by Soviet armed forces. The majority of these individuals and their offspring did not have legal status in the country because GAMI/the FMS repeatedly rejected their applications for temporary asylum or refugee status. This Afghan population faced the same risks as newly arrived asylum seekers, including denial of, or lack of, access to medical care, schooling, and housing.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal, and the law provides the same punishment for a relative, including the spouse, who commits rape as for a nonrelative. Rape victims may act as full legal parties in criminal cases brought against alleged assailants and may seek compensation as part of a court verdict without initiating a separate civil action. While members of the medical profession assisted assault survivors and sometimes helped identify an assault or rape case, doctors were often reluctant to provide testimony in court.
The penalty for rape is three- to six-years’ imprisonment for a single offender and four to 10 years if a group of persons commits the crime or the assailant had prior convictions for sexual assault. Violations are punishable by eight to 15 years in prison if the victim was between the ages of 14 and 18 and by 12 to 20 years in prison if the victim died or was under 14. According to NGOs, many law enforcement personnel and prosecutors did not consider spousal or acquaintance rape a priority and did not encourage reporting or prosecuting such cases. NGOs reported that local police officers sometimes refused to respond to rape or domestic violence calls unless the victim’s life was directly threatened.
According to NGOs, many women did not report rape or other violence, especially when committed by spouses, due to social stigma and the lack of government support.
Domestic violence remained a major problem. There is no significant domestic violence provision in the criminal code and no legal definition of domestic violence. The laws that address bodily harm are general in nature and do not permit police to initiate a criminal investigation unless the victim files a complaint. The burden of collecting evidence in such cases typically falls on the alleged victims. Federal law prohibits battery, assault, threats, and killing, but most acts of domestic violence did not fall within the jurisdiction of the prosecutor’s office. According to NGOs police were often unwilling to register complaints of domestic violence and frequently discouraged victims from submitting them.
In February the Duma adopted legislation that removed beating and some other offenses from the criminal code, making them administrative offenses instead. The law’s drafters made an exception for so-called “close relatives,” keeping beatings of children by parents, between spouses, and between other close persons a criminal, rather than administrative, offense. In June, Children’s Rights Ombudsman Pavel Astakhov indicated that the legislative changes providing continued criminal liability for beatings between relatives was “absurd,” stating he received a number of complaints from family-focused organizations.
The government does not gather comprehensive data on domestic violence. Ministry of Internal Affairs statistics for 2013 showed that, while women were the victims of 43 percent of all crimes, they were the victims of crimes committed in the home (63 percent), among family members (73 percent), and by a spouse (91 percent) at disproportionately high rates. Additional data from 2013 showed that 60-70 percent of victims did not seek help; and that 97 percent of domestic violence cases did not reach court. According to the BBC, there were 30,600 domestic violence cases in 2014, a 10 percent increase from 2013.
The NGO Center for Women’s Support asserted that a majority of domestic violence cases filed with authorities were either dismissed on technical grounds or transferred to a reconciliation process conducted by a justice of the peace, whose focus was on preserving the family rather than punishing the perpetrator. Civil remedies for domestic violence include administrative fines and divorce. Physical harm, property, and family rights cases, such as divorce, asset division, and child custody, cannot be heard in the same case or the same court. No unified court considers civil and criminal cases jointly.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is not specifically prohibited in the criminal code. Local NGOs in Dagestan reported that FGM/C was occasionally practiced in some villages. In August the mufti of the North Caucasus region of Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Ismail Berdiyev, stated that FGM/C was a “Dagestani ritual” and was necessary to “limit unnecessary energy” of future brides. Berdiyev’s statement came days after Moscow-based NGO Legal Initiative released a report on FGM/C in Dagestan, which cited some clerics who supported and some who condemned the practice. Later in August, Berdiyev retracted his comments after they resulted in a public outcry and backlash from the country’s top Muslim cleric and the Ministry of Health, although some, including a former spokesperson of the Russian Orthodox Church, came out in support of the earlier remarks.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: According to human rights groups, so-called honor killings of women in Chechnya, Dagestan, and elsewhere in the North Caucasus district continued. Human rights groups further reported that such killings were underreported and rarely prosecuted because of community collusion to cover up such crimes, although there were instances in which such killings led to convictions. According to Interfax, a criminal case was initiated on March 23 against a man in Dagestan accused of stabbing and killing his two daughters for “amoral behavior.” According to law enforcement authorities, the man killed his daughters in December 2015 because they came home too late at night. The case was still pending.
In some parts of the North Caucasus, women continued to face bride kidnapping, polygamy, forced marriage (including child marriage), legal discrimination, and enforced adherence to Islamic dress codes. In February a police officer in the North Caucasus was stabbed when he attempted to prevent a bride kidnapping of a 17-year-old girl, according to the Investigative Committee. When the girl’s family attempted to prevent the kidnapping, the family of the bride kidnapper would not allow them to enter the home. There were cases in some parts of the North Caucasus where men, claiming that kidnapping brides was an ancient local tradition, reportedly abducted and raped young women, in some cases forcing them into marriage. Police in Dagestan claimed that many cases of women being abducted were in fact voluntary. NGOs reported that, while the overwhelming majority of bride kidnappings were not voluntary, women in the North Caucasus sometimes agreed to be abducted to avoid an arranged marriage, often to an older man or to a man with multiple wives.
Sexual Harassment: The law does not specifically prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace, which remained a widespread problem. Instead, the criminal code contains a general provision against compelling a person to perform actions of a sexual character by means of blackmail, threats, or by taking advantage of the victim’s economic or other dependence on the perpetrator. As of April there were 16 successful prosecutions for “compulsion to perform sexual actions” with adults and 34 with minors.
Reproductive Rights: The government recognizes the basic right of couples and individuals to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so. While there are no legal restrictions on access to contraceptives, the Russian Orthodox Church and the Muftis Council continued their opposition to family planning initiatives, and access to family planning in the country was limited, especially outside big cities. In June authorities banned the leading condom brand in the country, the British brand Durex, for “not being registered in the proper manner.” Durex condoms made up one-fourth of the condom market in the country. The ban came just after a government-sponsored study asserted that the main reason for the spread of HIV in the country was condoms (see section 6, HIV and AIDS Social Stigma). Senior government leaders explicitly encouraged women to have as many children as possible to counteract the country’s declining population, particularly among ethnic Russians.
Discrimination: The constitution and law provide that men and women enjoy the same legal status and rights. Men and women have an equal right to obtain a bank loan, but women often encountered significant restrictions. There were reports that women encountered discrimination in employment (see section 7.d.).
The law upholds equal ownership rights for women and men. The civil code provides equal rights to access to land and access to other property for men and women. Unless their marriage contract states otherwise, all property acquired during a marriage is the couple’s joint property, and it is divided into two equal shares in the event of divorce. Each spouse retains ownership and management of property acquired before marriage or inherited after marriage.
Traditional practices in the North Caucasus award the husband custody of children and all property in divorce cases. As a result, women in the region were often unwilling to seek divorce, even in cases of abuse.
Birth Registration: By law citizenship derives from parents at birth or from birth within the country’s territory if the parents are unknown or if the child cannot claim the parents’ citizenship. Newborns generally were registered at the local civil registry office where the parents live. A parent must apply for registration within one month of the birth. Birth certificates were issued on the basis of the medical certificate of the hospital where a baby was born.
Education: Education is free and compulsory through grade 11. Regional authorities frequently denied school access to the children of persons who were not registered as residents of the locality, including Roma, asylum seekers, and migrant workers.
Child Abuse: Children’s Ombudsman Pavel Astakhov reported an increase in crimes against minors in 2015. The number of minors recognized as victims in 2015 was 102,608, an 8 percent increase over 2014. The number of crimes against the life and health of minors increased 11 percent to 33,525, while the number of sexual crimes against minors increased to 12,175, a more than 20 percent increase over 2014. According to Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin, there was an increase in child victims of crime in 2015 over the prior year. There were almost 17,000 child victims of crime in 2015, more than 4,600 of whom were under the age of 10. In 2015 authorities filed 10,500 criminal cases involving crimes against minors, 25 percent more than in 2014. Markin reported that 2,300 criminal cases were filed for crimes against children during the first quarter of 2016. In those cases, 4,477 children were identified as victims, 477 of whom had been killed.
During the first quarter of the year, 519 minors were victims of criminal abuse by relatives, including 322 cases of abuse by parents. The Ministry of Internal Affairs published data on 576,000 criminal proceedings filed against parents in 2014 for crimes against children. These included 440,000 cases of negligence, 1,400 for enabling alcohol or drug abuse, and 11,900 cases of physical child abuse, which resulted in more than 2,500 fatalities. In addition 946 of these crimes were cases of pedophilia, 380 of which a parental guardian committed, according to Astakhov. Astakhov reported 8,000 convictions for child abuse in 2015.
According to a 2011 report published by the NGO Foundation for Assistance to Children in Difficult Life Situations, 2,000 to 2,500 children died annually from domestic violence. A 2013 estimate by the Ministry of Internal Affairs indicated that one in four children in the country was subjected to abuse by a parent or foster parent.
Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18 for both men and women. Local authorities may authorize marriage from the age of 16 under certain circumstances, and even earlier in some regions. In May 2015 the newspaper Novaya Gazetareported that a 17-year-old girl had been pressured into marrying the 57-year-old police chief in Chechnya’s Nozhay-Yurt district who was already married. Chechnya head Kadyrov attended the wedding while Children’s Ombudsman Astakhov publicly defended such practices in the Caucasus.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: See information for girls under 18 in the women’s section above.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The age of consent is 16. Children, particularly orphans and those without homes, were exploited for child pornography. While authorities considered child pornography to be a serious problem, the law does not criminalize its possession or provide for effective investigation and prosecution of it. The law prohibits the manufacture, distribution, and possession with intent to distribute of child pornography, but possession without intent to distribute is not prohibited by law. Manufacture and distribution of pornography involving children under 18 is punishable by two to eight years in prison, or three to 10 years in prison if it involves children under 14.
In June a definition of child pornography came into force for the first time. The new definition states that child pornography is a whole or partial image or description of the genitalia of a minor, made with “sexual intent,” as well as the portrayal of a real or simulated sexual act with a minor or an adult who presents him or herself as a minor. Materials used for educational or medical purposes are not considered child pornography, nor are materials that have historical, artistic, or cultural value. Investigation of child pornography cases are to be turned over from the Ministry for Internal Affairs to the Investigative Committee. In the past courts often dismissed criminal cases because of the lack of clear standards or definitions, and authorities had not determined how the new legal provisions defining child pornography would be enforced in the coming year.
The Investigative Committee reported filing charges in 1,645 cases of rape against children in 2015 as well as in more than 5,300 cases of sexual assault of children. According to Ministry of Internal Affairs statistics, in 2014 the ministry opened 274 investigative cases into child pornography and referred 80 of these to the courts. In addition to its authority to regulate websites containing extremist materials, Roskomnadzor has the power to shut down any website immediately and without due process until its owners prove its content does not include child pornography. In 2014 approximately 15 percent of the 45,700 links Roskomnadzor shut down were related to child pornography.
Displaced Children: Official statistics on the numbers of orphans and displaced children in the country were conflicting and of questionable reliability. In 2014 the Ministry of Education and Science estimated there were 96,000 orphans in the country, down from a previous estimate of 120,000. In May 2015 Children’s Ombudsman Astakhov announced that the number of orphans without parental supervision had declined from 106,700 in 2009 to 61,600 in 2014. In March, Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets announced there were 53,100 homeless children who had run away from home in 2014, a 22 percent increase from 2013. No recent official statistics on the number of parentless migrants were available. A 2011 study conducted by the Ministry of Education’s Center for Sociological Research indicated that 45 percent of homeless and unaccompanied children in Moscow were migrant children from member countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Homeless children often engaged in criminal activities, received no education, and were vulnerable to substance abuse. Some children on the streets were forced into prostitution. Law enforcement officers reportedly abused street children, blamed them for unsolved crimes, and committed illegal acts against them, including extortion, detention, and psychological and sexual violence.
Regional ombudsmen for children operated in all the country’s regions. They had the authority to conduct independent investigations involving violations of children’s rights, inspect all institutions and executive offices dealing with minors, establish councils of public experts, and conduct independent evaluations of legislation affecting children. A number of schools in the Moscow and Volgograd oblasts had school ombudsmen to deal with children and families and identify potential conflicts and violations of children’s rights.
Institutionalized Children: In January media reported accusations by students in a boarding school in Bratsk, Irkutsk Region, of physical abuse by guards, including the use of electric shocks. There were other reports of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse in state institutions for children.
According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, graduates of state orphanages and boarding schools faced grim futures. The office reported that only 10 percent of graduates adapted successfully, while 40 percent committed crimes, 40 percent become addicted to alcohol and drugs, and 10 percent committed suicide. The office reported that 300,000 “socially dangerous acts” were committed by children each year, of which 100,000 were committed by children under the age of criminal responsibility (14).
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
The 2010 census estimated the Jewish population at just over 150,000. In February 2015, however, the president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia stated that the actual Jewish population was nearly one million.
A number of leading figures in the Jewish community reported the level of anti-Semitism in the country was decreasing and that anti-Semitism was primarily manifested in anti-Semitic rhetoric on state television channels. There was also anti-Semitism reported in the security services, and anti-Semitic literature could be found distributed around the country.
According to a report by the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University, eight cases of aggressive anti-Semitism were recorded in the country in 2015. The Kantor Center also noted, however, that anti-Semitism in the country was mainly expressed in the form of propaganda. The center identified the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda and the state-funded RT television network as a “main stage for virulent anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli propaganda.” The conflict between Russia and Ukraine in particular led to a rise in anti-Semitic propaganda, with “each side blaming the other for using it as a political tool.”
Rabbi Alexander Boroda, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, condemned as anti-Semitic the RT channel’s June 27 airing of Palestinian allegations that an Israeli rabbi approved the poisoning of Palestinian wells. In June the SOVA Center reported on a series of anti-Semitic articles published in Saratov that attempted to discredit stories of Jewish heroism during the Second World War and arouse hostility towards Jews.
On April 10, Vladislav Vikhorev, a candidate for Putin’s United Russia party, who was campaigning for a seat in the Chelyabinsk Oblast legislative assembly, was quoted by the news website Apostroph as stating that Jews in the 1990s were behind a “Jewish revolution that put Russian sovereignty itself on the brink of extinction.” He claimed Jews had “a well-planned, well-designed program of destruction of national culture, national education, national production, and the national financial system.” In response, Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar called on the government to stamp out hate speech against Jews. The local election committee issued Vikhorev a warning but allowed him to maintain his candidacy.
On October 2, police arrested a man who attacked a synagogue in Moscow, injuring a guard and attempting to set fire to the building while shouting anti-Semitic slogans.
On June 12, in one of a series of attacks on social media network users of VKontakte, unidentified men attacked a VKontakte employee known for his occasional antigovernment posts. The attackers broke three of his fingers and called their victim a “traitor,” a “Jew,” and a member of the “fifth column”–a term frequently used by Russian state media to describe the opposition.
In November the Levada Center published a survey, conducted in Russia in 2015, indicating that 8 percent of respondents expressed negative feelings about Jews, compared with 13 percent in 1992 and 16 percent in 1997.
Nationalist marches on November 4 included banners in support of national socialism along with imagery and slogans that were implicitly linked to Nazism.
The government investigated anti-Semitic crimes, and some courts placed anti-Semitic literature on the Ministry of Justice’s list of banned extremist materials.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
While several laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, transportation, access to health care, and the provision of state services, the government generally did not enforce these laws. No laws prohibit discrimination in air travel.
Persons with disabilities continued to face discrimination and denial of equal access to education, employment, and social institutions. Persons with mental disabilities were subject to severe discrimination in education and employment (see section 7.d.). In addition the conditions of guardianship imposed by courts deprived them of almost all personal rights. Under the family code, individuals with mental disabilities were at times prevented from getting married without a guardian’s consent. According to HRW, although the government has begun to implement inclusive education, most children with disabilities did not study in mainstream schools due to a lack of reasonable accommodations to facilitate their individual learning needs. The lack of reasonable accommodations left tens of thousands of children with disabilities isolated at home or in specialized schools, often far from their homes. Most children with disabilities in orphanages had at least one living parent, and many faced violence and neglect, including inadequate health care, education, and opportunities to play, according to HRW.
In July local registry officials in Nizhny Novgorod denied a marriage license to a blind couple arguing that neither the bride nor groom could independently sign the documents.
On March 29, the ECHR, in a landmark ruling, found that the government should not have denied Vitaliy Kocherov custody of his daughter for the first six years of her life solely because both he and his wife have mental disabilities.
Conditions in institutions for adults with disabilities were often poor, with unqualified staff and overcrowding. Institutions rarely attempted to develop the abilities of residents, whom they frequently confined to the premises and whose movements they sometimes restricted within the institutions themselves.
On January 1, new amendments to the law for the social protection of persons with disabilities became effective. The amendments broaden the criteria for establishing a person’s disability, introduce a federal register of persons with disabilities, require barrier-free accessibility, and access to social services. Under the previous system introduced by Ministry of Labor and Social Protection in 2015, grant benefits for the persons with disabilities were changed based on the type of medical condition and the extensiveness of the symptoms. The changes affected hundreds of thousands of individuals who were denied disability benefits during the year based on the new requirements. Under the system only persons deemed to have lost at least 40 percent of one of their body functions could apply for financial assistance. The January amendments restored many of the previous categories of disabilities.
Federal law requires that buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities, but authorities did not enforce the law, and many buildings were not accessible. In a 2013 report, HRW noted that, in apartment buildings constructed before 2001 (that is, prior to the development of minimum accessibility standards for new construction), doorways and elevators were too narrow for wheelchairs and buildings lacked elevators or appropriate ramps. In some cases buildings constructed after 2001 also lacked these accommodations. This lack of building access was an insurmountable barrier to employment, education, and social engagement for the vast majority of wheelchair users interviewed in the report. The report also noted that critical public facilities and emergency services remained largely inaccessible to persons with disabilities. Disability rights NGOs confirmed that accessibility remained a problem, noting that only a handful of Moscow’s 200 subway stations had elevators to accommodate patrons with disabilities.
In July a man with disabilities from Krasnoyarsk committed suicide after local authorities refused to install a wheelchair ramp at his residence. According to media reports, the man had been confined to his home for the previous three years due to lack of accessibility. His mother told media that authorities continually denied requests for the ramp and told her son the city could not install the ramp until 2038.
Most children with disabilities remained isolated from other community members and were unable to attend public schools, since only 3 percent of schools could accommodate them. According to a 2014 HRW report, nearly 30 percent of all children with disabilities lived in state orphanages, where they faced violence and neglect. Some children interviewed by HRW reported that orphanage staff beat them, injected them with sedatives, and sent them to psychiatric hospitals for days or weeks at a time to control or punish them.
HRW reported that at least 95 percent of children living in orphanages and foster care had at least one living parent, although children with disabilities who entered institutions at a young age were unlikely to return to their birth families, mostly due to the practice of local-level state commissions recommending continued institutionalization of children. Staff working in institutions that HRW visited occasionally discouraged visits or other contact with family members, claiming that such contact “spoiled” children by getting them accustomed to too much attention. Within orphanages, HRW documented the segregation of children whom staff deemed to have the most severe disabilities into “lying-down” rooms, where they were confined to cribs and often tied to furniture with rags. Many of these children received little attention except for feeding and diaper changing.
According to Ministry of Internal Affairs data, more than 45 percent of the country’s total population of children with disabilities were institutionalized. While the law mandates inclusive education for children with disabilities, authorities generally segregated them from mainstream society through a system that institutionalized them through adulthood. Graduates of such institutions often lacked the necessary social, educational, and vocational skills to function in society.
There were numerous cases of child abuse in state facilities. The Prosecutor General’s Office requested a criminal investigation into a youth facility in Dagestan after allegations of abuse surfaced in March. According to media, former orphanage pupils reported that children, many with disabilities, were forced to sleep on the floor and that they received injections from staff to make them sleep. There were also allegations that children were forced to shower as a group in cold water.
There appeared to be no legal mechanism by which individuals could contest their assignment to a facility for persons with disabilities. The classification of children with mental disabilities to categories of disability often followed them through their lives. The official designations “imbecile” and “idiot,” assigned by a commission that assesses children with developmental problems at the age of three, signify that authorities considered a child uneducable. These designations were almost always irrevocable. The designation “weak” (having a slight cognitive or intellectual disability) followed an individual on official documents, creating barriers to employment and housing after graduation from state institutions.
During the World Ice Hockey Championship in May, police in St. Petersburg refused to allow a man with cerebral palsy into the match because they did not like his manner of walking.
Election laws do not specifically mandate that polling places be accessible to persons with disabilities, and the majority of polling stations were not. Election officials generally brought mobile ballot boxes to the homes of voters with disabilities.
The law prohibits discrimination based on nationality, but government officials increasingly subjected minorities to discrimination. According to the SOVA Center, as of July racial violence resulted in the death of at least one person, while 32 others were injured, and two received death threats. Incidents were reported in eight regions, although the violence tended to be concentrated in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Skinhead groups and other extreme nationalist organizations fomented racially motivated violence. Racist propaganda remained a problem, although courts continued to convict individuals of using propaganda to incite ethnic hatred.
As was the case in 2015, there were fewer reports of skinhead violence than in previous years. The Ministry of Justice added a number of skinhead videos found on social media, as well as skinhead, ultranationalist, and xenophobic publications, to the Federal List of Extremist Materials.
Nationalist organizations held a number of rallies throughout the year, but due to continued law enforcement pressure on nationalist groups, there were drastically lower levels of public activity. A May 2 demonstration in Moscow held by the nationalist group Committee of January 25 to commemorate clashes in 2014 between Euromaidan and anti-Maidan protesters in Odessa, Ukraine, drew between 250 and 300 persons. Most nationalist events during the year, however, drew significantly fewer participants. On July 7, the National-Conservative Movement and the Union of Orthodox Banner Bearers held a rally in Moscow in memory of the Russian royal family executed in 1918. The campaign attracted no more than 20 participants from Orthodox and monarchist groups.
Incidents highlighted longstanding discrimination against Roma and tensions between the Romani community and authorities. On March 17, residents of a Romani settlement in Tula clashed with riot police over access to a gas pipeline running through their community. Romani residents had been siphoning gas illegally from the pipeline for years because authorities had refused to give Romani families legal title to their land and allow them to register for gas service. The overwhelmed pipeline eventually broke down, and when engineers came to repair it, Romani residents attempted to block them so they would not cut off their access to gas. The incident turned violent, with children wielding sticks at police, who put down the protest with force.
In some cases authorities held perpetrators responsible for xenophobic violence, and there were at least 16 convictions for such acts as of July, resulting in the sentencing of 40 persons to prison terms for hate crimes. This included 12 members of the Moscow neo-Nazi group 14/88 who were sentenced to prison terms of between four and 10 years for racially motivated murder and other violent crimes.
Police and migration officials continued to engage in anti-immigrant raids in markets, factories, the subway, and city streets. GAMI/the FMS organized civilian patrols in which volunteers could sign up to participate in such raids under the supervision of migration service officials.
Grassroots ultra right activists also conducted raids during the year targeting suspected irregular or undocumented migrants. On July 22 in St. Petersburg, six or seven individuals belonging to a Cossack group entered a construction area that was home to migrant workers from Central Asia, broke down the doors, dragged 40 persons outside, and turned them over to police. In April in Moscow, the National-Conservative Movement conducted a raid in which its members checked shawarma sellers for their registration and certificates of production.
Right-wing activists capitalized on the high-profile killing of a five-year-old girl by her Uzbek nanny to promote prejudice against Muslims and anti-immigrant policies. On February 29, Gulchekhra Bobokulovaya decapitated the child in her care and waved the severed head at a busy metro station while shouting, “Allahu akbar” and threatening to blow herself up. In addition to the incident’s exploitation by right-wing groups, the Moscow City council of the Communist Party put the graphic image of the event on a party poster and called for several discriminatory measures, including a visa regime with Central Asian countries and a lifetime entry ban on foreigners who have committed a crime in Russia.
The constitution and various statutes provide support for “small-numbered” indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia, and the Far East, permitting them to create self-governing bodies and allowing them to seek compensation if economic development threatens their lands. The government granted the status of “indigenous” and associated benefits only to those ethnic groups numbering fewer than 50,000 and maintaining their traditional way of life. Small-numbered indigenous groups throughout the country (including the Udege in the Far East, the Khanty in Siberia, and the Chukchi in the North) continued to work actively to preserve and defend their cultures as well as their right to benefit from the economic resources in their regions. The majority of small-numbered indigenous communities believed that a combination of overlapping legal codes and authorities’ lack of political will to enforce existing laws prevented them from fully exercising their rights.
Most members of indigenous communities asserted that they received the same treatment as ethnic Russians, although some more vocal activists claimed they were either unrepresented or underrepresented in regional governments and that the government failed to address seriously the problems of indigenous communities in recent decades. Small-numbered indigenous groups also expressed concern that they lacked adequate representation in the federal government. In 2015 responsibility for indigenous issues shifted from the Ministry of Culture to the newly created Federal Agency for Nationalities. During the year the government introduced fishing restrictions and eliminated special quotas for indigenous peoples throughout the country, endangering some communities in Khabarovsk and Kamchatka that depend on fishing.
The Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON), the country’s largest NGO for indigenous persons, represented 41 groups spread across the country with approximately 250,000 members. In 2013 government pressure led to the rejection of the candidacy of respected activist Pavel Sulyandziga to become RAIPON’s president and to a subsequent political purge of RAIPON’s leadership. Although Sulyandziga agreed to stay on as first vice president, a Duma member from the ruling United Russia party, Grigoriy Ledkov, was installed as president. Sulyandziga stepped down in early 2016 over disagreements with Ledkov over indigenous policy and corruption.
Indigenous contacts reported an increase in state-sponsored harassment, including interrogations by the security services, as well as employment discrimination (see section 7.d).
Since 2015 the Ministry of Justice has added several NGOs focusing on indigenous issues to the foreign agents’ list. In November 2015 the Center for Support of Indigenous Peoples of the North, an NGO headed by Rodion Sulyandziga, the brother of Pavel Sulyandziga, was added to the list. According to the ministry’s website, the center engaged in political activity while receiving foreign funding from the World Bank, the UN Democracy Fund, and the Danish-based International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs. On March 11, the Ministry of Justice designated the Batani International Foundation for the Development of Indigenous and Small Numbered Peoples of the North, Siberia, and Far East (aka Batani Fund) as a foreign agent. The Batani Fund was headed by Pavel Sulyandziga and listed its mission as protecting the rights of indigenous and small numbered peoples.
Pavel Sulyandziga told media outlets that his confrontations with officials from the Ministry of Regional Development over his attempts to enforce the rights of indigenous persons to receive their hunting and fishing quotas were the reason his organization was added to the foreign agents’ list. Pavel Sulyandziga criticized the government’s approach to supporting indigenous people as simply providing funding for indigenous festivals and holidays but not allowing them the use of rivers or traditional land sites. In August the Tengri School of Spiritual Ecology in the Altai Republic, which promoted environmental protection and ethnic culture in the region, was also forced to register as a foreign agent.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law criminalizes the distribution of “propaganda” of nontraditional sexual relations to minors and effectively limits the rights of free expression and assembly for citizens who wish to advocate publicly for rights or express the opinion that homosexuality is normal. Examples of what the government considered LGBTI propaganda included materials that “directly or indirectly approve of persons who are in nontraditional sexual relationships.” Antidiscrimination laws exist but do not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Authorities rarely investigated cases of physical violence against LGBTI persons as hate crimes.
During the year there were reports of killings motivated by the sexual orientation or gender identity of the victim. On March 31, a journalist and well-known arts and theater critic, Dmitriy Tsilikin, was found dead with multiple stab injuries in his home in St. Petersburg. Police arrested suspect Sergey Kosyrev, who admitted that he had met Tsilikin online and planned to blackmail him for his presumed homosexuality, but killed him in a quarrel. Media reports indicated that Kosyrev, who was charged with Tsilikin’s killing, had expressed support for neo-Nazi ideology on social media.
On February 1, a transgender woman named Angela Likina was stabbed to death by one of her neighbors in Ufa. Likina came to prominence after a video on social media showed a traffic police officer laughing uncontrollably with his partner after examining her documents and releasing her upon discovering that she was transgender. Likina expressed dismay about the release of the video and the attention it garnered. The alleged perpetrator was detained.
Human rights groups reported continuing violence against LGBTI individuals. Openly gay men were particular targets of attacks, and police often failed to respond adequately to such incidents. On June 12, a group of nine soccer fans savagely beat visitors to the Mono gay club in Yekaterinburg; one victim suffered a concussion and a broken leg. Police responded to the scene but failed to search the surrounding area for the attackers, even though witnesses told police where to look. Yekaterinburg authorities stated they were investigating.
There were reports that police abused and harassed individuals whom they perceived to be LGBTI. A report released by the LGBT Network in March documented 21 cases of alleged violations of LGBTI person’s rights by law enforcement officials during 2015. In one case, on July 11, police in Krasnodar reportedly harassed, detained, and threatened a man with rape based on his presumed sexual orientation. Authorities subsequently charged him with refusing to obey police orders and sentenced him to pay a fine. Human rights groups were appealing the court’s decision.
On June 13, police arrested two men, Islam Abdullabekov and Felix Glyukman, after they placed a sign that read “Love wins” at a memorial in Moscow for the victims of the shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando. Authorities charged the men with holding an unauthorized demonstration and questioned them for three hours before releasing them. If convicted, they each face up to 10 days in prison or a fine of 60,000 rubles ($900).
LGBTI activists experienced threats and attacks by private individuals. On August 6, a private sports event organized by the Russia LGBT Sports Federation at a campground in Nizhny Novgorod was attacked by persons who beat participants with sticks while shouting homophobic insults. Three persons were injured in the attack. Police opened an investigation.
LGBTI individuals often declined to report attacks against them due to fears that police would subject them to mistreatment or publicize their sexual orientation or gender identity. In May the newspaper Meduza reported that a criminal gang in St. Petersburg lured gay men on fake dates in order to beat and rob them. The robbers correctly presumed that few victims would report the crimes to police.
On July 7, LGBTI activist Violetta Grudina complained to the ECHR that authorities failed to carry out an effective investigation into an attack on the Maximum Center for Social, Psychological, and Legal Assistance to Victims of Homophobia and Discrimination in Murmansk (“Maximum”). In April 2015 assailants sprayed suffocating gas into the center, injuring two persons. Police refused to open a criminal investigation. “Maximum” was liquidated in October 2015 after being designated a foreign agent.
There were reports that authorities restricted the freedoms of expression, association, and assembly of individuals who expressed support for the human rights of LGBTI persons. Authorities invoked the law prohibiting the distribution of propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors to restrict the free speech of LGBTI persons and their supporters, which contributed to an environment of self-censorship among media outlets, rights organizations, and others on LGBTI problems. For example, on January 18, a Murmansk court fined the former leader of the LGBTI organization “Maximum,” Sergey Alekseyenko, 100,000 rubles ($1,500) for violating the “propaganda” law by posting positive views of LGBTI persons and relationships on the organization’s website on the social network VKontakte. One of the postings deemed “propaganda” was a poem by the 19th century Russian writer Mikhail Lermontov that described a sexual scene between two young men. The other posting was nearly an exact quote from a complaint that Roskomnadzor filed against the LGBTI group Deti 404 that read, “Children! To be gay means to be a person who is brave, strong, confident, persistent, who has a sense of dignity and self-respect.” Alekseyenko was the fifth LGBTI activist prosecuted under the “gay propaganda law.”
On March 1, the Ministry of Justice added the St. Petersburg NGO Sfera, which provided social and legal services to members of the LGBTI community, to the list of foreign agents. Sfera was at least the third LGBTI organization placed on the foreign agents’ list. Two other groups were listed in 2015: “Maximum” and Rakurs, an LGBTI advocacy organization based in Arkhangelsk.
Many events planned by members of the LGBTI community were officially unsanctioned and conducted in private due to security concerns. Nevertheless, the LGBT Network reported that in at least four cases during the year LGBTI-related events were disrupted, sometimes through anonymous calls alleging bomb threats.
Moscow authorities refused to allow a gay pride parade for the 11th consecutive year, despite a 2010 ECHR ruling that the denial violated the rights to freedom of assembly and freedom from discrimination. In February the ECHR agreed to review two cases brought by representatives of the country’s LGBTI community on the prohibition of more than a hundred public events across the country between 2009 and 2015.
On May 1, police in St. Petersburg detained approximately 20 LGBTI activists after they unfurled a rainbow flag at the annual May Day parade. Authorities had banned LGBTI groups from participating in the event two days prior to the march. This was the first time that authorities had prohibited LGBTI groups from taking part in the event; an estimated 600 demonstrators marched with LGBTI groups during the 2015 parade. According to the organizers, Roskomnadzor blocked access to the group’s official website and VKontakte page ahead of the event.
A homophobic campaign continued in state-controlled media, in which officials, journalists, and others called LGBTI persons “perverts,” “sodomites,” and “abnormal” and conflated homosexuality with pedophilia.
LGBTI persons reported heightened societal stigma and discrimination, which some attributed to increasing official promotion of intolerance and homophobia. Activists asserted that the majority of LGBTI persons hid their sexual orientation or gender identity due to fear of losing their jobs or homes as well as the threat of violence. Medical practitioners reportedly continued to limit or deny LGBTI persons health services due to intolerance and prejudice. There were reports that high levels of employment discrimination against LGBTI persons persisted (see section 7.d.) and that LGBTI persons continued to seek asylum abroad due to the domestic environment.
Although the law allows transgender individuals to change their names and gender classifications on government documents, they faced difficulties because the government had not established standard procedures and many civil registry offices denied their requests. When their documents failed to reflect their gender accurately, transgender persons often faced harassment by law enforcement officers and discrimination in accessing health care, education, housing, transportation, and employment. In one case in February, a transgender woman named Alina Davis was sentenced to two months in a men’s prison for driving with a fake license because her documents identified her as male. Transgender activists advocated for authorities to take steps that would fully legalize sex reassignment surgery and clarify procedures for changing gender identity on official documents.
There were some isolated positive developments during the year for the LGBTI community. For the first time in its eight-year history, the international LGBTI pride festival of Russia, Queerfest, took place in St. Petersburg in September without attacks or harassment. The event drew more than 1,500 persons. Other LGBTI-related events, such as an annual sports festival in St. Petersburg in March and a photography exhibit in Moscow in August, were held throughout the country.
There were rare instances in which courts found in favor of LGBTI persons seeking to exercise their human rights. In March the Kostroma City Court ruled that the city should pay Nikolay Alekseyev, founder of the Moscow Gay Pride Parade movement, 6,600 rubles ($99) in compensation for banning a gay pride parade there in 2014. On July 29, a Novosibirsk court ruled that Anna Balash had been subjected to discrimination by the company Sib-Alians, which had twice refused her employment on the grounds of “nontraditional sexual orientation.” The court ordered Sib-Alians to pay Balash 1,000 rubles ($15) compensation.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Persons with HIV/AIDS faced significant legal discrimination, informal stigma-based barriers, and employment discrimination (see section 7.d.) and were prohibited from adopting children. In addition, intravenous drug users in particular faced informal barriers to accessing antiretroviral treatment. Regional AIDS centers often demanded that drug users complete drug addiction treatment, which was severely lacking or nonexistent in most areas, before starting antiretroviral treatment.
According to NGO activists, men who have sex with men were discouraged from seeking antiretroviral treatment, since treatment exposed the fact that these individuals have the virus, while sex workers were afraid to appear in the official system due to threats from law enforcement bodies. Economic migrants also concealed their HIV status and avoided treatment due to fear of deportation. By law foreign citizens who are HIV positive may be deported. The law, however, bars the deportation of HIV-positive foreigners who have a Russian national or permanent resident spouse, child (including adopted children), or parents (including adoptive parents).
Prisoners with HIV/AIDS experienced regular abuse and denial of medical treatment.
Although the law provides for treatment of HIV-positive persons, drug shortages, legal barriers, and lack of funds caused large gaps in treatment. Regional AIDS centers continued to force patients to take “vacations” from antiretrovirals for three months due to drug shortages, according to the NGO Patients Control. In September 2015 a Moscow court ruled that the Moscow AIDS Center could refuse to provide antiretroviral drugs to temporary residents in the city. According to NGOs, temporary residents were often told to return to their location of permanent residency for treatment (changing one’s permanent residence is administratively difficult and often requires property ownership or family ties).
In May a government-backed study by the Russian Institute for Strategic Research asserted that condoms are the main reason for the HIV epidemic in the country. The study’s scientists suggested that the best way to protect against HIV is to “be in a heterosexual family where both partners are loyal to each other.”
The Ministry of Justice cracked down on HIV-related NGOs, adding seven to the foreign agents’ list, effectively shutting them down. In one example, in August the Ministry of Justice added Panacea, a youth NGO dedicated to combatting the spread of HIV, to the register of foreign agents. Based in Kuznetsk, Penza region (approximately 150 miles west of Samara), Panacea focused on youth HIV prevention by providing condoms and clean syringes to “at risk” residents. Prosecutors alleged that Panacea’s activities, including the distribution of condoms and syringes, conflicted with public policy on drug abuse and AIDS prevention. The prosecutors asserted that the activities could not be considered humanitarian or ideological and were “political” in nature. Panacea worked closely with the NGO ESVERO, a union of organizations involved in HIV prevention, that was added to the list of foreign agents in June.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
The lack of an internal passport often prevented homeless citizens from fully securing their legal rights and social services. Homeless persons faced barriers to obtaining legal documentation.