Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the constitution prohibits such practices, numerous credible reports indicated law enforcement personnel engaged in torture, abuse, and violence to coerce confessions from suspects, and authorities generally did not hold officials accountable for such actions. If law enforcement officers were prosecuted, they were typically charged with simple assault or exceeding their authority. According to human rights activists, judges often elected instead to use laws against abuse of power, because this definition better captures the difference in authority between an officer of the law and the private individual who was abused.
There were reports of deaths as a result of torture (see section 1.a.).
Physical abuse of suspects by police officers was reportedly systemic and usually occurred within the first few days of arrest. Reports from human rights groups and former police officers indicated that police most often used electric shocks, suffocation, and stretching or applying pressure to joints and ligaments because those methods were considered less likely to leave visible marks. In the North Caucasus, local law enforcement organizations as well as federal security services reportedly committed torture (see section 1.g.).
In one example the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that on August 1, police tortured one of the newspaper’s employees, Uzbek journalist Khudoberdi Nurmatov (pen name Ali Feruz), while authorities detained him on charges of violating immigration law. The newspaper reported that police beat and used electric shocks on Nurmatov while transporting him to a detention center for foreign nationals. On the day of his detention, the Basmannyy District Court in Moscow charged Nurmatov with violating immigration law and ordered his deportation. Nurmatov previously filed multiple asylum claims in the country. On June 6, Nurmatov filed an appeal, and on August 3, the Presidential Human Rights Council released a statement asserting his deportation would be against the constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights because his family members were Russian citizens. On August 8, the Moscow City Court ruled to suspend Nurmatov’s deportation pending review of his case by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Nurmatov’s asylum case was pending, and he remained in a temporary detention facility.
Arrests and court decisions related to police torture continued to come from the Republic of Tatarstan. On October 19, Ilnaz Pirkin, a resident of Nizhnekamsk, Tatarstan, reportedly committed suicide after being detained on charges of theft. In a video message, Pirkin accused police of torture. Three police officials were arrested in the case. The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Tatarstan completed an investigation resulting in the dismissal of the head of the Nizhnekamsk Ministry of Internal Affairs, Robert Khusnutdinov.
Police and individuals who appeared to be operating with the tacit approval of authorities conducted attacks on political and human rights activists, critics of government policies, and persons linked to the opposition. For example, on March 18, officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB) detained, interrogated, and beat a Moscow State University student who hung a Ukrainian flag out his window.
Reports by refugees, NGOs, and the press suggested a pattern of police carrying out beatings, arrests, and extortions of persons whose ethnic makeup was assumed to be Romani, Central Asian, African, or of a Caucasus nationality.
There were multiple reports of authorities detaining defendants for psychiatric evaluations for up to 30 days or longer as a means exerting of pressure, or sending defendants for psychiatric treatment as a means of punishment them. A July report released by the Federation Global Initiative on Psychiatry described at least 12 cases of punitive psychiatric incarceration in the country since 2012 and noted that the phenomenon was likely underreported. On June 1, a district court in Chelyabinsk ordered the release of activist Aleksey Moroshkin, who was forcibly committed to a psychiatric hospital in 2015 after making online calls for the establishment of an “Ural people’s republic.”
Nonlethal physical abuse and hazing continued to be a problem in the armed forces, although violations related to hazing in the military were fewer than in previous years. Activists reported suspicious military deaths were often tied to extortion schemes. The NGO Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers confirmed a decrease in incidents of “dedovshchina” (a pattern of hazing) in 2015 continued into 2016, but that extortion of conscripts had become “the norm.” In February the news outlet Media Zone reported 306 criminal cases of hazing were initiated in the first half of 2016. In 2015 some 901 cases were initiated.
There were continued problems with recruits medically unfit for duty being forced to enter into the army. NGOs reported complaints from conscripts drafted into service despite their claims of poor health.
There were reports Russian-led forces and Russian occupation authorities in Ukraine engaged in torture (see Country Reports on Human Rights for Ukraine).
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in prisons and detention centers varied but were often harsh and life threatening. Overcrowding, abuse by guards and inmates, limited access to health care, food shortages, and inadequate sanitation were common in prisons, penal colonies, and other detention facilities.
Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding remained a serious problem. While the penal code establishes the separation of women and men, juveniles and adults, and pretrial detainees and convicts into separate quarters, there was anecdotal evidence that not all prison facilities followed these rules.
Penal Reform International reported conditions were generally better in women’s colonies than in those for men, but they remained substandard. Thirteen women’s facilities also contained facilities for underage children of inmates who had no options for housing them with friends or relatives.
On February 20, Minister of Justice Aleksandr Konovalov asserted publicly that the overall mortality rate in the Russian penitentiary system declined by 9.6 percent in 2016, while deaths from diseases declined by 11.8 percent.
In 2016 some 99 persons died in police stations and pretrial detention or temporary detention facilities according to a tally maintained by the prison monitoring website Russian Ebola.
Physical abuse by prison guards was systemic. For example, on April 24, special forces police beat Ivan Nepomnyashchikh, a 26-year-old Bolotnaya Square defendant serving 2.5 years in a Yaroslavl prison colony. According to media reports sourced to Nepomnyashchikh’s lawyer, special forces allegedly entered the prison and began beating inmates, including Nepomnyashchikh, for disobeying security search orders from prison guards. On April 21, authorities reportedly moved Nepomnyashchikh to a solitary confinement/punishment cell.
Prisoner-on-prisoner violence was also a problem. In some cases, prison authorities encouraged prisoners to abuse certain inmates. There were elaborate inmate-enforced caste systems in which certain groups, including informers, gay inmates, rapists, prison rape victims, and child molesters, were considered “untouchables.” Prison authorities provided little or no protection to these groups.
In the case of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who died of medical neglect and abuse while in pretrial detention in 2009, as of year’s end, authorities had not, brought those reportedly responsible for his death to justice. The investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death remained officially closed.
Health, nutrition, ventilation, and sanitation standards varied among facilities but generally were poor. Potable water sometimes was rationed. Access to quality medical care remained a significant problem in the penal system. According to the NGO Torture Territory, 18 prisoners held in the LIU-3 prison (Therapeutic Corrective Institution 3) in Saratov went on a hunger strike in June to protest poor conditions in the prison. There were reports of officials beating the strikers. Torture Territory appealed to the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman on behalf of the strikers.
In its annual report released in February, Amnesty International noted that during the year the ECHR found in 12 cases of prisoners being subjected to torture or other mistreatment through failure to provide adequate medical care in prisons and pretrial detention centers. On May 26, lawyers from the NGO Zona Prava appealed to the ECHR on behalf of Ivan Shaydullin, a prisoner at the Trans-Baikal prison. According to his lawyers, Shaydullin had advanced brain cancer that required radiation therapy, but the prison lacked a staff oncologist or the license necessary to provide such treatment.
Tuberculosis and HIV among the country’s prison population remained significant problems. In 2015 the Federal Penitentiary Services reported that nearly 4 percent of the country’s prison population was infected with tuberculosis, while the HIV rate among prisoners increased 6 percent from 2014 levels (see section 6, HIV and Social Stigma).
In a 2012 pilot judgment in the case of Ananyev v. Russia, the ECHR noted that inadequate conditions of detention were a recurrent and systemic problem in the country and ordered the government to draft a binding implementation plan to remedy the situation. In 2012 the government submitted an action plan for implementing the court’s ruling. Since release of the action plan, however, there have been no significant indications of progress.
There were reports political prisoners were placed in particularly harsh conditions of confinement and subjected to other punitive treatment within the prison system, such as solitary confinement or punitive stays in psychiatric units.
Administration: Both convicted inmates and inmates in pretrial detention facilities had visitation rights, but authorities could deny access to visitors depending on the circumstances. Authorities allowed prisoners serving a regular sentence four three-day visits with their spouses per year. By law those prisoners with harsher sentences are allowed fewer visitation rights. On occasion prison officials cancelled visits if the prison did not have enough space to accommodate them. The judge in a prisoner’s case could deny the prisoner visitation rights. Authorities could also prohibit relatives deemed a security risk from visiting prisoners.
While prisoners could file complaints with public oversight commissions or with the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, they were often afraid of reprisal. Prison reform activists reported that only prisoners who believed they had no other option risked the consequences of filing a complaint. Complaints that reached the oversight commissions often focused on minor personal requests.
NGOs reported that many prisoners who alleged torture were subsequently charged with making deliberately false denunciations, which often resulted in additional prison time. For example, on July 17, the District Court of Kirov sentenced former inmate Alexey Galkin to two years in prison for making a deliberately false denunciation. Upon release in March 2016 from a penal colony in the Omutninskiy District, Galkin appealed to the Investigative Committee, citing frequent torture and beatings while in prison. Galkin claimed that damage from one beating resulted in the removal of two of his ribs.
Independent Monitoring: There were no prison ombudsmen. The law regulating public oversight of detention centers allows public oversight commission representatives to visit facilities. According to the Russian Public Chamber, there were public oversight commissions in 81 regions with a total of 1,154 commission members. By law, there should be five to 40 members on each commission. Authorities permitted only the oversight commissions to visit prisons regularly to monitor conditions. Human rights activists expressed concern that several of the most active members of the commissions had been removed and replaced with individuals close to authorities, including many from law enforcement backgrounds. In one notable example, Dmitriy Komnov, who had overseen the prison where lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died in 2009, was elected to the Moscow public oversight commission in 2016. According to the NGO Committee for the Prevention of Torture, public oversight commissions were legally entitled to have access to all prison and detention facilities, including psychiatric facilities, but prison authorities often prevented such access. The law does not establish procedures for federal authorities to respond to oversight commission findings or recommendations, which are not legally binding.
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 survivors may act as full legal parties in criminal cases brought against their 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 confirm an assault or rape, doctors were often reluctant to provide testimony in court.
The penalty for rape is three to six years’ imprisonment for a single offender, with additional time imposed for aggravating factors. 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.
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.
On February 7, President Putin signed legislation that made beatings by “close relatives” an administrative rather than criminal offense for first-time offenders, provided the beating does not cause serious harm requiring hospital treatment. The law’s sponsor in the State Duma, Yelena Mizulina, noted she believes women “don’t take offense when they see a man beat his wife” and that “a man beating his wife is less offensive than when a woman humiliates a man.” Mizulina also stated the country’s law should support family traditions that are “built on the authority of the parents’ power,” and that parents should be allowed to hit their children
According to Ministry of Internal Affairs statistics cited by NGOs, approximately 12,000 women died annually from domestic violence in the country. 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.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not specifically prohibit FGM/C. Local NGOs in Dagestan reported that FGM/C was occasionally practiced in some villages.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Human rights groups reported “honor killings” of women in Chechnya, Dagestan, and elsewhere in the North Caucasus were rarely prosecuted, although there were rare instances in which such killings led to convictions.
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 April a criminal case was initiated against a 20-year-old resident of Ingushetia after he kidnapped a 19-year-old woman to be his wife.
According to Human Rights Watch, in June, Chechnya head Ramzan Kadyrov began an initiative to reunite divorced families. In August media reported the program had reunited 948 families. According to NGOs, many of these reunifications were forced.
Sexual Harassment: 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.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: .
Discrimination: The constitution and law provide that men and women enjoy the same legal status and rights, but women often encountered significant restrictions.
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. Failure to register a birth resulted in the denial of public services.
Education: Education is free and compulsory through grade 11, although 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: 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. 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. According to the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman, there were 8,000 convictions for child abuse in 2015.
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.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation, sale, offering or procuring for prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. The authorities generally enforced the law. The age of consent is 16. The Investigative Committee reported filing charges in 1,645 cases of rape involving children in 2015 as well as in more than 5,300 cases of sexual assault of children.
The law prohibits the manufacture, distribution, and possession with intent to distribute child pornography, but possession without intent to distribute is not prohibited by law. Manufacture and distribution of pornography involving children under the age of 18 is punishable by two to eight years in prison or to three to 10 years in prison if it involves children under 14. Authorities considered child pornography to be a serious problem.
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 displaced children in the country were conflicting and of questionable reliability.
Institutionalized Children: There were reports of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse in state institutions for children. Children with disabilities were especially vulnerable.
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 slightly more than 150,000. In 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, but that during the year some political and religious figures made anti-Semitic remarks publicly.
In their alternative report on the implementation of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) by the Russian Federation for the 93rd Session of the UN CERD Committee (July 31-August 11), the NGOs SOVA Center, Krym SOS, International Federation for Human Rights, and Memorial Antidiscrimination Center noted the continued use of anti-Semitic statements by political figures. The report noted that, to that date, there had been no violent anti-Semitic attacks.
In late November, the Investigative Committee announced that the investigation into the killing of Tsar Nicholas II–reopened in 2015–would review the theory that it may have been a “ritual killing,” referring to the conspiracy theory that Jews engage in “ritual killings” of Christians. Bishop Tikhon of the Russian Orthodox Church also publicly supported the investigation of the theory. Aleksandr Boroda, chairman of the Chabad Lubavitch Federation of Jewish Organizations of Russia, spoke out against the implicit anti-Semitism of Tikhon’s statement.
In February authorities ordered the deportation of Rabbi Ari Edelkopf on the grounds that he posed a risk to national security after he lost an appeal to the Central District Court in Sochi. In March the Krasnodar Regional Court upheld the decision. In December 2016 the Ministry of Internal Affairs canceled Edelkopf’s residency permit in Sochi. Edelkopf was a dual U.S. and Israeli citizen who moved to the country in 2002.
On January 23, State Duma deputy speaker Pyotr Tolstoy used anti-Semitic rhetoric to criticize continuing protests against the handover of St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg to the Russian Orthodox Church. He said protesters were “continuing the work” of their ancestors “who destroyed our cathedrals after jumping over the Pale of Settlement with revolvers in 1917.” Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia leaders condemned the statement as an anti-Semitic reference to conspiracy theories that Jews fomented the Bolshevik Revolution. Tolstoy expressed surprise and stated he was “misunderstood.” State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin backed Tolstoy, while the head of the Presidential Human Rights Council, Mikhail Fedotov, criticized the remarks, expressing surprise at hearing a “respected parliamentarian repeating a favorite thesis of anti-Semites.” The government did not censure or punish Tolstoy.
On February 12, while criticizing opponents of the transfer of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, State Duma deputy Vitaliy Milonov stated, “Christians survived despite the fact that the ancestors of Boris Vishnevskiy and Maksim Reznik boiled us in cauldrons and fed us to animals.” Russian Jewish Congress president Yuriy Kaner told media, “It is clear…that these lawmakers (Vishnevsky and Reznik) are of Jewish descent and that he means ‘Jews’ by his statement.” The spokesman of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, Borukh Gorin, told media, “For a State Duma deputy, it is unacceptable to make such irresponsible statements.”
In July, Gorin condemned a ruling by a Sochi court that labeled as extremist a book penned by a 19th-century rabbi, asserting that part of a judicial policy in Sochi was to limit the growth of Jewish spiritual life there.
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, the government generally did not enforce these laws.
The conditions of guardianship imposed by courts on persons with mental disabilities deprived them of almost all personal rights. Under the family code, individuals with mental disabilities were at times prevented from marrying without a guardian’s consent.
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, a new law for the social protection of persons with disabilities that introduces a federal register of persons with disabilities became effective.
Federal law requires that buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities, but authorities did not enforce the law, and many buildings and modes of public transportation remained inaccessible. According to Moscow Transport, approximately 20 percent of subway stations are equipped with elevators. Disability rights NGOs confirmed, however, that accessibility remained a problem. In February the transport prosecutor’s office brought an administrative violation against Russian Railways for not complying with accessibility requirements at the Domodedovo railway station.
Election laws do not specifically mandate that polling places be accessible to persons with disabilities, and the majority of them were not. Election officials generally brought mobile ballot boxes to the homes of voters with disabilities.
According to Human Rights Watch, although the government began 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 Human Rights Watch.
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 social, educational, and vocational skills to function in society.
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 Human Rights Watch report, nearly 30 percent of children with disabilities lived in state orphanages, where they faced violence and neglect. Some children interviewed by the NGO 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.
Human Rights Watch 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. Within orphanages, Human Rights Watch 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.
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 by category 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, signified 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.
The law prohibits discrimination based on nationality, but according to a September report by the CERD, government officials discriminated against minorities, including through “de facto racial profiling, targeting in particular migrants and persons from Central Asia, and the Caucasus.”
Some incidents highlighted longstanding discrimination against Roma and tensions between the Romani community and authorities. In 2016 clashes between residents of a Romani settlement in Tula and riot police over access to a gas pipeline led to the demolition of 118 Romani homes that authorities ruled to be illegal settlements. In July residents of a neighboring village signed a petition against relocating 21 affected Romani families to their community. In August local authorities demolished 17 more homes.
In some cases authorities held perpetrators responsible for xenophobic violence, and as of July there were at least six convictions for such acts, resulting in the sentencing of 17 persons to prison. Among those punished were Russian nationalist Maxim Martsinkevich and nine codefendants who were sentenced to prison terms of between three and 10 years for racially motivated violent crimes.
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 threatened their lands. The government granted the status of “indigenous” and its associated benefits only to those ethnic groups numbering fewer than 50,000 and maintaining their traditional way of life. The majority of small-numbered indigenous communities believed that a combination of overlapping legal codes and authorities’ lack of political will to enforce laws prevented them from fully exercising their rights.
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 depended on fishing.
Indigenous sources 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 problems to the foreign agents’ list (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association), including the Center for Support of Indigenous Peoples of the North and Batani, and the International Foundation for the Development of Indigenous and Small Numbered Peoples of the North, Siberia, and Far East (Batani Fund), making it difficult for them to operate.
Pavel Sulyandziga, the head of the Batani Fund, told media outlets that his confrontations with officials from the Ministry of Regional Development over the organization’s 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. He 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.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
During the year there were reports of both societal and government violence motivated by the sexual orientation or gender identity of the victim. Human rights activists and NGOs reported torture and killings of LGBTI persons in the North Caucasus by security services (see section 1.a. for information on Chechnya).
Openly gay men were particular targets of violence, and police often failed to respond adequately to such incidents. On August 12, attackers used pepper spray against participants of the eighth annual St. Petersburg gay pride march, injuring 10. According to media reports, police did not take steps to stop the attackers. Authorities opened a criminal investigation of the incident on August 15 and, on August 19, detained one of the alleged attackers. On November 11, four young men wearing hoods attacked two LGBTI activists taking part in an inclusive family conference in Moscow.
There were reports police abused and harassed individuals whom they perceived to be LGBTI. A report by the LGBT Network in 2016 documented 21 cases of alleged violations of LGBTI person’s rights by law enforcement officials in 2015.
On May 11, authorities detained five LGBTI activists in Moscow while they attempted to submit to the prosecutor general’s office a petition signed by two million persons calling for an investigation into the torture of gay men in Chechnya. Authorities charged the activists with an administrative violation for holding a public event without permission; they were released later in the day.
LGBTI individuals often declined to report attacks against them due to fears police would subject them to mistreatment or publicize their sexual orientation or gender identity. There continued to be reports of groups and individuals luring gay men on fake dates to beat and rob them.
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 wished 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” (see section 2.a.).
Since 2015 the Ministry of Justice added at least three LGBTI organizations to the foreign agents’ list (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association), including the St. Petersburg NGO Sfera, which provided social and legal services to members of the LGBTI community, and Rakurs, an LGBTI advocacy organization in Arkhangelsk.
Many events planned by members of the LGBTI community were officially unsanctioned and conducted in private due to security concerns. Nevertheless, in 2016 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 12th consecutive year, notwithstanding a 2010 ECHR ruling that the denial violated the rights to freedom of assembly and freedom from discrimination.
Police stopped as many as 300 persons from participating in an LGBTI pride event called Polar Pride scheduled for January 29 in the town of Salekhard. On September 24, authorities briefly detained three individuals crossing the border back into Russia by bus following participation in a Norwegian gay pride 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.
During the year a chain of shops called Khleb i Sol (Bread and Salt), hung signs in their shop windows reading, “No Entry for [Slur Referring to LGBTI Persons].” In response to complaints from members of the public in the city of Perm about the sign, local police determined that there was no grounds for an investigation because they considered the slur to be a scientific term and thus inoffensive. According to press reports, on September 25, the Perm regional human rights ombudsman urged the local prosecutor’s office to investigate the matter.
Although the law allows transgender individuals to change their names and gender classifications on government documents, they faced difficulties doing so 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.
There were some isolated positive developments during the year for the LGBTI community. In some instances courts found in favor of LGBTI persons seeking to exercise their human rights. According to Human Rights Watch, in December 2016 three men attacked and forced a transgender woman from Uzbekistan into a car where they gang-raped her. The perpetrators filmed it and extorted money from her by threatening to publish the video. In May a court in Murmansk found the men guilty of extortion with the use of violence and sentenced them to four years in prison. They were not charged with rape, but the court did recognize it as a hate crime on the basis of her gender identity.
On August 4, the Pervomayskiy District Court in Omsk ruled that a sport shop should pay Eduard Myra 30,000 rubles ($514) in compensation for denying him employment on the basis of his “feminine manner” and being “too well groomed,” which the company stated suggested he was part of the LGBTI community.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Persons with HIV/AIDS faced significant legal discrimination, growing informal stigma-based barriers, employment discrimination (see section 7.d.), and were prohibited from adopting children.
According to NGO activists, men who have sex with men were discouraged from seeking antiretroviral treatment, since treatment exposed the fact that these individuals had 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. Prisoners with HIV were excluded from amendments to the criminal code adopted during the year that improved visitation opportunities for incarcerated parents.
Although the law provides for treatment of HIV-positive persons, drug shortages, legal barriers, and lack of funds caused large gaps in treatment. In June the Ministry of Health forbade the Federal AIDS Center in Moscow from dispensing antiretroviral drugs. The center served persons who could not get treatment at Moscow hospitals because they were living in Moscow without permanent registration.
The Ministry of Justice continued to designate HIV-related NGOs as foreign agents; at least two such groups were so designated during the year (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).
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.