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Russia

Executive Summary

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 lack independence from the executive.  The 2018 presidential election and the September 19 State Duma elections were marked by accusations of government interference and manipulation of the electoral process, including the exclusion of meaningful opposition candidates.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs, Federal Security Service, Investigative Committee, Office of the Prosecutor General, and National Guard are responsible for law enforcement.  The Federal Security Service is responsible for state security, counterintelligence, and counterterrorism, as well as for fighting organized crime and corruption.  The national police force, under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, is responsible for combating all crime.  The National Guard assists the Federal Security Service’s Border Guard Service in securing borders, administers gun control, combats terrorism and organized crime, protects public order, and guards important state facilities.  The National Guard also participates in armed defense of the country’s territory in coordination with Ministry of Defense forces.  Except in rare cases, security forces generally report to civilian authorities.  National-level civilian authorities maintained, at best, limited control over security forces in the Republic of Chechnya, which are accountable only to the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov.  There were credible reports that members of the Russian security forces committed numerous human rights abuses.

The country’s occupation and purported annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula continued to affect the human rights situation there significantly and negatively.  The Russian government continued to arm, train, lead, and fight alongside Russia-led separatist forces in eastern Ukraine.  Authorities also conducted politically motivated arrests, detentions, and trials of Ukrainian citizens in Russia, many of whom claimed to have been tortured (see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Ukraine).

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of:  extrajudicial killings and attempted extrajudicial killings, including of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons in Chechnya by local government authorities; enforced disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities; pervasive torture by government law enforcement officers that sometimes resulted in death and occasionally involved sexual violence or punitive psychiatric incarceration; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons; arbitrary arrest and detention; political and religious prisoners and detainees; politically motivated reprisals against individuals located outside the country; severe arbitrary interference with privacy; severe suppression of freedom of expression and media, including violence against journalists and the use of “antiextremism” and other laws to prosecute peaceful dissent and religious minorities; severe restrictions on internet freedom; severe suppression of the freedom of peaceful assembly; severe suppression of freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on “foreign agents” and “undesirable foreign organizations”; severe restrictions of religious freedom; refoulement of refugees; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; severe limits on participation in the political process, including restrictions on opposition candidates’ ability to seek public office and conduct political campaigns, and on the ability of civil society to monitor election processes; widespread corruption at all levels and in all branches of government; serious government restrictions on and harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence and violence against women; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with disabilities, members of ethnic and religious minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer persons.

The government failed to take adequate steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, or punish most officials who committed abuses and engaged in corruption, resulting in a climate of impunity.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were several reports the government or its agents committed, or attempted to commit, arbitrary or unlawful killings.  Impunity was a significant problem in investigating whether security force killings were justifiable (see section 1.e.).

Officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB) poisoned opposition activist and anticorruption campaigner Aleksey Navalny in August 2020 with a form of Novichok, a nerve agent that was also used in the 2018 attack on former Russian intelligence officer Sergey Skripal in the United Kingdom.  In December 2020 investigations published by the independent outlets Bellingcat and The Insider identified eight FSB officers suspected to have been involved in Navalny’s poisoning based on telephone records and travel data as well as an inadvertent confession by one of the FSB officials.  On June 11, Navalny’s Anticorruption Foundation published the results of an investigation that alleged the doctors who treated Navalny at a hospital in Omsk falsified his original medical records to hide evidence of his poisoning.  At year’s end Russian Federation representatives continued to reject requests to open an investigation into the circumstances of Navalny’s poisoning and repeated denials that he had been poisoned by a nerve agent.

In an investigation published on January 27, Bellingcat, The Insider, and Der Spiegel implicated several of the same FSB officials in the deaths of at least two other Russian activists between 2014 and 2019:  Timur Kuashev, a journalist critical of Russia’s invasion of Crimea who died in 2014, and Ruslan Magomedragimov, an activist for the Lezgin ethnic minority group who died in 2015.  According to reporting at the time, both died of apparent poisoning, although neither death was investigated by authorities as suspicious.  In another joint investigation, Bellingcat, The Insider, and Der Spiegel reported on February 12 that some of the same FSB officials had followed opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza immediately preceding his poisoning with an unknown substance in two assassination attempts in 2015 and 2017.  On June 10, Bellingcat and The Insider reported that the same FSB officers were also implicated in the 2019 poisoning and near death of writer, journalist, and Russian government critic Dmitriy Bykov.

Credible nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and independent media outlets continued to publish reports indicating that, from December 2018 to January 2019, local authorities in the Republic of Chechnya renewed a campaign of violence against individuals perceived to be members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community.  In February the news outlet Novaya Gazeta published information corroborating previous reports that Chechen security officials extrajudicially executed 27 residents of the Republic of Chechnya in 2017.  As part of its investigation into the abuses, Novaya Gazeta interviewed former Chechen police sergeant Suleyman Gezmakhmayev, who testified that his police regiment, the Akhmat Kadyrov Police Patrol Service Regiment, carried out mass arrests and some of the extrajudicial killings of the 27 residents between December 2016 and January 2017.  Media reported that Chechen police officers subsequently sought to force Gezmakhmayev to recant his testimony by putting pressure on relatives who remained in Chechnya.  On March 15, presidential press secretary Dmitriy Peskov told reporters that the government was aware of Novaya Gazeta’s investigations into the extrajudicial executions in Chechnya but did not have the prerogative to investigate.  Media outlets reported that the former head of the regiment, Aslan Iraskhanov, was appointed head of Chechnya’s police at the end of March.  According to human rights organizations, as of December authorities had failed to open investigations into the allegations or reports of extrajudicial killings and mass torture of LGBTQI+ persons in Chechnya and continued to deny there were any LGBTQI+ persons in the republic.

There were multiple reports that, in some prison colonies, authorities systematically tortured inmates (see section 1.c.), in some cases resulting in death or suicide.  According to media reports, on February 27, a prisoner, Adygzhy Aymyr-ool, was found dead at the Irkutsk Penal Colony No. 25 (IK-25) prison with signs of torture on his body.  Relatives of Aymyr-ool told media that he had previously complained of beatings and poor detention conditions.  The Federal Penitentiary System Office of the Irkutsk Region told media it would investigate the cause of his death but denied reports detailing signs of a violent death.  On October 5, the human rights group Gulagu.net announced it had obtained more than 1,000 leaked videos showing Russian prison officials torturing and sexually abusing inmates or forcing inmates to subject other inmates to such abuse in the Saratov region and elsewhere.

There were reports that the government or its proxies committed, or attempted to commit, extrajudicial killings of its opponents in other countries.  On February 19, Ukraine filed a complaint against the Russian Federation in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for its role in the “political assassinations of opponents.”  Ukraine claimed that “operations to target the alleged opponents of the Russian state are carried out in Russia and on the territory of other states, including the member states of the Council of Europe, outside the situation of armed conflict.”  On December 15, a German court sentenced a Russian citizen, Vadim Krasikov, to life in prison for killing a former Chechen rebel commander of Georgian nationality, Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, in a Berlin park in 2019.  Prosecutors claimed that Krasikov traveled to Germany under an alias and belonged to a special unit of the FSB.  The presiding judge concluded that “the central government of the Russian Federation was the author of this crime.”

The country continued to engage in armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, where human rights organizations attributed thousands of civilian deaths, widespread displacement of persons, and other abuses to Russia-led forces.  Russian occupation authorities in Crimea also committed widespread abuses (see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Ukraine).

Since 2015 the country’s armed forces conducted military operations, including airstrikes, in the conflict in Syria.  According to human rights organizations, the country’s forces took actions, such as bombing urban areas, that intentionally targeted civilian infrastructure (see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Syria).

Since 2017 the country provided the Central African Republic Army unarmed military advisors under the auspices of parameters established by the UN Security Council sanctions regime.  According to a report presented by the UN Panel of Experts on the Central African Republic to the UN Security Council Committee on May 20, the Russian advisors actively participated in, and often led, combat operations on the ground and participated in abuses against civilians, including cases of excessive use of force, harsh interrogation tactics, numerous killings of civilians, and looting of homes on a large scale (see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for the Central African Republic).

The news website Caucasian Knot reported that violent confrontations with security forces resulted in at least 19 deaths in the North Caucasus during the first half of the year.  Chechnya was the most affected region, with five law enforcement officers injured and six suspected armed insurgents killed.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Although the constitution prohibits such practices, numerous credible reports indicated law enforcement officers engaged in torture, abuse, and violence to coerce confessions from suspects, and authorities only occasionally held officials accountable for such actions.

There were reports of deaths because of torture (see section 1.a., above).

Physical abuse of suspects by police officers was reportedly systemic and usually occurred within the first few days of arrest in pretrial detention facilities.  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.  The problem was especially acute in the North Caucasus.  According to the Civic Assistance Committee, prisoners in the North Caucasus complained of mistreatment, unreasonable punishment, religious and ethnic harassment, and inadequate provision of medical care.

There were reports that police beat or otherwise abused persons, in some cases resulting in their death.  Police used excessive force and harsh tactics to encircle and detain protesters during countrywide protests in late January and early February calling for the release of Aleksey Navalny, who was detained on January 17 upon his return to Russia and sentenced to prison on February 2 (see section 1.d.).  On April 26, the online news outlet Meduza published an article detailing multiple instances of excessive use of force and harsh treatment against detainees held in custody during the April 21 protests in St. Petersburg.  In one example, police detained a protester for filming the arrests and shocked him with a taser on the way to the police van, “triggering symptoms of cardiac arrythmia,” according to Meduza.

There were reports that law enforcement officers used torture, including sleep deprivation, as a form of punishment against detained opposition and human rights activists, journalists, and critics of government policies.  For example, on March 31, Navalny initiated a hunger strike to protest authorities’ failure to provide him a requested medical examination and treatment for pain and loss of mobility in his legs after he was transferred on March 15 to the Penal Colony No. 2 (IK-2) in the Vladimir region (see section 1.d., Arbitrary Arrest and Detention).  Prison authorities also subjected Navalny for months to hourly wake-ups through the night by prison authorities on the pretense that he was a “flight risk.”  Navalny likened this treatment to torture through sleep deprivation.  On April 23, he ended his hunger strike after being permitted access to outside medical care.  On June 28, a Moscow district court rejected Navalny’s request to be removed from the “prone to escape” list.  Navalny continued to be treated as a flight risk until October 11, when he was instead designated an extremist and a terrorist.

Several activists affiliated with Navalny and his political activities or the Anticorruption Foundation also reported being tortured or abused by security officials while in their custody.  Alena Kitayeva, a volunteer for Navalny associate Lyubov Sobol, who was issued a 12-day administrative arrest in February, accused police officers of torture after they placed a bag over her head and threatened her with a stun gun if she did not provide them her cell phone password.

In several cities police reportedly subjected members of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a religious group banned without basis under antiextremism laws, to physical abuse and torture during and following their arrest.  For example, on October 4, during coordinated home raids by Interior Ministry and National Guard forces targeting members of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Irkutsk, four members of the group alleged that they were severely beaten, one of whom additionally alleged he was tortured.  One member, Anatoliy Razdabarov, was allegedly kicked in the head and kidneys and threatened with rape, while his wife Greta was dragged by her hair before being beaten.  Nikolay Merinov was hit in the face with a blunt object, breaking one of his teeth and knocking him unconscious.  When he regained consciousness, an officer was sitting on him and beating him.  Merinov’s wife Liliya reported she was also dragged by her hair and physically assaulted.

There were reports of the FSB using torture against young “anarchists and antifascist activists” who were allegedly involved in several “terrorism” and “extremism” cases.

In the North Caucasus region, there were widespread reports that security forces abused and tortured both alleged militants and civilians in detention facilities.  For example, on October 24, newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported on the case of Salman Mukayev, a Chechen man who was detained and allegedly tortured in 2020 because security forces, based on a text message, believed him to be gay.  The officers reportedly suffocated Mukayev with a bag, kicked him, subjected him to electric shocks for hours and attempted to co-opt him to identify members of the LGBTQI+ community in Chechnya.  After his release, Mukayev fled Russia.

There were reports of authorities detaining defendants for psychiatric evaluations to exert pressure on them or sending defendants for psychiatric treatment as punishment.  Prosecutors and certified medical professionals may request suspects be placed in psychiatric clinics on an involuntary basis.  For example, on January 27, authorities forcibly hospitalized Siberian shaman Aleksandr Gabyshev after he renewed his 2019 calls to “expel” Vladimir Putin from power and missed a court-mandated appointment related to his May 2020 detention (see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Russia for 2020).  In mid-March the Yakut psychiatric hospital declared Gabyshev insane.  On July 26, the Yakutsk City Court ruled that Gabyshev be confined indefinitely to a psychiatric hospital for compulsory intensive treatment.

Reports of nonlethal physical abuse and hazing continued in the armed forces.  Activists reported such hazing was often tied to extortion schemes.  On May 27, the online media outlet 29.ru published an article describing the abuse of a 21-year-old conscript, Dmitriy Lapenkov, who was serving in the city of Yurga in Kemerovo Oblast.  Lapenkov’s mother told the outlet he was subjected to severe hazing, including being forced to take an unknown tablet and call relatives to ask for large sums of money.  He was subsequently transferred to a psychiatric hospital in the city of Novosibirsk in an incoherent state.  His mother claimed he had sustained a brain injury because of beating.

There were reports that Russia-led forces in Ukraine’s Donbas region and Russian occupation authorities in Crimea engaged in torture (see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Ukraine).

Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces.  In most cases where law enforcement officers or other government officials were publicly implicated in human rights abuses, authorities denied internal and external requests for independent investigation and engaged in disinformation campaigns or other efforts to obfuscate such allegations.  The government’s propensity to ignore serious human rights allegations along with the uneven application of the rule of law and a lack of judicial transparency resulted in impunity for most perpetrators.

The few investigations into official abuses that were conducted often concerned allegations of torture in detention and pretrial detention facilities that were exposed by whistleblowers or independent media.  For example, on June 28, the Kanavinskiy District Court of Nizhny Novgorod sentenced former police officers Aleksey Khrulev and Nikolay Atamashko to two and one-half years in prison for abuse of office with violence.  In 2015 the officers detained and beat Leonid Murskiy until he signed a confession for selling drugs.

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 law mandates the separation of women and men, juveniles and adults, and pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners in separate quarters, anecdotal evidence indicated not all prison facilities followed these rules.  In March 2020 Amnesty International stated that prisons’ overcrowding, poor ventilation, and inadequate health care and sanitation led to a high risk of COVID-19 infection among prisoners and detainees.  According to a Council of Europe report released on April 8, the mortality rate of the Russian prison population in 2019 increased by more than 12 percent, compared with the previous year.

Physical and sexual abuse by prison guards was systemic.  For example, on February 8, media outlets reported that the Russian Investigative Committee brought charges of torture and extortion against the former head and staff of detention center No. 1 in Makhachkala.  According to an investigation conducted from 2015 to 2019, the former head of the center, Daud Davydov, and two of his subordinates regularly beat a former investigator of the Investigative Committee, who was himself accused of torture and illegal imprisonment.  The detention center officials faced charges of abuse of power with the use of violence, extortion, fraud with the use of an official position, and bribery by a group of persons.  As of October no date was set for the court case.

Prisoner-on-prisoner violence was also a problem.  For example, the lawyer of Pavel Sheremet, a detainee in the regional tuberculosis hospital No. 1 in Saratov, told media that inmates at the facility beat and sexually assaulted Sheremet on June 3.  Media outlets reported that the prosecutor’s office of the Saratov Region initiated an investigation into the allegations, although as of October no further information was available on the outcome of the case.

There were reports prison authorities recruited inmates to abuse other inmates.  For example, on March 3, authorities detained the head of the Irkutsk penal colony No. 6 (IK-6) after reports emerged that he condoned the rape and beating of prisoner Takhirzhon Bakiyev by prison staff.  According to media reporting, on January 20, after transferring to IK-6 from another facility, Bakiyev was placed in a “torture squad,” where, with the knowledge and complicity of the prison guards, his cellmates then proceeded to rape and beat him before tying him up.  Videos obtained by the NGO Gulagu.net in October documented numerous cases of prisoners in the Saratov region being enlisted or coerced by prison officials to abuse and in some cases rape other inmates.

Overcrowding, ventilation, heating, sanitation, and nutritional standards varied among facilities but generally were poor.  Opportunities for movement and exercise in pretrial detention were minimal.  Potable water was sometimes rationed, and food quality was poor; many inmates relied on food provided by family or NGOs.  Access to quality medical care remained a problem.  For example, in early April the former governor of Khabarovsk Kray, Sergey Furgal, contracted COVID-19 while detained in the Lefortovo pretrial detention center, according to his lawyer.  NGOs reported that approximately 50 percent of prisoners with HIV did not receive adequate treatment, with treatment provided only to inmates with a CD4 white blood cell count below a certain level.  NGOs reported the supplies of some antiretroviral drugs were occasionally interrupted.

There were reports that political prisoners were placed in particularly harsh conditions and subjected to punitive treatment within the prison system, such as solitary confinement or punitive stays in psychiatric units.  For example, on March 2, the New York Times reported that prisoners in the isolation unit of penal colony IK-2, including Aleksey Navalny, were forced to stand for hours with their hands clasped behind their backs and were forbidden from making eye contact with prison guards.  Former political prisoners described having to carry out meaningless tasks multiple times a day and being sent to the “punishment brigade” for minor infractions, conditions that one prisoner described as psychologically harrowing.  In March media outlets reported that authorities issued 20 violations to Navalny in his first month of prison, including for getting out of bed 10 minutes before the scheduled “wake up” command.  On January 20, Navalny filed a complaint to the ECHR concerning the poor conditions of his detention center, which he characterized as a “friendly concentration camp.”  On April 16, the ECHR gave the government of Russia notice it should respond by July 12.  No public announcement concerning Russia’s response had been made by year’s end.

During the year media coverage of multiple allegations of torture at several penal colonies and testimony from victims and their family members prompted investigations by the Federal Penitentiary System.  In one example, on February 23, the Investigative Committee opened an investigation into abuse of power after media published two videos of abuse at penal colony No. 1 (IK-1) in Yaroslavl.  Staff at the prison had previously been convicted of torture-related crimes stemming from a separate 2018 video depicting the abuse of an inmate.  In May media outlets reported that the Investigative Committee had detained 10 staff members of the IK-1 prison, although as of July, no information was available on the outcome of the investigation.  On October 5, after the release of numerous videos depicting the torture and rape of inmates in the Saratov regional tuberculosis hospital No. 1, the Federal Penitentiary System opened an investigation into abuses at the facility.

Administration:  While prisoners may file complaints with public oversight commissions or with the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsperson, they often did not do so due to fear 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.

Convicted inmates and individuals in pretrial detention have visitation rights, but authorities may deny visitation depending on circumstances.  By law prisoners with harsher sentences are allowed fewer visitation rights.  The judge in a prisoner’s case may deny the prisoner visitation.  Authorities may also prohibit relatives deemed a security risk from visiting prisoners.  Some pretrial detainees believed authorities sometimes denied visitation and telephone access to pressure them into providing confessions.

Independent Monitoring:  Authorities permitted representatives of public oversight commissions to visit prisons regularly to monitor conditions.  According to the Public Chamber, there were public oversight commissions in almost all regions.  Human rights activists expressed concern that some members of the commissions were individuals close to authorities and included persons with law enforcement backgrounds.

By law members of oversight commissions have the right to videotape and photograph inmates in detention facilities and prisons with their written approval.  Commission members may also collect air samples, conduct other environmental inspections, conduct safety evaluations, and access prison psychiatric facilities.  The law permits human rights activists not listed in public oversight commissions to visit detentions centers and prisons.  The NGO Interregional Center for Women’s Support, working with detained migrants, noted that only after a specific detainee submits a request and contacts the NGO may the organization obtain permission to visit a given detention center.

Authorities allowed the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture to visit the country’s prisons and release some reports on conditions but continued to withhold permission for it to release all recent reports.

There were reports of authorities prosecuting journalists and activists for reporting torture.  For example, Vladimir Taranenko, an employee of the human rights organization Siberia Pravovaya detained in pretrial detention facility No. 1 of the Kemerovo region on extortion charges, told media on July 6 that he had been tortured by prison authorities who sought access to the Siberia Pravovaya YouTube channel.  Siberia Pravovaya provides legal assistance to convicts and prisoners and publishes accounts of prison abuse on its YouTube channel, and human rights defenders alleged that Taranenko was prosecuted on fabricated charges because of his activism.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

During the year there were reports state actors committed violence against LGBTQI+ individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, particularly in Chechnya (see section 1.b.).

There were reports that government agents attacked, harassed, and threatened LGBTQI+ activists.  For example, Meduza reported that Dagestani police forcibly returned Khalimat Taramova, a 22-year-old woman and victim of domestic violence, to Chechnya after she escaped to a women’s shelter in Makhachkala following threats by her family and local police due to her sexual orientation.  In a statement on June 12, Chechen minister Akhmed Dudayev praised law enforcement for having “foiled an attempted kidnapping” by “instigators.”  On the same day, the Russian LGBT Network said it would file a complaint with the ECHR about Taramova’s abduction and expressed concern that her sexual orientation placed her at risk of further abuse in Chechnya.

LGBTQI+ persons were targets of societal violence, and police often failed to respond adequately to such incidents.  For example, in March an LGBTQI+ activist from Murmansk, Valentina Likhoshva, reported to police that she had received threats after receiving an international award recognizing her contributions to social justice and human rights in the Barents region.  Media outlets reported that police subsequently refused to investigate her claims, commenting that because the threats came by email, their validity could not be determined.

During the year authorities acted on a limited basis to investigate and punish those complicit in societal violence and abuses by the state.  For example, on January 12, a court in Yekaterinburg sentenced Pavel Zuyev to five years in prison on robbery charges after he beat and robbed two gay men in September 2020.  The court determined that Zuyev assaulted the men due to their sexual orientation and ordered him to compensate them financially for emotional damages.

In 2020 the Russian LGBT Network released a report that showed 12 percent of LGBTQI+ respondents in a survey had experienced physical violence, 4 percent had experienced sexual violence, and 56 percent had experienced psychological abuse during their lifetime.  The report noted that LGBTQI+ persons faced discrimination in their place of study or work, when receiving medical services, and when searching for housing.  The report also noted that transgender persons were uniquely vulnerable to discrimination and violence.  The Russian LGBT Network claimed that law enforcement authorities did not always protect the rights of LGBTQI+ individuals and were sometimes the source of violence themselves.  As a result, LGBTQI+ individuals had extremely low levels of trust in courts and police.

A homophobic campaign continued in state-controlled media in which officials, journalists, and others derided LGBTQI+ persons as “perverts,” “sodomites,” and “abnormal,” and conflated homosexuality with pedophilia.

There were reports police conducted involuntary physical exams of transgender or intersex persons.  In April a St. Petersburg court ordered a transgender man, Innokentiy Alimov, to undergo a gynecological examination to determine his gender, on the basis of which he was transferred to a women’s detention center.  Alimov was sentenced to four and one-half years in prison in a drug trafficking case and spent at least two months in a “punishment cell,” which prison authorities argued was a safer place than among the general population.

The Association of Russian-speaking Intersex reported that medical specialists often pressured intersex persons (or their parents if they were underage) into having so-called normalization surgery without providing accurate information about the procedure or what being intersex meant.

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 LGBTQI+ rights or express the opinion that homosexuality is normal.  Examples of what the government considered LGBTQI+ propaganda included materials that “directly or indirectly approve of persons who are in nontraditional sexual relationships” (see section 2.a.).  Authorities charged feminist and LGBTQI+ rights defender Yuliya Tsvetkova with the criminal offense of disseminating pornography online after she shared images depicting female bodies on her social media accounts.  Tsvetkova’s trial began on April 12 and continued as of December.

The law does not prohibit discrimination by state or nonstate actors against LGBTQI+ persons with respect to essential goods and services such as housing, employment, or access to government services such as health care.

LGBTQI+ persons reported significant societal stigma and discrimination, which some attributed to official promotion of intolerance and homophobia.  In July a large health-food retail chain, VkusVill, ran and later apologized for an ad featuring a gay couple shopping in the store, which was part of a campaign featuring shoppers who visit the chain.  Media outlets reported that the initial reaction to the ad was generally positive.  As responses became increasingly critical, however, the chain was accused of promoting homosexuality.  Its leadership removed the ad and apologized for “hurting the feelings of a large number of buyers, employees, partners and suppliers.”

High levels of employment discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons reportedly persisted.  Activists asserted that the majority of LGBTQI+ persons hid their sexual orientation or gender identity due to fear of losing their jobs or homes, as well as the risk of violence.  LGBTQI+ students also reported discrimination at schools and universities.

Medical practitioners reportedly continued to limit or deny LGBTQI+ persons health services due to intolerance and prejudice.  The Russian LGBT Network’s report indicated that, upon disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity, LGBTQI+ individuals often encountered strong negative reactions and the presumption they were mentally ill.  According to a poll conducted in July by the government-controlled Russian Public Opinion Research Center, 23 percent of respondents considered members of the LGBTQI+ community to be “sick people who need help,” an opinion mainly held by men and persons older than age 60.

Transgender persons faced difficulty updating their names and gender markers on government documents to reflect their gender identity because the government had not established standard procedures, and many civil registry offices denied their requests.  When documents failed to reflect their gender identity, transgender persons often faced harassment by law enforcement officers and discrimination in accessing health care, education, housing, transportation, and employment.

There were reports LGBTQI+ persons also faced discrimination in parental rights.  The Russian LGBT Network reported LGBTQI+ parents often feared that the country’s prohibition on the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual orientation” to minors would be used to remove custody of their children.  On February 15, the ECHR inquired with Russian authorities on behalf of a transgender man who lost guardianship of his two foster children when authorities in Yekaterinburg learned that he had begun to change his gender.  The man was granted asylum in Spain.

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