Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
While the law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, citizens could not fully do so because the government limited the ability of opposition parties to organize, to register candidates for public office, to access media outlets, and to conduct political campaigns.
Recent Elections: The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported that the March 2018 presidential election “took place in an overly controlled environment, marked by continued pressure on critical voices” and that “restrictions on the fundamental freedoms, as well as on candidate registration, have limited the space for political engagement and resulted in a lack of genuine competition.” The OSCE also noted, “television, and in particular broadcasters that are state-founded, owned, or supported, remains the dominant source of political information. A restrictive legislative and regulatory framework challenges freedom of the media and induces self-censorship. Voters were thus not presented with a critical assessment of the incumbent’s views and qualifications in most media.” Observers widely noted that the most serious potential challenger, Aleksey Navalny, was prevented from registering his candidacy due to a previous criminal conviction that appeared politically motivated.
In a statement on the 2016 State Duma elections, the OSCE’s election observation mission noted, “Democratic commitments continue to be challenged and the electoral environment was negatively affected by restrictions to fundamental freedoms and political rights, firmly controlled media and a tightening grip on civil society…Local authorities did not always treat the candidates equally, and instances of misuse of administrative resources were noted.”
The September 8 elections of 19 governors and several dozen local and regional legislative bodies were marked by similar allegations of government interference and manipulation. Journalists and observers reported numerous violations, especially in the run-up to the Moscow City Duma election and the St. Petersburg gubernatorial and legislative elections. These included assaults, arrests, harassment, coordinated police raids on the homes of opposition candidates, and widespread restrictions on the ability of independent candidates to register to appear on the ballot. For example, in a case that was emblematic of many others, opposition activist and Moscow municipal deputy Ilya Yashin collected the 4,500 voter signatures for his district candidacy to the Moscow City Duma, but election officials refused to register his candidacy, citing technical flaws in many of the signatures he had collected, often based on the assessments of government handwriting experts. Although many of the voters whose signatures had been disqualified personally appealed to the election commission to confirm that their signatures were authentic, the commission would not reconsider its decision.
St. Petersburg’s gubernatorial and legislative elections were marred by multiple claims of fraud. The strongest challenger to the incumbent governor, Aleksandr Beglov, dropped out a week before the election, claiming the deck was stacked against him. The election-monitoring NGO Golos documented cases in which local election authorities double-counted votes in order to ensure that progovernment candidates won and other indications of fraud. It took more than a week for some municipalities to announce results, leading observers to speculate that they were falsified after the real results were rejected.
After the elections, Central Election Commission head Ella Pamfilova accused local authorities of trying to cover up electoral violations instead of reporting them through proper channels. On September 25, she specifically accused Vyacheslav Makarov, the speaker of the regional legislative assembly in St. Petersburg, of interfering in the elections and recommended that St. Petersburg Election Commission head Viktor Minenko resign. Nonetheless, neither Minenko nor Makarov faced any consequences, and the election results were certified.
Authorities sought to restrict the work of independent election monitors and promote government-sponsored monitoring. Observers were prohibited from being accredited to more than one polling station, limiting the ability of civil society to monitor elections. Critics contended that the law made it difficult for domestic election monitors to conduct surprise inspections due to provisions requiring observers to register with authorities, including the polling station they intended to monitor, three days before elections. Burdensome registration regulations also hampered the work of journalists wishing to monitor elections as well as independent or nonpartisan groups, whose monitors registered as journalists for their affiliated publications.
During the September 8 elections, observers also faced threats and physical obstacles, including from groups of athletes affiliated with authorities. Media reported that local administrations hired these athletes (some of whom were local thugs affiliated with government-sponsored sports clubs) to threaten opposition candidates, intimidate observers, and interfere with the vote count, especially in St. Petersburg. St. Petersburg municipal election commission member Mikhail Losev reported that when he attempted to submit a complaint about voting violations on election day, five athletic-looking men approached and threatened him, telling him he need to make the “correct” choice, intimating that he risked being attacked.
Authorities continued to hamper the efforts of Golos to take part in the election process, since its work was curtailed by a law prohibiting NGOs listed as “foreign agents,” as well as by continuing harassment and intimidation by authorities.
Political Parties and Political Participation: The process for nominating candidates for office was highly regulated and placed significant burdens on opposition candidates and political parties. While parties represented in the State Duma may nominate a presidential candidate without having to collect and submit signatures, prospective self-nominated presidential candidates must collect 300,000 signatures, no more than 7,500 from each region, and submit the signatures to the Central Electoral Commission for certification. Nominees from parties without State Duma representation must collect 100,000 signatures. An independent candidate is ineligible to run if the commission finds more than 5 percent of signatures invalid.
Candidates to the State Duma may be nominated directly by constituents, by political parties in single-mandate districts, by political parties on their federal list, or may be self-nominated. Political parties select candidates for the federal lists from their ranks during party conventions via closed voting procedures. Party conventions also select single mandate candidates. Only political parties that overcame the 5-percent threshold during the previous elections may form federal and single mandate candidate lists without collecting signatures, while parties that did not must collect 200,000 signatures to register a candidate. Self-nominated candidates generally must gather the signatures of 3 percent of the voters in their districts.
Gubernatorial candidates nominated by registered political parties are not required to collect signatures from members of the public, although self-nominated candidates are. The law also requires gubernatorial candidates not nominated by a registered party to meet a “municipal filter” requirement. Such candidates must obtain signatures of support from a defined portion of municipal deputies, the portion of which varies by region, as well as collect signatures from at least one deputy in each of a specified portion of municipal council districts.
Observers and would-be candidates reported the municipal filter was not applied equally, and that authorities pressured municipal deputies not to provide signatures to candidates who were not preapproved by authorities. They asserted that no independent candidate with the potential to defeat authorities’ favored candidates was permitted to pass through the municipal filter, while progovernment candidates were passed through the filter without fulfilling technical requirements. For example, three candidates in the St. Petersburg gubernatorial election admitted that they passed through the municipal filter without having gone to municipal council districts to collect deputies’ signatures. At the same time, Yabloko party candidate Boris Vishnevskiy failed to pass the filer because he faced opposition in municipalities controlled by the ruling party, United Russia.
In some cases opposition parties were repeatedly denied registration. On May 27, authorities denied opposition leader Aleksey Navalny’s application to register a political party for the ninth time in six years, a decision that observers believed was politically motivated.
Opposition politicians often faced violence and threats. Media outlets described a spate of threats and attacks on independent candidates who tried to register for the St. Petersburg municipal elections. For example, on July 26, an unidentified assailant attacked Navalny associate Aleksandr Shurshev when he tried to submit candidate registration documents to the local election commission. He claimed that a guard who stood nearby did nothing to stop the attack.
Authorities continued to engage in a pattern of harassment, including threats of violence, against Navalny and his supporters (see sections 1.d., 2.a., and 2.b.). On July 24, a district court in Moscow sentenced Navalny to 30 days in jail for encouraging Muscovites to participate in an unsanctioned protest. Several municipal deputy candidates linked to Navalny faced threats and obstacles from unidentified persons and claimed that government officials did not intervene.
Systemic opposition parties (i.e., quasi-independent parties permitted by the government to appear on the ballot) also faced pressure. For example, according to media reports, a group of 30 masked men (some of whom were on horseback) attacked a bus carrying journalists and observers from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) in the Republic of Tuva on the eve of the September 8 elections. The assailants threatened the driver and the passengers, punctured the bus’s tires, and demanded that the group abandon the trip. One LDPR candidate named the head of the Tuva Equestrian Federation as a participant in the attack.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Women held approximately 17 percent of legislative seats during the year. While members of national minorities took an active part in political life, ethnic Russians, who constituted approximately 80 percent of the population, dominated the political and administrative system, particularly at the federal level.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated in the country, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were rarely cooperative or responsive to their concerns. Official harassment of independent NGOs continued and in many instances intensified, particularly of groups that focused on election monitoring, exposing corruption, and addressing human rights abuses. NGO activities and international humanitarian assistance in the North Caucasus were severely restricted. Some officials, including the ombudsman for human rights, regional ombudsman representatives, and Mikhail Fedotov, who was the chair of the Presidential Human Rights Council until late October, regularly interacted and cooperated with NGOs.
Authorities continued to use a variety of laws to harass, stigmatize, and in some cases halt the operation of domestic and foreign human rights NGOs (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).
Officials often displayed hostility towards the activities of human rights organizations and suggested that their work was unpatriotic and detrimental to national security. For example, on May 15, the head of the Federal Prison Service, Gennadiy Kornienko, called human rights defenders who brought cases to the ECHR that involved abuses taking place in prisons “odious persons.”
Authorities continued to apply a number of indirect tactics to suppress or close domestic NGOs, including the application of various laws and harassment in the form of prosecution, investigations, fines, and raids (see sections 1.e. and 2.b.).
Authorities generally refused to cooperate with NGOs that were critical of their activities or listed as a foreign agent. International human rights NGOs had almost no presence east of the Ural Mountains. A few local NGOs addressed human rights problems in these regions but often chose not to work on politically sensitive topics to avoid retaliation by local authorities.
The United Nations or Other International Bodies: Authorities refused to cooperate with the OSCE Moscow Mechanism rapporteur investigating human rights abuses in the Republic of Chechnya in 2018 and did not permit him to visit the country.
Government Human Rights Bodies: Some government institutions continued to promote human rights and intervened in selected abuse complaints, despite widespread doubt as to these institutions’ effectiveness.
Many observers did not consider the 126-member Civic Chamber, composed of government-appointed members from civil society organizations, to be an effective check on the government.
The Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights (HRC) is an advisory body to the president tasked with monitoring systemic problems in legislation and individual human rights cases, developing proposals to submit to the president and government, and monitoring their implementation. The president selects some council members by decree, and not all members operated independently. On October 21, President Putin overhauled the HRC, replacing its head, Mikhail Fedotov, with Valeriy Fadeyev, a senior member of the ruling United Russia party. Officially, Fedotov was dismissed because he had turned 70, the age limit for service in the government. President Putin could have issued a waiver that would have allowed him to stay on, leading human rights activists to speculate that authorities wanted an HRC head who would be more loyal to the president and less critical of restrictions on political freedoms. Some members of the HRC who were well-respected human rights defenders were also dismissed at the same time as Fedotov, compounding observers’ concerns.
Human rights ombudsperson Tatyana Moskalkova was viewed as a figure with very limited autonomy. The country had regional ombudsmen in all its regions with responsibilities similar to Moskalkova’s. Their effectiveness varied significantly, and local authorities often undermined their independence.
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. The penalty for rape is three to six years’ imprisonment for a single offense, 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. Authorities typically did not consider rape or attempted rape to be life-threatening and sometimes charged a victim with assault if he or she harmed the alleged perpetrator in self-defense.
For example, as of December the trial of 19-year-old Darya Ageniy for criminal assault in Krasnodar region continued. In July 2018 authorities charged her for stabbing an assailant who tried to assault her sexually while she was vacationing in Tuapse the month prior. She claimed the man pressed her against a wall and attacked her; she took out a small knife and stabbed him until he let go of her, after which she fled to her hotel. Two months later police arrested her at her home in the Moscow region and took her back to Tuapse, where her attacker had filed a complaint against her for causing him “grievous bodily harm.” Although she initially faced up to 10 years in prison, her lawyer worked with investigators to reclassify her case so that she would only face one year.
Domestic violence remained a major problem. There is no domestic violence provision in the law and no legal definition of domestic violence, making it difficult to know its actual prevalence in the country. The antidomestic violence NGO ANNA Center estimated that 60 to 70 percent of women suffering from some type of domestic violence do not seek help due to fear, public shame, lack of financial independence from their partner, or lack of confidence in law enforcement personnel. 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. The law prohibits threats, assault, battery, and killing, but most acts of domestic violence did not fall within the jurisdiction of the prosecutor’s office. The law does not provide for protection orders, which experts believe could help keep women safe from experiencing recurrent violence by their partners.
There were reports that women defending themselves from domestic violence were charged with crimes. According to a Mediazona study, 80 percent of women sentenced for murder between 2016 and 2018 killed a domestic abuser in self-defense. In one case in July 2018, three teenaged sisters allegedly killed their father, Mikhail Khachaturyan, in their Moscow home. On October 1, authorities confirmed that the father had physically and sexually abused the girls for many years without any repercussions. As of December the girls remained under house arrest as they awaited their trial for murder, which prosecutors argued was premeditated. The case ignited widespread support for the sisters across the country during the year, with many persons calling for their release.
According to a Human Rights Watch report on domestic violence published in October 2018, when domestic violence offenses were charged, articles under the country’s criminal law were usually applied that employed the process of private prosecution. The process of private prosecution required the victim to gather all necessary evidence and bear all costs after the injured party or their guardian took the initiative to file a complaint with a magistrate judge. The NGO believed that this process severely disadvantaged survivors.
On July 9, the ECHR issued its first ruling on a domestic violence case in the country, ordering the state to pay 20,000 euros ($22,000) to Valeriya Volodina, who had filed a complaint in 2017. Volodina stated that her former boyfriend severely beat her several times, threatened to kill her, and abducted her. Volodina also claimed that police ignored numerous calls she made for authorities to investigate. In 2018 authorities agreed to charge the man with violating her privacy after he published intimate photographs of her, but the investigations never led to a trial, and Volodina changed her name and fled the country.
According to NGOs police were often unwilling to register complaints of domestic violence, often saying that cases were “family matters,” frequently discouraged victims from submitting complaints, and often pressed victims to reconcile with abusers. The 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. NGOs estimated that 3 percent of such cases eventually reached the courts.
A 2017 law made beatings by “close relatives” an administrative rather than a criminal offense for first-time offenders, provided the beating does not cause serious harm requiring hospital treatment. According to official statistics released in 2018, since the law was passed, the number of reported domestic violence cases has fallen by half. NGOs working on domestic violence noted that official reporting of domestic violence decreased because the decriminalization deterred women suffering domestic violence from going to police. In contrast, an antidomestic violence hotline center noted an increase in domestic violence complaints after the 2017 amendments, which the center considered to be a direct effect of decriminalization. According to Gazeta.ru, the number of cases of women beaten by relatives or partners increased by 40 percent in 2018. Human Rights Watch identified three major impacts of the 2017 decriminalization: fostering a sense of impunity among abusers, weakening protections for victims by reducing penalties for abusers, and creating new procedural shortcomings in prosecuting domestic violence.
On November 19, in response to the ECHR’s questions on whether Russian officials acknowledged the seriousness and scale of domestic violence and discrimination against women in Russia, the Justice Ministry responded that claims about the scale of domestic violence in the country were “quite exaggerated” and these women’s claims were undermining “the efforts that the government was making to improve the situation.” The ministry added that men were more likely to suffer discrimination in the context of domestic violence because they did not ask for protection from abuse by women.
At the time of Human Rights Watch’s 2018 report, there were 434 shelter spaces nationally for women in crisis situations. NGOs noted, however, that access to shelters was often complicated, since they required proof of residency in that particular municipality, as well as proof of low-income status. In many cases these documents were controlled by the abusers and not available to victims.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not specifically prohibit FGM/C. NGOs in Dagestan reported FGM/C was occasionally practiced in some villages, estimating that 1,240 Dagestani girls are subjected to it every year. In November 2018 Meduza reported that a private clinic in the Best Clinics network was offering FGM/C procedures to girls between ages five and 12, which the Federal Service for Health Supervision (Roszdravnadzor) later confirmed. The Best Clinics case was referred to the Investigative Committee in February.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Human rights groups reported that “honor killings” of women persisted in Chechnya, Dagestan, and elsewhere in the North Caucasus but were rarely reported or acknowledged. Local police, doctors, and lawyers often collaborated with the families involved to cover up the crimes. A December 2018 study by human rights defenders, the first ever conducted, found 39 cases of honor killings (36 women, three men) between 2008 and 2017 in the North Caucasus region but estimated that the real number could be much higher.
In some parts of the North Caucasus, women continued to face bride kidnapping, polygamy, forced marriage (including child marriage), legal discrimination, and forced adherence to Islamic dress codes.
Sexual Harassment: The law 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. There is no legal definition of harassment, however, and no comprehensive guidelines on how it should be addressed. Sexual harassment was reportedly widespread, but courts often rejected victims’ claims due to lack of sufficient evidence.
On September 27, the Main Directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs for Moscow opened an investigation into a Moscow police station after two female employees complained of sexual harassment by one of its directors. Both stated that he pressured them into intimate relationships and threatened them with career repercussions when they did not comply. One victim told journalists that when she reported the incidents to the station’s management, they told her to keep quiet and ignore them.
Coercion in Population Control: There were reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. Multiple media outlets during the year, including the Dozhd television channel on October 4 and the Izvestiya newspaper on November 7, published articles containing allegations that female residents of long-term psychiatric care facilities have been involuntarily sterilized or subjected to forced abortions. Data about the extent of the practice were not available. On April 30, a psychologist who worked with persons with disabilities in state care facilities published an account of at least two young women who were recently forced to have abortions at psychoneurological dispensary #30 in the Moscow region.
Discrimination: The constitution and law provide that men and women enjoy the same legal status and rights, but women often encountered significant restrictions, including prohibitions on their employment in 456 jobs. Although the government promised to open most of these jobs to women by 2021, the approximately 100 jobs that the Ministry of Labor has ruled especially physically taxing, including firefighting, mining, and steam boiler repair, would remain off limits.
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 local residents, including Roma, asylum seekers, and migrant workers.
Child Abuse: The country does not have a law on child abuse but the law outlaws murder, battery, and rape. The penalties for such crimes range from five to 15 years in prison and, if they result in the death of a minor, up to 20 years in prison. A 2017 law that makes beatings by “close relatives” an administrative rather than a criminal offense for first-time offenders, provided the beating does not cause serious harm requiring hospital treatment, applies to children as well. Some Duma deputies claimed that children need discipline and authority in the family, condoning beating as a mode of discipline.
Studies indicated that violence against children was fairly common. According to a report published in April by the National Institute for Child Protection, one in four parents admitted to having beaten their children at least once with a belt. For example, on July 6, seven-year-old “Aisha” (not her real name) was taken to a hospital near her home in Ingushetia. She had countless bruises, bites, and burns all over her body; it turned out that her aunt, who had been her guardian for six months, had been abusing her. Aisha had to have extensive surgery to save her severely damaged arm. Her aunt was detained under the suspicion of causing grievous bodily harm to a minor.
Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18 for both men and women. Local authorities may authorize marriage from age 16 under certain circumstances. More than a dozen regions allow marriage from age 14 under special circumstances, such as pregnancy or the birth of a child.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The age of consent is 16. The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation, sale, offering, or procuring for prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. Authorities generally enforced the law. For example, on September 25, authorities arrested an Orthodox priest, Nikolay Stremskiy, who had adopted 70 children and charged him with sexual assault and debauchery. He was alleged to have sexually abused seven of the minors in his care. As of December Stremskiy remained in pretrial detention.
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 younger than age 18 are punishable by two to eight years in prison or three to 10 years in prison if children younger than 14 are involved. Authorities considered child pornography to be a serious problem.
Institutionalized Children: There were reports of neglect as well as physical, sexual, and psychological abuse in state institutions for children. Children with disabilities were especially vulnerable. For example, on October 1, media reported on the death of a 15-year-old girl from a home for children with mental disabilities in Sakhalin. A nurse admitted leaving her alone in a bathtub after turning on the hot water; the girl was scalded and later died at the hospital. Authorities opened an investigation into the nurse’s actions, and Sakhalin governor Valery Limarenko ordered an internal review of the institution.
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 https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
The 2010 census estimated the Jewish population at slightly more than 150,000. The president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, however, has stated that the actual Jewish population is nearly one million.
While anti-Semitism is not widespread, media reported several cases during the year. For example, on Passover eve on April 18, unidentified perpetrators drew a swastika on and set fire to the country’s largest yeshiva, located in the Moscow region. No one was injured, but a storehouse burned down.
In late August a group of Krasnodar residents entered a synagogue and interrogated a rabbi for an hour, accusing him of spreading alien religious practices. The group’s leader later announced that she would commence “partisan actions” against a Jewish community center.
Although leading experts in the Jewish community noted that anti-Semitism had decreased in recent years, some political and religious figures made anti-Semitic remarks publicly. On a visit to Jordan in August, Chechen Republic head Kadyrov allegedly told a group of ethnic Chechens that Jews were “the main enemy of Islam.” The month prior he allegedly told a group of Chechen police that Israel was a “terrorist organization.”
On April 24, the acting mayor of Lipetsk, Yevgeniy Uvarkin, answered a question at a public hearing from a local resident seeking to halt local stadium construction by wondering aloud whether the resident had a “Jewish last name.” He apologized for the remark the next day.
On May 6, presidential advisor Sergey Glazyev wrote an op-ed article in which he speculated that Ukrainian president Zelensky, along with the president of the United States and “far-right forces in Israel,” would seek to replace “Russians” in eastern Ukraine with “the inhabitants of the Promised Land tired of the permanent war in the Middle East.” On May 7, Glazyev asserted that his words were being misinterpreted.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law provides protection for persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, including access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and other state services. The government often did not enforce these provisions effectively.
The conditions of guardianship imposed by courts on persons with mental disabilities deprived them of almost all personal rights. Activists reported that courts declared tens of thousands of individuals “legally incompetent” due to mental disabilities, forcing them to go through guardians to exercise their legal rights, even when they could make decisions for themselves. Courts rarely restored legal capacity to individuals with disabilities. By law individuals with mental disabilities were at times prevented from marrying without a guardian’s consent.
In many cases persons with mental or physical disabilities were confined to institutions, where they were often subjected to abuse and neglect. A June report by Nyuta Federmesser, the head of the Moscow Multidisciplinary Center for Palliative Care, compared these facilities to “gulags,” where many residents spend significant time in restraints and are denied medical care, nutrition, or stimulating environments.
Federal law requires that buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities. While there were improvements, especially in large cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg, authorities did not effectively enforce the law in many areas of public transportation and in buildings. Many individuals in wheelchairs reported they continued to have trouble accessing public transportation and had to rely on private cars.
Election law does 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.
The government began to implement inclusive education, but many children with disabilities continued not to study in mainstream schools due to a lack of accommodations to facilitate their individual learning needs. Many schools did not have the physical infrastructure or adequately trained staff to meet the needs of children with disabilities, leaving them no choice but to stay at home or attend specialized schools. For example, according to a local organization of persons with disabilities, a kindergarten in the Leningrad region refused to admit Nikita Malyshev, a child with a disability, instead directing him to a specialized school more than 30 miles from his home. His mother filed a claim against the school, and on February 12, the Supreme Court ruled that the local administration must propose a reasonable alternative that is physically close and takes the family’s needs into account if the neighborhood school cannot accommodate the child. Activists praised the ruling but questioned how municipalities intended to implement it.
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.
There appeared to be no clear standardized formal 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 age 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 2017 report by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, officials discriminated against minorities, including through “de facto racial profiling, targeting in particular migrants and persons from Central Asia and the Caucasus.” Activists reported that police officers often stopped individuals who looked foreign and asked them for their documents, claiming that they contained mistakes even when they were in order, and demanded bribes. On July 23, human rights activist Aleksandr Kim, a Russian citizen of Korean descent, filmed police as they stopped migrants in an underpass to check documents. One officer asked for Kim’s documents, admitting on camera that it was because he looked Asian. Kim was ultimately fined 1,000 rubles ($16) for disobeying police orders.
Hate crimes targeting ethnic minorities continued to be a problem, although the NGO SOVA Center reported that the number of such crimes declined thanks to authorities’ effectively targeting groups that promoted racist violence. As of December 2, six individuals had died and at least 33 had been injured in racially motivated attacks since the beginning of the year. One victim was an Uzbek migrant stabbed in St. Petersburg on September 16. Law enforcement bodies detained two young men from Moscow with ties to nationalist movements as the main suspects in what they have classified as a hate crime.
According to a 2017 report by the human rights group Antidiscrimination Center (ADC) Memorial, Roma faced widespread discrimination in access to resources (including water, gas, and electrical services); demolitions of houses and forced evictions, including of children, often in winter; violation of the right to education (segregation of Romani children in low-quality schools); and other forms of structural discrimination.
On June 17, a local official from the village of Chemodanovka in the Penza region admitted that authorities forcibly relocated approximately 900 Roma to the Volgograd region after a mass brawl erupted along ethnic lines on June 13, leaving one person dead and another in a coma. He subsequently retracted the comment and stated that the Roma had left the village voluntarily. On June 15, local residents burned the homes of Roma in the neighboring village of Lopatki.
The constitution and various statutes provide support for members of “small-numbered” indigenous groups 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 its associated benefits only to those ethnic groups numbering fewer than 50,000 and maintaining their traditional way of life. A 2017 report by ADC Memorial noted the major challenges facing indigenous persons included “seizure of territories where these minorities traditionally live and maintain their households by mining and oil and gas companies; removal of self-government bodies of indigenous peoples; and repression of activists and employees of social organizations, including the fabrication of criminal cases.”
Indigenous sources reported state-sponsored harassment, including interrogations by security services, as well as employment discrimination (see section 7.d.). Such treatment was especially acute in areas where corporations wanted to exploit natural resources. By law indigenous groups have exclusive rights to their indigenous lands, but the land itself and its natural resources belong to the state. Companies are required to pay compensation to local inhabitants, but activists asserted that local authorities rarely enforced this provision. Activists stated that there was a constant conflict of interest between corporations and indigenous persons.
On November 7, a Moscow court ordered the closure of the Center for Support of Indigenous People of the North, a nearly 20-year-old indigenous advocacy group that was at the forefront of representing indigenous legal, economic, and environmental rights. The court cited incomplete paperwork as the reason for its closure, but activists called it an excuse to silence the indigenous voice that was critical of corporations and authorities.
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” (see section 2.a.). The law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing or employment or in access to government services, such as health care.
During the year there were reports of state actors’ committing violence against LGBTI individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, particularly in the Republic of Chechnya (see sections 1.a. and 1.c.).
There were reports government agents attacked, harassed, and threatened LGBTI activists. For example, on June 17, an LGBTI activist from Novocherkassk told media outlets that an officer from the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Center for Combating Extremism had surveilled and harassed him in early June and then attacked him on June 14. Doctors diagnosed him with a closed head injury and concussion. When he went to file a police report, the officers allegedly laughed and joked about his situation.
Openly gay men were particular targets of societal violence, and police often failed to respond adequately to such incidents. For example, according to the Russian LGBT Network, in July police refused to reopen a criminal case into the 2017 beating of Volgograd teenager, Vlad Pogorelov, because they did not see “hatred and enmity” as the assailants’ motive. Instead, they fined each of the attackers 5,000 rubles ($78). In June 2018 Pogorelov had filed a complaint with the local prosecutor’s office against the local police decision to close a criminal investigation into the 2017 attack. Pogorelov, then 17 years old, was lured into a meeting by homophobic persons posing as gay youth on a dating website. They beat and robbed Pogorelov, who filed a police report. Police opened a criminal investigation into the attack but closed it within a month, citing the “low significance” of the attack and informing Pogorelov that police were unable to protect LGBTI persons. According to the Russian LGBT Network, the case was emblematic of authorities’ unwillingness to investigate adequately or consider homophobia as a motive in attacks on LGBTI persons.
There were reports that authorities failed to respond when credible threats of violence were made against LGBTI persons. For example, authorities failed to investigate the appearance of a website in spring 2018 called the Homophobic Game “Saw,” which called for acts of violence against specific LGBTI persons and human rights defenders. While the site was blocked several times by Roskomnadzor, it would periodically reappear under a new domain name. After the July 23 killing of LGBTI activist Yelena Grigoryeva, whose name appeared on the “Saw” list, the site was blocked again. Although police arrested a suspect on August 1 who apparently confessed to the crime, authorities gave no indication of his motive, and human rights defenders believed that investigators were pursuing the theory that the killing was unrelated to Grigoryeva’s activism for the rights of LGBTI persons. On August 4, the Ministry of Internal Affairs informed individuals who had filed a complaint about the “Saw” site that, since the site was blocked and inaccessible, they were unable to investigate its contents. On August 14, the FSB informed the individuals who filed the complaint about the site that they had examined it and found no evidence of a crime.
In April 2018 the Russian LGBT Network released a report that documented 104 incidents of physical violence, including 11 killings, towards LGBTI persons in 2016-17. The report noted the continuing trend of groups and individuals luring gay men on fake dates to beat, humiliate, and rob them. The report noted that police often claimed to have found no evidence of a crime or refused to recognize attacks on LGBTI persons as hate crimes, which impeded investigations and perpetrators’ being fully held to account. During investigations of attacks, LGBTI persons risked being outed by police to their families and colleagues. LGBTI persons often declined to report attacks against them due to fears police would mistreat them or publicize their sexual orientation or gender identity.
There were reports that police conducted involuntary physical exams of transgender or intersex persons. For example, according to press reports, on May 1, police in Makhachkala, Dagestan, arrested Olga Moskvitina, who is intersex, at a protest. When police discovered that she was marked as male in her passport, she was forced to strip to the waist so that officers could examine her and was questioned about her genitals. She was reportedly humiliated and threatened by the officers. On May 1, her personal identifying information was published on social networks along with threats against her, which Moskvitina believed was done by or with the support of local police. On May 5, Moskvitina’s landlord was reportedly visited by plainclothes officers, who pressured him to evict her from her apartment, which he did.
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 means.
The law prohibiting the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual orientations” restricted freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly for LGBTI persons and their supporters (see sections 2.a. and 2.b.). LGBTI persons reported significant societal stigma and discrimination, which some attributed to official promotion of intolerance and homophobia.
High levels of employment discrimination against LGBTI persons reportedly persisted (see section 7.d.) 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 risk of violence.
LGBTI students, as well as those suspected of being LGBTI persons, also reported discrimination at schools and universities. Roman Krasnov, a vice rector at the Ural State University of Economics in Yekaterinburg, admitted that the institution monitored the social media accounts of its students in order to ensure that they showed proper “moral character,” which students claimed was monitoring targeted at LGBTI individuals. A student who wished to remain anonymous told media outlets in September that Krasnov threatened him with expulsion after his social media accounts showed that he might identify as LGBTI because he was sympathetic to LGBTI matters.
Medical practitioners reportedly continued to limit or deny LGBTI persons health services due to intolerance and prejudice. The Russian LGBT Network’s report indicated that, upon disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity, LGBTI individuals often encountered strong negative reactions and the presumption they were mentally ill.
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 that LGBTI persons faced discrimination in the area of parental rights. The law does not allow for same-sex couples to adopt children together, only as individuals. The Russian LGBT Network reported that LGBTI 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. For example, Andrey Vaganov and Yevgeniy Yerofeyev fled the country in August after the Investigative Committee announced that it had opened a criminal negligence case against the officials who had allowed the adoption of their two sons. Although the couple had married in Denmark in 2016, only Vaganov had a legal relationship to the children. A statement on the Investigative Committee’s website accused the men of “promoting nontraditional relationships, giving the children distorted perceptions about family values and harming their health and their moral and spiritual development.” The state learned that the children were living with two fathers after a doctor treating one of the children reported it to police. The couple told media outlets they had no choice but to leave the country in view of the probability that their children would be removed from their home.
Persons with HIV/AIDS faced significant legal discrimination, growing informal stigma-based barriers, and employment discrimination (see section 7.d.). They also continued to face barriers to adopting children in many cases.
According to NGO activists, men who have sex with men were unlikely to seek 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, or parents.
Prisoners with HIV/AIDS experienced regular abuse and denial of medical treatment and had fewer opportunities for visits with their children.
Children with HIV faced discrimination in education. For example, on April 10, a woman in the small village of Iskitim, in the Novosibirsk region, reported that local authorities refused to register her adopted six-year-old son for school because the child was HIV-positive. Staff at a local clinic had reportedly violated doctor-patient confidentiality rules and were warning other village residents about her child’s diagnosis. The family received threats demanding that they leave the village. On April 18, the local Investigative Committee opened an investigation into the violation of the child’s privacy.
Until June 2018 when the Constitutional Court deemed the practice unconstitutional, HIV-positive parents were prohibited from adopting a child. On May 3, President Putin signed a law that allowed persons with HIV to adopt children already living with them. Several lawsuits preceded this legislation, most notably one filed by an HIV-positive woman in Balashikha. Because she was unable to have children, her sister decided to carry her husband’s child through artificial insemination, giving birth in 2015. The woman planned to adopt the child, but her HIV-positive status precluded her from doing so. She filed a lawsuit and won in February, after which she was allowed to adopt the child.
The Ministry of Justice continued to designate HIV-related NGOs as foreign agents, effectively reducing the number of organizations that may serve the community (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).
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 as well as medical insurance, without which clinics refused to treat them. Media outlets reported that Moscow authorities relocated a number of homeless shelters from central areas to the city’s outskirts prior to the World Cup in 2018 and have not returned them to the original locations, although they were where the majority of homeless citizens resided.
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.