The Russian Federation has a highly centralized, authoritarian political system dominated by President Vladimir Putin. The bicameral Federal Assembly consists of a directly elected lower house (State Duma) and an appointed upper house (Federation Council), both of which lacked independence from the executive. State Duma elections during 2016 and the presidential election in 2012 were marked by accusations of government interference and manipulation of the electoral process.
Security forces generally reported to civilian authorities, except in some areas of the North Caucasus.
The continuing occupation and purported “annexation” of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula continued to affect the human rights situation significantly and negatively. The government continued to train, equip, and supply pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine, who were joined by numerous fighters from Russia. Credible observers attributed thousands of civilian deaths and injuries, as well as widespread abuses, to Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine’s Donbas region, and to Russian occupation authorities in Crimea (see the Country Reports on Human Rights for Ukraine). Authorities also conducted politically motivated arrests, detentions, and trials of Ukrainian citizens in Russia, many of whom claimed to have been tortured. Human rights groups asserted that numerous Ukrainian citizens remained in Russia as political prisoners.
The most significant human rights problems were:
Restrictions on Political Participation and Freedom of Expression, Assembly, and Media: Authorities restricted citizens’ ability to choose their government through free and fair elections and increasingly instituted a range of measures to suppress dissent. The government passed repressive laws and selectively employed existing ones to harass, discredit, prosecute, imprison, detain, fine, and suppress individuals and organizations critical of the government. Amendments to antiterrorism laws, known as the “Yarovaya package,” granted authorities sweeping powers. Authorities especially targeted individuals and organizations that professed support for the government of Ukraine or opposed the Russian government’s activities in Ukraine.
Suppression of Civil Society: Authorities further stymied the work of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) through the “foreign agents” and “undesirable foreign organization” laws. Authorities also significantly expanded the definition of political activities to bring more NGOs under the “foreign agents” category. Authorities began fining NGOs for not disclosing “foreign agent” status, while courts closed NGOs for violations involving the foreign agents’ list. Under the expanded definition of political activities, authorities added environmental and HIV-prevention organizations to the list.
Government Discrimination against Minorities: Authorities continued to discriminate against members of some religious and ethnic minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and migrant workers. The Yarovaya package restricted “missionary activity,” including preaching, proselytizing, disseminating religious materials, or engaging in interfaith discussion; authorities used it to harass religious minorities. Authorities utilized a law prohibiting “propaganda” of nontraditional sexual relations to minors to harass the LGBTI community.
Other problems included allegations of torture and excessive force by law enforcement officers that sometimes led to deaths; prison overcrowding, and substandard and life-threatening prison conditions; executive branch pressure on the judiciary; lack of due process in politically motivated cases; electoral irregularities; extensive official corruption; violence against women; limits on women’s rights; trafficking in persons; discrimination against persons with disabilities; social stigma against persons with HIV/AIDS; and limitations on workers’ rights.
The government failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish most officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity.
Conflict in the North Caucasus between government forces, insurgents, Islamist militants, and criminals led to numerous abuses, including killings, torture, physical abuse, politically motivated abductions, and a general degradation in the rule of law. Ramzan Kadyrov’s government in Chechnya generally did not investigate or prosecute abuses, and security forces committed abuses with impunity.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In the North Caucasus, both authorities and local militants reportedly carried out numerous extrajudicial killings (see section 1.g.).
Prison officials and police allegedly subjected inmates and suspects in custody to physical abuse that in some instances resulted in death (see section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions). On July 15, police in Ingushetia separately questioned Marem Daliyeva and her husband Magomed Daliyev for suspected involvement in a bank robbery. During the interrogation law enforcement officials insulted and threatened Daliyeva, then covered her head in a black bag, and took her to an undisclosed location for further questioning. They continued to hit her and administered electric shock to her hands and her abdomen. They returned her to the police station and held her for an additional two hours before she was released and learned that her husband had died during his questioning. As a result of complaints filed by Daliyeva, on July 19 the Investigative Committee opened a criminal case on exceeding authority and violating the rights of a citizen. As of August 12, the investigation had not yet determined responsibility for Daliyev’s death or treatment during interrogation.
Physical abuse continued to be a problem in the armed forces. While there were no clear examples of physical abuse leading to death, there were cases of suspicious deaths. In one example, commanding officers deemed the death of conscript Andrey Shlychkov in March a suicide in their official account. The family claimed that senior officers beat the conscript to death, and then hanged him to suggest a suicide. The family claimed that accounts from fellow conscripts and bruising on Shlychkov’s body supported this version. The Committee for the Social Protection of Servicemen in Bashkiriya was investigating the cause of death, and a criminal investigation into whether the case involved instigation to suicide was underway.
In February 2015 opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, deputy prime minister during the administration of Boris Yeltsin, was shot and killed on the streets of Moscow near the Kremlin. Authorities ultimately arrested five Chechens for the crime, with an additional suspect killed in an attempt to apprehend him in Chechnya. On October 3, the jury trial of the suspects began in a military court, with all five of the defendants pleading not guilty. One of the defendants, Zaur Dadayev, was formerly deputy commander of the North battalion of the Interior Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Chechnya. Reports indicated that Dadayev might have held a position within the ministry at the time of the killing. Dadayev confessed to the killing before recanting, claiming he had been tortured while in detention. He implied that he had received orders for Nemtsov’s killing from Ruslan Geremeyev, another officer who served in the North battalion. The court summoned Geremeyev to testify as a witness on December 13, but Geremeyev did not appear in court. Russian authorities were unable to identify Geremeyev’s whereabouts. In December 2015 investigators charged Dadayev, Anzor Gubashev, Khamzat Bakhayev, Shadid Gubashev, and Temirlan Eskerkhanov with committing the murder as part of an organized group and illegally purchasing, carrying, transporting, and storing firearms.
The country played a significant military role in conflicts outside of its borders, in Syria and in eastern Ukraine, where human rights organizations attributed thousands of civilian deaths as well as other human rights abuses to Russian-backed separatists and Russian occupation authorities in Crimea (see Country Reports on Human Rights for Ukraine). Since September 2015 the country has conducted military operations including airstrikes in the continuing conflict in Syria. According to human rights organizations, the country’s forces have taken actions such as bombing urban areas and humanitarian aid convoys during the conflict, including purposefully targeting civilians (see Country Reports on Human Rights for Syria).
In January a British public inquiry into the death in 2006 of Alexander Litvinenko, a former secret police (KGB) officer turned whistleblower and Putin critic, concluded that two Russian nationals, Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitriy Kuvtun, poisoned Litvinenko with a rare radioactive isotope, polonium 210, in London. The report also found it was probable that President Putin and the Federal Security Service (FSB) chief at the time, Nikolay Patrushev, had approved the killing, which was likely an FSB operation.
Enforced disappearances for both political and financial reasons continued in the North Caucasus (see section 1.g.). According to the 2016 report of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, there were 480 outstanding cases of enforced or involuntary disappearances in the country.
Security forces were allegedly responsible for the kidnapping and disappearance of asylum seekers from Central Asia, particularly Uzbekistan and Tajikistan (see section 2.d.).
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the constitution prohibits such practices, numerous credible reports indicated that 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, according to legal statutes, 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, on November 1, the independent news outlet Meduza published a letter written by jailed activist Ildar Dadin to his wife alleging that he and other inmates were being systematically tortured and threatened with death if they tried to complain. As of November 3, the head of the IK-7 prison in Segezha where Dadin was held, Sergey Kossiyev, had reportedly resigned, and the federal Investigative Committee announced that prosecutors had been sent to the prison to look into the allegations. Presidential spokesman Dmitriy Peskov said the allegations deserved “very close attention” and that President Putin would be informed about the matter. In 2015 Dadin was the first person to be convicted under a new legal provision that criminalizes repeated violations of the law on public events (see section 2.b).
Authorities reportedly tortured defendants and witnesses involved in high-profile trials. Ukrainians Mykola Karpyuk and Stanislav Klikh, convicted on May 26 for participating in military activities against Russian armed forces during the conflict in Chechnya in the 1990s, claimed that statements they made during the investigation were made under torture. According to Karpyuk authorities also threatened to kidnap and torture his son.
Arrests and court decisions related to police torture continued to come from the Republic of Tatarstan. On June 18, authorities arrested Nazilya Gainatullina, the head of the training department in the local federal penitentiary service in Tatarstan, for exceeding authority with the use of force. This arrest arose as a result of video footage released from a Kazan prison showing convicted criminals standing facing a wall while being hit by police officers.
Police and individuals 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.
On March 9, a group of masked men beat two members of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and six journalists traveling with them on a reporting tour between Ingushetia and Chechnya. The journalists included a Norwegian, a Swede, and six Russians, two of whom were human rights activists. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), at least 15 men stopped the minibus carrying the eight persons and their driver. The attackers burned the group’s minibus. All were injured, and five were hospitalized. No one has been prosecuted for the attack. While a government spokesperson called the attack “unacceptable,” HRW reported that “authorities’ utter failure to hold anyone to account” gave a green light to further attacks.
On March 16 in Chechnya, a mob of unidentified individuals attacked human rights defender Igor Kalyapin, head of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture. They hit him and threw eggs, antiseptic liquid, and flour on him. Local authorities investigated the attack but never filed charges.
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 as a means of pressuring them or sending them for psychiatric treatment as a means of punishing them. On May 6, authorities forcibly removed Voronezh activist Dmitriy Vorobyovskiy from his home and took him to a psychiatric hospital where they tied him to a bed for three hours and injected him with unknown substances, according to his attorney. He remained in the hospital and has not yet been brought before a judge; no charges have been filed. Human rights groups called for his release, noting that his detention appeared linked to his frequent protests in Voronezh against the government and in support of political prisoners.
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. The NGO Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers confirmed that a decrease of incidents of “dedovshchina” (a pattern of hazing) in 2015 continued into 2016.
In March 2015 the St. Petersburg City Court found that military commissioners violated recruits’ rights by not taking into account their medical files. 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. Soldiers returning from fighting in Ukraine also complained to NGOs of obstacles in receiving health care, because medical files had not been kept. Suicide among recruits continued to be a problem.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in prisons and detention centers varied but were sometimes 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: Authorities held prisoners and detainees in the following types of facilities: temporary police detention centers, pretrial detention facilities, correctional labor colonies (ITKs), prisons (including prisons for those who violate ITK rules), medical correctional facilities, and educational labor colonies for juveniles. Correctional colonies varied according to security regime, from light to maximum security. Unofficial prisons, many of which were located in the North Caucasus, reportedly continued to operate. 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.
Prison overcrowding remained a serious problem. Although the federal minimum standard of space per person in detention is 26 square feet, Presidential Human Rights Council member Andrey Babushkin reported in October 2015 that inmates were being confined to spaces far below the mandatory minimum, particularly in prison facilities in larger cities. As of the end of 2015, according to the Prosecutor General’s Office, 54 pretrial detention facilities in 24 regions of the country did not provide detainees the mandatory amount of space. The situation was particularly concerning in pretrial detention facilities in Moscow. As of December 2015, all facilities in Moscow were crowded beyond capacity and seven of them were overextended by 27 percent. The size of the country’s prison population exacerbated the overcrowding. According to the most recent data available, prisons were operating at approximately 95 percent of capacity in 2014, up from 90 percent in 2013.
Penal Reform International reported conditions were generally better in women’s colonies than in men’s but 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 April 27, Prosecutor General Yuriy Chayka announced that in 2015 approximately 4,000 individuals died in prison facilities and that the overwhelming majority of deaths were related to poor medical care. According to his report, 87 percent of deaths related to various diseases.
In the first six months of the year, 49 persons died in police stations, pretrial detention, or temporary detention, according to a tally maintained by the website Russian Ebola. Causes of death included medical conditions, suicide, and injuries sustained while in detention. In the second quarter of the year, 20 detainees died, nine of whom died in police stations, seven in temporary detention centers, and four in investigative detention. Of these deaths, authorities attributed nine to suicide and seven to “sudden deterioration of health.” The remaining four died from a beating, a fire, an injury sustained while committing a crime, and torture, respectively.
The majority of deaths in prison and pretrial detention were reportedly related to a lack of quality care, according to a study conducted under the auspices of a presidential grant. A member of the monitoring commission conducting the study stated that the majority of prisoners’ illnesses were associated with the detention environment, citing an example of a holding cell in a Krasnodar district court where the walls were covered in fungus and there was no ventilation.
In April a cancer-stricken female prison inmate in St. Petersburg died awaiting implementation of a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling ordering her transfer to a civil hospital. This was the second such death case in St. Petersburg. The ECHR found that the prison hospital did not provide adequate medical care, but a local district court refused to approve the transfer. At least three additional female cancer sufferers were in the prison hospital; two of them had similar ECHR transfer orders. On July 13, a 55-year-old prisoner, Nikolay Khozyashev, reportedly committed suicide in a penitentiary facility in Perm because prison officials were not providing medical assistance.
In the case of Sergey Magnitsky, a lawyer who died of medical neglect and abuse while in pretrial detention in 2009, authorities had not, as of year’s end, brought those reportedly responsible for his death to justice. The investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death remained officially closed.
Prisoner-on-prisoner violence was also a problem. In some cases prison authorities encouraged prisoners to abuse certain inmates. On August 5, four inmates beat a 29-year-old prisoner in Primorskiy Kray, Anton Li. Prison officials brought Li to the hospital only the following day, and he fell into a coma after surgery. There were reports that the inmates carried out the attack under the instruction of prison employees. 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.
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.
Tuberculosis and HIV among the country’s prison population remained significant problems. The Federal Penitentiary Services reported in 2015 that nearly 4 percent of the country’s prison population was infected with tuberculosis, while the HIV rate among prisoners increased 6 percent compared with 2014. No new data were available for 2016. Prosecutor General Chayka stated that more than 62,000 detainees were infected with HIV. In January a local NGO filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office alleging that HIV-positive inmates in St. Petersburg, Murmansk, and Pskov Oblast had not received antiretroviral therapy since May 2015. Prison and healthcare officials acknowledged difficulties procuring the drugs but claimed that the problem was largely resolved. According to a prominent human rights advocate, suppliers were reluctant to sell the necessary drugs to prisons at the low procurement price set by the Ministry of Health. In May an HIV-infected prisoner demanded compensation for not being provided adequate medical treatment. The Ministry of Health did not order sufficient quantities of antiretroviral medicine for inmates in 2015, which, according to Prosecutor General Chayka, posed a serious threat to HIV-infected prisoners’ lives. Although all correctional facilities had medical units or health centers, only 41 treatment facilities provided treatment for tuberculosis patients, down from 58 in 2014, and only nine prisons provided medical services for drug addiction.
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. Prison conditions remained poor, as evidenced by the 44 ECHR judgments issued against the country in 2015 for inhuman and degrading prison conditions.
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.
There were no completely independent bodies to investigate credible allegations of inhuman conditions. In 2014 new members were added to public oversight commissions, but appointment and selection procedures prevented many human rights defenders from participating, decreasing the effectiveness of oversight commission observation in many regions. At the same time, authorities increased appointments of former military, police, and prison officials to oversight commissions, effectively placing them under the control of law enforcement agencies. According to activists and media reports, the independence of the oversight commissions varied by region. The newspaper Vedomosti reported that, after the selection of new members for the Moscow public oversight commission in 2013, the majority of commission members were former officers of the security services and former prison officials, rather than human rights activists who had historically made up the majority of commission members.
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. In October 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. Notably, Dmitriy Komnov, who had overseen the prison where lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died in 2009, was elected to the Moscow public oversight commission. 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 them from accessing these facilities. The law does not establish procedures for federal authorities to respond to oversight commission findings or recommendations, which are not legally binding.
While the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, authorities engaged in arbitrary arrest and detention with impunity.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The Ministry of Internal Affairs, the FSB, the Investigative Committee, the Office of the Prosecutor General, and the National Guard are responsible for law enforcement at all levels of government. The FSB is responsible for security, counterintelligence, and counterterrorism as well as for fighting organized crime and corruption. The national police force under the Ministry of Internal Affairs is organized into federal, regional, and local levels. In April, President Putin established the Russian Federal National Guard Service. This new executive body, which is under the control of the president as the commander in chief, secures borders alongside the Border Guard, 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 county’s territory together with the Ministry of Defense.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
By law authorities may arrest and hold a suspect for up to 48 hours without court approval, provided there is evidence of the crime or a witness; otherwise, an arrest warrant is required. The law requires judicial approval of arrest warrants, searches, seizures, and detentions. Officials generally honored this requirement, although bribery or political pressure sometimes subverted the process of obtaining judicial warrants. After arrest, police typically take detainees to the nearest police station, where they inform them of their rights. Police must prepare a protocol stating the grounds for the arrest, and both detainee and police officer must sign it within three hours of detention. Police must interrogate detainees within the first 24 hours of detention. Prior to interrogation, a detainee has the right to meet with an attorney for two hours. No later than 12 hours after detention, police must notify the prosecutor. They must also give an opportunity to the detainee to notify his or her relatives by telephone unless a prosecutor issues a warrant to keep the detention secret. Police are required to release a detainee after 48 hours, subject to bail conditions, unless a court decides, at a hearing, to prolong custody in response to a motion filed by police not less than eight hours before the 48-hour detention period expires. The defendant and his or her attorney must be present at the court hearing.
By law police must complete their investigation and transfer a case to a prosecutor for arraignment within two months of a suspect’s arrest, although an investigative authority may extend a criminal investigation for up to 12 months. Extensions beyond 12 months need the approval of the head federal investigative authority in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the FSB, or the Investigative Committee. According to some defense lawyers, the two-month time limit often was exceeded, especially in cases with a high degree of public interest.
A number of problems related to detainees’ ability to obtain adequate defense counsel. Federal law provides defendants the right to choose their own lawyers, but investigators generally did not respect this provision, instead designating lawyers friendly to the prosecution. These “pocket” defense attorneys agreed to the interrogation of their clients in their presence while making no effort to defend their clients’ legal rights. In many cases, especially in more remote regions, defense counsel was not available for indigent defendants. Judges usually did not suppress confessions of suspects taken without a lawyer present. Judges at times freed suspects held in excess of detention limits, although they usually granted prosecutors’ motions to extend detention periods.
Authorities generally respected the legal limitations on detention except in the North Caucasus. There were reports of occasional noncompliance with the 48-hour limit for holding a detainee. At times authorities failed to issue an official detention protocol within the required three hours after detention and held suspects longer than the legal detention limits. The practice was widespread in the North Caucasus (see section 1.g.) and unevenly applied.
Arbitrary Arrest: There were many reports of arbitrary arrest. On February 12 in Dagestan, police detained more than 30 men going to prayer at the local mosque. Witnesses told the independent online news site Caucasian Knot that the men were held until evening before being released. None of the men was charged with a crime.
Pretrial Detention: Observers noted that lengthy pretrial detention was a problem, but data on its extent was not available.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: According to the law, a detainee may challenge the lawfulness of detention before an investigator, prosecutor, or court. The challenge can take the legal form of a referral or complaint. The defense typically submits a referral to ask for a certain procedural motion, be it with the prosecution or court, and a complaint is submitted with respect to action that was already taken. Using these instruments, a detainee or his or her lawyer can cause the prosecution or court to change the type of detention used (from arrest in a detention facility to house arrest, for example) or complain that a certain type of pretrial restraint is unlawful. The investigator and the court have absolute discretion to impose limits on the type of detention used if they have sufficient grounds to believe that the defendant will escape from prosecution, continue criminal activity, threaten witnesses or other individuals connected with the criminal case, destroy evidence, or otherwise hamper the investigation.
Statistics related to the number of successful challenges to the lawfulness of detention are not available. The judge typically agrees with the investigator’s position and dismisses defense referrals or complaints on this problem.
Protracted Detention of Rejected Asylum Seekers or Stateless Persons: Authorities continued to detain asylum seekers while their cases were pending as well as all rejected asylum seekers prior to deportation or pending judicial review (see section 2.d.). Human rights NGOs reported authorities used protracted detention in such cases, including detention past the legal limit of 12 months.
Amnesty: In May, President Putin pardoned Lieutenant Nadiya Savchenko, a Ukrainian military pilot and Rada deputy, who was released in a prisoner swap in exchange for two Russian intelligence operatives. In March a politically motivated trial had found Savchenko guilty of killing two Russian journalists in Metalist, Ukraine. Putin also pardoned Ukrainian citizens Hennadiy Afanasyev and Yuriy Soloshenko, convicted for “plotting terrorist acts” and espionage, respectively, in a swap in June, this time for two journalists (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).
The law provides for an independent judiciary, but judges remained subject to influence from the executive branch, the armed forces, and other security forces, particularly in high-profile or politically sensitive cases. The outcomes of some trials appeared predetermined.
The human rights ombudsman received 64,189 complaints in 2015, an 18 percent increase over 2014. The largest number of complaints (30 percent) alleged violations of criminal proceedings and violations during trials.
Judges were subject to pressures that could influence the outcome of cases. Former Supreme Court judge Tamara Morshchakova, in an interview on the Moscow Helsinki Group website on August 14, indicated that judges were concerned by how their rulings would be seen by higher courts and often consulted with contacts in the higher courts to make a decision that would not cause them to lose favor or be later overturned. Morshchakova also indicated that the number of individuals instructing judges on rulings was expanding to include local officials, not just superiors.
In many cases authorities reportedly did not provide witnesses and victims adequate protection from intimidation or threats from powerful criminal defendants.
The defendant has a legal presumption of innocence. A judge typically hears trials (bench trials). Certain crimes, including terrorism, espionage, hostage taking, and inciting mass disorder, must be heard by panels of three judges. Judges acquitted less than 1 percent of defendants.
The law allows prosecutors to appeal acquittals, which they did in most cases. Prosecutors may also appeal what they regard as lenient sentences. Appellate courts reversed approximately 1 percent of sentences where the defendant had been found guilty and 37 percent where the defendant had been found not guilty and remanded them for a new trial, although these cases often ended in a second acquittal.
During trial the defense is not required to present evidence and is given an opportunity to cross-examine witnesses and call defense witnesses, although judges may deny the defense this opportunity. On March 24, the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization in Tyumen appealed to the Russian Supreme Court regarding allegations of extremism against the church, in part because the lower courts refused to allow witnesses for the defense during the trial. Defendants in custody during a trial are confined to a caged area, which was replaced by glass enclosures in some courts. Defendants have the right to be present at the trial and the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants have the right of appeal. Prior to trial, defendants receive a copy of their indictment, which describes the charges against them in detail. They also have the opportunity to review their criminal file following the completion of the criminal investigation. The law provides for the appointment of an attorney free of charge if a defendant cannot afford one, although the high cost of competent legal service meant that lower-income defendants often lacked competent representation. There were few qualified defense attorneys in remote areas of the country. Defense attorneys may visit their clients in detention, although defense lawyers claimed authorities electronically monitored their conversations and did not always provide them access to their clients. Defendants also have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt.
Plea bargaining was used to settle between 62 and 66 percent of criminal cases in 2015, according to different estimates, and the law allows a defendant to receive a reduced sentence for testifying against others. Plea bargains reduced defendants’ time in pretrial detention in approximately 50 percent of cases, reduced the average prison term to no more than half of the otherwise applicable statutory maximum, and allowed courts and prosecutors to devote their resources to other cases.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were political prisoners in the country, and authorities detained and prosecuted individuals for political reasons. As of October 31, the Memorial Human Rights Center’s updated list of political prisoners included 102 names, more than double the 50 individuals the organization listed in 2015. Those added to the list during the year included Maksim Panfilov, arrested on charges of participation in a mass disturbance and use of nonlethal force against government representatives in connection with the 2012 Bolotnaya Square case. The case concerned clashes between police and protesters at a demonstration on the eve of President Putin’s inauguration in 2012. Blogger Aleksey Kungurov, who was accused of public justification of terrorism for his blog pieces criticizing Russian Aerospace Forces’ activities in Syria, was also included. In June the Chronicle of Current Events published a list of 277 alleged political prisoners that included opposition politicians, human rights activists, environmental activists, religious believers, and bloggers. From this list, approximately one-third were members of the opposition, 40 percent had been prosecuted for religious beliefs, and 8 percent were bloggers or social activists.
On May 5, a blogger from Tver, Andrey Bubeyev, who was found guilty of extremism and calling for separatism, was sentenced to two years in a minimum-security penal colony for having reposted materials on social media against the country’s involvement in Ukraine. On March 29, while Bubeyev was being held on remand, the Memorial Human Rights Center recognized him as a political prisoner.
On July 21, the Federal Penitentiary Service filed suit against opposition activist Alexey Navalny, requesting that his suspended sentence be changed to a real prison term in the Yves-Rocher case. On August 1, the Lyublinskiy District Court of Moscow declined to withdraw the suspended sentence. On November 16, the Supreme Court, referencing the European Court of Human Rights’ ruling in February that Alexey Navalny’s right to a fair trial had been violated, sent the case back to a lower court for review. Aleksey Navalny and his brother Oleg were found guilty of fraud in December 2014 in a case involving the Yves-Rocher company. Aleksey had received a suspended sentence of three and one-half years, while Oleg continued to serve a term of three and one-half years. Observers regarded both cases as politically motivated.
At least one reported political prisoner was held in a psychiatric facility. In July a district court in Chelyabinsk extended the period of mandatory treatment in a psychiatric hospital for Aleksey Moroshkin, a local activist, by six months. Authorities charged Moroshkin with public incitement to separatism via the internet for posting texts in April 2015 calling for the secession of the Ural region from the country. The Memorial Human Rights Center recognized Moroshkin as a political prisoner in July.
Once elected, many opposition politicians reported efforts by the ruling party to undermine their work or remove them from office, often through prosecution (see section 3).
After the country’s attempted “annexation” of Crimea in 2014, judicial authorities began in 2015 to transfer court cases to Russia from occupied Crimea for trial. While there were no new notable cases during the year, the son of prominent exiled Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Jemilev, Khaiser Jemilev, whom Russian authorities in 2014 transferred from the territory of occupied Crimea to Krasnodar Kray, charged with manslaughter, and sentenced in June 2015, was held in Russia until he completed his sentence in November.
On June 14, Putin pardoned Ukrainian citizens Hennadiy Afanasyev and Yuriy Soloshenko in a swap for two journalists held in Ukraine. Afanasyev was a codefendant in the case against Oleh Sentsov. In August 2015 the Northern Caucasus Military District Court sentenced Sentsov, a Ukrainian filmmaker, to 20 years in a prison camp after convicting him on terrorism charges widely seen as politically motivated. The other defendants in the case, Hennadiy Afanasyev, Oleksiy Chirniy, and Oleksandr Kolchenko, received sentences ranging from seven to 10 years. The men were detained in 2014 on suspicion that they were plotting terrorist acts in association with the Right Sector nationalist group. Soloshenko had been sentenced to six years in a penal colony for espionage.
On March 22, Lieutenant Nadiya Savchenko, an Ukrainian military pilot and member of the Ukrainian Parliament (Rada) detained by Russian authorities since 2014, was sentenced to 22 years in prison; the verdict came into force on April 5. On May 25, President Putin pardoned Savchenko, and she was released in a prisoner swap in exchange for two Russian intelligence operatives, Yerofeyev and Aleksandrov, who had been detained in Donbas and sentenced to 14 years in prison. Savchenko returned to Ukraine upon release. Her politically motivated trial on charges of killing two Russian journalists in Metalist, Ukraine, began in Donetsk, Russia, in September 2015. Savchenko also faced charges of attempted murder and entering Russia illegally, even though she was detained in Ukraine and taken to Russia by Russian authorities. She pleaded not guilty to the charges.
On May 26, Ukrainians Mykola Karpyuk and Stanislav Klikh, accused of participating in military activities against Russian armed forces during the conflict in Chechnya in the 1990s, were convicted. Karpyuk was sentenced to 22.5 years’ and Klikh to 20 years’ imprisonment in a strict regime penitentiary facility.
There were continued court rulings and arrests related to the 2012 Bolotnaya Square case. Many human rights groups considered the Bolotnaya case to have been politically motivated. On April 7, Maksim Panfilov was arrested, becoming the 36th individual accused in the case. On August 29, a Moscow district court extended detention for Panfilov until January 2017. Detention of another Bolotnaya case defendant arrested in December 2015, Dmitriy Buchenkov, was extended until December 2.
There were reports that authorities filed politically motivated charges of treason and espionage against individuals, often in connection with the conflict in Ukraine. The government defines treason to include providing assistance to a foreign state or international organization directed against the country’s national security. The Judicial Department under the Russian Supreme Court reported that in 2015, the most recent year for which the data is available, authorities convicted 28 persons on such charges, nearly twice as many as in the previous year. According to the NGO Moscow Public Supervisory Commission, several dozen scientists, entrepreneurs, police officers, and even mothers of small children were convicted of treason in the previous two years on charges classified as “secret” and heard in closed court proceedings.
On July 14, the Moscow City Court sentenced a former employee of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, Evgeniy Petrin, to 12 years in a strict regime prison colony for treason. Petrin, who had been stationed in Kyiv, was arrested in 2014 and has been in custody since. The trial was closed to the public, but according to his lawyer, Petrin was an employee of the FSB and had been gathering information in that capacity. He was convicted of treason for sharing secrets with a foreign country. Petrin claimed innocence and has stated he was tortured to gather evidence against him.
On July 18, the FSB detained in Russia an official translator working for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) special monitoring mission in Ukraine, Artem Shetakov, arresting him as an agent of the Ukrainian security services. He was deported to Ukraine and denied further entry into Russia.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Although the law provides mechanisms for individuals to file lawsuits against authorities for violations of civil rights, these mechanisms often did not work well. For example, the law provides that a defendant who has been acquitted after a trial has the right to compensation from the government. While this legal mechanism exists in principle, in practice it was very cumbersome to use. Persons who believed their civil rights had been violated typically sought redress in the ECHR after domestic courts had ruled against them. In 2015 the country passed a law enabling the Constitutional Court to review rulings from international human rights bodies and declare them “nonexecutable” if the court found that the ruling contradicts the constitution. In April the Constitutional Court for the first time declared a ruling by the ECHR, in which the ECHR ruled that the absolute ban on the voting rights of prisoners was in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, to be nonexecutable under this law.
The law forbids officials from entering a private residence except in cases prescribed by federal law or when authorized by a judicial decision. The law also prohibits the collection, storage, utilization, and dissemination of information about a person’s private life without his or her consent. While the law previously prohibited government monitoring of correspondence, telephone conversations, and other means of communication without a warrant, the “Yarovaya package” of amendments to antiterrorism laws came into effect on July 20. These amendments grant authorities sweeping new powers and require telecommunications providers to store all electronic and telecommunication data, including telephone calls, text messages, images, and videos, for six months. Metadata on all communications must be stored for three years and provided to law enforcement authorities upon request. The telecommunications provisions were scheduled to come into effect in July 2018. There were allegations that government officials and others engaged in electronic surveillance without appropriate authorization and entered residences and other premises without warrants.
Law enforcement agencies require telecommunications service providers to grant the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the FSB continuous remote access to client databases, including telephone and electronic communication and records, enabling police to track private communications and monitor internet activity without the provider’s knowledge. The law permits authorities to monitor telephone calls in real time, with a warrant. The Ministry of Information and Communication requires telecommunications service providers to allow the FSB to tap telephones and monitor information over the internet. The Ministry of Information and Communication maintained that authorities would not access information without a court order, although the FSB is not required to show it upon request.
Officials often singled out persons with dark complexions from the Caucasus as well as individuals who appeared to be of African or Asian origin for document checks. There were credible reports that police arbitrarily imposed fines on unregistered persons in excess of legal requirements or demanded bribes.
Violence continued in the North Caucasus republics, driven by separatism, interethnic conflict, jihadist movements, vendettas, criminality, excesses by security forces, and the activity of terrorists. Media reported that in 2015 the total number of deaths and injuries due to the conflicts in the North Caucasus decreased significantly compared with 2014 in all republics of the North Caucasus. According to human rights activists in the region, violence in Dagestan continued at a high level. Dagestan remained the most violent area in the North Caucasus, with approximately 60 percent of all casualties in the region in 2015. Local media described the level of violence in Dagestan as the result of Islamic militant insurgency tactics continuing from the Chechen conflict as well as of the high level of organized crime in the region.
Killings: Caucasian Knot reported that in 2015 at least 206 deaths and 49 injuries in the North Caucasus resulted from armed conflicts in the region. With 126 deaths from armed conflict in 2015, Dagestan was the most deadly region. Of the deaths in Dagestan, 97 were militants, 16 were civilians, and 13 were law enforcement officers. This represented a significant decrease from 2014, with the number of casualties in Dagestan down by just over half overall and by nearly 60 percent. The sharpest decrease in violent incidents took place in Chechnya, where the number of deaths decreased to 12 in 2015, compared with 52 in 2014, and the number of injuries fell from 65 to 16.
There continued to be reports that use of indiscriminate force by security forces resulted in numerous deaths or disappearances and that authorities did not prosecute the perpetrators. The Memorial Human Rights Center reported that, on January 1, the body of Khizir Yezhiyev, an economics professor at Grozny State Oil Technical University in Chechnya, was found in the woods near the village of Roshni-Chu in Urus-Martanovskiy district. The medical report stated he died from internal bleeding with six broken ribs, a pierced lung, and many visible injuries on his body. Official reports stated that he died from injuries after falling from a cliff. In December 2015 witnesses claimed to have seen security officials arrest Yezhiyev at a garage in Grozny and take him to an unknown location. According to a number of witnesses, the detainee was taken to one of Grozny’s Zavodskiy district police headquarters.
Local militants continued to engage in violent acts against local security forces, often resulting in deaths.
Abductions: Government personnel, militants, and criminal elements continued to engage in abductions in the North Caucasus. According to the prosecutor general, as of 2011 there were more than 2,000 unsolved disappearances in the North Caucasus District. According to data from Caucasian Knot, the official list of missing persons in the North Caucasus contained 7,570 names. Local activists asserted that the number of missing persons in Chechnya was much higher than officially reported, potentially up to 20,000 individuals. Amnesty International (AI) reported that law enforcement agencies continued to rely on security operations as the primary method of combating armed groups and continued to be suspected of resorting to enforced disappearances, unlawful detention, as well as torture and other mistreatment of detainees.
There were also accounts of persons being detained by police or unknown individuals. The Memorial Human Rights Center reported that, on April 1, security forces removed from their homes two journalists and authors of “historical” and “linguistic” theories affirming the exceptional nature of the Chechen ethnicity and language, the antiquity of the Chechens, and their status as God’s chosen people. On April 5, one of them posted on Facebook that he had not been abducted but was spending four days in the Oktyabrskoye District Department of Internal Affairs in Grozny, where he was detained to prevent his disappearance; the post was later removed. On April 6, the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, posted on Instagram that the authors had “apologized to the academic community and the clergy of Chechnya” for their writings.
In Chechnya the local Ministry of Public Health continued issuing genetic passports to relatives of individuals who were kidnapped or disappeared during the first and second Chechen conflicts. The genetic passport offers relatives the ability to identify remains that may belong to their family. Between January and July 2015, an estimated 32 Chechen residents received genetic passport, bringing the total to more than 300. Chechnya’s Ministry of Internal Affairs claimed to have a database containing 3,016 missing persons, but human rights activists believed the actual number of missing persons to be higher.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Armed forces and police units reportedly abused and tortured both militants and civilians in holding facilities.
The Memorial Human Rights Center reported that in October 2015 police in the Dagestani village of Gotsali detained a 43-year-old man, seizing a hunting rifle with ammunition and planting a bag of marijuana on him. For two days his relatives were unable to locate him. At a hearing three days after his arrest, the man’s relatives claimed he had to be carried into the courtroom because he could not walk on his own. Although he was supposed to be released after the hearing, the man was then charged on an administrative offense for speaking abusively and held for an additional three days. After 13 days in custody, the man reported that authorities had taken him with a bag over his head to an undisclosed location, subjected him to electric shocks, and urged him to confess to aiding insurgents.
Human rights groups noted authorities often did not act to address widespread reports of physical abuse of women.
The law requires relatives of terrorists to pay the cost of damages caused by an attack, which human rights advocates criticized as collective punishment. The Memorial Human Rights Center reported that Chechen Republic authorities have upheld the principle of collective responsibility in punishing the relatives of alleged members of illegal armed groups. In 2014 the head of the Chechen, Republic Kadyrov, posted on Instagram, “It shall no longer be said that parents are not responsible for the deeds of their sons and daughters. They will be responsible in Chechnya!” and, “If an insurgent murders a police officer or anyone else in Chechnya, his family will be immediately thrown out of Chechnya and banned from returning, and their home will be destroyed down to its very foundations.”
The Memorial Human Rights Center and Caucasian Knot reported that, following an armed attack by two militants on a checkpoint in the village of Alkhan-Kala in Grozny’s rural district in May, the homes of the attackers’ families were set on fire. Local security officials arrested a journalist who photographed the burnt-out remains of one of the houses, allegedly on suspicion of collusion with Da’esh.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal, and the law provides the same punishment for a relative, including the spouse, who commits rape as for a nonrelative. Rape victims may act as full legal parties in criminal cases brought against alleged assailants and may seek compensation as part of a court verdict without initiating a separate civil action. While members of the medical profession assisted assault survivors and sometimes helped identify an assault or rape case, doctors were often reluctant to provide testimony in court.
The penalty for rape is three- to six-years’ imprisonment for a single offender and four to 10 years if a group of persons commits the crime or the assailant had prior convictions for sexual assault. Violations are punishable by eight to 15 years in prison if the victim was between the ages of 14 and 18 and by 12 to 20 years in prison if the victim died or was under 14. According to NGOs, many law enforcement personnel and prosecutors did not consider spousal or acquaintance rape a priority and did not encourage reporting or prosecuting such cases. NGOs reported that local police officers sometimes refused to respond to rape or domestic violence calls unless the victim’s life was directly threatened.
According to NGOs, many women did not report rape or other violence, especially when committed by spouses, due to social stigma and the lack of government support.
Domestic violence remained a major problem. There is no significant domestic violence provision in the criminal code and no legal definition of domestic violence. The laws that address bodily harm are general in nature and do not permit police to initiate a criminal investigation unless the victim files a complaint. The burden of collecting evidence in such cases typically falls on the alleged victims. Federal law prohibits battery, assault, threats, and killing, but most acts of domestic violence did not fall within the jurisdiction of the prosecutor’s office. According to NGOs police were often unwilling to register complaints of domestic violence and frequently discouraged victims from submitting them.
In February the Duma adopted legislation that removed beating and some other offenses from the criminal code, making them administrative offenses instead. The law’s drafters made an exception for so-called “close relatives,” keeping beatings of children by parents, between spouses, and between other close persons a criminal, rather than administrative, offense. In June, Children’s Rights Ombudsman Pavel Astakhov indicated that the legislative changes providing continued criminal liability for beatings between relatives was “absurd,” stating he received a number of complaints from family-focused organizations.
The government does not gather comprehensive data on domestic violence. Ministry of Internal Affairs statistics for 2013 showed that, while women were the victims of 43 percent of all crimes, they were the victims of crimes committed in the home (63 percent), among family members (73 percent), and by a spouse (91 percent) at disproportionately high rates. Additional data from 2013 showed that 60-70 percent of victims did not seek help; and that 97 percent of domestic violence cases did not reach court. According to the BBC, there were 30,600 domestic violence cases in 2014, a 10 percent increase from 2013.
The NGO Center for Women’s Support asserted that a majority of domestic violence cases filed with authorities were either dismissed on technical grounds or transferred to a reconciliation process conducted by a justice of the peace, whose focus was on preserving the family rather than punishing the perpetrator. Civil remedies for domestic violence include administrative fines and divorce. Physical harm, property, and family rights cases, such as divorce, asset division, and child custody, cannot be heard in the same case or the same court. No unified court considers civil and criminal cases jointly.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is not specifically prohibited in the criminal code. Local NGOs in Dagestan reported that FGM/C was occasionally practiced in some villages. In August the mufti of the North Caucasus region of Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Ismail Berdiyev, stated that FGM/C was a “Dagestani ritual” and was necessary to “limit unnecessary energy” of future brides. Berdiyev’s statement came days after Moscow-based NGO Legal Initiative released a report on FGM/C in Dagestan, which cited some clerics who supported and some who condemned the practice. Later in August, Berdiyev retracted his comments after they resulted in a public outcry and backlash from the country’s top Muslim cleric and the Ministry of Health, although some, including a former spokesperson of the Russian Orthodox Church, came out in support of the earlier remarks.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: According to human rights groups, so-called honor killings of women in Chechnya, Dagestan, and elsewhere in the North Caucasus district continued. Human rights groups further reported that such killings were underreported and rarely prosecuted because of community collusion to cover up such crimes, although there were instances in which such killings led to convictions. According to Interfax, a criminal case was initiated on March 23 against a man in Dagestan accused of stabbing and killing his two daughters for “amoral behavior.” According to law enforcement authorities, the man killed his daughters in December 2015 because they came home too late at night. The case was still pending.
In some parts of the North Caucasus, women continued to face bride kidnapping, polygamy, forced marriage (including child marriage), legal discrimination, and enforced adherence to Islamic dress codes. In February a police officer in the North Caucasus was stabbed when he attempted to prevent a bride kidnapping of a 17-year-old girl, according to the Investigative Committee. When the girl’s family attempted to prevent the kidnapping, the family of the bride kidnapper would not allow them to enter the home. There were cases in some parts of the North Caucasus where men, claiming that kidnapping brides was an ancient local tradition, reportedly abducted and raped young women, in some cases forcing them into marriage. Police in Dagestan claimed that many cases of women being abducted were in fact voluntary. NGOs reported that, while the overwhelming majority of bride kidnappings were not voluntary, women in the North Caucasus sometimes agreed to be abducted to avoid an arranged marriage, often to an older man or to a man with multiple wives.
Sexual Harassment: The law does not specifically prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace, which remained a widespread problem. Instead, the criminal code contains a general provision against compelling a person to perform actions of a sexual character by means of blackmail, threats, or by taking advantage of the victim’s economic or other dependence on the perpetrator. As of April there were 16 successful prosecutions for “compulsion to perform sexual actions” with adults and 34 with minors.
Reproductive Rights: The government recognizes the basic right of couples and individuals to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so. While there are no legal restrictions on access to contraceptives, the Russian Orthodox Church and the Muftis Council continued their opposition to family planning initiatives, and access to family planning in the country was limited, especially outside big cities. In June authorities banned the leading condom brand in the country, the British brand Durex, for “not being registered in the proper manner.” Durex condoms made up one-fourth of the condom market in the country. The ban came just after a government-sponsored study asserted that the main reason for the spread of HIV in the country was condoms (see section 6, HIV and AIDS Social Stigma). Senior government leaders explicitly encouraged women to have as many children as possible to counteract the country’s declining population, particularly among ethnic Russians.
Discrimination: The constitution and law provide that men and women enjoy the same legal status and rights. Men and women have an equal right to obtain a bank loan, but women often encountered significant restrictions. There were reports that women encountered discrimination in employment (see section 7.d.).
The law upholds equal ownership rights for women and men. The civil code provides equal rights to access to land and access to other property for men and women. Unless their marriage contract states otherwise, all property acquired during a marriage is the couple’s joint property, and it is divided into two equal shares in the event of divorce. Each spouse retains ownership and management of property acquired before marriage or inherited after marriage.
Traditional practices in the North Caucasus award the husband custody of children and all property in divorce cases. As a result, women in the region were often unwilling to seek divorce, even in cases of abuse.
Birth Registration: By law citizenship derives from parents at birth or from birth within the country’s territory if the parents are unknown or if the child cannot claim the parents’ citizenship. Newborns generally were registered at the local civil registry office where the parents live. A parent must apply for registration within one month of the birth. Birth certificates were issued on the basis of the medical certificate of the hospital where a baby was born.
Education: Education is free and compulsory through grade 11. Regional authorities frequently denied school access to the children of persons who were not registered as residents of the locality, including Roma, asylum seekers, and migrant workers.
Child Abuse: Children’s Ombudsman Pavel Astakhov reported an increase in crimes against minors in 2015. The number of minors recognized as victims in 2015 was 102,608, an 8 percent increase over 2014. The number of crimes against the life and health of minors increased 11 percent to 33,525, while the number of sexual crimes against minors increased to 12,175, a more than 20 percent increase over 2014. According to Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin, there was an increase in child victims of crime in 2015 over the prior year. There were almost 17,000 child victims of crime in 2015, more than 4,600 of whom were under the age of 10. In 2015 authorities filed 10,500 criminal cases involving crimes against minors, 25 percent more than in 2014. Markin reported that 2,300 criminal cases were filed for crimes against children during the first quarter of 2016. In those cases, 4,477 children were identified as victims, 477 of whom had been killed.
During the first quarter of the year, 519 minors were victims of criminal abuse by relatives, including 322 cases of abuse by parents. The Ministry of Internal Affairs published data on 576,000 criminal proceedings filed against parents in 2014 for crimes against children. These included 440,000 cases of negligence, 1,400 for enabling alcohol or drug abuse, and 11,900 cases of physical child abuse, which resulted in more than 2,500 fatalities. In addition 946 of these crimes were cases of pedophilia, 380 of which a parental guardian committed, according to Astakhov. Astakhov reported 8,000 convictions for child abuse in 2015.
According to a 2011 report published by the NGO Foundation for Assistance to Children in Difficult Life Situations, 2,000 to 2,500 children died annually from domestic violence. A 2013 estimate by the Ministry of Internal Affairs indicated that one in four children in the country was subjected to abuse by a parent or foster parent.
Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18 for both men and women. Local authorities may authorize marriage from the age of 16 under certain circumstances, and even earlier in some regions. In May 2015 the newspaper Novaya Gazetareported that a 17-year-old girl had been pressured into marrying the 57-year-old police chief in Chechnya’s Nozhay-Yurt district who was already married. Chechnya head Kadyrov attended the wedding while Children’s Ombudsman Astakhov publicly defended such practices in the Caucasus.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: See information for girls under 18 in the women’s section above.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The age of consent is 16. Children, particularly orphans and those without homes, were exploited for child pornography. While authorities considered child pornography to be a serious problem, the law does not criminalize its possession or provide for effective investigation and prosecution of it. The law prohibits the manufacture, distribution, and possession with intent to distribute of child pornography, but possession without intent to distribute is not prohibited by law. Manufacture and distribution of pornography involving children under 18 is punishable by two to eight years in prison, or three to 10 years in prison if it involves children under 14.
In June a definition of child pornography came into force for the first time. The new definition states that child pornography is a whole or partial image or description of the genitalia of a minor, made with “sexual intent,” as well as the portrayal of a real or simulated sexual act with a minor or an adult who presents him or herself as a minor. Materials used for educational or medical purposes are not considered child pornography, nor are materials that have historical, artistic, or cultural value. Investigation of child pornography cases are to be turned over from the Ministry for Internal Affairs to the Investigative Committee. In the past courts often dismissed criminal cases because of the lack of clear standards or definitions, and authorities had not determined how the new legal provisions defining child pornography would be enforced in the coming year.
The Investigative Committee reported filing charges in 1,645 cases of rape against children in 2015 as well as in more than 5,300 cases of sexual assault of children. According to Ministry of Internal Affairs statistics, in 2014 the ministry opened 274 investigative cases into child pornography and referred 80 of these to the courts. In addition to its authority to regulate websites containing extremist materials, Roskomnadzor has the power to shut down any website immediately and without due process until its owners prove its content does not include child pornography. In 2014 approximately 15 percent of the 45,700 links Roskomnadzor shut down were related to child pornography.
Displaced Children: Official statistics on the numbers of orphans and displaced children in the country were conflicting and of questionable reliability. In 2014 the Ministry of Education and Science estimated there were 96,000 orphans in the country, down from a previous estimate of 120,000. In May 2015 Children’s Ombudsman Astakhov announced that the number of orphans without parental supervision had declined from 106,700 in 2009 to 61,600 in 2014. In March, Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets announced there were 53,100 homeless children who had run away from home in 2014, a 22 percent increase from 2013. No recent official statistics on the number of parentless migrants were available. A 2011 study conducted by the Ministry of Education’s Center for Sociological Research indicated that 45 percent of homeless and unaccompanied children in Moscow were migrant children from member countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Homeless children often engaged in criminal activities, received no education, and were vulnerable to substance abuse. Some children on the streets were forced into prostitution. Law enforcement officers reportedly abused street children, blamed them for unsolved crimes, and committed illegal acts against them, including extortion, detention, and psychological and sexual violence.
Regional ombudsmen for children operated in all the country’s regions. They had the authority to conduct independent investigations involving violations of children’s rights, inspect all institutions and executive offices dealing with minors, establish councils of public experts, and conduct independent evaluations of legislation affecting children. A number of schools in the Moscow and Volgograd oblasts had school ombudsmen to deal with children and families and identify potential conflicts and violations of children’s rights.
Institutionalized Children: In January media reported accusations by students in a boarding school in Bratsk, Irkutsk Region, of physical abuse by guards, including the use of electric shocks. There were other reports of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse in state institutions for children.
According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, graduates of state orphanages and boarding schools faced grim futures. The office reported that only 10 percent of graduates adapted successfully, while 40 percent committed crimes, 40 percent become addicted to alcohol and drugs, and 10 percent committed suicide. The office reported that 300,000 “socially dangerous acts” were committed by children each year, of which 100,000 were committed by children under the age of criminal responsibility (14).
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
The 2010 census estimated the Jewish population at just over 150,000. In February 2015, however, the president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia stated that the actual Jewish population was nearly one million.
A number of leading figures in the Jewish community reported the level of anti-Semitism in the country was decreasing and that anti-Semitism was primarily manifested in anti-Semitic rhetoric on state television channels. There was also anti-Semitism reported in the security services, and anti-Semitic literature could be found distributed around the country.
According to a report by the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University, eight cases of aggressive anti-Semitism were recorded in the country in 2015. The Kantor Center also noted, however, that anti-Semitism in the country was mainly expressed in the form of propaganda. The center identified the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda and the state-funded RT television network as a “main stage for virulent anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli propaganda.” The conflict between Russia and Ukraine in particular led to a rise in anti-Semitic propaganda, with “each side blaming the other for using it as a political tool.”
Rabbi Alexander Boroda, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, condemned as anti-Semitic the RT channel’s June 27 airing of Palestinian allegations that an Israeli rabbi approved the poisoning of Palestinian wells. In June the SOVA Center reported on a series of anti-Semitic articles published in Saratov that attempted to discredit stories of Jewish heroism during the Second World War and arouse hostility towards Jews.
On April 10, Vladislav Vikhorev, a candidate for Putin’s United Russia party, who was campaigning for a seat in the Chelyabinsk Oblast legislative assembly, was quoted by the news website Apostroph as stating that Jews in the 1990s were behind a “Jewish revolution that put Russian sovereignty itself on the brink of extinction.” He claimed Jews had “a well-planned, well-designed program of destruction of national culture, national education, national production, and the national financial system.” In response, Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar called on the government to stamp out hate speech against Jews. The local election committee issued Vikhorev a warning but allowed him to maintain his candidacy.
On October 2, police arrested a man who attacked a synagogue in Moscow, injuring a guard and attempting to set fire to the building while shouting anti-Semitic slogans.
On June 12, in one of a series of attacks on social media network users of VKontakte, unidentified men attacked a VKontakte employee known for his occasional antigovernment posts. The attackers broke three of his fingers and called their victim a “traitor,” a “Jew,” and a member of the “fifth column”–a term frequently used by Russian state media to describe the opposition.
In November the Levada Center published a survey, conducted in Russia in 2015, indicating that 8 percent of respondents expressed negative feelings about Jews, compared with 13 percent in 1992 and 16 percent in 1997.
Nationalist marches on November 4 included banners in support of national socialism along with imagery and slogans that were implicitly linked to Nazism.
The government investigated anti-Semitic crimes, and some courts placed anti-Semitic literature on the Ministry of Justice’s list of banned extremist materials.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
While several laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, transportation, access to health care, and the provision of state services, the government generally did not enforce these laws. No laws prohibit discrimination in air travel.
Persons with disabilities continued to face discrimination and denial of equal access to education, employment, and social institutions. Persons with mental disabilities were subject to severe discrimination in education and employment (see section 7.d.). In addition the conditions of guardianship imposed by courts deprived them of almost all personal rights. Under the family code, individuals with mental disabilities were at times prevented from getting married without a guardian’s consent. According to HRW, although the government has begun to implement inclusive education, most children with disabilities did not study in mainstream schools due to a lack of reasonable accommodations to facilitate their individual learning needs. The lack of reasonable accommodations left tens of thousands of children with disabilities isolated at home or in specialized schools, often far from their homes. Most children with disabilities in orphanages had at least one living parent, and many faced violence and neglect, including inadequate health care, education, and opportunities to play, according to HRW.
In July local registry officials in Nizhny Novgorod denied a marriage license to a blind couple arguing that neither the bride nor groom could independently sign the documents.
On March 29, the ECHR, in a landmark ruling, found that the government should not have denied Vitaliy Kocherov custody of his daughter for the first six years of her life solely because both he and his wife have mental disabilities.
Conditions in institutions for adults with disabilities were often poor, with unqualified staff and overcrowding. Institutions rarely attempted to develop the abilities of residents, whom they frequently confined to the premises and whose movements they sometimes restricted within the institutions themselves.
On January 1, new amendments to the law for the social protection of persons with disabilities became effective. The amendments broaden the criteria for establishing a person’s disability, introduce a federal register of persons with disabilities, require barrier-free accessibility, and access to social services. Under the previous system introduced by Ministry of Labor and Social Protection in 2015, grant benefits for the persons with disabilities were changed based on the type of medical condition and the extensiveness of the symptoms. The changes affected hundreds of thousands of individuals who were denied disability benefits during the year based on the new requirements. Under the system only persons deemed to have lost at least 40 percent of one of their body functions could apply for financial assistance. The January amendments restored many of the previous categories of disabilities.
Federal law requires that buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities, but authorities did not enforce the law, and many buildings were not accessible. In a 2013 report, HRW noted that, in apartment buildings constructed before 2001 (that is, prior to the development of minimum accessibility standards for new construction), doorways and elevators were too narrow for wheelchairs and buildings lacked elevators or appropriate ramps. In some cases buildings constructed after 2001 also lacked these accommodations. This lack of building access was an insurmountable barrier to employment, education, and social engagement for the vast majority of wheelchair users interviewed in the report. The report also noted that critical public facilities and emergency services remained largely inaccessible to persons with disabilities. Disability rights NGOs confirmed that accessibility remained a problem, noting that only a handful of Moscow’s 200 subway stations had elevators to accommodate patrons with disabilities.
In July a man with disabilities from Krasnoyarsk committed suicide after local authorities refused to install a wheelchair ramp at his residence. According to media reports, the man had been confined to his home for the previous three years due to lack of accessibility. His mother told media that authorities continually denied requests for the ramp and told her son the city could not install the ramp until 2038.
Most children with disabilities remained isolated from other community members and were unable to attend public schools, since only 3 percent of schools could accommodate them. According to a 2014 HRW report, nearly 30 percent of all children with disabilities lived in state orphanages, where they faced violence and neglect. Some children interviewed by HRW reported that orphanage staff beat them, injected them with sedatives, and sent them to psychiatric hospitals for days or weeks at a time to control or punish them.
HRW reported that at least 95 percent of children living in orphanages and foster care had at least one living parent, although children with disabilities who entered institutions at a young age were unlikely to return to their birth families, mostly due to the practice of local-level state commissions recommending continued institutionalization of children. Staff working in institutions that HRW visited occasionally discouraged visits or other contact with family members, claiming that such contact “spoiled” children by getting them accustomed to too much attention. Within orphanages, HRW documented the segregation of children whom staff deemed to have the most severe disabilities into “lying-down” rooms, where they were confined to cribs and often tied to furniture with rags. Many of these children received little attention except for feeding and diaper changing.
According to Ministry of Internal Affairs data, more than 45 percent of the country’s total population of children with disabilities were institutionalized. While the law mandates inclusive education for children with disabilities, authorities generally segregated them from mainstream society through a system that institutionalized them through adulthood. Graduates of such institutions often lacked the necessary social, educational, and vocational skills to function in society.
There were numerous cases of child abuse in state facilities. The Prosecutor General’s Office requested a criminal investigation into a youth facility in Dagestan after allegations of abuse surfaced in March. According to media, former orphanage pupils reported that children, many with disabilities, were forced to sleep on the floor and that they received injections from staff to make them sleep. There were also allegations that children were forced to shower as a group in cold water.
There appeared to be no legal mechanism by which individuals could contest their assignment to a facility for persons with disabilities. The classification of children with mental disabilities to categories of disability often followed them through their lives. The official designations “imbecile” and “idiot,” assigned by a commission that assesses children with developmental problems at the age of three, signify that authorities considered a child uneducable. These designations were almost always irrevocable. The designation “weak” (having a slight cognitive or intellectual disability) followed an individual on official documents, creating barriers to employment and housing after graduation from state institutions.
During the World Ice Hockey Championship in May, police in St. Petersburg refused to allow a man with cerebral palsy into the match because they did not like his manner of walking.
Election laws do not specifically mandate that polling places be accessible to persons with disabilities, and the majority of polling stations were not. Election officials generally brought mobile ballot boxes to the homes of voters with disabilities.
The law prohibits discrimination based on nationality, but government officials increasingly subjected minorities to discrimination. According to the SOVA Center, as of July racial violence resulted in the death of at least one person, while 32 others were injured, and two received death threats. Incidents were reported in eight regions, although the violence tended to be concentrated in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Skinhead groups and other extreme nationalist organizations fomented racially motivated violence. Racist propaganda remained a problem, although courts continued to convict individuals of using propaganda to incite ethnic hatred.
As was the case in 2015, there were fewer reports of skinhead violence than in previous years. The Ministry of Justice added a number of skinhead videos found on social media, as well as skinhead, ultranationalist, and xenophobic publications, to the Federal List of Extremist Materials.
Nationalist organizations held a number of rallies throughout the year, but due to continued law enforcement pressure on nationalist groups, there were drastically lower levels of public activity. A May 2 demonstration in Moscow held by the nationalist group Committee of January 25 to commemorate clashes in 2014 between Euromaidan and anti-Maidan protesters in Odessa, Ukraine, drew between 250 and 300 persons. Most nationalist events during the year, however, drew significantly fewer participants. On July 7, the National-Conservative Movement and the Union of Orthodox Banner Bearers held a rally in Moscow in memory of the Russian royal family executed in 1918. The campaign attracted no more than 20 participants from Orthodox and monarchist groups.
Incidents highlighted longstanding discrimination against Roma and tensions between the Romani community and authorities. On March 17, residents of a Romani settlement in Tula clashed with riot police over access to a gas pipeline running through their community. Romani residents had been siphoning gas illegally from the pipeline for years because authorities had refused to give Romani families legal title to their land and allow them to register for gas service. The overwhelmed pipeline eventually broke down, and when engineers came to repair it, Romani residents attempted to block them so they would not cut off their access to gas. The incident turned violent, with children wielding sticks at police, who put down the protest with force.
In some cases authorities held perpetrators responsible for xenophobic violence, and there were at least 16 convictions for such acts as of July, resulting in the sentencing of 40 persons to prison terms for hate crimes. This included 12 members of the Moscow neo-Nazi group 14/88 who were sentenced to prison terms of between four and 10 years for racially motivated murder and other violent crimes.
Police and migration officials continued to engage in anti-immigrant raids in markets, factories, the subway, and city streets. GAMI/the FMS organized civilian patrols in which volunteers could sign up to participate in such raids under the supervision of migration service officials.
Grassroots ultra right activists also conducted raids during the year targeting suspected irregular or undocumented migrants. On July 22 in St. Petersburg, six or seven individuals belonging to a Cossack group entered a construction area that was home to migrant workers from Central Asia, broke down the doors, dragged 40 persons outside, and turned them over to police. In April in Moscow, the National-Conservative Movement conducted a raid in which its members checked shawarma sellers for their registration and certificates of production.
Right-wing activists capitalized on the high-profile killing of a five-year-old girl by her Uzbek nanny to promote prejudice against Muslims and anti-immigrant policies. On February 29, Gulchekhra Bobokulovaya decapitated the child in her care and waved the severed head at a busy metro station while shouting, “Allahu akbar” and threatening to blow herself up. In addition to the incident’s exploitation by right-wing groups, the Moscow City council of the Communist Party put the graphic image of the event on a party poster and called for several discriminatory measures, including a visa regime with Central Asian countries and a lifetime entry ban on foreigners who have committed a crime in Russia.
The constitution and various statutes provide support for “small-numbered” indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia, and the Far East, permitting them to create self-governing bodies and allowing them to seek compensation if economic development threatens their lands. The government granted the status of “indigenous” and associated benefits only to those ethnic groups numbering fewer than 50,000 and maintaining their traditional way of life. Small-numbered indigenous groups throughout the country (including the Udege in the Far East, the Khanty in Siberia, and the Chukchi in the North) continued to work actively to preserve and defend their cultures as well as their right to benefit from the economic resources in their regions. The majority of small-numbered indigenous communities believed that a combination of overlapping legal codes and authorities’ lack of political will to enforce existing laws prevented them from fully exercising their rights.
Most members of indigenous communities asserted that they received the same treatment as ethnic Russians, although some more vocal activists claimed they were either unrepresented or underrepresented in regional governments and that the government failed to address seriously the problems of indigenous communities in recent decades. Small-numbered indigenous groups also expressed concern that they lacked adequate representation in the federal government. In 2015 responsibility for indigenous issues shifted from the Ministry of Culture to the newly created Federal Agency for Nationalities. During the year the government introduced fishing restrictions and eliminated special quotas for indigenous peoples throughout the country, endangering some communities in Khabarovsk and Kamchatka that depend on fishing.
The Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON), the country’s largest NGO for indigenous persons, represented 41 groups spread across the country with approximately 250,000 members. In 2013 government pressure led to the rejection of the candidacy of respected activist Pavel Sulyandziga to become RAIPON’s president and to a subsequent political purge of RAIPON’s leadership. Although Sulyandziga agreed to stay on as first vice president, a Duma member from the ruling United Russia party, Grigoriy Ledkov, was installed as president. Sulyandziga stepped down in early 2016 over disagreements with Ledkov over indigenous policy and corruption.
Indigenous contacts reported an increase in state-sponsored harassment, including interrogations by the security services, as well as employment discrimination (see section 7.d).
Since 2015 the Ministry of Justice has added several NGOs focusing on indigenous issues to the foreign agents’ list. In November 2015 the Center for Support of Indigenous Peoples of the North, an NGO headed by Rodion Sulyandziga, the brother of Pavel Sulyandziga, was added to the list. According to the ministry’s website, the center engaged in political activity while receiving foreign funding from the World Bank, the UN Democracy Fund, and the Danish-based International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs. On March 11, the Ministry of Justice designated the Batani International Foundation for the Development of Indigenous and Small Numbered Peoples of the North, Siberia, and Far East (aka Batani Fund) as a foreign agent. The Batani Fund was headed by Pavel Sulyandziga and listed its mission as protecting the rights of indigenous and small numbered peoples.
Pavel Sulyandziga told media outlets that his confrontations with officials from the Ministry of Regional Development over his attempts to enforce the rights of indigenous persons to receive their hunting and fishing quotas were the reason his organization was added to the foreign agents’ list. Pavel Sulyandziga criticized the government’s approach to supporting indigenous people as simply providing funding for indigenous festivals and holidays but not allowing them the use of rivers or traditional land sites. In August the Tengri School of Spiritual Ecology in the Altai Republic, which promoted environmental protection and ethnic culture in the region, was also forced to register as a foreign agent.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law criminalizes the distribution of “propaganda” of nontraditional sexual relations to minors and effectively limits the rights of free expression and assembly for citizens who wish to advocate publicly for rights or express the opinion that homosexuality is normal. Examples of what the government considered LGBTI propaganda included materials that “directly or indirectly approve of persons who are in nontraditional sexual relationships.” Antidiscrimination laws exist but do not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Authorities rarely investigated cases of physical violence against LGBTI persons as hate crimes.
During the year there were reports of killings motivated by the sexual orientation or gender identity of the victim. On March 31, a journalist and well-known arts and theater critic, Dmitriy Tsilikin, was found dead with multiple stab injuries in his home in St. Petersburg. Police arrested suspect Sergey Kosyrev, who admitted that he had met Tsilikin online and planned to blackmail him for his presumed homosexuality, but killed him in a quarrel. Media reports indicated that Kosyrev, who was charged with Tsilikin’s killing, had expressed support for neo-Nazi ideology on social media.
On February 1, a transgender woman named Angela Likina was stabbed to death by one of her neighbors in Ufa. Likina came to prominence after a video on social media showed a traffic police officer laughing uncontrollably with his partner after examining her documents and releasing her upon discovering that she was transgender. Likina expressed dismay about the release of the video and the attention it garnered. The alleged perpetrator was detained.
Human rights groups reported continuing violence against LGBTI individuals. Openly gay men were particular targets of attacks, and police often failed to respond adequately to such incidents. On June 12, a group of nine soccer fans savagely beat visitors to the Mono gay club in Yekaterinburg; one victim suffered a concussion and a broken leg. Police responded to the scene but failed to search the surrounding area for the attackers, even though witnesses told police where to look. Yekaterinburg authorities stated they were investigating.
There were reports that police abused and harassed individuals whom they perceived to be LGBTI. A report released by the LGBT Network in March documented 21 cases of alleged violations of LGBTI person’s rights by law enforcement officials during 2015. In one case, on July 11, police in Krasnodar reportedly harassed, detained, and threatened a man with rape based on his presumed sexual orientation. Authorities subsequently charged him with refusing to obey police orders and sentenced him to pay a fine. Human rights groups were appealing the court’s decision.
On June 13, police arrested two men, Islam Abdullabekov and Felix Glyukman, after they placed a sign that read “Love wins” at a memorial in Moscow for the victims of the shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando. Authorities charged the men with holding an unauthorized demonstration and questioned them for three hours before releasing them. If convicted, they each face up to 10 days in prison or a fine of 60,000 rubles ($900).
LGBTI activists experienced threats and attacks by private individuals. On August 6, a private sports event organized by the Russia LGBT Sports Federation at a campground in Nizhny Novgorod was attacked by persons who beat participants with sticks while shouting homophobic insults. Three persons were injured in the attack. Police opened an investigation.
LGBTI individuals often declined to report attacks against them due to fears that police would subject them to mistreatment or publicize their sexual orientation or gender identity. In May the newspaper Meduza reported that a criminal gang in St. Petersburg lured gay men on fake dates in order to beat and rob them. The robbers correctly presumed that few victims would report the crimes to police.
On July 7, LGBTI activist Violetta Grudina complained to the ECHR that authorities failed to carry out an effective investigation into an attack on the Maximum Center for Social, Psychological, and Legal Assistance to Victims of Homophobia and Discrimination in Murmansk (“Maximum”). In April 2015 assailants sprayed suffocating gas into the center, injuring two persons. Police refused to open a criminal investigation. “Maximum” was liquidated in October 2015 after being designated a foreign agent.
There were reports that authorities restricted the freedoms of expression, association, and assembly of individuals who expressed support for the human rights of LGBTI persons. Authorities invoked the law prohibiting the distribution of propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors to restrict the free speech of LGBTI persons and their supporters, which contributed to an environment of self-censorship among media outlets, rights organizations, and others on LGBTI problems. For example, on January 18, a Murmansk court fined the former leader of the LGBTI organization “Maximum,” Sergey Alekseyenko, 100,000 rubles ($1,500) for violating the “propaganda” law by posting positive views of LGBTI persons and relationships on the organization’s website on the social network VKontakte. One of the postings deemed “propaganda” was a poem by the 19th century Russian writer Mikhail Lermontov that described a sexual scene between two young men. The other posting was nearly an exact quote from a complaint that Roskomnadzor filed against the LGBTI group Deti 404 that read, “Children! To be gay means to be a person who is brave, strong, confident, persistent, who has a sense of dignity and self-respect.” Alekseyenko was the fifth LGBTI activist prosecuted under the “gay propaganda law.”
On March 1, the Ministry of Justice added the St. Petersburg NGO Sfera, which provided social and legal services to members of the LGBTI community, to the list of foreign agents. Sfera was at least the third LGBTI organization placed on the foreign agents’ list. Two other groups were listed in 2015: “Maximum” and Rakurs, an LGBTI advocacy organization based in Arkhangelsk.
Many events planned by members of the LGBTI community were officially unsanctioned and conducted in private due to security concerns. Nevertheless, the LGBT Network reported that in at least four cases during the year LGBTI-related events were disrupted, sometimes through anonymous calls alleging bomb threats.
Moscow authorities refused to allow a gay pride parade for the 11th consecutive year, despite a 2010 ECHR ruling that the denial violated the rights to freedom of assembly and freedom from discrimination. In February the ECHR agreed to review two cases brought by representatives of the country’s LGBTI community on the prohibition of more than a hundred public events across the country between 2009 and 2015.
On May 1, police in St. Petersburg detained approximately 20 LGBTI activists after they unfurled a rainbow flag at the annual May Day parade. Authorities had banned LGBTI groups from participating in the event two days prior to the march. This was the first time that authorities had prohibited LGBTI groups from taking part in the event; an estimated 600 demonstrators marched with LGBTI groups during the 2015 parade. According to the organizers, Roskomnadzor blocked access to the group’s official website and VKontakte page ahead of the event.
A homophobic campaign continued in state-controlled media, in which officials, journalists, and others called LGBTI persons “perverts,” “sodomites,” and “abnormal” and conflated homosexuality with pedophilia.
LGBTI persons reported heightened societal stigma and discrimination, which some attributed to increasing official promotion of intolerance and homophobia. Activists asserted that the majority of LGBTI persons hid their sexual orientation or gender identity due to fear of losing their jobs or homes as well as the threat of violence. Medical practitioners reportedly continued to limit or deny LGBTI persons health services due to intolerance and prejudice. There were reports that high levels of employment discrimination against LGBTI persons persisted (see section 7.d.) and that LGBTI persons continued to seek asylum abroad due to the domestic environment.
Although the law allows transgender individuals to change their names and gender classifications on government documents, they faced difficulties because the government had not established standard procedures and many civil registry offices denied their requests. When their documents failed to reflect their gender accurately, transgender persons often faced harassment by law enforcement officers and discrimination in accessing health care, education, housing, transportation, and employment. In one case in February, a transgender woman named Alina Davis was sentenced to two months in a men’s prison for driving with a fake license because her documents identified her as male. Transgender activists advocated for authorities to take steps that would fully legalize sex reassignment surgery and clarify procedures for changing gender identity on official documents.
There were some isolated positive developments during the year for the LGBTI community. For the first time in its eight-year history, the international LGBTI pride festival of Russia, Queerfest, took place in St. Petersburg in September without attacks or harassment. The event drew more than 1,500 persons. Other LGBTI-related events, such as an annual sports festival in St. Petersburg in March and a photography exhibit in Moscow in August, were held throughout the country.
There were rare instances in which courts found in favor of LGBTI persons seeking to exercise their human rights. In March the Kostroma City Court ruled that the city should pay Nikolay Alekseyev, founder of the Moscow Gay Pride Parade movement, 6,600 rubles ($99) in compensation for banning a gay pride parade there in 2014. On July 29, a Novosibirsk court ruled that Anna Balash had been subjected to discrimination by the company Sib-Alians, which had twice refused her employment on the grounds of “nontraditional sexual orientation.” The court ordered Sib-Alians to pay Balash 1,000 rubles ($15) compensation.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Persons with HIV/AIDS faced significant legal discrimination, informal stigma-based barriers, and employment discrimination (see section 7.d.) and were prohibited from adopting children. In addition, intravenous drug users in particular faced informal barriers to accessing antiretroviral treatment. Regional AIDS centers often demanded that drug users complete drug addiction treatment, which was severely lacking or nonexistent in most areas, before starting antiretroviral treatment.
According to NGO activists, men who have sex with men were discouraged from seeking antiretroviral treatment, since treatment exposed the fact that these individuals have the virus, while sex workers were afraid to appear in the official system due to threats from law enforcement bodies. Economic migrants also concealed their HIV status and avoided treatment due to fear of deportation. By law foreign citizens who are HIV positive may be deported. The law, however, bars the deportation of HIV-positive foreigners who have a Russian national or permanent resident spouse, child (including adopted children), or parents (including adoptive parents).
Prisoners with HIV/AIDS experienced regular abuse and denial of medical treatment.
Although the law provides for treatment of HIV-positive persons, drug shortages, legal barriers, and lack of funds caused large gaps in treatment. Regional AIDS centers continued to force patients to take “vacations” from antiretrovirals for three months due to drug shortages, according to the NGO Patients Control. In September 2015 a Moscow court ruled that the Moscow AIDS Center could refuse to provide antiretroviral drugs to temporary residents in the city. According to NGOs, temporary residents were often told to return to their location of permanent residency for treatment (changing one’s permanent residence is administratively difficult and often requires property ownership or family ties).
In May a government-backed study by the Russian Institute for Strategic Research asserted that condoms are the main reason for the HIV epidemic in the country. The study’s scientists suggested that the best way to protect against HIV is to “be in a heterosexual family where both partners are loyal to each other.”
The Ministry of Justice cracked down on HIV-related NGOs, adding seven to the foreign agents’ list, effectively shutting them down. In one example, in August the Ministry of Justice added Panacea, a youth NGO dedicated to combatting the spread of HIV, to the register of foreign agents. Based in Kuznetsk, Penza region (approximately 150 miles west of Samara), Panacea focused on youth HIV prevention by providing condoms and clean syringes to “at risk” residents. Prosecutors alleged that Panacea’s activities, including the distribution of condoms and syringes, conflicted with public policy on drug abuse and AIDS prevention. The prosecutors asserted that the activities could not be considered humanitarian or ideological and were “political” in nature. Panacea worked closely with the NGO ESVERO, a union of organizations involved in HIV prevention, that was added to the list of foreign agents in June.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
The lack of an internal passport often prevented homeless citizens from fully securing their legal rights and social services. Homeless persons faced barriers to obtaining legal documentation.