Russia's crackdown on freedoms harshest since Soviet era, says report
Russian authoritarianism rose in 2012 to levels unprecedented in recent history, Human Rights Watch said yesterday, assessing what it called the harshest crackdown on political freedoms in the country since the Soviet era.
Russia introduced restrictive laws, harassed activists and interfered with non-governmental organisations during the year, which saw Vladimir Putin return to the Kremlin and former president Dmitry Medvedev appointed prime minister, the New York-based rights group said.
“Since Putin’s return . . . not only has the tentative shift towards liberalisation of the Medvedev era been totally reversed, but also authoritarianism in Russia has reached a level unknown in recent history,” said Rachel Denber, deputy director of HRW’s Europe and Central Asia Division. Speaking in Moscow, Ms Denber also criticised the government’s stance toward the West.
Since Mr Putin began a six-year term in May, he has signed laws restricting protests, demanding foreign-funded NGOs register as “foreign agents” and setting new rules on treason that critics say could place almost anyone who associates with foreigners at risk of prosecution.
Several opposition leaders and activists face potential prison terms if convicted on charges Mr Putin’s critics say are trumped up, though his spokesman has denied the Kremlin uses courts and police to pressure critics.
“Measures to intimidate critics and restrict Russia’s vibrant civil society have reached unprecedented levels,” Hugh Williamson of HRW’s Europe and Central Asia Division, said. – (Reuters)