MOSCOW, January 21 (Alexey Eremenko, RIA Novosti) – Russian authorities cracked down on civil society and minorities in 2013, the Human Rights Watch rights group said in an annual report released Tuesday.
The report, the 24th of its kind, cited as a prime example Russia’s recent law on “foreign agents” that tightened rules for NGOs involved in vaguely defined “political activity.”
The report also criticized Russia for its controversial ban on “gay propaganda”; abuse of migrants’ rights, including in the Olympic Sochi construction, which employed a large migrant workforce; and a heavy-handed clampdown on alleged Islamic insurgency in the North Caucasus.
Civil and LGBT activists as well as migrants are deliberately painted as “enemies” by the state, said Tatiana Lokshina, head of the Human Rights Watch’s Russian branch.
“We believe that the Kremlin is trying to shift the direction of public discontent away from itself and onto someone else,” Lokshina said at the report’s presentation in Moscow.
Russia was hit by a wave of near-unprecedented anti-government protests in 2011-2013, triggered by Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin in 2012.
Human Right Watch’s report covers events up to November 2013 and does not include a presidential amnesty that led to release of prisoners jailed on allegedly political motives, including tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, members of anti-Putin punk band Pussy Riot and the crew of a Greenpeace icebreaker that protested Russia’s drilling for oil in the Arctic.
But Human Rights Watch believed that the amnesty was a publicity stunt ahead of the Sochi Olympics that was unlikely to spell a consistent liberalization of policy, Lokshina said.
The report by the group, headquartered in New York, offered separate studies for 86 countries and territories, as well as the European Union. No ranking was included.
The report covers little by way of recent events in Ukraine, where the government and the opposition are locked in an increasingly brutal struggle.
Group representative Rachel Denber, however, said at the presentation that the Ukrainian standoff was a cause of major concern because it could lead to repression of peaceful protest.
She also criticized recent draconian legislation in Ukraine that tightened rules for political protest, slamming it as “preposterous” and calling for its repeal.
Separately, the report blasted the United States for “abuses related to criminal justice, immigration, national security and drug policy,” especially involving ethnic minorities, the poor, the elderly and children.
Russian authorities have not commented on the report as of this article’s publication.
But they have been increasingly lashing out at Western countries in recent times, accusing them of neglecting domestic rights abuse.
Last week, the Russian Foreign Ministry released a report blasting the EU for “aggressive propaganda of homosexual love” and other perceived rights violations.
On Friday, Putin accused the United States of violating gay rights, pointing out that a number of states still criminalize gay sex. He did not comment on the US Supreme Court ruling from 2003 that invalidated the remaining “sodomy laws.”