RUSSIA: CONTINUED VIOLATIONS OF THE
RIGHT TO FREE EXPRESSION
Freedom of expression is steadily deteriorating in the Russian Federation (Russia).
Particularly alarming trends include the killing of journalists, and the absence of
subsequent thorough and impartial investigations. Public officials, including at the
highest level of the government, refuse to view the media as an independent critic and
often regard it as a subordinate body aimed at furthering particular political goals.
Media outlets who dare to voice independent opinions are silenced. The last year has
also witnessed the suppression of opposition groups and peaceful demonstrations; the
imposition of criminal sentences in freedom of expression cases; and attacks on
minorities, whether religious, sexual or ethnic, thus further weakening Russia’s
democratic credibility on the world stage.
The instances described below constitute clear violations of the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention of Human
Rights, to which Russia is a party and which - in Article 19 and Article 10
respectively - guarantee the right to freedom of expression. The State parties to these
conventions have an obligation to create an environment that encourages pluralism
and political debate and to refrain from interfering in the work of the media. It is clear
that such a pluralistic, open and diverse environment does not currently exist in
Russia: while the media, journalists, opposition groups are silenced, the Russian
public is deprived of its right to information and debate on matters of public
The following are just examples of the most serious instances.
Death of journalists
• Ivan Safronov, an investigative journalist for the Kommersant newspaper,
died in mysterious circumstances on 2 March 2007, after falling from the
window by the stairwell in his apartment block (one floor above his
apartment). Friends and colleagues expressed surprise as well as shock at
his death, commenting that he had shown no signs of being close to
suicide. He was known to be preparing an article on Russian arms sales to
Syria and Iran. Russian prosecutors are investigating the possibility that he
might have been ‘driven to suicide’.
• Vyacheslav Ifanov, a cameraman for the independent television station
Novoye Televideniye Aleiska in Aleisk (Siberia), was found dead in his
garage on 5 April 2007. Russian prosecutors are reportedly viewing his
death as suicide by gas poisoning. However, both, family members and
colleagues have noted wounds on his body, and have drawn links with an
attack that he was a victim of in January 2007. On this occasion, Ifanov
was physically attacked (and his camera was broken) by a group of
unidentified men after they noticed him filming them in the centre of
Aleisk. He filed a complaint to the police, but received threats calling on
him to withdraw his complaint. On the day before his death, he had
appeared on television to report on his attack and the lack of an
• In the criminal investigation into a very prominent recent case, the murder
of journalist and activist Anna Politkovskaya, no substantial progress has
been made since her death nine months ago. Anna Politkovskaya was shot
dead on 7 October 2006, in what appeared to be a contract killing. Ms.
Politkovskaya was an internationally respected journalist who provided
critical, analytical coverage of the Chechnya conflict. She had received
repeated threats over the past few years and was ultimately shot inside the
entrance to her apartment building in Moscow. Politkovskaya’s editor at
the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta revealed that she was about to
publish a story on the use of torture by security services in Chechnya. The
investigation into her murder is ongoing.1
• Similarly, no progress has been made in the investigation into the death of
American journalist Paul Khlebnikov, editor of the Russian edition of
Forbes magazine. In March 2007 a Moscow court was forced to postpone
the re-trial when one of the defendants, Kazbek Dukuzov, could not be
located. He and the second defendant, Musa Vakhayev, had also failed to
appear at a previous hearing. Khlebnikov was shot dead in Moscow in
2004, and attempts to bring his killers to justice have been dogged by
difficulties from the start.2
• On 26 July 2006, journalist Yevgeny Gerasimenko was killed in his
apartment in Saratov (southern Russia). He worked for the weekly
publication Saratovsky Rasklad and had been investigating the takeover of
a local commercial enterprise. He was found strangled, with a plastic bag
over his head, and covered in bruises. His computer was also missing.
Local authorities arrested an unnamed homeless man who was declared to
be responsible for the murder. The Russian Internal Affairs Department
stated that the case was now ‘closed.’
• NTV journalist Ilya Zimin was murdered in his Moscow flat on 26
February 2006. There appeared to have been a violent struggle. Zimin had
worked as an investigative journalist for NTV, where he worked as a
1 See the letter to President Putin on this case by ARTICLE 19, International Pen and Index on
Censorship, 11 October 2006, http://www.article19.org/pdfs/letters/russia-journalist-politkovskaya-
2 Dukuzov and Vakhayev were acquitted in May 2006 following a trial that was held behind closed
doors. Then, in November 2006, Russia’s Supreme Court over-turned this decision and ordered a re-
correspondent for the investigative programme ‘Profession: Reporter’.
Moldovan national Igor Velchev was arrested as a suspect to be tried in
• The murder case of newspaper journalist Vaghif Kochetkov was returned
to the prosecutor’s office in Tula in January 2007 for additional
investigation. Kochetkov, who worked for the newspaper Trud, had died in
hospital in Tula on 8 January 2006 after being assaulted. Ian Stakhanov, a
thief with a criminal record, was arrested and charged, though he later said
in court that he had been forced by investigators to confess to the crime
and denied any involvement in the murder. The investigators have argued
that the assault was part of a robbery. However, the evidence contained in
the indictment contains several conflicting statements.
Disappearance of journalists
• On 17 August 2006, Elina Ersenoyeva, Grozny correspondent for the
independent Chechenskoye Obshchestvo newspaper, was seized by masked
men in Chechnya. The newspaper’s editor noted that Ersenoyeva had
written on the plight of Chechen refugees, and on conditions in Grozny
prisons.4 Only two days before her seizure, Ersenoyeva had communicated
with the Russian human rights centre Demos complaining of harassment
by Chechen security forces. She has not been seen since her seizure.
Repression of peaceful demonstrations
• A journalist from newspaper Kommersant and two journalists from REN-
TV were detained whilst trying to interview an organiser of a march that
was set to take place during the EU-Russia summit in June 2007. The
Samara offices of the newspaper Novaya Gazeta were also raided and
computers seized before the summit, on the pretext of verifying whether
their software was licensed. Several foreign journalists were also
reportedly prevented from travelling to Samara.
• On 14-15 April 2007, a series of anti-government ‘Dissenters’ Marches’
were held in Moscow and St. Petersburg. A number of human rights
violations were noted, including the arbitrary detention of hundreds of the
marchers, the denial of legal representation to those detained, and the
excessive use of force by the police. A number of journalists that covered
the ‘Dissenters’ Marches’ were also detained, and approximately 30
journalists were beaten by the police forces. Former chess champion and
Kremlin critic Garry Kasparov, one of the event’s organisers, was among
those detained. On 14 May, a Moscow court fined Mr. Kasparov for
“marching in a large group of people and shouting anti-government
• A demonstration by human rights activists and other civil society groups
was held in Nizhniy Novgorod on 24 March 2007. The authorities made
several attempts to obstruct it, including by trying to ban it altogether. The
Kommersant newspaper, which had been covering plans for the
demonstration, received threatening telephone calls demanding that the
3 As of Spring 2007 a date for the trial was still to be set.
4 It has also been reported that she may have been secretly married to the deceased Chechen separatist,
coverage be discontinued. Those found distributing leaflets for the
demonstration were detained, in some cases for several days. Potential
participants, such as students, were strongly urged not to attend.
Employees reported being threatened with dismissal if they attended.
• On 18 May 2007, the day of the EU-Russia summit in Samara, some
senior members of the opposition movement Other Russia, including
Garry Kasparov, as well as a number of journalists, were detained by
security services at Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport. They were about to
board a flight to Samara, but they were prevented from doing so and their
passports were confiscated. It was claimed that this was done for further
examination of their passports. As a result of this they missed their flight
and lost their tickets. The day before, the executive director of the
opposition group The United Civil Front, Denis Bilunov, was also
detained while on his way to Samara. It was claimed that he was in
possession of counterfeit money. He also missed his flight to Samara.
Closure and harassment of NGOs/institutions
• In July 2007, the Russian authorities forced the British Council to leave its
offices in Yekaterinburg, on the ground that it is not ‘a cultural department
of the British Embassy’, in the Russian Foreign Ministry own words. The
British Council in Russia has also been accused of not paying taxes and
faces an investigation into its tax records; in December 2006 its office in
St. Petersburg was closed for two weeks by officials because of allegedly
breaking safety regulations. Staff claims this is a campaign of harassment
and that they have been long being trying to resolve their tax status.
• On 18 April 2007, the Educated Media Foundation (EMF) - formerly
known as Internews - was forced to cease its activities after the seizure of
its computers and computer records by the police. The police action was
part of an ongoing criminal prosecution of Manana Aslamazyan, EMF
director, and Gillian McCormack, head of Internews Europe's Moscow
office. The charges were brought after the two women failed to fill in the
declaration forms for bringing cash into the country in January 2007, an
offence that is usually dealt with through a simple fine.
• On 23 January 2007, the Russian Supreme Court upheld the October 2006
decision of a regional court to close the Russian-Chechen Friendship
Society (RCFS).5 The RCFS was a well-respected NGO which monitored
human rights violations in Chechnya and disseminated news from the
region. The court acted under a newly-adopted NGO Law, which has made
it illegal for an NGO to be led by a person with a criminal conviction.
Stanislav Dmitrievsky, the organisation’s director, had been convicted of
‘inciting hatred and enmity on the basis of ethnicity and religion’6 and
received a two-year suspended prison sentence. This was for the
publication of articles written by Chechen separatist leaders in 2004,
despite the fact that they were non-violent and called for the peaceful
resolution of the conflict. Following the Supreme Court’s verdict, the
5 See also ARTICLE 19: “Russian-Chechen Friendship Society Under Threat”, 19 January 2007:
6 Article 282 of the Criminal Code.
RCFS announced its plans to take the case to the European Court of
• On 17 May 2007, police visited the residence of Oksana Chelysheva, a
journalist working for the RCFS. They asked her mother where Ms.
Chelysheva was, and in particular whether she was in Samara, where the
EU-Russia summit was to be held the following day. They also informed
her that Ms. Chelysheva was on the official list of extremists.
Criminal sentences in freedom of expression cases
• The Russian Federal Security Service on 2 July 2007 filed charges against
exiled businessman Boris Berezovsky with conspiring to seize power in a
coup, after comments he gave during an interview with British newspaper
The Guardian. In the interview on 13 April 2007, Berezovsky said “it isn’t
possible to change this regime through democratic means,” adding that
“we need to use force to change this regime.” He denies advocating a
violent coup. Berezovsky fled his country for Britain in 2000, where he
has been given asylum and is protected against extradition back to Russia7.
• In Abakan (south-central Russia), on 11 November 2006, journalist
Mikhail Afanasyev was charged under the Russian Criminal Code for the
slander of a civil servant from the public prosecutor’s office. This related
to an allegation made by Afanasyev in his online publication Noviy Focus
that the officer had been responsible for injuring a child in a car accident.
It later emerged that Afanasyev had been mistaken, and an apology
followed, both in person and in Noviy Focus. However, criminal charges
were still brought against him and the case is ongoing. This is the tenth
time criminal charges have been brought against Afanasyev in the three
years since the establishment of the website.8
• In September 2006, criminal charges were issued against journalists from
the Kaliningradskie Noviye Kolesa newspaper in Kaliningrad, in particular
Oleg Berezovsky. Noviye Kolesa is known for its vigorous criticism of
local government officials. Berezovsky was charged with criminal
defamation after a complaint by judges from the Kaliningrad Regional
Court relating to an article written in 2004. The judges maintained that
Berezovsky had accused them of accepting bribes, even though the article
simply questioned the Regional Court’s acquittal of a defendant who had
been found guilty of selling drugs by a lower court. Criminal prosecutions
have also been instituted against the founder of Noviye Kolesa, Igor
Rudnikov, and its journalists Aleksandr Berezovsky and Dina Yakshina.
The journalists may face imprisonment. The case is ongoing.
• Arms control researcher Igor Sutyagin remains in prison with seven years
to serve. His case is part of a pattern of accusations of espionage directed
7 International standards limit restrictions to freedom of expression on the grounds of national security
to cases in which an act is intended to incite violence and where there is a direct and immediate
connection between the act and the likelihood or occurrence of violence. The Berezovsky’s statement,
although certainly provocative, cannot be said to constitute a serious and imminent risk for violence in
Russia. The 2006 amendments to the Law on Counteracting Extremist Activity, outlawing activities
that might lead to extremism activity, are another indicator of Russia’s clear failure to comply with its
obligations under international law. The amendments adopted by the Russian Duma in July 2007
compound this problem.
8 Criminal charges have been dismissed by courts in the past.
against scientists who have disseminated environmental information. In
October 1999, Sutyagin was arrested for treason on the basis of a secret
decree, for allegedly selling information on nuclear submarine and missile
warning systems to a British company, which the Russian FSB claimed to
be a cover for the CIA. Trial proceedings only began in February 2001 and
a closed trial was initiated in November 2003. In April 2004 Sutyagin was
found guilty of treason and sentenced to 15 years’ hard labour. He has
never denied providing information to a British organisation (which he had
no reason to believe was an intelligence cover), but denied that the
information constituted State secrets. His research was based on open
Seizure of publications and equipment
• In the week commencing 7 May 2007, local police in Samara clamped
down on the activities of a number of independent news outlets, such as
the newspapers Novaya Gazeta and Kommersant, and the Regnum news
agency. This included detaining and interrogating some of their journalists,
and seizing computers and financial records. The police claimed that they
were investigating criminal violations, but failed to specify any particular
offences. It has been suggested that the police’s actions may have been
designed to obstruct the coverage of a planned ‘Dissenters’ March’ on 18
May 2007, the day of the EU-Russia summit.
• On 29 April 2007, the newspaper of the United Civil Front came under
attack. 52,000 copies, intended to be circulated in Moscow ahead of
demonstrations scheduled for 1 May, were seized by government officials
in St. Petersburg, from where they were going to be transported to
Moscow. It was to be a special issue reporting on the 14-15 April anti-
government demonstrations held in Moscow and St. Petersburg – the so-
called ‘Dissenters’ Marches’.
Attacks on ethnic, religious and sexual minorities
The Russian authorities have failed to protect Russia’s minorities from harassment
and violence. Between November 2006 and April 2007, hate crime was up 30% from
its levels during the same period in the previous year.9 In some cases, the authorities
were themselves responsible for such human rights abuses.
In July 2007, the Russian Parliament adopted amendments to extremism legislation.10
If signed into law by President Vladimir Putin, the amendments will further restrict
freedom of expression in the Russia. The amendments provide:
• An expansion of the definition of extremism, to include ‘hatred or hostility
towards any social group’ – with no definition of ‘social group’ and
punishable with imprisonment for up to five years;
9 SOVA, Hate Crime in Russia (November 2006 – April 2007): Brief Analysis, Statistics,
Recommendations, 7 May 2007, http://xeno.sova-center.ru/6BA2468/6BB4254/926D942?print=on.
10 The law ‘On changes to several legal acts of the Russian Federation to enhance the counteracting of
extremist activities’. The law was voted in its third (and final) reading by the lower house on 6 July and
by the upper house on 11 July. President Vladimir Putin will either sign or veto the law by 25 July; he
had not done either by 19 July. If signed, the law will amend the Law on Counteracting Extremist
Activity, the Administrative Code, the Criminal Code and the Law on Surveillance. The Law on
Counteracting Extremist Activity was also amended in mid-2006. See also note 7 and 11.
• New regulations on the distribution of the ‘extremist materials’ included in a
‘federal list’, to be compiled by the authorities - punishable with
administrative arrest and confiscation of said materials.
• On 11 May 2007 the publication “Risale-i Nur”, Said Nursi’s commentary on
the Koran and Islam, was banned as extremist. If the August appeal fails,
people who disseminate the publication will be prosecuted for extremism. In
the republic of Tatarstan, several Nursi followers have allegedly been harassed
(including through searches, raids and book confiscations), although the
authorities have denied it.
• The widening in 2006 of the legal definition of terrorist activity through
amendments to the 2002 Law on Counteracting Extremist Activity has
particularly affected Muslims.11 An ‘extremist activity’ is defined as one that
“… advocates terrorist activity, and which justifies or excuses the necessity of
such activity.”12 This has made it possible to brand organisations such as
Hizb-ut-Tahrir as terrorist. This organisation was banned for expressing its
desire to establish an international caliphate, even though there has been no
evidence of violent intent on the part of Hizb-ut-Tahrir. Furthermore,
involvement in a banned organisation is itself a criminal offence,13 so that
there have been cases brought against Hizb-ut-Tahrir members simply for
being involved in the organisation rather than in terrorist activities themselves.
More generally, Muslims have claimed that they have been targeted simply for
being openly Muslim – such as by wearing the veil and refraining from
• In April 2006, Memorial, a Moscow-based human rights organisation, was
issued an official warning for publishing a Muslim leader’s statement
questioning the banning of Hizb-ut-Tahrir. Memorial was required to
immediately remove the statement from its website.
• Since the start of the second Chechen war, repression of Muslims in the North
Caucasus has increased, with officials visiting mosques regularly to
interrogate (and at times arrest) worshippers.
• In some cases worshippers were denied access to their mosques for Friday
prayers. This happened, for example, to the residents of Novaya Adygeya
village in 2006. Some were detained and told to stop going to the mosque.
• Acquiring or retaining places of worship is a major problem, and affects
Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Hare Krishna devotees, Jehovah’s Witnesses
• Muslims have seen an increased scrutiny of their literature. Some books have
been banned, such as the eighteenth-century book by the Arabian founder of
• There have also been examples of attacks on other forms of expression of
ethnic minorities. For example, in the Mari El Republic, television
11 See ARTICLE 19, “Proposed amendments to the Russian extremism law”, July 2006,
12 Article 3(2).
13 Article 205 (1) of the law.
programmes in the Mari language (belonging to the Finno-Ugric group) have
been cut and only few books are published in the Mari language every year.14
In February 2005, Vladimir Kozlov, editor-in-chief of the international Finno-
Ugric newspaper Kudo+Kudo and leader in Russia of the movement of Mari
people Mer Kanash, was attacked and severely beaten.
• On 27 May 2005, ethnic Mari artists and musicians were attacked by a group
of Russian skinheads after a concert in Yoshkar-Ola. Nobody was prosecuted
for the incident. Reportedly the action was arranged by a fascist group,
instructed by the Head of the (Russian-dominated) Presidential Administration
of the Mari El Republic.
• In 2005, an ethnographic film on the tradition of Mari song festivals was
banned. The film does not address any political issues and deals exclusively
with cultural matters.
• In May 2007, gay rights protesters (including the British human rights activist
Peter Thatchell) were arrested at a banned protest in Moscow. They were
protesting against the refusal of the Mayor of Moscow to allow a Gay Pride
March. The riot police did not intervene when far-right skinheads chanted
‘death to homosexuals’ and beat up several activists. Instead, some
demonstrators were arrested and charged with disobeying the police.
The Russian authorities should:
• Take effective measures to prevent attacks against, killing and disappearances
of media workers and, when they do occur, carry out thorough and impartial
investigations with a view to bringing the perpetrators to justice;
• Ensure that everyone in Russia can exercise his/her right to free expression
without intimidation or harassment, including the expression of religious,
ethnic, and sexual identity;
• Investigate cases of assault and arbitrary detention of demonstrators, and
ensure that people in Russia can enjoy the right to express themselves through
• Ensure that journalists are able to cover demonstrations without harassment;
nd the harassment of non-governmental organisations and other foundations
with charitable aims, such as organisations promoting and defending human
rights and freedom of expression;
• Return the confiscated computers and records of the Educated Media
Foundation without delay so that it can resume its operations;
• Reverse the decision to close the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society;
• Allow the British Council to operate without interference;
14 The president of the republic, Leonid Markelov, is a native Muscovite and ideologically on the
extreme right. He has openly refused to cooperate with the Mari national movement. See Helsinki
Federation, Russian Federation: The Mari minority of the Republic of Mari El is politically
disempowered and culturally vulnerable, 1 February 2006,
• Consider decriminalising defamation, or at a minimum abolishing
imprisonment as a penalty for defamation, and ensuring that any financial
penalty imposed on the defendant is proportionate;
• Ensure that defamation provisions are not abused to shield the authorities,
including courts, from criticism;
• Free Igor Sutyagin and cease harassment of those who disseminate
environmental information in the public interest;
• Refrain from prior censorship, such as the seizure of publications, unless there
is a threat of extremely grave, irreversible harm, which cannot be addressed
adequately by sanctions imposed after publication;
• Veto the amendments to the extremism provisions adopted by the Russian
Duma in July 2007;
• Amend the Law on Counteracting Extremist Activity, to ensure that
individuals are not found guilty of extremism unless they intend to incite
terrorism and there is a likelihood that violence will occur imminently as a
result of the statement; similarly, if these conditions are not met, literature
should not be subjected to bans.