Human rights abuses are still widespread across the former Soviet Union, Amnesty International said in a report issued on Thursday.
In Russia, the picture was “mixed,” the report, which evaluates the situation with human rights across the globe, said.
“As elsewhere in the region, human rights defenders and journalists were harassed, intimidated and beaten for exposing abuses. Anti-government demonstrations were frequently banned and their organizers and participants subjected to short periods of detention or fined. Typically for the region, most mainstream media and TV outlets remained under the strong influence of national and local authorities,” the document reads.
At the same time, it said, “civic activism continued to grow, with a variety of causes garnering widespread popular support – including the environment and combating abuses by public officials.”
The report also said the internet in Russia “remained relatively uncontrolled by the authorities” and has become a major forum for the exchange of opinion.
Amnesty’s Moscow bureau chief Alexander Brod said the report failed to mention that growing civil activism prompted the authorities to initiate “positive” reforms.
Nevertheless, the document should be carefully studied by both Russia’s authorities and public organizations, he said.
Following the December 2011 parliamentary election, Russia was hit by a wave of unprecedented street protest, triggered by allegations of mass fraud in favor of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party. Dozens of thousands of people took to the streets in Moscow and other big cities across the country to demand free and fair elections.
Following the protests, then-President Dmitry Medvedev introduced amendments easing the registration of political parties, which have now been signed into law. Direct elections of regional governors, scrapped in 2004, have also been reintroduced.
In Russia’s restive North Caucasus, the security situation “remained volatile and uneven.” Armed groups operating in the region “continued to target law enforcement and other officials, with civilians caught in the crossfire and, on occasion, deliberately attacked.”
Security raids on militant hideouts in the region “were often accompanied by serious human rights violations,” and there were reports of witnesses being “intimidated” and journalists, human rights activists and lawyers being “harassed and killed,” the report said.
The document also pointed to cases when police officers were torturing detainees in Russia and Ukraine. Several such cases were reported in Russia over the past few months, prompting critics to declare a massive police reform initiated by then-President Dmitry Medvedev a failure.
Other former Soviet states
The report stated that in contrast to “the hope and change” brought by popular uprisings across the Arab world, “autocratic regimes in a number of the successor states to the Soviet Union strengthened their grip on power.”
“For many, the hope that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union 20 years ago must have seemed a distant memory,” it said.
President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus introduced “draconian restrictions” to defeat his political opponents and critics, and remained the region’s “last executioner,” putting to death two men found guilty of organizing a deadly terrorist attack in the Minsk underground in a “flawed” and secretive trial.
Anti-government demonstrations in Azerbaijan were “effectively outlawed,” and the Central Asian states of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan “continued to severely restrict the rights to freedom of expression and association.”
Uzbekistan has also seen “dozens of reports of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees and prisoners.”
In Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, there were “unfair trials and cases of harassment for government critics and those who exposed abuses by public officials,” the report said.