U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) says Russian authorities last year widened a crackdown that had been launched against government critics in 2012.
The nongovernmental organization said in its 24th annual report on human rights that Russia’s enforcement of the “foreign agents” law in 2013 prompted a nationwide inspection campaign against hundreds of nongovernmental groups and dozens of court cases.
Rachel Denber, Europe and Central Asia deputy director for Human Rights Watch (HRW), told RFE/RL from Moscow that it was one of the most significant developments in connection with the crackdown on human rights by Russian authorities last year.
"The continued crackdown on government critics -- the crackdown that started when Putin returned to the Kremlin in 2012 -- and this crackdown continued throughout 2013 -- with in particular the massive, unprecedented inspection campaign against nongovernmental organizations, the court cases against NGOs that the prosecutor's office was accusing of failing to register as foreign agents, there were a number of arrests and continued prosecutions throughout the year of government critics and environmental activists," Denber said.
Denber said a law banning the distribution of homosexual propaganda to children, which was adopted by the parliament, was backed by homophobic rhetoric in state media and a rise in homophobic violence.
The report also documents a rise during 2013 of anti-migrant violence that was accompanied by an increase in anti-migrant rhetoric, saying "racist anti-migrant rhetoric by government officials seems to be something that is condoned."
Denber says these actions by the Russian government represent a three-pronged drive by authorities to ramp up hostile public feelings against "foreign agents, migrants, and LGBT people by trying to shape public opinion against these three groups."
Ahead Of Sochi
A chapter in the report about Russia, titled "Crackdown On Government Critics," says the December 2013 release of high-profile detainees -- including the former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, members of the protest performance art collective "Pussy Riot," and the Arctic Sunrise group of Greenpeace activists -- did not significantly alter the crackdown.
Denber said the releases were meant to reduce international pressure on Russian authorities during the run-up to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
The report also highlights the fact that just hours after Putin had pardoned Khodorkovsky, a court in southern Russia sentenced activist Evgeny Vitishko to three years in a penal colony. Vitshko is known for his criticism of alleged environmental damage caused by construction of venues and housing for the Sochi Olympics,
The 667-page "World Report 2014" reviewed human rights practices in more than 90 countries. It said the widespread killing of civilians by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime prompted few measures by world leaders, despite the horror that the violence elicited.
It also says former U.S. security contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations about U.S. surveillance programs "reverberated around the globe."
The report also noted other areas of concern:
Iraq’s rights situation deteriorated during 2013 as sectarian tensions deepened. 2013 was Iraq’s bloodiest year of conflict since 2007.
Iranian women continue to face discrimination in many aspects of life -- from their personal status in marriages, divorce, inheritance, and child custody.
Grave rights abuses in Central Asia should prompt action by Western governments to "consistently and publicly" raise concerns about human rights and urge specific improvements.
Progress on women's rights in Afghanistan was set back in 2013 as international interest in the country wanes ahead of the withdrawal of international forces by the end of 2014.