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Russian police officers detain a participant in an unauthorized opposition rally in Saint Petersburg. (file photo)

The United States has charged Russia and Iran with committing a range of serious human rights abuses both domestically and abroad in an annual State Department report.

In its Country Reports On Human Rights Practices For 2018, the State Department said Russian authorities had committed or been implicated in "severe" human rights abuses at home and in foreign countries, citing in particular Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and eastern Ukraine.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who presented the report in Washington on March 13, highlighted the abuses, also saying that China was "in a league of its own when it comes to human rights violations."

Within Russia, the report said abuses included extrajudicial killings of members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community in Chechnya and forced disappearances, arbitrary or unjust arrests, and the "severe repression" of freedom of expression and media.

Externally, it said Russia played "a significant military role in the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine" and added that its forces continue to occupy Crimea, which Russian annexed in 2014.

The report accused Iran of rights' abuses that included executions for crimes not deemed "most serious" by international standards, unlawful and arbitrary killings, forced disappearances, and torture by state agents.

Pompeo said the Iranian government had killed more than 20 protesters and arbitrarily arrested thousands of others simply for demonstrating for better rights.

He added that those actions continue "a pattern of cruelty the regime has inflicted on the Iranian people for the last four decades."

It added that Iran had jailed hundreds of political prisoners, restricted freedom of expression, the media, censored and blocked the Internet, and criminalized libel, among other things.

Abroad, the report said Iran had contributed to rights abuses in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. It was accused of rights violations by giving military support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and by supporting Shi'a militia groups in Iraq, and the Huthi rebels in Yemen.

Pompeo's comments echoed those from the report, which said the Chinese government had in the last year intensified a campaign of detaining members of Muslim minority groups in the western Xinjiang region and forcing them into reeducation camps.

It said between 800,000 and 2 million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and other Muslims had been caught up in the campaign.

Torture, Arbitrary Arrests

In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the report said abuses included torture, arbitrary arrests and detentions, extrajudicial killings, and restrictions on freedom of expression, the press, and the Internet.

It added that in Afghanistan there was "widespread disregard for the rule of law" and that those accused of committing rights abuses often enjoy official impunity as the state does not effectively prosecute officials or those in the security forces.

The report also highlighted the major attacks by armed insurgent groups on civilians and "targeted assassinations by armed insurgent groups of persons affiliated with the government," citing the Taliban and other extremist groups.

It noted that the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) attributed about "65 percent of civilian casualties during the first nine months of the year (1,743 deaths and some 3,500 injured)" to the insurgent groups.

The report also blamed the Pakistani government for discrimination against religious minorities and attacks against journalists and media organizations.

In Belarus, the state was accused of torture, arbitrary arrests and detentions, bad prison conditions, unlawful interference in citizens' private matters, and "undue restrictions" on freedom of expression.

Turkmenistan was criticized for "alleged torture," arbitrary arrests and detentions, involuntary confinement, imprisonment of political prisoners, severe corruption, lack of free and fair elections, and restrictions on freedom of religion, assembly, and movement.

The report cited Uzbekistan for torture, arbitrary arrests, and abuse of detainees by the security forces. The government was also charged with holding political prisoners, restricting freedom of speech, the media and the Internet, among other things.

In Ukraine, the report noted rights failures that included enforced disappearance, civilian casualties, torture, and other abuses in the conflict in the eastern Donbas region.

It also cited the government's failure to prosecute officials accused of criminal activities, a failure to investigate alleged human rights abuses that included torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, and other violations by security forces.

The document was the 43rd report on human rights issued by the State Department.

The Federation Council met on March 13 and approved the bills.

Legislation enabling Russian authorities to block websites and hand out punishment for "fake news" and material deemed insulting to the state or the public is headed to President Vladimir Putin's desk for his signature.

The legislation, which Putin's own advisory human rights council says would groundlessly curb the freedom of expression, was approved by the upper parliament house, the Federation Council, in a 149-3 vote on March 13.

The bills would allow the authorities to block websites or Internet accounts that publish what they deem to be "fake news" and penalizing those who post material found to be insulting to state officials, state symbols, or Russian society.

Critics contend that the legislation, which Putin is widely expected to sign, is part of a Kremlin effort to increase control over the Internet and stifle dissent.

The Federation Council and the State Duma, which gave final approval to the bills on March 7, are both dominated by the ruling United Russia party.

On March 11, the Russian Presidential Council for Development of Civil Society and Human Rights urged the upper house to send the bills back to the Duma to be reworked.

The presidential council, whose advice is often ignored by Putin, cited the European Convention on Human Rights and said that freedom of expression cannot be restricted exclusively due to doubts about whether what is being expressed is true.

The "fake news" bill would empower the prosecutor-general and his deputies to determine what constitutes fake news without a court decision, after which the state media and communications watchdog Roskomnadzor would block the site or account.

The bill would set fines for publishing "fake news" at up to 100,000 rubles ($1,525) for individuals, 200,000 rubles for public officials, and 500,000 rubles for companies.

The "fake news" bill says publications officially registered with Roskomnadzor, including online media outlets, would be given a chance to remove reports deemed as fake news before their websites are blocked.

It says websites that are not registered with Roskomnadzor would be blocked without warning.

The other bill would establish fines of up to 100,000 rubles for insulting the Russian authorities, government agencies, the state, the public, the flag, or the constitution.

Repeat offenders would face bigger fines and could be jailed for up to 15 days.

Roskomnadzor would give Internet users 24 hours to remove material deemed by the prosecutor-general or his deputies to be insulting to the state or society, and those that failed to do so would be blocked, the bill says.

With reporting by Vedomosti, Meduza, and Dozhd

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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