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Peaceful Protests 'Become Almost Impossible' In Russia, Report Says

Russian police officers detain protesters during a demonstration in support of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny in St. Petersburg in January.
Russian police officers detain protesters during a demonstration in support of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny in St. Petersburg in January.

Russian authorities have stifled people's right to peaceful protests to such an extent that is has become almost impossible for Russians to protest in any meaningful way, Amnesty International has said in a report.

"Authorities in Russia have eroded the right to freedom of peaceful assembly by using increasingly restrictive laws, and heavy-handed police tactics and criminal prosecutions to silence peaceful dissent," Amnesty said in Russia: No Place for Protest, issued ahead of parliamentary and local elections in Russia next month.

The report documents a clampdown on peaceful protests that Amnesty says began with the 2004 Federal Law on Assemblies and has accelerated in recent years.

"Russian authorities have been curtailing the right to freedom of assembly with incredible persistence and inventiveness for years," Oleg Kozlovsky, the organization's Russia researcher, said.

"As a result, peaceful street protest has come to be seen as a crime by state officials -- and an act of heroism by those Russians who still believe it is their right to exercise it."

"The unlawful restrictions, requirements, and harsh sanctions that Russian protesters face can only be described as Kafkaesque in their absurdity. It has taken the Russian authorities 16 years and 13 instances of parliamentary tinkering with legislation to make the right to freedom of peaceful assembly devoid of any genuine meaning," Kozlovsky added.

The report says that nine out of the 13 major amendments used by legislators to curtail the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in Russia have been introduced since 2014, as part of a crackdown on anti-government protests and human rights guaranteed by international human rights law and Russia's own constitution.

It also details what Kozlovsky calls an excessive use of force by police officers, who have reportedly been documented "using martial-arts techniques against protesters, battering them mercilessly with batons, and, beginning this year, stunning them with electroshock weapons."

The London-based human rights watchdog called on Russian authorities to bring laws and practices in line with the constitution and international human rights obligations.

"The authorities must prohibit measures that change the aims or place of public gatherings, as well as the number of permitted participants, unless such decisions are taken in judicial proceedings."

Amnesty also urged the Russian authorities to respect spontaneous peaceful assemblies, "which should be considered lawful, when submission of a notification within the period prescribed by law is impossible or impractical."

The report calls on the government to make sure that the coming elections will be held in a different atmosphere.

"Next month's parliamentary elections give Russia the opportunity to change its approach to commit to promotion and protection of human rights including the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

"We want to remind candidates for elections and future legislators that the right to protest peacefully is not something they can give or take away. It is something everyone is entitled to, and the government should respect, protect, and promote this and devote its energy to ensuring, not undermining this right," Kozlovsky said.

With reporting by dpa
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