Russia: Parliamentarians must reject new bills threatening rights to freedom of association and expression

Three bills adopted today in the first reading by the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament, drastically restrict rights and liberties in the country by imposing new muzzles on individuals who criticize the government and barring them from participating in public life, Amnesty International said today.

The bills are intended to target Russians who have supported civil society and religious organizations that were later declared “extremist” or “terrorist” and widen the scope of the law on “undesirable” organizations.

“Vladimir Putin’s regime aims to fully purge vocal critics from the civic space. The main target of this latest, particularly brazen attack is the movement led by Aleksei Navalny. Having unjustly imprisoned its archfoe, the Kremlin is now targeting all those who had the nerve to support him,” said Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director.

Under the first bill, the authorities aim to punish the exercise of the right to association by barring from public life those who share a critical view of the government and are working together to bring change. According to the law, those who founded, led, worked for, or otherwise participated in the activities of an organization which is later designated as “extremist” or “terrorist” and subsequently banned, will be barred from running for the country’s lower house of Parliament for a period of between three and five years after the organization’s ban comes into force. Moreover, the bill provides for its retroactive application.

Aleksei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, which has already been declared a “foreign agent”, is now fighting against the authorities’ attempt to designate it as an “extremist organization.” According to Leonid Volkov, who led Navalny’s regional network before its dissolution in April, up to 200,000 people who contributed to its crowdfunding efforts could fall afoul of the new law. While Navalny’s allies and supporters are certainly the main target, the bill will also affect many other civic and religious groups who have been or may be targeted under Russia’s vague “counter-extremism” and “counter-terrorism” legislation.

“This is nothing but a desperate move to annihilate any shred of visible dissent. The authorities are ready to punish a significant proportion of the population for exercising their right to freedom of expression and association by further reducing their avenues to effectively participate in public life,” said Natalia Zviagina.

The two other bills broaden the scope of the law on “undesirable” organizations by introducing a prohibition on participation in their activities abroad, assigning the status of “undesirable” to the organizations who are believed to be intermediaries in financial transactions with those already banned, and toughening criminal sanctions. They propose that criminal liability should come after only one administrative prosecution, not two as at present, and, in some cases, immediately.

“This bill seems to have been drafted to target another opposition group, Otkrytaya Rossiya (Open Russia). It is another networked structure that has managed to get on its feet in the political vacuum created by Vladimir Putin’s regime. Its activists and supporters have already paid a dear price and now the stakes will be even higher,” said Natalia Zviagina.

“We urge Russian parliamentarians not to adopt these bills. They are a grave threat to human rights and should be of the most profound concern to Russian society and the international community.”