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Rights Watchdog Condemns Russia’s ‘Assault’ On Freedom Of Expression

Human Rights Watch says Russia has introduced significant restrictions to online speech and invasive surveillance of online activity, and prosecutes critics under the guise of fighting extremism.

In a report released on July 18, New York-based HRW documents Russian government measures it says are apparently aimed at bringing the Internet under greater state control.

The report, titled Online And On All Fronts: Russia’s Assault On Freedom Of Speech, says that since 2012 Russian authorities have unjustifiably prosecuted dozens of people for criminal offenses on the basis of their social-media posts, online videos, media articles, and interviews. The authorities have also shut down or blocked access to hundreds of websites.

Russia in recent years has introduced a range of repressive laws that provide the government with a broad array of tools to restrict access to information, carry out unchecked surveillance, and censor information the government deems “extremist,” out of line with “traditional values,” or otherwise harmful to the public, the report said.

HRW urged Moscow to repeal what the rights group call repressive legislation, to stop prosecuting critics under the guise of fighting extremism, and to uphold its international obligations to safeguard free expression.

HRW said it has interviewed dozens of lawyers, journalists, activists, and bloggers and their family members in preparing its report.

The rights watchdog has also analyzed laws and regulations pertaining to Internet content and freedom of expression, as well as court documents and other material relevant to specific cases.