Human Rights Deteriorating in Russia, says New State Dept. Report

Today the U.S. State Department released the new Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2006. The Associated Press does a summary of the report here.


Click here to see a video of Secretary Rice announcing the report.

I extract only the introduction, and part of a section relating to Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The full document, which contains an exhaustive list of human rights violations, can be read here.

Russia Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – 2006 Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor March 6, 2007 The Russian Federation has a weak multiparty political system with a strong presidency, a government headed by a prime minister, and a bicameral legislature (Federal Assembly) consisting of a lower house (State Duma) and an upper house (Federation Council). The propresidential United Russia party controlled more than two‑thirds of the State Duma. The country had an estimated population of 142.9 million. Vladimir Putin was re‑elected in 2004 in an election process the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) determined did not adequately reflect principles necessary for a healthy democratic election, particularly in equal access to the media by all candidates and secrecy of the ballot. However, the voting itself was relatively free of manipulation, and the outcome was generally understood to have represented the will of the people. The government’s human rights record in the continuing internal conflict in and around Chechnya remained poor. Both federal and Chechen Republic security forces generally acted with legal impunity in Chechnya where civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces. Chechen security forces at times appeared to act independently of the Russian command structure, and there were no indications that federal authorities made any effort to rein in those forces’ extensive human rights abuses. The most notable human rights developments during the year were the contract-style killings of proreform Central Bank Deputy Chairman Andrei Kozlov and journalist Anna Politkovskaya, known for uncovering human rights abuses in Chechnya. Continuing centralization of power in the executive branch, a compliant State Duma, political pressure on the judiciary, intolerance of ethnic minorities, corruption and selectivity in enforcement of the law, continuing media restrictions and self‑censorship, and harassment of some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) resulted in an erosion of the accountability of government leaders to the population. Security forces were involved in additional significant human rights problems, including alleged government involvement in politically motivated abductions, disappearances, and unlawful killings in Chechnya and elsewhere in the North Caucasus; hazing in the armed forces that resulted in severe injuries and deaths; torture, violence, and other brutal or humiliating treatment by security forces; harsh and frequently life‑threatening prison conditions; corruption in law enforcement; and arbitrary arrest and detention. The executive branch allegedly exerted influence over judicial decisions in certain high‑profile cases. Government pressure continued to weaken freedom of expression and media independence, particularly of major national networks. Media freedom declined due to restrictions as well as harassment, intimidation, and killing of journalists. Local authorities continued to limit freedom of assembly and restrict religious groups in some regions. There were also reports of societal discrimination, harassment, and violence against members of some religious minorities and incidents of anti-Semitism. Authorities restricted freedom of movement and exhibited negative attitudes toward, and sometimes harassed, NGOs involved in human rights monitoring. Also notable was the passage and entry into force of a new law on NGOs, which has already hadsome adverse effects on their operations.There waswidespread governmental and societal discrimination as well as racially motivated attacks against ethnic minorities and dark-skinned immigrants, including the outbreak of violence against Chechens in the northwest and the initiation of a government campaign to selectively harass and deport ethnic Georgians. Xenophobic, racial and ethnic attacks, and hate crimes were on the rise.Violence against women and children, trafficking in persons, and instances of forced labor were also reported. In the internal conflict in Chechnya, antigovernment forces continued killing and intimidating local officials. There were also reports of Chechen rebel involvement in both terrorist bombings and politically motivated disappearances in Chechnya and Ingushetiya during the year. Some rebels were allegedly involved in kidnapping to raise funds, and there were reports that explosives improvised by rebels led to civilian casualties. There were also some positive developments with regard to human rights. Reforms initiated in previous years continued to produce improvements in the criminal justice system. Authorities sought to combat instances of racial and ethnic mistreatment through prosecutions of groups and individuals accused of engaging in this behavior. … Political Prisoners and Detainees Human rights organizations and activists have identified various individuals as political prisoners: Zara Murtazaliyeva, Mikhail Trepashkin, Valentin Danilov, Igor Sutyagin, Mikhail Khodorkovskiy, Platon Lebedev, and Svetlana Bakhmina. All remained imprisoned at the end of the year. … In May 2005 Mikhail Khodorkovskiy and codefendant Platon Lebedev were convicted on six charges of fraud, tax evasion, and embezzlement and sentenced to nine years in prison after an 11‑month trial. Khodorkovskiy’s conviction was upheld on appeal in September 2005, with the sentence reduced to eight years. Both Khodorkovskiy and Lebedev continued to appeal their convictions in Russian courts as well as the ECHR. As of April 19, 2006, the ECHR began preliminarily viewing Khodorkovskiy’s appeal. The arrest and conviction of Khodorkovskiy raised concerns about the rule of law, including the independence of courts, the right to due process, the sanctity of contracts and property rights, and the lack of a predictable tax regime. Many observers believed that Khodorkovskiy’s conviction was one of a number of politically motivated moves against wealthy “oligarchs” who represented centers of actual or potential political and media opposition to President Putin. Some observers believed that, despite the possibility that the charges against Khodorkovskiy may have had some merit, he was selectively targeted for prosecution because of his politically oriented activities and as a warning to other oligarchs against involvement in political affairs or providing financial support to independent civil society. In October 2005 authorities transferred Khodorkovskiy to a prison in Chita Oblast and Lebedev to a prison in Yamalo‑Nenetskiy Autonomous Okrug. In December 2005 Lebedev’s defense team filed an appeal stating that sending him to a prison not in the area where Lebedev lived or was sentenced violated Russian law. The Moscow City Court has rejected all appeals to review the case against Khodorkovskiy.Some human rights activists have objected to sentencing both men to prisons that were not in the area where they lived or were sentenced. On November 29, 2006, the Supreme Court refused to proceed with Khodorkovskiy’s appeal. According to Khodorkovskiy’s defense attorney Genrikh Padva, the defense was considering appealing this decision to the chairman of the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the prosecutor general’s office was forming a new case against Khodorkovskiy and Lebedev. Both were transferred to the detention center in Chita in December 2006 due to new investigation activities being conducted. Some human rights groups considered Svetlana Bakhmina, a lawyer who worked for Yukos Oil Company (Yukos), to be a political prisoner. She was arrested in December 2004 on fraud charges and held without bail. Several organizations expressed concern about reports regarding Bakhmina’s lack of access to her family and medical treatment while in custody. Some observers stated that she was being held in an attempt to pressure Dmitriy Gololobov, her former boss at Yukos, to return from London. In September 2005 a Moscow city court ruled that she could be held in detention until October 2005. In October 2005 her trial began in Moscow, and she was convicted and sentenced in April 2006 to seven years’ imprisonment for tax evasion and embezzlement. In August the Moscow City Court overturned Bakhmina’s tax evasion conviction but upheld the embezzlement charge and only reduced her sentence by six months, to 6 1/2 years. Bakhmina had appealed her April convictions and requested that all charges against her be dropped. In September Bakhmina’s lawyers requested the court postpone the imposition of her sentence until her youngest child turns 14-years-old. A lawyer for Bakhmina explained that Bakhmina’s youngest child is presently five years old, and that the law allows for applications to delay sentencing in such cases. On October 2, the Simonovsky Court in Moscow rejected the request and sent Bakhmina to a women’s penal colony in the central part of the country. On December 27, 2006,a Moscow city court refused to postpone Bakhmina’s imprisonment. Many observers saw the treatment of Bakhmina as politically-motivated and linked to the Khodorkovskiy case.