The United Nations expert on human rights in Russia said Thursday that dissenting voices in the country risk persecution, arbitrary arrest, long-term imprisonment and exposure to torture and ill-treatment.
Mariana Katzarova, the UN’s Special Rapporteur for Russia, addressed the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on the situation within Russia's borders, saying Moscow refused to recognize her mandate.
She had not been given access to Russia but urged the international community to continue engaging with Moscow.
"This has been a challenging assignment. But it has been made more so by the Russian authorities' attempt to obstruct my work and to isolate the Russian human rights mandate by trying to dissuade other UN human rights mechanisms from collaborating with me,” she said.
Russia, suspended from the Human Rights Council, declined its right to take the floor and put its case in response to the expert's report, while China criticized the debate as politicization of the council.
Katzarova said her report is an overview of significant patterns relating to the suppression of civil and political rights in Russia, including freedoms of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association, and the judiciary's lack of independence.
The special rapporteur said it alludes to the denials of the right to a fair trial and the use of torture, ill-treatment and arbitrary detention.
"Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine that started in February last year has been followed by a rapid deterioration of the human rights situation. However, the roots of this repression go back much further," said Katzarova.
"The incremental and calculated restrictions on human rights in Russia over the past two decades have culminated in the current state policy of criminalizing any actual or perceived dissent and bolstering support for the war through censorship, state-sponsored propaganda and state-controlled information sources," said Katzarova.
The UN expert said Russian authorities have effectively closed the country's civic space, silencing public dissent and independent media.
She said there had been mass arbitrary arrests, detentions and harassment of human rights defenders, peaceful anti-war activists, journalists, opposition leaders, cultural and religious figures, minorities and anyone speaking out against Russia's war on Ukraine or daring to criticize the government's actions.
Katzarova cited Novaya Gazeta, "one of the last remaining independent media outlets in Russia," saying it was forced to shut down last year.
She quoted the newspaper's editor-in-chief and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Dmitry Muratov, as saying when it closed: "Today Russian citizens are left alone in the face of state propaganda."
The Russian Ministry of Justice had accused Muratov of creating and disseminating "material (that) spread negative opinions of Russia's foreign and domestic policies on international platforms.”
"These are grounds for criminal prosecution in Russia. A few days ago, the Russian authorities designated Muratov as a foreign agent, which carries additional restrictions and penalties," said Katzarova.
"Starting on the first day of Russia's invasion of Ukraine last year, the government ordered all media to use only official, state-sanctioned sources of information when reporting on the war," she said.
Thousands of internet sites have been blocked and journalists are prosecuted for reporting "so-called fake news" about the war or "discrediting the army.”
A recent example was a Russian court sentencing journalist Mikhail Afanasyev to five and a half years in prison for reporting on Russians refusing to fight in the war in Ukraine.
The council debate continues on Friday.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.