Since his return to the presidency one year ago today, Vladimir Putin has stepped up fiercely against those who opposed his return to Russia's highest seats. His targets have included journalists and government whistleblowers, the protesters who filled Moscow's streets and the opposition leaders who helped organize them, balaclava-wearing punks, and non-governmental organizations that questioned his legitimacy.
In its latest report on the region, the international watchdog Human Rights Watch described the rights climate in Russia as the worst in post-Soviet history. HuffPost World takes a look at the human rights situation in the country in the overview below.
Hundreds of thousands of Russians took to the streets in the wake of legislative elections in 2011 and Putin's reelection as president in 2012. Demonstrators accused Putin and his United Russia Party of widespread voter fraud, and urged the government to step down. "Russia without Putin!" and "We are the power here!," protesters chanted for months in Moscow's streets. Yet as the AP notes, new repressive laws were introduced to restrict citizens' liberty to demonstrate. In addition, many of the protests' leaders were arrested or harassed.
Having been a consistent thorn in the side of Putin for years, blogger Alexei Navalny is one of the opposition's most visible --and most targeted-- leaders. In 2010, Navalny posted documents on his LiveJournal blog suggesting that Russia's state-owned oil pipeline company embezzled $4 billion during the construction of the East Siberia-Pacific Ocean pipeline. Navalny's description of Putin's United Russia Party as "the party of crooks and liars" became the slogan of mass protests against the government following the 2011 parliamentary elections. The BBC notes that in response, the Russian government charged the blogger with embezzling 16 million rubles ($500,000) from a timber company while advising the governor of Kirov. He went on trial in April 2013 and an additional charge of defrauding a transportation company was added in December 2012. Navalny has denied the charges, calling them "absurd" and "shameless."
In July 2012, Putin signed a law requiring NGOs operating in Russia to register as "foreign agents" if they receive foreign funding and engage in "political activity." The election watchdog Golos became the first group to be convicted on the basis of the new law, the BBC reported at the end of April. Golos is known for its exhaustive cataloging of electoral fraud allegations across Russia, particularly during the 2011 parliamentary elections. In addition, Putin expelled USAID from Russia in September 2012, accusing the organization of attempting to "affect the course of political processes."
On February 17, 2012, right before the presidential election, the Russian all-girls punk band Pussy Riot performed a protest song criticizing Putin in Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral. Several members of the band were arrested and charged with hooliganism and ultimately convicted in August of last year. Although Yekaterina Samutsevich was released on appeal in October 2012, two other members of the band remain in prison serving two year sentences. The prosecution of Pussy Riot, and particularly the length of their imprisonment, drew condemnation from media organizations worldwide, the BBC notes.