A group of UN-appointed human rights experts expressed grave concern on Monday over Russia’s decision to dismiss all legal challenges to the country’s criminalisation of “public actions aimed at discrediting” the Russian Armed Forces.
The law was adopted shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Special Rapporteurs said they had already raised serious concerns over the law with the Russian Government and through public statements.
“The decision to deny constitutional protection of the right to freedom of expression constitutes a new low in Russia’s clampdown on the freedom of expression and the free flow of information,” the UN Human Rights Council-appointed experts said.
“The interpretation of the Constitutional Court and the rejection of complaints challenging these legislative provisions will silence all those expressing critical views regarding Russia’s so-called ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine,” they continued.
‘A drastic step’
Russia has arrested nearly 20,000 people for protesting the war in Ukraine, while an additional 7,000 people have been arrested for actions that allegedly “discredited” the military, the Special Rapporteurs said.
“The law has no other objective than silencing critical expression in relation to the war in Ukraine. The legislation is a drastic step in a long string of measures over the years restricting freedom of expression and media freedom, and further shrinking civic space in the Russian Federation,” the experts said.
The Russian Constitutional Court has rendered decisions in 24 cases over discrediting the armed forces and rejected all legal challenges to the law. The Court based its decisions on the grounds that the use of the armed forces and the exercise of power by State bodies were prerogatives of the national Government.
The Court also referred to the citizen’s duty to defend the fatherland, vague principles of trust between society and the State, and political and social solidarity.
The Special Rapporteurs warned that scores of activists, journalists, and human rights defenders face harsh punishments ranging from five to 15 years imprisonment.
“The Constitutional Court decisions will exacerbate an already severe crackdown on civil society, independent media, and critical voices,” the Special Rapporteurs said
“We respectfully urge the Constitutional Court to change course and guarantee freedom of expression in Russia, and urge Russian authorities to repeal the legislation,” they added.
Special Rapporteurs are part of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, work on a voluntary and unpaid basis, are not UN staff, and work independently from any government or organisation.