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Russia has sharply curtailed citizens’ rights since President Vladimir V. Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022, according to a United Nations report released on Monday that cited mass arrests for antiwar protests as part of a wider crackdown on dissent and independent media.
As of June, more than 20,000 people had been detained for protesting the invasion, according to Mariana Katzarova, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Russia.
Ms. Katzarova cited data collected by OVD-Info, an independent human rights group established in Russia in 2011. Over half those arrested were women, she said.
Her report described actions taken by the Kremlin under laws both old and new that targeted dissent over the invasion and broader political opposition.
More than 7,600 cases have been opened and at least 185 people have been prosecuted under new laws that criminalize criticism of the armed forces, with charges arising from taking part in antiwar rallies, sharing or liking antiwar posts on social media, sharing information about reports of war crimes by the Russian Army in Ukraine or singing Ukrainian songs.
Ms. Katzarova said some protesters had been beaten, and there have been credible reports of torture as well as allegations of rape and sexual violence carried out by law enforcement officers against men and women.
Ms. Katzarova, a Bulgarian activist, was appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council to monitor developments in Russia, the first time such an action has been taken against one of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.
Her report came 18 months after the U.N. General Assembly suspended Russia’s membership in the Human Rights Council over its assault on Ukraine. The Kremlin has undertaken a campaign to win back that seat next month in elections that could be a critical test of support for the diplomatic isolation Russia has faced over the invasion.
“This report matters to Human Rights Council members who have been on the fence with regard to what’s happening in Russia,” said Dave Elseroad, the Geneva-based head of advocacy for the Human Rights House Foundation. “For smaller states that want to remain neutral it shows that independent of the war there exists a situation in Russia that warrants international attention and concern.”
According to Ms. Katzarova, the recent crackdown by the Kremlin builds on a tightening of restrictions that has played out over the past two decades, aided by a judicial system that serves as an instrument of executive power “undermining the rule of law” and citizens’ trust in it.
The Russian government’s punishment of dissent extends to political opponents of the Kremlin. And while much attention is paid to the draconian jail sentences imposed on prominent political opposition figures — such as the 19-year sentence added to the jail term of Aleksei A. Navalny — at least 513 people were prosecuted on “politically motivated charges” in 2022, Ms. Katzarova reported. An additional 198 cases were initiated in 2023.
Russian officials have also used laws restricting so-called foreign agents and organizations considered “undesirable” to halt the activities of hundreds of civic activist groups, she found.
Media organizations have operated in an increasingly hostile environment over the past two decades, Ms. Katzarova found. Journalists have faced violence and harassment, as well as the threat of legal action, under the guise of laws covering defamation, privacy and extremism, halting reporting on protests, corruption or gender identity issues.
The arrest of the Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich on espionage charges — allegations the United States and the newspaper have condemned — highlighted a surge in arrests of journalists and others on allegations of treason or espionage, Ms. Katzarova said. Eighty people have been charged with treason in the first seven months of 2023, she added.
Ms. Katzarova, who started her work in May, said she had sought the cooperation of the Kremlin for her report but received no engagement. A diplomatic note from Russia to the United Nations human rights office in Geneva in July said all submissions by Ms. Katzarova “would be automatically disregarded.”