Russia: Putin Slated Over 'Worst Crackdown'

Katie Stallard, Moscow Correspondent

A human rights group has accused Vladimir Putin of presiding over Russia's worst political crackdown since the fall of the Soviet Union.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has warned the nation has been experiencing the most severe repression of civil liberties in its post-Soviet history.

Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director for the organisation, said: "This has been the worst year for human rights in Russia in recent memory.

"The Kremlin in 2012 unleashed the worst political crackdown in Russia's post-Soviet history.

"Measures to intimidate critics and restrict Russia's vibrant civil society have reached unprecedented levels. Pressure and reprisals against activists and non-governmental organisations need to stop."

He cited a series of laws passed since Mr Putin's return to power last year, which have included new powers to limit public assembly, increase fines for protesters, restrict access to the internet and recriminalise libel.

A law banning 'homosexual propaganda', which activists say will severely limit access to information about gay rights and echo a Stalin-era ban on homosexuality, is already in force across nine Russian regions and is currently being debated by the country's parliament as a proposed federal law.

Non-governmental organisations that receive foreign funding have been forced to register as "foreign agents".

The group also highlighted the two-year prison sentences given to two women from the feminist punk band Pussy Riot, and reports of enforced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial executions in the North Caucasus.

The report is part of Human Rights Watch's annual assessment of progress on human rights in more than 90 countries around the world.

Mr Williamson said: "Instead of meaningfully investigating human rights abuses, the government is spending time and energy retaliating against civil society and free speech.

"Russia's backsliding on human rights is completely at odds with being a responsible leader in a multi-polar world."

A spokesperson for Russia's Ministry of Interior declined to comment on the report.