Russia has a highly centralized authoritarian political system in which a broad range of human rights abuses were committed in 2020, often with a high degree of impunity, according to the latest State Department Human Rights Report.
There were several reports that the Russian government, or its agents, committed, or attempted to commit, arbitrary or unlawful killings. Most prominently, opposition activist and anticorruption campaigner Aleksey Navalny was poisoned in August 2020 with a nerve agent from the “Novichok” group.
There were also credible reports of Russian authorities holding political prisoners as well as detaining and prosecuting individuals for political reasons. Political prisoners were reportedly placed in harsh conditions of confinement and were at times subjected to solitary confinement or punitive stays in psychiatric units.
As of December, the human rights organization Memorial’s list of political prisoners contained 358 Russian names. Nevertheless, Memorial estimated that the actual number of political prisoners in the country could be two to three times greater.
The Russian government also committed serious abuses outside its territory, including on the Crimean Peninsula against the Crimean Tatar population and other religious and ethnic minorities. Authorities also conducted politically motivated arrests, detentions, and trials of Ukrainian citizens from Crimea, many of whom said they were tortured. In eastern Ukraine, the Russian government continued to arm, train, lead, and fight alongside Russia-led forces. Credible observers attributed thousands of civilian deaths and injuries to Russia-led forces in Ukraine’s Donbas region.
Russian authorities keep a very tight rein on the media. According to the Department of State’s annual human rights report, censorship and self-censorship in television and print media and on the internet was widespread, particularly of points of view critical of the government or its policies. The government’s failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters further stifled freedom of assembly and association.
Russian authorities continued to misuse the country’s expansive definition of extremism to stifle freedom of association and freedom of religion or belief. In 2017, the Supreme Court criminalized the activity of members of Jehovah’s Witnesses, prohibiting all activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ legal entities throughout the country and effectively banning their worship. Members have been subjected to imprisonment, detention, house arrest, or criminal investigation for participating in a “banned extremist organization.”
When any country, including Russia, “seeks to undermine” fundamental rights, said Secretary of State Antony Blinken, “we will stand and speak out forcefully about it.”