The European Union should urge President Vladimir Putin at the upcoming EU-Russia summit meeting to end the crackdown on Russia’s civil society, Human Rights Watch said today. The 30th summit meeting since two sides started meeting regularly will be on December 21, 2012, in Brussels.

“The EU should convey a clear sense of alarm at the crackdown of the past six months on Russia’s vibrant civil society,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “And the EU should press the Russian leadership to stop trying to choke off free speech and assembly and any sign of dissent.”

Since Putin’s return to the presidency in May, Russia’s Parliament has adopted a series of laws that imposed new restrictions on public assemblies and raised financial sanctions for violations to the level of criminal fines, re-criminalized libel, and imposed new restrictions on internet content. Discriminatory legislation is pending in Russia’s parliament that would ban “propaganda of homosexuality” among those under age 18.

A particularly problematic law adopted in July forces nongovernmental organizations that engage in advocacy work and accept foreign funding to register as “foreign agents,” a move that tries to demonize nongovernmental organizations in the public eye as spies and traitors, Human Rights Watch said. Another law, adopted in November, expands the definition of “treason” in ways that could criminalize international human rights advocacy.

Against this backdrop, Russian government statements that criticize nongovernmental organizations and foreigners are on the rise. Smear campaigns in state-run and pro-Kremlin outlets have targeted prominent nongovernmental groups. Officials in several regions have ordered civil servants and others not to cooperate with representatives of foreign organizations and foreign-funded domestic groups.

On September 11, 2012, the EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Catherine Ashton, said that the new laws and other developments were “of very serious concern to the European Union” and that the “trend raises serious questions as to the state of the rule of law in the country.” Ashton also spoke out about several of the laws just after they were adopted.

Russia’s leadership has rejected EU criticism. In response, a Russian Foreign Ministry representative presented a report on December 13 to the EU human rights commissioner in Brussels on human rights abuses in the EU.

In November, Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov implied in a news interview that Russia would not tolerate “interference by outsiders” in domestic affairs, including human rights practices. Peskov also contended that Russia experts abroad were “losing interest” in human rights.

The EU should publicly call on the Russian government to repeal or amend the laws adopted this summer that restrict basic rights and the activities of civil society and to bring Russia in line with its international obligations, Human Rights Watch said.

“The crackdown on civil society is eroding the rule of law in Russia,” Williamson said. “The repressive moves against nongovernmental groups and independent voices are also eroding the foundations on which the EU’s relationship with Russia is based. Russia’s crackdown should be a key element of Friday’s summit meeting.”

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on the crackdown on civil society in Russia, please see:

For more information, please contact:
In Moscow, Rachel Denber (English, Russian, French): +7-916-913-6239 (mobile); or +1-917-916-1266 (mobile); or
In Paris, Jean-Marie Fardeau (French, English, Portuguese): +33-0-1-43-59-55-31; or +33-0-6-45-85-24-87 (mobile); or
In Berlin, Hugh Williamson (English, German): +49-172-282-0535 (mobile); or