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[excerpts]
US Department of State
Russia
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2007
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 11, 2008
[DJ: Full text here: http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2007/100581.htm]

The Russian Federation has a strong presidency with a weak multiparty political system, a government headed by a prime minister, and a bicameral legislature (Federal Assembly) consisting of a lower house (State Duma) and an upper house (Federation Council). The country had an estimated population of 141.4 million. The dominant pro-presidential United Russia party received a constitutional majority (more than two thirds of the seats) in December 2007 State Duma elections, which, according to international observers, were not fair and failed to meet many Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and Council of Europe standards for democratic elections. Reelected in 2004, President Vladimir Putin's term expires in May 2008, and a new presidential election is scheduled for March 2, 2008. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of federal security forces.

There were numerous reports of government and societal human rights problems and abuses during the year. Security forces reportedly engaged in killings, torture, abuse, violence, and other brutal or humiliating treatment, often with impunity. Hazing in the armed forces resulted in severe injuries and deaths. Prison conditions were harsh and frequently life threatening; law enforcement was often corrupt; and the executive branch allegedly exerted influence over judicial decisions in some high profile cases. The government's human rights record remained poor in the North Caucasus, where the government in Chechnya forcibly reined in the Islamist insurgency that replaced the separatist insurgency in Chechnya as the main source of conflict. Government security forces were allegedly involved in unlawful killings, politically motivated abductions, and disappearances in Chechnya, Ingushetiya and elsewhere in the North Caucasus. Disappearances and kidnappings in Chechnya declined, as Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov established authoritarian and repressive control over the republic, and federal forces withdrew. Federal and local security forces continued to act with impunity, especially in targeting families of suspected insurgents, and there were allegations that Kadyrov's private militia engaged in kidnapping and torture. In the neighboring republics of Ingushetiya and Dagestan, there was an increase in violence and abuses committed by security forces.

Government pressure continued to weaken freedom of expression and media independence, particularly of the major television networks. Unresolved killings of journalists remained a problem. The government restricted media freedom through direct ownership of media outlets, influencing the owners of major outlets, and harassing and intimidating journalists into practicing self-censorship. Local governments tried to limit freedom of assembly, and police sometimes used violence to prevent groups from engaging in peaceful protest. The government used the law on extremism to limit freedom of expression and association. Government restrictions on religious groups were a problem in some regions. There were incidents of discrimination, harassment, and violence against religious and ethnic minorities. There were some incidents of anti-Semitism.

Continuing centralization of power in the executive branch, a compliant State Duma, corruption and selectivity in enforcement of the law, media restrictions, and harassment of some NGOs eroded the government's accountability to its citizens. The government restricted opposition political parties' ability to participate in the political process. The December elections to the State Duma were marked by problems during the campaign period and on election day, which included abuse of administrative resources, media bias in favor of United Russia and President Putin, harassment of opposition parties, lack of equal opportunity for opposition in registering and conducting campaigns, and ballot fraud. The government restricted the activities of some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), through selective application of the NGO and other laws, tax auditing, and regulations that increased the administrative burden. Authorities exhibited hostility toward, and sometimes harassed, NGOs involved in human rights monitoring. Violence against women and children and trafficking in persons were problems. Instances of forced labor were also reported. Domestic violence was widespread, and the government reported that approximately 14,000 women were killed in such violence during the year. There was widespread governmental and societal discrimination as well as racially motivated attacks against ethnic minorities and dark-skinned immigrants. There was a steady rise this year in xenophobic, racial, and ethnic attacks and hate crimes, particularly by skinheads, nationalists, and right-wing extremists.

Although there was some improvement in areas of the internal conflict in the North Caucasus, antigovernment forces continued killing and intimidating local officials. There were reports of rebel involvement in terrorist bombings and politically motivated disappearances in Chechnya, Ingushetiya, and elsewhere in the North Caucasus during the year. Some rebels were allegedly involved in kidnapping to raise funds, and there were reports that explosives improvised by rebels led to civilian casualties. Thousands of internally displaced persons(IDPs) continued to live in temporary accommodation centers in the North Caucasus; conditions in those centers reportedly failed to meet international standards.

The government improved its human rights performance in some areas, successfully prosecuting more cases; according to the NGO SOVA Center there has been an increase in convictions for each of the last three years of ethnic, racial, and religious hate crimes and mistreatment. The Defense Ministry took action to reduce the frequency and severity of hazing in the armed forces, which reportedly declined 26 percent in the first three months of the year....

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press; however, in practice government pressure on the media persisted, resulting in numerous infringements of these rights. The government used direct ownership or ownership by large private companies with links to the government to control or influence the major media outlets, especially television; many media organizations saw their autonomy further weaken. The government used its controlling ownership in major national television and radio stations, as well as the majority of influential regional ones, to restrict access to information about issues deemed sensitive, including coverage of opposition political parties, particularly during the parliamentary elections campaign. The OSCE representative on freedom of the media, during the State Duma election, highlighted numerous press freedom abuses, including harassment of media outlets, legislative limitations, lack of equal access, and arbitrary application of rules. Unresolved killings of journalists remained a problem. Mistreatment of journalists by authorities included reported cases of abuse, including physical assault. The government severely restricted coverage by all media of events in Chechnya. There were indications that government pressure led reporters to engage in self censorship, particularly on issues critical of the government.

While the government generally respected citizens' rights to freedom of expression, it sometimes restricted this right with regard to issues such as the conduct of federal forces in Chechnya, human rights, and criticism of the administration. Some regional and local authorities took advantage of the judicial system's procedural weaknesses to detain persons for expressing views critical of the government. With some exceptions, judges appeared unwilling to challenge powerful federal and local officials who sought to prosecute journalists. These proceedings on occasion resulted in stiff fines.

Three of the 14 national newspapers are owned by the government or state-owned companies, as are more than 60 percent of the country's 45,000 registered local newspapers and periodicals. The government continued selective attempts to influence the reporting of independent publications. While the largest daily newspaper, Moskovskiy Komsomolets, is independent, other influential national newspapers, including Izvestiya, and Rossiyskaya Gazeta and Kommersant are owned by the government, persons affiliated with the government, or state-owned companies. Additionally, the Ministry of Defense owns the newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda. Although Kommersant changed editors and several journalists left after the change in ownership and the paper replaced its opinion and comment page with its no comment page where it reprints articles on key foreign policy issues from international papers, there has not been a discernible shift in Kommersant's editorial position since the change in ownership in August 2006. Izvestiya has increasingly avoided controversial topics and assumed a more pro-Kremlin stance on key policy issues, but not on every topic. In 2006 United Russia Duma deputy Aleksandr Lebedev and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev purchased 49 percent of Novaya Gazeta, an independent investigative weekly. Both men indicated that they did not intend to interfere with editorial policy and by year's end there was no indication that they had.

One analysis of this ownership trend was offered by media freedom advocates, who considered it to be evidence of government efforts to expand control of media beyond national television before the 2007 08 parliamentary and presidential elections.

There are six national television stations in Russia: the federal government owns Rossiya, and owns a controlling interest in First Channel; state-owned Gazprom owns a controlling interest in NTV; government-affiliated Bank Rossiya owns a controlling interest in Ren-TV and Fifth Channel; and the Moscow city administration owns TV Center. Approximately two-thirds of the 2,500 television stations in the country are completely or partially owned by the federal and local governments. The government indirectly influenced private broadcasting companies through partial ownership of such commercial structures as Gazprom which in turn owned controlling or large stakes of media companies. This ownership of TV media often resulted in editorial constraints. Following the sale of REN TV, some observers alleged that the network's editorial line became more progovernment. In 2006 there were a number of resignations among the news staff who alleged the network had started to practice self-censorship aimed to pacify the government. Influence over editorial policies, however, was not uniform. For example, despite a majority ownership of Ekho Moskvy by Gazprom, the radio station provided independent coverage of controversial political themes.

International media faced some impediments to their ability to operate freely. Russian authorities last year curtailed a number of stations broadcasting Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America news programs. In August Russian state licensing authorities ordered the BBC World Service's Russian partner, Bolshoye Radio, in Moscow to remove BBC programming or lose its license. Bolshoye Radio's decision to halt the re broadcasting of BBC programming, and similar decisions by two other radio stations in the past year, eliminated BBC broadcasting on the FM band. As a result, the BBC's Russian-language services were now available only on medium and shortwave broadcasts. The BBC planned to appeal, but the House of Commons' foreign affairs committee concluded that the BBC Russian Service's " development of a partnership with the international arm of a Russian state broadcasting network puts the BBC World Service's reputation for editorial independence at risk."

The government exerted its influence most directly on state-owned media. Journalists and news anchors of Rossiya and First Channel reported receiving "guidelines" from management prepared by the presidential administration, indicating which politicians they should support and which they should criticize. Government-controlled media exhibited considerable bias in favor of President Putin. In the campaign before the December parliamentary elections, state-controlled print and broadcast media resources overwhelmingly favored United Russia, President Putin's party, to the exclusion of other opposition parties.

The government maintained ownership of the largest radio stations, Radio Mayak and Radio Rossiya.

The government maintained ownership of the national news agencies ITAR TASS and RIA Novosti. In May the new director general of the Russian News Service (RSN) reportedly established an editorial policy that required at least 50 percent of reports about Russia to be "positive" and forbade the mention of some key opposition politicians. In May many staff members quit in protest.

The television talk show V Kruge Sveta (In the Spotlight) was cancelled in September 2006 by the Domashniy television channel after only four episodes, reportedly because the channel's shareholders were displeased by the show's political content.

On September 25, a district court in Moscow postponed hearings in the case of political analyst and Yabloko political party member, Andrey Piontkovskiy, pending further detailed analysis of his book. Piontkovskiy was charged with inciting "extremism" through his book Unloved Country. Earlier in the year, after a local branch of the Yabloko party published a collection of Piontkovskiy's articles, a court in Krasnodar Kray attempted to halt Yabloko's distribution of the book, warning the party that it contained passages which violated the law on extremism.

In July 2006 the Federal Registration Service (FRS) warned the media that references to the banned National Bolshevik Party without indicating that it had been banned could be considered dissemination of false information and lead to the "application of restrictive, precautionary, and preventative measures."

In April former Kommersant journalist Yelena Tregubova reportedly asked for political asylum in the United Kingdom, claiming that her life was in danger. Tregubova was the author of two books critical of the government and President Putin. In 2004, several months after her book was published, Tregubova escaped injury when a small bomb exploded outside her apartment.

In May police searched the Samara offices of Novaya Gazeta, confiscated its computers, and opened a criminal investigation against Sergey Kurt-Adzhiyev, the editor of the newspaper's local edition, on suspicion of the use of unlicensed software. Novaya Gazeta management denied the accusations. The paper was unable to publish its Samara edition after November.

In September producers of a documentary film about ethnic discrimination against children reportedly had difficulties in exporting the film footage from the Krasnodar airport. Airport security officials allegedly seized the film and later returned it damaged.

In December immigration officials denied entry into Russia to Natalya Morar, a correspondent of The New Times magazine. Morar, a Moldovan citizen residing in Moscow, had published investigative articles about the government's handling of the 2007 State Duma elections. Border officials reportedly told her that she was considered a threat to state security and that the order to refuse her entry had come from the FSB.

The federal Ministry of Internal Affairs continued to control media access to the area of the Chechen conflict. Foreign journalists are required to have government accreditation to enter Chechnya, but even those with proper documents are sometimes refused access. During 2006 several Russian and foreign journalists were detained while on assignment in the North Caucasus region, but there were no known detentions of reporters in Chechnya during the year. In September 2006 police detained British reporters with the CMI independent news agency and Fatima Tlisova, editor-in-chief of the Regnum news agency's North Caucasian branch, in the city of Nalchik. The British journalists intended to interview Tlisova but were detained for the entire day and prevented from doing so. The reason given for the detention was that the reporters had strayed into an off-limits area.

In November 2006 Moscow journalist Boris Stomakhin, editor of the monthly Radikalnaya Politka newspaper, was sentenced to five years in prison on charges of inciting ethnic hatred for violent and provocative writings. Human rights activists asserted that the severity of the sentence was unprecedented.

In July Kommersant Vlast published an interview with exiled Chechen rebel leader Akhmed Zakayev. RosOkranKultura, the agency within the Ministry of Culture that oversees the mass media, asked the general prosecutor's office to investigate whether the publication violated the law and warned the magazine against violating the law in the future.

In June the government reinstated accreditation to the U.S.-based ABC television network, and reportedly in October ABC assigned a Moscow correspondent. The government withdrew ABC's accreditation in 2005 after ABC News broadcast an interview with Chechen terrorist Shamil Basayev.

Mistreatment of journalists by authorities was not limited to Caucasus related coverage. The Glasnost Defense Fund (GDF) and other media freedom monitoring organizations reported cases of abuse of journalists by police and other security personnel elsewhere, including physical assault and vandalism of equipment. In most instances, the mistreatment appeared to have been at the initiative of local officials.

There were no developments in the February 2006 police beating of Channel One reporter Olga Kiriy in Vladikavkaz, the February 2006 police attack on a television cameraman in Bolshoye Kozino, the May 2006 police assault on reporter Natalya Gorchakova in Nizny Tagil, the June 2006 temporary detention of three reporters who were gathering information on the mayor of Volgograd, or the 2005 beating of two reporters and detention of three covering a rally by a radical youth group on Red Square in Moscow.

According to the GDF, 74 journalists were physically attacked during the year and eight journalists were killed during the year, nine were killed in 2006. In most cases authorities and observers were unable to establish a direct link between an assault and the persons who reportedly had taken offense at the reporting in question. Independent media NGOs still characterized beatings of journalists by unknown assailants as "routine," noting that those who pursued investigative stories on corruption and organized crime found themselves at greatest risk. The foundation reported that, in some cases, the killings appeared to be related to the journalists' work.

On March 27, Ivan Safronov, a Kommersant military reporter, died after falling from a fifth-story window in his apartment building (he lived on the third floor). In September, alleging the lack of evidence of any foul play, Moscow investigators closed the case. Safronov's family and some colleagues disagreed with the investigators' conclusion that he committed suicide because, shortly before his death, Safronov was writing a sensitive article on Russia's purported plan to sell military equipment; Safronov told friends and his editors that he had been warned not to file the story.

In April Vyacheslav Ifanov, a cameraman with Aleisk New Television, was found dead in his garage. Authorities determined he died of carbon monoxide poisoning but relatives and colleagues disputed this and noted that his body had numerous bruises. Shortly before his death, Ifanov was hospitalized with a concussion after military servicemen beat him and destroyed his camera as he filmed a report near their base. He pressed charges and identified one of the attackers prior to his death, but the case was stalled due to the suspects' military status.

In January 2006 reporter Vagif Kochetkov was killed in Tula. His relatives suggested the attack was connected with his work as a reporter. Police arrested local resident Yan Stakhanov and accused him of murder. In January 2007 the District Court of Tula returned the case to prosecutors for further investigation. The case remained under investigation at year's end.

In July 2006 in Saratov, Yevgeniy Gerasimenko, an investigative reporter for the newspaper Saratovskiy Rasklad, was found dead in his home, bound and bruised, with a plastic bag over his head. His colleagues noted that Gerasimenko was working on an investigative article prior to his death. In October 2006 Sergey Finogeyev, a homeless man, was convicted of the murder and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

On August 28, authorities announced the arrest of 10 suspects in connection with the October 2006 killing of prominent investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya in Moscow. Politkovskaya's writing was highly critical of the war in Chechnya, the Chechen authorities, human rights abuses, and President Putin's administration. As a result of her writing, she received many death threats. Authorities declined to provide any details about the persons detained; some detainees were subsequently released, and the investigation continued at year's end.

Following Politkovskaya's killing, two other Novaya Gazeta staffers received death threats in 2006, one for his work on publications highlighting problems in the North Caucasus and the other in connection with his efforts to investigate the Politkovskaya killing.

No progress was reported during the year in the investigation of the 2005 killing of Magomed-Zagid Varisov in Makhachkala, director of the Center for Strategic Initiatives and Political Technologies and a columnist of the local weekly Novoye Delo, by unknown assailants. Varisov's colleagues said he received numerous threats in connection with his commentary on local politics.

In March a Moscow court suspended the trial in the case of the 2004 murder of Paul Klebnikov, the U.S. citizen editor-in-chief of Forbes Russia, and the Supreme Court ordered a new trial. The first trial was suspended when the lead defendant, Kazbek Dukuzov, failed to appear. Prosecutors obtained an arrest warrant for Dukuzov and claimed to be searching for him; the case will not resume until he is captured and brought to court.

Most high profile cases of journalists killed or kidnapped in earlier years remained unsolved.

In October a newly formed investigative committee of the General Prosecutor's Office announced it would reexamine circumstances in the 2003 killing of Yuriy Shchekochikhin, a member of the State Duma and deputy editor of the newspaper Novaya Gazeta. At the time of his death, Shchekochikhin was investigating allegations of FSB responsibility for a series of 1999 apartment building bombings.

In September police officers in Kazan assaulted Natalya Petrova, an independent filmmaker known for her criticism of government policies in Chechnya. Local authorities said the police acted on a warrant to escort Petrova to a local courthouse to attend hearings on libel charges against her that were not related to her work as a filmmaker.

On November 23-24, in Ingushetia, armed men in camouflage uniforms kidnapped three television journalists and a human rights activist from their hotel room, drove them to a field, stripped them and beat them, threatened to execute them, and left them stranded. The three REN-TV journalists and Memorial's Oleg Orlov, who were in Ingushetia to cover an opposition political demonstration, had to walk a few miles to the nearest town, where the police held them for questioning for several hours without medical attention. The journalists had reportedly filmed a special forces operation the day before during which a young boy was killed by stray gunfire and his mother was fired upon. Most of the footage was seized from their hotel room by the armed men, but some had already been sent to the REN-TV studios in Moscow.

Between 2002 and 2006, Fatima Tlisova, an independent journalist in the North Caucasus who had written for Novaya Gazeta, Regnum News Agency, and the Associated Press, was reportedly subjected to numerous incidents of abuse and harassment related to her work. She covered human rights abuses in the troubled North Caucasus regions, including the conflict in the North Caucasus, abusive practices of the military in Chechnya, official corruption, and she criticized official policy towards human rights. In 2005 she was allegedly abducted by local FSB officers who beat her and extinguished cigarettes on her fingers. In October 2006, after speaking at an international forum about the dangers to press freedom in the North Caucasus, she alleged that intruders broke into her home and put poison in her food; after the intrusion, she suffered kidney failure which she feared was attributed to poisoning.

Authorities at all levels used their authority, sometimes publicly, to deny access to journalists who criticized them. One method was to deny the media access to events and information, including filming opportunities and statistics theoretically available to the public. In January the Kurgan regional Duma decided not to admit reporter Nikolay Volkov to its meetings when the local newspaper Kurgan I Kurgantsy refused to send another reporter favored by the Duma, and in March the Kurgan city Duma voted to bar reporter Tatyana Kostitsyna from attending a session because of the tone of her previous articles. During the parliamentary election campaign, there were widespread reports of authorities pressuring the media to cover United Russia and not give equal coverage to opposition parties.

Through legislation and decrees, the government curtailed freedom of the press. On July 26, the government enacted a law on countering extremism that expanded the definition of extremism to include public discussion of such activity and provide law enforcement officials with broad authority to suspend media outlets that do not comply with restrictions. Media freedom advocates expressed concern that this broad interpretation of extremism could create a basis for government officials to stifle criticism and label independent reporters as extremists. For example, in a two month period this year, Ekho Moskvy reported receiving 15 warning letters from FSB officials and prosecutors, and in 2006 the Media Law and Policy Institute reported that the government issued 32 warnings to media outlets concerning purported extremist content.

Officials or unidentified individuals sometimes used force or took extreme measures to prevent the circulation of publications that were not favored by the government. For example, in January booklets containing instructions on how to bring cases against the government at the ECHR were seized in Tver. In March National Bolshevik party member Konstantin Marakov was detained in Voronezh for distributing an officially registered newspaper. While he was in jail, law enforcement officers reportedly visited his parents.

Government officials occasionally used legal actions against journalists and media outlets in response to negative coverage. The GDF estimated that at least 46 criminal cases and more than 200 civil cases were brought against journalists during the year. A 2004 Supreme Court decision prohibits courts from imposing damages in libel and defamation cases that would bankrupt the media organization, but, one NGO reported that local courts did not always follow this in practice. The GDF noted that during the year the courts have upheld civil defamation claims against journalists for amounts equivalent to approximately $143,000 (3.5 million rubles).

Some NGOs have alleged that authorities began selectively targeting media outlets and organizations which are in opposition to the administration by raiding them for pirated software during the year. In May police in Samara seized computers from the offices of Novaya Gazeta and an organization that was coordinating an anti-Kremlin protest. Also in May, police in Tula confiscated a computer from the political movement the Popular Democratic Union. In July law enforcement authorities confiscated the computers of the Nizhniy Novgorod offices of Novaya Gazeta; some alleged that this was part of a broader action against human rights organizations in that city. In late August Nizhny Novgorod police raided the offices of the Tolerance Support Foundation and the Nizhny Novgorod Human Rights Society, as well as Novaya Gazeta, allegedly searching for unlicensed computer programs. The police confiscated computers from the Tolerance Support Foundation, disrupting its work, and from Novaya Gazeta, preventing the newspaper from publishing its next issue.

In July the offices of the newspaper Khabarovskiy Ekspress, known for its occasional criticism of local authorities, were searched by the militia, who confiscated bookkeeping records and almost all of the newspaper's computers. Despite the seizure of tax records, the investigation was nominally related to a charge of libel made by a regional politician against the newspaper for publishing an article about his allegedly questionable business activities.

Some authorities used the media's widespread dependence on the government for transmission facilities, access to property, and printing and distribution services to discourage critical reporting, according to the GDF and media NGOs. The GDF reported that approximately 90 percent of print media organizations relied on state controlled organizations for paper, printing, or distribution, and many television stations were forced to rely on the government (in particular, regional committees for the management of state property) for access to the airwaves and office space. The GDF also reported that officials continued to manipulate the price of printing at state-controlled publishing houses, to apply pressure on private media rivals. The GDF noted that this practice was more common outside the Moscow area.

In March local authorities denied the newspaper Vsemu Naperekor the use of printing facilities in Chita and the paper was forced to print in Buryatia. Authorities later confiscated the entire print run of an issue of the newspaper.

According to the GDF and other media NGOs, there were some instances of authorities using investigations into intellectual property rights violations (i.e., software piracy) to selectively confiscate computers and pressure media across the country....

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: Citizens' Right to Change Their Government

The law provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully in regularly scheduled national and regional elections, although their ability to exercise that right has lessened considerably in recent years by changes in the electoral law, a change from elected to appointed governors, and increased government control of mass media. Little competition existed in the system, which was dominated by the propresidential United Russia party. Authorities often blocked the political opposition from exercising their right to freedom of assembly.

Elections and Political Participation

In December, Russia held elections for the State Duma in which the United Russia party received a two-thirds constitutional majority, and a total of four parties exceeded the seven percent threshold for gaining seats in the Duma. International observers concluded that the elections were not fair and failed to meet standards for democratic elections. After the Central Election Commission placed delays and unprecedented restrictions on the number of international observers, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) decided it was not able to send an observer mission. A team of parliamentarians from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE, and the Nordic Council observed the elections. The teams concluded that the elections were "not fair and failed to meet many OSCE and Council of Europe commitments and standards for democratic elections." They noted that the elections took place in an atmosphere which seriously limited political competition. Frequent abuses of administrative resources, media coverage strongly in favor of United Russia, and the revised election code combined to hinder political pluralism.

The OSCE representative on freedom of the media reported numerous media freedom violations during the elections, including harassment of media outlets, legislative limitations, and media bias in political coverage, which prevented equal media access. Even though some of its observers were impeded, the voter-rights NGO GOLOS reported numerous electoral violations and problems including an "unprecedented" amount of absentee ballots, collective voting under pressure, multiple voting by the same voters, and vote counting violations. GOLOS observers, however, reported good organization of voting procedures and that secrecy of voting was mostly observed.

Fifteen regions held legislative elections in March and April. Many political actors and analysts claimed that some parties, most often the United Russia party, had unfairly used administrative resources to sway results. Many observers viewed these elections as flawed, with numerous irregularities and abuses during the election process. There were problems in some regions with unequal access to the media and the use of administrative resources by incumbents to support their candidacies. The counting of votes in most locations was professionally done but there were exceptions, notably in Dagestan. In several regions, opposition political parties such as Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces (SPS) were removed from the ballot after the election commissions cited violations in elections procedures. In February, the St. Petersburg elections commission cited a handwriting expert and claimed that hundreds of the 40,000 signatures on Yabloko's registration application were forgeries. The commission gave Yabloko only two days to refute the charges with signed affidavits and copies of passports of those signatures that it ruled invalid. Yabloko could not comply with this request and was removed from the ballot. SPS was removed from ballots in Vologda and Pskov.

The December State Duma elections were marked with apparent fraud in many of the North Caucasus republics and other regions. In the 2005 election, the Council of Europe alleged that the official voter turnout numbers were artificially high and this trend reportedly continued in 2007 elections. Chechnya reported 99.5 percent voter turnout, with 99.5 percent of the votes going to the United Russia party; Ingushetiya reported 98.3 percent voter turnout, with 98.8 percent of the votes for United Russia; and Kabardino-Balkaria reported 97 percent turnout, with 96.5 percent of the votes for United Russia. In Ingushetia, with 159,000 registered voters, a protest movement called "I did not vote" collected 87,340 signatures from registered voters who said that they had not voted in the December elections.

Laws enacted in 2005 and 2006, particularly those eliminating direct gubernatorial elections, contributed to the consolidation of the government's political power. Further changes to the election law made in 2006, created a strict party list system, banned electoral blocs, raised the threshold for party representation in the State Duma to 7 percent of the vote, and eliminated the minimal voter turnout provision. The changes worked to the advantage of parties already represented in the State Duma, particularly the propresidential United Russia, and have had the effect of reducing the number of competitive parties. The electoral law also bans nonpartisan domestic observation of federal elections, which makes it difficult for NGOs to observe elections.

The law provides that republic presidents and regional governors be nominated by the president subject to confirmation by regional legislatures. If a regional legislature fails to confirm the president's nominee three times, the legislature may be dissolved. The president also acquired the power to remove regional leaders in whom he had lost confidence, including those who were popularly elected. By year's end no regional legislature has failed to confirm the president's nominee. The law gives the president significant influence over the Federation Council, since regional leaders selected by the president in turn appoint half of its members. In 2005 the government enacted a law that allows political parties that have won elections to regional parliaments to propose their own candidates for head of a region subject to approval by the president and that region's legislature.

Several other provisions of the election law were amended in 2006: the option "against all candidates" was eliminated from ballots; early voting was eliminated; a mandatory minimum voter turnout was eliminated; circumstances under which a candidate may be removed from the ballot (including for vaguely defined "extremist" behavior) were expanded; and "negative" campaigning was banned.

Political parties historically have been weak. Although the law includes a number of measures to enlarge the role of political parties, particularly of established political groupings, it also gives the executive branch and prosecutor general broad powers to regulate, investigate, and close parties. Other provisions limit campaign spending, set specific campaign periods, establish conditions under which candidates can be removed from the ballot, and provide for restrictions on campaign materials. To register as a political party, the law requires groups to have at least 50,000 members with at least 500 representatives in half of the country's regions and no fewer than 250 members in the remaining regions, making it difficult for smaller parties to register.

Prospective presidential candidates from political parties that are not represented in the Duma must collect no less than two million signatures from supporters throughout the country to be registered to run for president. Independent candidates also are required to submit signatures to the CEC to be certified to run. A candidate is ineligible to run if more than 5 percent of signatures are found to be invalid by the Central Election Commission. Parties that are represented in the Duma can nominate a presidential candidate without having to collect and submit signatures.

As of October, according to the Central Election Commission chief Vladimir Churov, three of the 14 parties wanting to run in the December State Duma elections were disqualified based on alleged problems with their registration documents.

Before the March regional elections, in December 2006 the acting head of the Federal Registration Service announced that, of the 35 political parties that applied for re-registration in accordance with the amended and more demanding law, only 19 passed the inspection, although two decided to register as "public associations." As a result, the 15 parties that did not pass the inspection must reregister as public organizations, movements, or NGOs or be dissolved through court procedures.

In July 2006 the government enacted the law "On Countering Extremism," increasing concerns among many that the law may restrict election related activities of political parties, the media, and NGOs and discourage criticism of the government. The law was used in some cases to stifle opposition political parties during the 2007 elections. For example, the law was used against campaign materials for the political opposition, but not for materials of the ruling United Russia party.

On April 16 the FSB began an investigation of Other Russia member Garry Kasparov for inciting extremism by encouraging radio listeners to attend an opposition rally in St. Petersburg. In December 2006 government agents raided the offices of the political organization United Civil Front headed by Garry Kasparov. The officers had an order to search the premises due to suspicions of "extremist activity," and seized books and material promoting the "March of the Dissenters," an antigovernment demonstration. No charges were ultimately brought, but some viewed the incident as an example of the government was attempting to use the new law on extremism to intimidate the opposition. The law was also used by public figures to intimidate their critics.

In December 58 women won seats in the 450 member State Duma; there were nine women in the Federation Council. Three women were deputy committee chairs. Valentina Matviyenko, governor of St. Petersburg, was the only woman to lead one of the 85 regions of the country.

National minorities took an active part in political life; however, ethnic Russians, who constitute approximately 80 percent of the population, dominated the political and administrative system, particularly at the federal level.

Government Corruption and Transparency

Corruption is a widespread problem in Russia and studies have found that it increased in the past year. The World Bank's worldwide governance indicators reflected that corruption was a severe problem. The government designated the fight against corruption and the enforcement of law as priorities, and while the law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, the government acknowledged that it has not implemented the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Corruption was widespread throughout the executive, legislative, and judicial branches at all levels of government. Manifestations included bribery of officials, misuse of budgetary resources, theft of government property, kickbacks in the procurement process, and extortion. The NGO INDEM (Information Science for Democracy) reports that other official institutions, such as the higher education system, health care, the military draft system, and the municipal apartment distribution system were also corrupt.

Overall, initiatives to address the problem, either through regulation, administrative reform, or government-sponsored voluntary codes of conduct, have made little headway in countering endemic corruption. While there were prosecutions related to bribery, the lack of enforcement in general remained a problem. In addition, bribery and other corruption issues are investigated by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Federal Security Service, both of which were widely perceived as corrupt.

Under the criminal code, giving and receiving bribes are criminal acts punishable by up to 12 years of incarceration; a person who pays a bribe is relieved of criminal liability if the bribe was extorted from him or if he voluntarily informs law enforcement about it.

From January to October, according to Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Yakovenko, more than 37,000 corruption crimes, including bribery and corrupt business practices, were detected by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. From January to November, there were 11,119 cases of bribery of government and municipal officials alone, a six percent increase from the same period of last year. Of these cases 9,127 persons faced criminal investigations and 5,288 were sentenced, a 10.3 percent increase from the same period in 2006. The INDEM foundation estimates that millions of corruption-related offences were committed every year and cost the country $300 billion (approximately 7.36 trillion rubles), almost equal to the country's entire federal budget.

Some high-level officials were charged with corruption this year, but most anticorruption campaigns were limited in scope and focused on lower-level officials. Allegations of corruption were also used as a political tactic, which made it more difficult to determine the actual extent of corruption.

In this year's highest-profile corruption case, Deputy Finance Minister Sergey Storchak was arrested on suspicion of preparing to embezzle $43 million (more than 1 billion rubles) from the state budget. The case, which some observers charged may be politically motivated, remained delayed at year's end; in the meantime, Storchak was considered a flight risk and remained in detention in Moscow.

The former governor of Nenets Autonomous Region, Alexey Barinov, was convicted of diverting state money for his personal use, but was released with a three-year suspended sentence. Similarly, the former vice governor of Novgorod region, Nikolai Ivankov, was convicted of charging his personal vacations to the regional budget, but was given a three-year suspended sentence and a fine of $205 (5,000 rubles).

Togliatti Mayor Nikolay Utkin was charged three times this year for abuse of power, bribery, and illegal land transfer.

In the Russian Far East, Amur Oblast governor Leonid Korotkov and Vladivostok mayor Vladimir Nikolayev were charged with corruption and abuse of office in 2006. Nikolayev was released this year after the Vladivostok City Court sentenced him to 4.5 years suspended imprisonment.

In March Aleksandr Kislyakov, former deputy governor of the Orel region, was sentenced to seven years in prison for receiving a bribe of $4,100 (100,000 rubles).

In April 2006 a Moscow city court sentenced federal tax inspector Oleg Alekseyev to 10 years and Central Bank lawyer Aleksey Mishin to eight years in prison for bribery and extortion. They were each ordered to pay a fine of $40,000 (one million rubles). Alekseyev was videotaped taking a $1 million (26.5 million ruble) bribe to eliminate tax charges against a commercial bank in collusion with Mishin.

In August 2006 a senior auditing official in the Ministry of Industry and Energy was sentenced to seven years in prison for taking bribes.

In 2006 the head of Russian customs in the Far East, Ernest Bakhshetsyan, was arrested over alleged improprieties in office. Observers believed that the charges were concocted against Bakhshetsyan for attempting to crack down on smuggling in Primorye.

The law authorizes public access to all government information unless it is confidential or classified as a state secret. Government refusal to provide access to open information, or the classification of information as a state secret without cause, has been successfully contested in court. However, access to information was often difficult and subject to prolonged bureaucratic procedures.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Domestic and international human rights groups operated in the country, investigating and publicly commenting on human rights problems, but official harassment continued, and the operating environment for these groups was restricted. Authorities increasingly harassed many NGOs that focused on politically sensitive areas, and other official actions and statements indicated a low level of tolerance for unfettered NGO activity, particularly for NGOs that received foreign funding and reported on human rights violations. NGOs operating in the Northern Caucasus were severely restricted.

An estimated 20 to 25 percent of the approximately 450,000 registered public associations and nongovernmental, noncommercial organizations were regularly active. The vast majority engaged in social or charitable activities, although many worked to influence policy and was critical of the government. There were several dozen large NGO umbrella organizations as well as thousands of small grassroots NGOs. There was often a large gap between these two categories of NGOs in terms of their organizational capacity. In the regions, NGO coalitions continued to advocate on such issues as the rights of the disabled and of entrepreneurs, environmental degradation, violations by law enforcement authorities, and the war in Chechnya.

In 2006 the government enacted legislation that strictly regulates NGOs and requires them to register with the Federal Registration Service. The law has more stringent registration requirements for local affiliates of foreign NGOs than for domestic NGOs, but requires all NGOs to file extensive reports on their structure, activities, leadership, and finances. The law provides intrusive means for government officials to scrutinize NGOs, including "public associations," but provides the NGOs with only limited procedural protections. The law grants the Federal Registration Service discretion to deny registration or to request that the courts close organizations based on vague and subjective criteria.

For example, the Dutch Russia Justice Initiative was twice refused registration in 2006 but during the year was finally able to register.

Starting this year, all NGOs were required to submit periodic reports to the Federal Registration Service (FRS) that disclose potentially sensitive information, including sources of foreign funding and detailed information as to how funds are used. As a result, NGOs stated that they were increasingly cautious about receiving foreign funds; while they still in many cases received foreign funds, many were restricting their activities to less sensitive issues. The FRS has the authority to audit organizations; in May, it audited the prominent human rights NGO Memorial International in a regularly scheduled inspection. FRS found several violations of the Russian legislation, especially with regard to the society's charitable activity, and issued a $61,000 (1.5 million ruble) fine, which Memorial's lawyers successfully appealed.

Observers believed the government applied the NGO law to target some human rights organizations, such as cases opened against several NGOs in St. Petersburg that could result in their closure.

The July 2006 amendments to the law on extremism have been used to restrict activities of political parties, the media, NGOs, and some criticism of the government. The revised law expands the definition of extremist activity to include public libel of a government official or his family, as well as public statements that could be construed as justifying or excusing terrorism.

The authorities continued to target the Russian Chechen Friendship Society (RCFS), which it ordered closed in October 2006. On January 23, the Supreme Court upheld the judgment of the Nizhniy Novgorod regional court and ruled to liquidate the RCFS. The RCFS had urged negotiations between the government and Chechen rebels to settle the conflict and reported on human rights abuses perpetrated by both sides of the conflict. In February 2006 RCFS Executive Director Stanislav Dmitriyevskiy was convicted of inciting racial and ethnic hatred and given a two year suspended sentence and four years probation for publishing statements by Chechen rebel leaders. The authorities warned the RCFS that the NGO law prohibited persons convicted of extremist crimes from leading an NGO. The FCRS refused to replace Dmitriyevskiy, and the authorities moved to close the RCFS. Dmitriyevskiy appealed his conviction to ECHR, which had not ruled on the appeal by year's end. The RCFS has since registered in Finland and has continued to operate in Russia. In April Dmitriyevsky participated in the March of the Dissenters. On August 12, his sentence was amended to provide that his suspended sentence could be revoked if he commits more than one administrative violation within a 12-month period. RCFS offices in Nizhniy Novgorod were raided in 2005 and separate criminal and tax cases were opened against the RCFS executive director and the organization.

In 2006 the Nizhniy Novgorod Human Rights Society resumed its activities, reportedly as a result of a campaign by international organizations. In 2005 authorities ordered the closure of the society, a partner organization of the RCFS, on the grounds that it did not submit necessary documentation of its activities to the Ministry of Justice.

The government continued to scrutinize organizations that it considered to have an opposition political agenda. Numerous human rights and opposition groups reported politically motivated hostility from the government. During the year the government attempted to damage the public image of the NGO community with statements that NGOs were suspicious organizations funded by foreign governments. Government accusations that implied connections between foreign funded NGOs and alleged espionage by resident diplomats increased public perceptions that NGOs served foreign interests and fuel instability.

A number of indirect tactics were applied to suppress or shut down domestic NGOs, including creative application of various laws and harassment in the form of investigations and raids ostensibly to check for pirated software.

In June the government seized the computers and financial records of the Educated Media Foundation (EMF), also known as Internews Russia, an NGO promoting professional and independent media. The seizure was allegedly part of its investigation of EMF director Manana Aslamazyan, who was charged with an administrative violation when she failed to properly declare the currency she was bringing into the country. Authorities subsequently charged her with a criminal offense. The government also used this as a reason to allege criminal activities by the NGO and to seize its equipment and effectively stop its operations.

In 2004 the Prosecutor's Office in Ingushetiya initiated a case against the human rights NGO Chechen Committee for National Salvation (CCNS) alleging that its press releases accusing local authorities of violating human rights constituted extremist materials. In October 2004 a district court in Nazran dismissed the case, but in February 2005 the Ingushetiya Supreme Court reinstated it. The new trial started in April 2006 and was ongoing at year's end.

In 2005 State Duma deputy Nikolay Kuryanovich, who was criticized in a report by the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights (MBHR), sent a letter to the government asking for the MBHR to be closed and accusing it of collaboration with foreign intelligence. In response to Kuryanovich's letter, several inspections were conducted by the Federal Tax Service and the Prosecutor General's Office, which did not find grounds to initiate a criminal case against the MBHR. The case has not been closed, but the tax service had made no claims by year's end.

Pressure on human rights NGOs and activists continued in the Autonomous Republic of Bashkortostan during the year. In April, in Ufa (Bashkortostan), an unidentified man beat and injured a representative of the NGO International Standard in April 2007. Despite a police and hospital report, authorities did not open an investigation. In 2006 the state registration agency forced the International Standard, which received funding from abroad, to suspend its activities for a month, citing technical irregularities. The NGO was forced to amend its charter and reregister its legal address; foreign funding has essentially ceased due to new regulations.

Human rights activist Yevgeniy Basyrov left Russia to escape arrest after he testified this year on behalf of fellow human rights activist Nikolay Gusak. Gusak was convicted on three counts of verbal abuse during the year and received sentences ranging from 15 days to a month. He was beaten badly by criminal cellmates in the town of Tuimazy, Bashkortostan.

There were no further official actions during the year regarding Open Russia, an NGO that was founded and heavily funded by former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskiy. Open Russia's Moscow office was raided in 2005 by authorities, who seized documents reportedly related to an ongoing investigation of money laundering and embezzlement by Yukos employees. Authorities did not bring charges against Open Russia. After Yukos declared bankruptcy, funding to Open Russia was halted, and the NGO closed. In March 2006 the Basmanniy district court of Moscow froze Open Russia's bank accounts. In April 2006 Open Russia stopped all activities except for the Club of Regional Journalists.

The government subjected the Center for International Legal Defense (CILD), which was headed by one of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskiy's lawyers, to irregular administrative inspections. In a note to Ombudsman Lukin, CILD complained about a January visit to their office by an officer of the Ministry of Internal Affairs' Tax Offenses Department in Moscow. The officer questioned the center's director and deputy director about CILD's activities and asked if they worked on any Chechen cases. Later in the month, the officer visited CILD with orders summoning the executives to the Tax Offenses Department. In July 2006 the Federal Tax Service filed a claim against CILD after it was audited by tax inspectors; the center appealed the claim. The center was founded in 1994 to assist victims of human rights violations though international legal mechanisms. The tax claims and fines against CILD amounted to approximately $170,000 (4.6 million rubles), which if collected could potentially put the NGO out of business. The Federal Tax Service claimed that the CILD failed to pay taxes on $500,000 (approximately 13.5 million rubles) in foreign grants received between 2002 and 2004.

Regional human rights groups generally received little international support or attention and often suffered from inadequate funding. Due to limited resources, the NGO reporting requirements created a particularly onerous burden. They reported that at times local authorities obstructed their work. While these groups were generally free to criticize government and regional authorities, authorities in some areas were intolerant of criticism. Local human rights groups in the regions had some opportunities to interact with legislators to develop draft laws; however, local authorities excluded some organizations from the process entirely.

The government subjected international human rights and humanitarian groups, particularly those involved in promoting democracy during the election year, to increasing pressure, such as foreign workers facing trouble with visas, FSB officers arriving with questions that intimidated the members, and pressure to curtail more sensitive activities. In the view of some observers, NGOs working in the North Caucasus were particularly vulnerable to interference.

A foreign NGO reported that central authorities continued to pressure it and its domestic partner, the VOICE Association for Voters' Rights, during the year.

Government and legislative officials recognized and consulted with some NGOs, primarily those focused on social issues, and select groups participated, with varying degrees of success, in drafting legislation and decrees. Officials, such as Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin and the chairman of the Presidential Council on Promoting the Development of Institutions of Civil Society and Human Rights, Ella Pamfilova, regularly interacted and cooperated with NGOs.

In the Jewish autonomous republic, Amur Oblast, and selected regions in Primorskiy Kray, NGOs worked with local governments to encourage citizen participation in local selfgovernance on issues related to implementation of the law on local governance.

Some international NGOs maintained small branch offices staffed by local employees in Chechnya; however, all were based outside of Chechnya. In a meeting with NGOs on August 2, Chechen President Kadyrov stated that all foreign NGOs that worked in Chechnya should move their offices from neighboring republics to Groznyy, register with the tax inspectorate, and employ local citizens. Critics contended that this enabled Kadyrov to keep tighter control over the NGO sector.

By law, every person in the country may bring cases to the ECHR for alleged human rights violations after 1998, provided they have exhausted "effective and ordinary" appeals in the courts. This provision was usually satisfied by two appeals (first and cassation) in courts of ordinary jurisdiction or three (first, appeal, and cassation) in the commercial court system. More than 20,000 cases were pending against Russia at the ECHR at the end of the year. The ECHR which received more than 10,000 complaints involving Russia, ruled against Russia in 175 of the 192 cases on which it reached a decision during the year.

The government generally paid financial judgments ordered by the ECHR in a timely fashion; however, it issued blanket refusals in response to ECHR requests for disclosure of the domestic case files relating to alleged gross violations in Chechnya. The ECHR criticized this failure of disclosure.

Government human rights institutions challenged local government activities, promoted the concept of human rights, and intervened in selected abuse complaints. Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin commented on a range of human rights problems, such as the treatment of children, the rights of prisoners, hazing in the military, and religious intolerance. During the year Lukin criticized intolerance and the growing wave of ethnic, religious, sociopolitical, and human hatred in the country. Lukin defended the rights of participants in the dissenters' marches, noting that the constitution states clearly that citizens have a right to participate in meetings and marches, and that only notification of the authorities is required to hold meetings and marches, not permission from the government. Lukin's office intervened in August to help secure the release from an Apetity psychiatric institution of "Other Russia" activist Larisa Arap, who had been involuntarily hospitalized. Lukin assembled a panel of independent experts who examined Arap and testified that she should be released. The ombudsman's annual report noted that his effectiveness was limited because he was not empowered to propose legislation that could address human rights problems. He also noted the difficulty of getting some government officials to respond to inquiries from his office. In 2006, for example, the ombudsman intervened in more than 1,500 cases of prisoner abuse, but only 123 cases were satisfactorily resolved by prison officials.

The Ombudsman's office had approximately 200 employees and several specialized sections responsible for investigating complaints. During the year the office published reports on human rights issues, such as the rights of children with disabilities. Lukin's role remained primarily consultative and investigatory, without powers of enforcement. There was no information available on the investigations proposed by Lukin during the year. As of mid-2007, 40 of the country's 85 regions had regional human rights ombudsmen with responsibilities similar to Lukin's; their effectiveness varied significantly.

The Presidential Council on Promoting the Development of Institutions of Civil Society and Human Rights, headed by Ella Pamfilova, promoted NGO concerns and worked to advance human rights in the country. The council was widely respected within the NGO community; however, it was limited in its capacity to address many human rights problems. In some notable cases, such as abuses to freedom of assembly during opposition demonstrations, advocating for easing regulations on NGOs, and election violations, Pamilova provided effective intervention.

In January 2006 the 126-member Public Chamber of the Russian Federation began operation. The chamber was established by legislative mandate to channel public and civil society input into legislative decision-making. Some prominent human rights groups declined to participate in the chamber out of concern that the government would use it to increase control over civil society. The chamber employed some 30 committees to cover problems ranging from juvenile justice to anticorruption to philanthropy. Committees were intended to conduct public discussions on key issues, review draft laws, travel to the regions to promote the role of regional public chambers, conduct studies, and give nonbinding recommendations to the government and legislature.

Early in the year, the Public Chamber published a report on the state of civil society in the country in 2006. The report assessed the development of civil society but offered no information on the chamber's role in fostering civil society. The chamber was generally not considered effective as a check on the federal government....