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Russia Is in ‘Uncharted Territory’ in Its Crackdown on Dissent | Best Countries

A Russian state television worker appeared as one of the most high-profile critics of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine when the woman, Marina Ovsyanikova, A popular news show has been disrupted Shout “Stop fighting!” While holding a sign where it was written, “They are lying to you here.”

Ovsayanikova was detained by police, fined and investigated for new so-called new Russian violations, including a brief protest action last week, including a video she made. The “False Information” ActWhich could put anyone in prison for up to 15 years for refusing to point a finger at the official line about the country’s aggression in Ukraine.

Ovsanikova is one of thousands of Russians who have spoken out against the war since it began on February 24. March 6 only, At least 5,000 people Participated in demonstrations in cities including Moscow and St. Petersburg. And, like Ovsanikova, many have been arrested.

Although it is clear that Russian citizens are at significant risk of speaking out against an attack on Ukraine – an attack that By some conjecture 1,000 Ukrainians and 7,000 Russians have died – the extent of this risk is currently unknown and evolving, experts say.

Georgetown University historian Michael David-Fox, who specializes in modern Russia and the USSR, says the current situation in Russia is “unfamiliar territory.”

Last week, President Vladimir Putin Promise To free Russia from the “scandal and traitors” who he said were working with the West to destroy the country.

“The Russian people will always be able to distinguish true patriots from filth and traitors and spit them out like ghosts accidentally flying in their mouths,” he said, according to media reports.

Fearing their fate, Thousands of Russians Have fled their country in recent weeks – and for good reason.

According to human rights group Amnesty International, since the beginning of the attack, police have detained more than 13,000 Russians in protest of the war. Some citizens have reportedly been fired from their jobs or expelled from universities for expressing their dissent.

Michael Smeltzer, a research analyst at the human rights organization Freedom House, said in an email: “Speaking of which, one could lose their job.” “One could be brutally beaten in prison for protesting. Even if the Kremlin uses the term “war” to describe what it calls “special military operations,” they could face up to 15 years in prison.

Russian authorities have already charged dozens of people with violating false information laws passed in early March. According to NPR“The Defense Committee of the National Interest has begun publishing online a list of Russians who have left the country, calling them ‘cowards and deserts’.”
Experts say those who have been taken into Russian custody are at risk of abuse.

Daniel Balson, Amnesty International USA’s Europe and Central Asia Advocacy Director, said in an email: “Many are regularly denied access to lawyers and food, water and bedding. “Protesters have also been beaten, insulted and subjected to other forms of ill-treatment.”

A slow silence of dissent

In the recent past, Russians have been able to personally criticize their government without fear, says David-Fox. There were results related to public protests, but they do not compare to today’s risks. “In the previous part of it [Putin’s] The presidency, things were more freewheeling than many Americans could expect, ”he said.

But in the last three years, he said, challenging the Russian government has become increasingly risky. This became especially evident in 2021, when Putin’s political opponent was Alexei Navalny Toxic And was later arrested. (On Tuesday, Navalny was convicted of fraud and contempt of court and Nine years imprisonment In a high-security prison – a move that many thought was politically motivated.)

According to Balson, since Putin came to power, the Russian government has increasingly cracked down on protesters. Both 2004 and 2014 saw the introduction of restrictive legislation that made it increasingly difficult to challenge the government.

Photo: The plight of Ukrainian refugees

Refugees, mostly women with children, rest inside a tent after arriving at a border crossing in Medica, Poland on Sunday, March 6, 2022.  (AP Photo / Visa Creation)

“In recent years, civic activism and assembly space have shrunk as the Kremlin has seen a challenge to its power in the form of an increasingly popular movement,” Smeltzer said. “It has reached a point where even a single person picketing on the street is an illegal act.”

Experts believe that Russia is still a party to international agreements that protect the civil liberties of its citizens and therefore could theoretically face the consequences of the world community for curtailing freedom of speech.

Gusselino Colares, co-director of the Cox International Law Center at Case Western Reserve University, said the crackdown on protesters could lead to a ban from the European Court of Human Rights. Its governing document, the European Convention on Human Rights, which Russia still has specific provisions to protect the party, freedom of assembly and prohibit unjust arrests, he said.

An isolated, uneducated public

Given the risks associated with freedom of expression in Russia, experts say it is extremely difficult to accurately assess the popularity of the war among its citizens.

According to a recent survey Levada Center, A Russian private research organization, one-third of Russians say they believe the isolated territories of Ukraine should be independent, while a quarter of Russians think the territories should be part of the Russian Federation. Most Russians, however, have said they were “afraid” of the possibility of a war with Ukraine. David-Fox noted that the official state media was unable to show “any kind of public support or joy.”

Putin’s recent crackdown on independent journalism “almost completely deprives the Russian people of access to objective, impartial and credible information about Russia’s aggression in Ukraine,” Bolson said.

If the Russians understand the true nature of the war, the opposition will be much greater, says Robert Ortung, a professor at George Washington University who specializes in research on Russia and Ukraine.

“If the Russians can actually get reliable information about what is happening on the ground, there will be strong opposition to this war, because they have gone through World War II,” he said.

Strongly attacking the Russian national identity and later joining the fight against the Nazis during World War II, he said. The Russians, who have become an invading force, oppose how they view themselves and their country.

“We need to avoid any rusophobia at the moment,” Smeltzer said. “It is vital that we remember that the Russians had no voice in choosing their leaders to start this war.”

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