treatment of dissidents in Russia
Protest has been illegal in Russia, except with prior permission from the authorities, since 2014. There are activists who protest anyway, of course, but the Russian state tends to be uncompromising in how it responds. For example, they will deploy masses of riot police to meet any protests, and will arrest even peaceful protesters, snatching them right off the footpath if they feel like it. While Russian law requires arrestees to be allowed to meet with defence lawyers, the police often don’t allow it. “Persistent” protesters can be punished with up to five years imprisonment. Activists can also meet with more “subtle” forms of discrimination, like being let go from and blacklisted from “professional” jobs that match their qualifications. There are more political prisoners in Russia now than there were during the Brezhnev era, and there is also a much greater use of fines to financially punish dissidents (something that didn’t happen during the Soviet era).
Many, many dissidents have alleged that Russia tortures the activists that they arrest and imprison. This can take the form of beatings, rape, and also electric torture. Often the goal of this torture is to extract false confessions, including the kind that incriminates other activists that they want to go after. For example, they have forced anarchists and other antifascists to confess to membership of a terrorist group, “The Network”, through electric torture. The FSB has also been known to plant evidence (like guns or grenades) to bolster their cases against the regime’s political opponents.
In the case of very high-profile dissidents (or political opponents, generally), Russia has been known to resort to assassination attempts. For example, Anna Politkovskaya was murdered in 2006 after rising to prominence reporting on the war in Chechnya. Sergei Magnitsky, a tax advisor who exposed largescale fraud, was tortured and died in custody after being denied medical care in 2009. Boris Nemtsov, a liberal politician, was shot dead in 2015. Various opponents have also been poisoned (although a number of them have survived) – for example, Litvinenko with radioactive polonium in 2006, and the Skripals and Aleksei Navalny with the potent nerve agent Novichok in more recent years. Vladimir Kara-Murza has survived two poisoning attempts where the specific toxin was unknown.
A large number of Russians who disagree politically with their regime have simply gone (or been forced) into exile. Large exile communities exist in a number of European countries, like the Baltic states, Germany and the UK. There are also exiles living further afield, like in the US. As of July 2022, it’s estimated that 4 million Russians have left just since the beginning of the war on Ukraine.
See Also / References
- The documentary Russia vs Russia (which I watched on the ABC’s 4 Corners)
- Jacobin: I Was Arrested at an Antiwar Demonstration in Saint Petersburg
- Rupression: How the FSB Is Manufacturing a Terrorism Case Against Antifascists in Russia
- CrimethInc: Why the Torture Cases in Russia Matter
- News.com.au: Here’s a list of all the Putin critics who wound up murdered (article from 2017)
- Jacobin: A Russian Sociologist Explains Why Putin’s War Is Going Even Worse Than It Looks (22 Jul 2022)