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Russian Court decisions on laws discrediting armed forces a ‘new low’ in clampdown on expression: UN experts

28 August 2023

GENEVA (28 August 2023) – UN experts* today expressed grave concern about recent decisions by Russia’s Constitutional Court to dismiss challenges to the constitutionality of the country’s legislative provisions that criminalise all “public actions aimed at discrediting” the Russian Armed Forces. The experts previously engaged with Russia to express concerns about the adoption and implementation of the laws on discrediting the armed forces. 

“The decision to deny constitutional protection of the right to freedom of expression constitutes a new low in Russia’s clampdown on the freedom of expression and the free flow of information,” the experts said.

“The interpretation of the Constitutional Court and the rejection of complaints challenging these legislative provisions will silence all those expressing critical views regarding Russia’s so-called “special military operation” in Ukraine,” they said.

The law was adopted shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The experts have raised serious concerns about the law in several communications to the Government of Russia and through public statements. Since the beginning of the war, Russia has arrested nearly 20,000 people for protesting the war in Ukraine, while 7000 people have been arrested for actions that allegedly “discredited” the Russian Armed Forces. 

“The law has no other objective than silencing critical expression in relation to the war in Ukraine. The legislation is a drastic step in a long string of measures over the years restricting freedom of expression and media freedom, and further shrinking civic space in the Russian Federation,” the experts said.

The Russian Constitutional Court rendered decisions in 24 cases, rejecting complaints challenging the constitutionality of the law on discrediting the armed forces. The Court based its decisions on the grounds that use of the armed forces and exercise of powers by state bodies were the prerogative of the state. The Court also referred to the citizen’s ‘duty to defend the fatherland’, and vague principles of ‘trust between society and the state’, ‘protection of citizens’ dignity’, ‘respect for defenders of the homeland’, ‘balanced rights and responsibilities of citizens’, and ’political and social solidarity’.

“The Constitutional Court decisions will exacerbate an already severe crackdown on civil society, independent media and critical voices,” the experts warned.

“We are seriously concerned about the implications of the decision for many legal cases brought against individuals for expressing themselves critically or for participating in demonstrations against the war in Ukraine,” the experts said. They warned that scores of activists, journalists and human rights defenders face harsh punishments ranging from five to 15 years imprisonment.

“We respectfully urge the Constitutional Court to change course and guarantee freedom of expression in Russia, and urge Russian authorities to repeal the legislation,” the experts said.


*The experts:  Ms. Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the freedom of opinion and expression; Mariana Katzarova, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation; Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voulé, Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Ms. Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights Country Page: Russian Federation

For more information and media requests please contact: Laurens Van Der Woude ([email protected])

For media enquiries related to other UN independent experts, please contactMaya Derouaz ([email protected]) or Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected])

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