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Russian protester arrested

Police officers detain a protestor during a demonstration against the Russian military operation in Ukraine on March 6, 2022 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. (Photo: Stringer/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

UN Human Rights Chief Condemns Detention of Thousands of Russian Anti-War Protesters

Michelle Bachelet denounced recent "repressive legislation that impedes the exercise of civil and political rights."

Julia Conley

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Tuesday condemned the arrests of more than 12,000 anti-war protesters across Russia reported over recent weeks and denounced President Vladimir Putin's "repressive" crackdown on dissent.

Including about 4,300 people who were arrested in 56 cities across Russia over the weekend, according to independent protest monitor OVD-Info, an estimated 12,700 demonstrators have been detained since February 24, with many of those opposed to Putin's invasion of Ukraine subjected to new anti-protest laws adopted last week.

"More than 30 people complained about the violence they experienced at police stations after they were arrested for participating in a protest over something we're forbidden to name."

"I remain concerned about the use of repressive legislation that impedes the exercise of civil and political rights and criminalizing non-violent behavior," Bachelet told the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

As Common Dreams has reported, Russia's assault on Ukraine has been met with outrage in many cities, with thousands of Russians risking arrest by joining a global day of action on Sunday.

The most recent demonstrations came days after Russian Parliament fast-tracked new laws criminalizing "public actions aimed at discrediting" the Russian Armed Forces and spreading "false information" about the war. Putin signed the legislation into law last Friday.

People accused of publicly calling to end the war or independently reporting on the military operation could face up to 15 years in prison and fines ranging from $450 to $4,500.

"These new laws are part of Russia's ruthless effort to suppress all dissent and make sure the population does not have access to any information that contradicts the Kremlin's narrative about the invasion of Ukraine," said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Russia's "vague and overly broad" new definition of extremism, Bachelet said, has led to legal interpretations by officials that violate Russia's human rights obligations.

"Further legislation criminalizing circumstances of 'discrediting' the armed forces continues down this concerning path," the commissioner said.

According to accounts of detained Russians published by Haaretz on Tuesday, authorities have subjected people to "severe verbal abuse and threats" as well as "slaps and blows."

"More than 30 people complained about the violence they experienced at police stations after they were arrested for participating in a protest over something we're forbidden to name," reported Novata Gazeta, which Haaretz described as "the only critical media outlet still functioning properly in Russia after other major media outlets, like the Dozhd television station and the Ekho Moskvy radio station, shut down and smaller stations were barred from operating."

Bachelet on Tuesday expressed concern regarding Russia's "overly broad and repressive laws that restrict freedom of expression, including media freedom, and hinder the free enjoyment of other civil and political rights."

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