Recommendations on freedom of expression in Russia presented at the pre-session for the country's 3rd UN Universal Periodic Review
On April 11, 2018, Alexander Verkhovsky, director of SOVA Center, presented recommendations to improve protections for freedom of expression in Russia at the pre-session for the country’s 3rd UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva. Verkhovsky spoke on behalf of a joint coalition including ARTICLE 19, the Mass Media Defence Centre, Roskomsvoboda, OVD-info and PEN International, that had prepared a joint submission for the UPR.
The coalition's briefing stated that since the last UPR "the situation for freedom of expression and related rights in Russia had deteriorated, primarily through the enactment of a series of highly restrictive laws and policies which had been used to target political opposition and civil society in particular, while also creating a pervasive chilling effect on free expression within the country more widely". The members of the coalition report that "freedom of expression and access to information online, and the right to digital privacy, are under especially intense pressure in Russia, as the government has implemented expansive website blocking measures, and sought to enhance already extensive surveillance capabilities".
Verkhovsky spoke on tightening of anti-extremist policies, prosecutions for criticism of the government’s actions and implementation of provisions prohibiting ‘insulting religious feelings’. The speaker further focused on excessive mechanisms of blocking of websites and banning materials as extremist and other instances of limiting access to information online. Excessive surveillance violating the Internet users’ right to privacy was reported as well. The presentation also touched upon the expansion of the state control over Russian media outlets and limitations imposed on foreign media in Russia as well as on cases of criminal prosecution of journalists and acts of violence against them.
On behalf of the coalition, Verkhovsky proposed a number of recommendations to Russian authorities, which imply amending relevant laws, decriminalizing certain offences, ceasing politically motivated prosecutions, guaranteeing safety of journalists, reducing control over media and ensure that Internet users have the possibility to browse and publish freely and anonymously and their rights may only be limited by court order.