Civil society is a necessary part of any free society and is key in ensuring the collective will of citizens is heard. Seeing civil society organizations repressed in any country is cause for alarm. This is the case today in Russia.
Russia has a poor human rights record and though Russia claims to be a free society today, it is considered by experts a country that is only somewhat free. Many believe that this is worsening as the government collapses.
The number of cases of human rights abuses in the European Court of Human Rights has steadily increased since 2002. These cases include discrimination, murder of journalists, and torture of prisoners.
Opposition to the ruling party is routinely met with intimidation, imprisonment and even murder.
Sergei Magnitsky, for example, was an accountant in Russia who attempted to expose government officials for a massive theft. He was subsequently tortured in prison over the course of a year and eventually died without ever being tried.
Most recently opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov, was murdered in front of the Kremlin. The official story alleges he was killed by Chechan Islamic extremists for his support of Charlie Hebdo. These official stories are incredulous after a number of high-profile journalist murders have taken place under Putin’s watch.
The problem is not with a lack of laws it is a problem with people ignoring the laws and not being punished. Torture, for example, is expressly forbidden in the Russian Constitution but some estimates put the number of prisoners whom have endured torture in interrogations at 50%.
Non-governmental organizations are not able to act freely in the country and face government oversight which effectively renders them useless. Civil society organizations are meant to be separate organizations so by requiring NGOs register as Russian organizations they can no longer represent the will of the people if its against the government. Many NGOs have been suspended from acting in the country.
Many are optimistic however and say Russia has a complicated political history and changes are not made overnight. The collapse of the ruble may threaten the Putin regime but even if he were to be replaced it would hard to completely change the corrupt system quickly.