Russian crackdown targeting human rights group and maps

December 20, 2022 GMT

MOSCOW (AP) — The Russian government intensified its crackdown on critics and what it sees as harmful information about its “special military operation” in Ukraine on Tuesday with moves to ban a human rights group and publication of maps that omit annexed Ukrainian land.

The crackdown fits a theme Russian President Vladimir Putin sounded Tuesday in a video address honoring Russia’s military and security agencies. Putin, a former KGB operative, called on those forces to redouble their efforts to protect the stability of society and the security of the government against “direct threats to internal security.”

His speech coincided with a report by the state Tass news agency that Russia’s Justice Ministry filed a lawsuit to disband one of the country’s oldest human rights organizations, the Moscow Helsinki Group. No reason was given for the action, but it fits a pattern against other organizations the government accuses of working against the country’s interests. One of the group’s leaders told the Meduza news outlet that authorities alleged the organization was violating its legal registration in Moscow by working on human rights cases outside the Russian capital.


One of the group’s founders, Lyudmila Alexeyeva, a human rights pioneer and dissident who challenged the Soviet and Russian regimes for decades, died in 2018. The group, founded in 1976, demanded freedom for political prisoners and establishment of democratic rights.

In another example of the crackdown on dissent and what it views as misinformation, the Russian parliament took initial action to approve fines for distribution of maps and other materials that don’t adhere to the Kremlin’s definition of Russian territory. Legislation working its way through the parliament, known as the Duma, would levy a fine of up to 1 million rubles ($14,200) for distributing materials that don’t reflect the official view of the Russian Federation’s territorial integrity, such as the annexation in 2014 of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula or in September of four Ukrainian regions. Many governments around the world have condemned those annexations as illegal.