UN rights chief decries Russian protest arrests

Michelle Bachelet says 'some 12,700 people have been arbitrarily arrested for holding peaceful antiwar protests'

Powered by automated translation

Live updates: follow the latest news on Russia-Ukraine

The UN human rights chief on Tuesday decried Russia's arrest of about 13,000 people for peacefully protesting the invasion of Ukraine and warned all criticism of public policies was “profoundly restricted” in the country.

Speaking to the UN Human Rights Council, Michelle Bachelet said that since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, “some 12,700 people have been arbitrarily arrested for holding peaceful anti-war protests” inside Russia.

“The space for discussion or criticism of public policies, including its military action against Ukraine, is increasingly and profoundly restricted” in the country, she said.

“Media are being required to use only official information and terms,” she added.

Since President Vladimir Putin ordered troops into pro-western Ukraine, authorities have launched an unprecedented crackdown on Russia's already embattled media.

Authorities have blocked several independent media outlets and Mr Putin last Friday signed into law a bill introducing jail terms of up to 15 years for publishing “fake news” about the Russian military.

Ms Bachelet also voiced concern about the “use of repressive legislation” that blocks people from exercising their civil and political rights and criminalises non-violent behaviour.

“Vague and overly broad definitions, for example, of extremism or incitement to hatred have led to legal interpretations that are not in line with Russia's human rights obligations,” she said.

Ms Bachelet also voiced alarm at the spiralling situation inside Ukraine.

“I am deeply concerned about civilians trapped in active hostilities in numerous areas and I urge all parties to take effective action to enable all civilians, including those in situations of vulnerability, to safely leave areas affected by conflict,” she said.

In Ukraine, freedom of expression and assembly are also under attack, she said.

The UN rights chief said her office had received reports of “arbitrary detentions of pro-Ukrainian activists in areas that have recently come under the control of armed groups in the east of the country".

“We have also received reports of beatings of people considered to be pro-Russian in government-controlled territories,” she said, restating her “urgent call for a peaceful end to hostilities".

Updated: March 08, 2022, 5:17 PM