What’s the worst practice of modern-day gulags?

Natalia Mironova has worked for Human Rights Watch in Moscow for several years, building a network of activists and staff. Over that time, she has argued that Russia’s human rights record is deteriorating, and that more people are being held in what could be considered modern-day gulags.

Although Russia is alleged to still hold some people in a de facto system of deprivation of liberty, critics of the Kremlin say the situation is getting worse.

The State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, is not where many people expect to find robust debate about the country’s human rights record. But the upper house, the Federation Council, has used its authority over the Duma to push through human rights reforms. Earlier this year, it issued a report harshly criticising Russia’s draconian anti-gay laws.

Most years, the Russian authorities don’t even bother coming to hear the petition that is receiving prominent coverage in the English-language newspaper. But last year the petition campaign started taking off.

Since then, Russian authorities have arrested an almost unprecedented number of independent activists who have been posting calls for popular protests – at least 67 cases so far.

One of the primary targets of Russian government surveillance has been Mironova’s organization, Human Rights Watch. Her arrest was part of a bigger sweep during the summer.

A list of 109 human rights activists who have violated the state’s media curbs have circulated widely. That list has been compiled by Russian security services, which insists on secrecy. The identities of all but six of the activists have been classified as top secret. (The names of the six are known to Human Rights Watch.)

None of the activists has ever been convicted of breaking Russia’s laws on press freedom. However, just because Mironova was not arrested for doing what the government argues she was doing does not make it legal.

Shortly after the arrest, a court in Moscow ordered her to pay 1.5 million rubles ($27,980) in fines. Although she can appeal, which her lawyers expect her to do, chances are that if her appeal is unsuccessful, she will likely serve the entire sentence.

Eduard Gurinchenko, a human rights lawyer in Moscow, warned that when it comes to political prisoners, no one is above the law. “Their crimes won’t be judged as serious offenses in the eyes of Russian judicial authorities,” he told Gizmodo. “The fate of these people is 100 percent predictable.”

So how did this incident get so out of hand?

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