The New York-based Human Rights Watch says authoritarianism in Russia is at its highest level in recent memory.
In its annual World Report
released Thursday, the rights group said that after President Vladimir Putin's return to office he oversaw the reversal of the "few, timid advances on political freedoms" made by former President Dmitry Medvedev.
The report noted that in the months following Putin's re-election, Russia passed legislation restricting protests, re-criminalizing libel, expanding the definition of slander and demanding foreign-funded non-governmental organizations register as "foreign agents".
HRW Europe and Central Europe Division Deputy Director Rachel Denber described the crackdown as the worst since the Soviet era of the 1990s.
"After the return of Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin, and I would say even before then, not only was the 'Medvedev-era' cautious progress towards liberalization liquidated, but in these months, authoritarianism in Russia reached a level unseen in this country's recent history," Denber said.
Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich told the the state-run RIA Novosti news agency that he disagrees with the report's criticisms.