MOSCOW – The year 2012 began with thousands of Russians taking to the streets to demand reform and a government that would obey the law. On Thursday, the group Human Rights Watch said Russia has just gone through its worst year for human rights since the collapse of the Soviet Union more than two decades ago.
It would be difficult to describe it any other way. Laws on protests were sharply tightened, with severe punishments for infractions. Members of the punk group Pussy Riot were packed off to a prison camp after a protest in a cathedral. Nonprofit groups were required to register as "foreign agents" if they receive money from abroad. A law banning "gay propaganda" is working its way through parliament. Journalists have been attacked, and an opposition leader was apparently kidnapped in Ukraine and brought back to Russia. Russian orphans were barred from adoptions by Americans.