Tag Archives freedom

Russian citizens under threat from within: The increasing repression of anti-war voices in Russia

Amid continued international condemnation and sanctioning of Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, voices opposing the war can be heard within Russia too. However, Russian citizens are exposed to an increasing risk of repression due to excessive state control over their opposition to the war, and the institutional manipulation that justifies the invasion and criminalises anti-war voices.

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, individuals, organisations, and governments around the world have condemned the Putin regime and are calling for an immediate end to the war. While every voice is precious, of particular note, however, are the voices against the war blossoming inside Russia. Russian citizens are taking political action, individually and collectively, to express their opposition to the devastating actions of the Putin regime. For example, not only did an online petition in Russia, initiated by a human rights activist, demanding an end to the war garnered more than 1.5 million signatures in just a few days, but also sizeable anti-war protests continue to be held in cities across the country.

Anti-war protests in Russia are not a one-time event, but have rather continued as a series of popular political actions targeting the Putin government. However, their action often ends badly. In late February, thousands of Russian citizens started a protest, and more than 1,700 people in 54 cities were detained by the police under the charge of conducing illegitimate protests. Since 24 February, over 15,000 people have been detained for anti-war actions, according to the OVD-Info, an independent Russian media outlet on human rights and political repression. Anyone – children, ordinary adults, independent reporters, opposition politicians, and activists who openly criticise the invasion – can fall into a cycle of intimidation, detention, and criminal prosecution. The police in Moscow even took two women and five children to a police station for holding placards displaying the words ‘No War’ and attempting to place flowers in front of the Ukrainian Embassy.

The Putin regime is, now, more boldly directing the institutional conditions to its advantage to justify the invasion and to silence anti-war voices. This month, the Putin regime enacted laws that identify independent reporting or public opposition to the war as crimes of spreading false information, and which are subject to up to 15 years imprisonment. Also, recent provisions added to the Criminal Code and to the Code of Administrative Offences criminalise criticisms of the activities of the Russian Armed Forces, and are linked to the current Russian invasion of Ukraine. The authorities nip public protests in the bud by pre-emptively hindering organisers and independent media outlets from sharing details on protest plans with others, and by imposing heavy fines for disseminating information on the ‘illegal’ action of holding a protest.

Through these measures, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is legitimised, at least at the institutional level, whereas public opposition and criticism of the invasion are framed as illegitimate. In this context, Russian citizens raising their voices against the war are particularly exposed to a greater risk of repression and being perceived as law-breakers. Therefore, the language of ‘false information’ and ‘undermining the Russian army’ incorporated into the set of legal documents significantly confines the scope of political action that citizens can engage in, free of the threat of punishment.

According to Freedom House, Russia is categorised as a ‘Not Free’ country, scoring 19 out of 100 — 5/40 in ‘Political Rights’ and 14/60 in ‘Civil Liberties’. These relatively low scores imply that rights to freedom of speech, assembly, and media were being circumscribed even before the invasion of Ukraine. In 2012, Russia put a law into effect that drastically increased the fines for protesters violating public order rules — fines increased nearly 150 times, from 2,000 roubles to 300,000 roubles (approximately 2,000 euros), and up to one million roubles (approximately 7,500 euros) for protest organisers. Furthermore, several rounds of legislative amendments since 2014 have led to even non-violent protest organisers and participants experiencing severe and frequent curtailment of freedoms, leading to questions about the extent and conditions under which even peaceful protests are identified as unlawful by the Russian authorities.












Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:







Dr. Seohee Kwak is a Guest Researcher at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR). Her academic interests include political rights, contentious political action, authoritarian/democratic politics, and state-society relations.

Are you looking for more content about Global Development and Social Justice? Subscribe to Bliss, the official blog of the International Institute of Social Studies, and stay updated about interesting topics our researchers are working on.

Are we ready for the robotic revolution? by Oane Visser and Pieter Medendorp

Japan has a hotel where guests are served by robots, and in Australia self-driving tractors autonomously harvest crops, day and night. Robots help with care for residents in some Dutch nursing homes; once in your house, they can order you a taxi, order your food, or mow your lawn. Robots of all shapes and sizes are beginning to penetrate our lives. Do they generate smarter, happier lives? What are the implications of a robotic revolution for our freedom and autonomy? 

For long, views on future robotisation in films, novels and public debate have been divided between utopian and dystopian visions. In 1921, robots appeared in the play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) by Karel Čapek; the word is derived from the Czech word ‘robota’, which translates to ‘toiling and servitude’. In ‘I, Robot’—Isamov’s classic 1969 science fiction novel—robots start off as a helpful comrades, but end up controlling humans.

Discussing the positive effects of robotisation, next to convenience—such as robots taking over household chores—medical applications come to mind. Robot radiologists could be analysing your X-rays possibly much better than your doctor. Robotic surgery is already common practice, easing a surgeon’s work. Rehabilitation robotics makes good progress and helps the paralysed to walk. New research shows paralysed patients who steer robotic arms and legs with their thoughts, based on the decoding of the neural signals that are converted into robotic guidance. Concurrently, advances in robotisation cause concerns about the expansion of surveillance and the erosion of (mental) privacy and identity.

When discussing societal impacts of robotisation, two starting points could be helpful. First, we should look beyond visible incarnations of automation-like robots. The algorithms within robots are increasingly central in everything we do online, as well as within the internet of things, from machines, cars, refrigerators to smart cities—everything gets connected and exchanges data. Second, a distinction between a person’s role either as consumer, employee, or citizen facilitates the categorisation of the manifold effects of such automation.

Algorithmic society

As (online) consumers, we tend to be winners. An ever-increasing range of products is just a mouse click away due to the rapid sophistication in online ordering algorithms and the massive investments in the ‘last mile’ of consumer product logistics. ‘The client is king’ already seems outdated; the consumer is turned into an ‘emperor’. The flipside of this apparent consumer Valhalla with almost real-time delivery constitutes the worsening labour conditions of workers in the value chains enabling it. In the distribution centres of companies like Amazon, underpaid workers often operate under a regime of unrealistic work targets, rigid digital surveillance, and a work pace that is set by robots. Even farms are affected—in India, the rise of e-agriculture has been found to contribute to agrarian distress (Stone 2011).

As citizens, our agency and physical and mental privacy seems to be increasingly under threat as both Big Tech and governments try to target or nudge citizens with algorithms which are unregulated and lack transparency. Think about the targeted advertisements in your web browser for weeks after visiting once an online shoe store. It is increasingly difficult to escape individual media bubbles or corporate surveillance, let alone the mass surveillance of those living under authoritarian regimes. In such an algorithm-led society, will people end up as emperors without clothes?

2018: a watershed year

Looking back, 2018 seemed a watershed in the public debate. It shifted from Tech companies as drivers of technological innovation (for consumers) and subsequently freedom (benefiting us as citizens), to these companies’ troublesome record in preventing fake news, let alone respecting privacy and democracy. With a recurring pattern of irresponsible conduct regarding privacy and fake news, Facebook has come to symbolise the downsides of an algorithm-led society.

Regarding the impact on us as employees, international agencies like the OECD recently issued unsettling reports on the effects of automatisation for labour, which are likely to exacerbate inequalities both within countries as well as between the Global South and North. Finally, policy action has been stepped up in the past year, with the EU taking the lead for instance with the GDPR regulations on privacy and law proposals to curb the excessive power of Big Tech.

Robotisation has arrived and will continue to change the way we consume, work, and live. As with all technologies, it can be used for good and for bad. Robotisation can be used to augment us, help us innovate, and can help address many of society’s grand challenges, yet it can also put us in undesirable competitions, eroding privacy, dignity, and identity. To make robotisation, algorithms, and data science beneficial and inclusive, it is time that governments, tech companies, civic organisations, hospitals, ethicists, and (social) scientists start having a serious dialogue on how to make this digital revolution ‘the best rather than the worst thing, ever to happen to humanity’.[1]

[1] We loosely paraphrase Stephen Hawking [hyperlink: https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/the-best-or-worst-thing-to-happen-to-humanity-stephen-hawking-launches-centre-for-the-future-of%5D

Image credit: Franck V. on Unsplash

About the authors:

Photo_PieterMedendorp_sept2018Prof. dr. Pieter Medendorp is a professor of Sensorimotor Neuroscience, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Director Centre for Cognition, Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands.


Foto-OaneVisser-Balkon-1[1]Dr. Oane Visser (associate professor, Political Ecology research group, ISS) leads an international research project on the socio-economic effects of -and responses to- big data and automatization in agriculture.