More than 16,000 people have been arrested in Russia for protests against the war in Ukraine.

“Censorship of media and humanitarian organizations, harassment of activists and persistent violations of freedom of expression and association have further eroded civil space in the country,” UN experts said in a statement.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, about 60 criminal cases have been opened for “false news about the war”, at least seven for “discrediting” the Russian military and “calling for sanctions”.

In nearly five months, police forces used excessive force against prisoners who protested the Russian military offensive, often resorting to humiliation and threats, they pointed out.

In addition, every independent media outlet in the country was censored, along with dozens of foreign newspapers or journalists.

According to experts, about twenty media outlets have been suspended in Russia, including the Novaya Gazeta newspaper run by 2021 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dmitry Muratov.

Social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram were also suppressed or blocked, while WhatsApp’s “mother” app, Meta, was shut down as “a criminal organization”.

The UN urged Russia to lift restrictive measures and respect freedom of expression and the work of association, activists and journalists.

Signatories to the document include the Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights (Mary Lawler), Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association (Clement Nyaletsosi) and Freedom of Expression (Irene Khan).

In the early hours of February 24, Russia launched a military offensive in Ukraine that killed more than 5,000 civilians, according to the latest UN report.

However, the organization warns that the actual number could be much higher.

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