Human rights watchdogs warn that Russia is imprisoning military conscripts who refuse to go to the front or protest lack of food, water, or support in combat as part of a larger effort to force unwilling soldiers to fight and refuse surrender. In a separate incident, the Russian mercenary group Wagner fighting in Ukraine distributed a video of the execution of one of its members, Yevgeny Nuzhin, with a sledgehammer, saying Nuzhin had defected during his captivity and citing an interview conducted by a Ukrainian journalist while Nuzhin was in custody as proof. After either having been captured or surrendered in September, Nuzhin was returned to Russian custody as part of a prisoner exchange in November, although the circumstances of both his capture by Ukraine and return to Russia remain unclear. Wagner head Yevgeniy Prighozin celebrated the video and the execution.
On 19 October President Vladimir Putin declared martial law in the Ukrainian territory Russia claims to have annexed in September. The law not only suspends basic rights and due process in those regions, but also applies various moderately less stringent measures across the rest of Russia. The restrictions introduced go far beyond what is permitted by relevant Russian laws and statutes.
Marking a new extreme in Russia’s crackdown on independent media, a court sentenced Russian journalist Ivan Safronov to 22 years in prison on charges of high treason on 7 September. The charges centered on Safronov’s reporting, but all material discussed in court was also available online on government and government-controlled media websites. The sentence, which is long even by contemporary Russian standards, is part of a larger crackdown on independent media and public protest during the invasion of Ukraine. As of 28 October OVD-Info recorded 19,335 arrests for protests against the war and 'partial mobilization’ in Russia.
According to researchers at OVD-Info, Russia has arrested 16,437 individuals for expressing anti-war views in the six months since the start of its full-scale invasion on 24 February. After early anti-war rallies were suppressed through violence and mass arrests, police expanded the use of various vague and punitive laws regarding the armed forces to crack down on individual pickets and statements, and in more recent months, on social media comments and even private conversations.