An activist kicks the shields of the military police officers during a demonstration in Iguala, Guerrero, January 12, 2015.
Jorge Dan Lopez / Courtesy Reuters

When the activist Boris Nemtsov was murdered steps from the Kremlin just before a large march he helped to organize, he joined a long list of human rights activists, journalists, and lawyers who ultimately sacrificed their lives for the illusive ideal of an open Russia. Their brave effort has only gotten tougher with each passing year; since Russian President Vladimir Putin first came to power in the early 2000s, the space for civil society has been shrinking. Although the violence in Russia that accompanies it is an extreme form, the pressures on civil society are by no means just a Russian problem. According to Doug Rutzen, president and CEO of the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, “since 2012, more than ninety laws constraining the freedom of association or assembly have been proposed or enacted.” The skrinking space for civil society, in other words, is a global problem.

Government harassment of independent

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  • SARAH E. MENDELSON is Director of the Human Rights Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. From 2010 to 2014, she served as Deputy Assistant Administrator in the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance at the U.S. Agency for International Development. Follow her on Twitter @SarahMendelson.
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