Misuse of Anti-Extremism in May 2017
On May 24, 2017, Vladimir Putin signed a law on administrative supervision of persons released from correctional institutions. The law introduces changes to the provisions on administrative supervision, affecting, in particular, the fate of those convicted under anti-extremist and anti-terrorist articles. Offenders, convicted of grave and particularly grave crimes under a number of the Criminal Code articles (including Articles 205.2 Part 2, 205.5, 278, 282 Part 2, 282.1, and 282.2, which, in our opinion, are often used in inappropriate verdicts) will now remain under administrative supervision until their conviction is expunged.
In late May, the Presidium of the Astrakhan Regional Court overturned the verdict against nationalist Igor Stenin, convicted under Article 280 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (public incitement to extremist activity via the Internet), dropping the case due to the absence of corpus delicti. Stenin was released in early June. We would like to remind here that Stenin, the leader of the Russians of Astrakhan movement, was sentenced by the Soviet District Court of Astrakhan in May 2016 to the term of two years in a settlement colony. The court found him guilty of publishing a post on VKontakte regarding the war in Ukraine under the pseudonym “Ingvar Stefan;” he was also charged for the comment made by another user, which the investigation had mistaken for a re-post. The Astrakhan Regional Court upheld the verdict, but, in April 2017, the Supreme Court of Russia ordered it to consider a cassation appeal against the verdict. In our opinion, Stenin's criminal prosecution was inappropriate, since a short post calling for the destruction of the “Kremlin invaders” can’t be considered an incitement to carry out extremist activity. More on our position regarding this case can be found here.
In mid-May, the Verkh-Isetsky District Court of Yekaterinburg found Yekaterinburg video blogger Ruslan Sokolovsky guilty of inciting religious and national hatred (Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code), insulting the feelings of believers (Article 148 Part 1 of the Criminal Code) as well as illegal trafficking in special technical equipment (Article 138.1 of the Criminal Code) and issued a suspended sentence of 3.5 years with a probation period of three years and a ban on participation in public events. The court also ruled that the offending online videos should be deleted. The defense appealed the verdict. The charges of inciting hatred and insulting the feelings of believers were presented to Sokolovsky for posting videos full of provocative remarks addressed to various groups from migrants to feminists and philanthropists, but, most importantly, containing a number of atheistic statements, which attracted the attention of law enforcement agencies. Among other episodes, the blogger's story of catching Pokémon in the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Spilled Blood in Yekaterinburg was viewed as offensive to the believers. We believe that Sokolovsky could only be charged with abasement of human dignity, which, in our opinion, should be removed from Article 282 of the Criminal Code as an act that presents no significant public danger.
Just a few days later, the Western District Magistrate Court of Belgorod found a 22-year-old resident of the city guilty under the same part 1 of Article 148. Taking into account mitigating circumstances, including the existence of a minor child, she was sentenced to a fine of 15 thousand rubles. The prosecution was based on the woman’s VKontakte postings that included photographs of her lighting up a cigarette from a candle in an Orthodox church. We consider this sentence inappropriate. Although the Belgorod resident violated the accepted rules of conduct in the church, her actions obviously attracted no attention of the believers present at that time, inflicted no damage to the ecclesiastical objects and posed no significant danger to society.
We have opposed the modifications, according to which the composition of Criminal Code Article 148 was amended with the clause on “insulting the feelings of believers,” since we believe that this vague concept does not and cannot have a clear legal meaning. It is no accident that criminal cases involving this article have caused heated public debates.
In mid-May, the Prokhladnensky District Court of Kabardino-Balkaria proceeded to consider the case of Jehovah's Witnesses follower Arkady Hakobyan, charged with inciting religious hatred under Article 282 of the Criminal Code. According to the investigation, Hakobyan delivered a speech, in which he humiliated the dignity of followers of other religions. He is also accused of distributing forbidden religious literature among his fellow believers.
A criminal case was opened against a follower of Jehovah's Witnesses under Part 1 of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code (organization of activities of an organization banned for extremism) in Oryol in late May. The charges were brought against Dennis Christensen, the subject of the Kingdom of Denmark, the court put him under preliminary arrest for two months. In connection with this case the homes of the local community members were searched, and religious literature, including the Bible as well as laptops, tablets and hard disks, were confiscated. The local Jehovah's Witnesses religious organization in Oryol was recognized as extremist in 2016, and the Supreme Court has confirmed this decision. In addition, in 2017, the Supreme Court decided to close the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia along with all its local religious organizations. We believe that the liquidation of Jehovah's Witnesses organizations as extremist, persecution against members of their communities and bans on their texts have no legal justification and represent a clear case of religious discrimination.
In mid-May, the Vysokogorsky District Court of the Republic of Tatarstan sentenced Tatar nationalist Ayrat Shakirov to a fine of 100 thousand rubles under Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (incitement of hatred or enmity) for publishing the banned video “08.02.2013 Rally in Makhachkala” on VKontakte; however, he was released from punishment due to the statute of limitations. Shakirov denied ever posting on the social network this particular video well as a number of other videos he found on his page; he considers the incident to be an FSB provocation triggered by his public activism, and is planning to appeal the verdict in the Supreme Court of Tatarstan and take it all the way to the ECHR. It should be noted that Shakirov had previously faced prosecution “for extremism.” The video that has become a basis for the current prosecution against the activist was banned by the Vakhitovsky District Court of Kazan and included on the Federal List of Extremist Materials. It contains the recording of a speech by representative of the Ahlus Sunnah organization Gadzhimagomed Makhmudov during a rally against the abuse of power by the Russia’s military, security and law enforcement agencies, conducted with an official permission on February 8, 2013 in Makhachkala. Makhmudov's emotional speech reflected his outrage at the difficult situation of Muslims in Russia, but contained no dangerous appeals, and, in our opinion, provided no grounds for a ban.
Two people were convicted in May under Article 282 part 2 of the Criminal Code for participation in the activities of the banned religious movement Tablighi Jamaat. The Naberezhnye Chelny City Court of the Republic of Tatarstan sentenced Rinat Minnegulov to 1 year and 8 months in a minimal security penal colony with additional six months of restrictions on freedom. Earlier, nine Tablighi Jamaat followers were convicted in Naberezhnye Chelny. Similarly to Minnegulov, all of them pleaded guilty and were sentenced to real prison terms.
The Zheleznodorozhny District court of Ulan-Ude issued a suspended sentence of 2 years 6 months to I. Artykov with a probationary period of 3 years. He was charged with conducting conversations, aimed at propaganda of Tablighi Jamaat activities, with the use of the banned book by the movement’s founder. Tablighi Jamaat was prohibited in Russia in 2009, and we regard this ban as inappropriate. The movement was engaged in propagating Islam and was never known to call for violence, so we consider prosecutions against its supporters unjustified.
In May, we learned about four prosecuted under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offences for demonstration of Nazi symbols and symbols of prohibited organizations not intended as propaganda of the relevant ideas.
Ivan Gorodisky, an activist of the Western Choice (Zapadny Vybor) party in the Penza Region, faced ten days under arrest for publishing on VKontakte an image with the crossed-out hammer and sickle and the swastika and a modified Kukryniksy cartoon depicting the swastika and Hitler, who is wearing a slipping-down Putin mask. A Krasnoyarsk resident was fined 2,000 rubles with a laptop confiscation for posting on her VKontakte page 20 images featuring the swastika, including the ones depicting Putin and Nazi symbols or Putin in Hitler's company, as well as a picture with the Right Sector emblem. The Krasnoyarsk woman could indeed be a supporter of the banned Ukrainian nationalist organization and posted its emblem for propaganda purposes; her use of the swastika, on the other hand, was intended only as the visual means to accuse the Russian authorities of totalitarianism. Activist Fyodor Moiseyev from Naberezhnye Chelny was fined a thousand rubles for publishing two images with Nazi symbols on a social network. He insists that the images were used not to advocate Nazism, but as arguments in discussions with other users, and that, in fact, he is being persecuted for publishing the information on excessive charges, levied on the Naberezhnye Chelny residents for structural repairs, and for his intent to transfer materials documenting the machinations to the leaders of the Federal Antimonopoly Service. Semyon Kochkin, the coordinator of the Aleksei Navalny headquarters in Cheboksary, was fined 1,500 rubles for sharing the episode “How Chechen Girls Fooled the IGIL Fighters” from the satirical show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. The video, which had no purpose of propagating ideology and practice of the Islamic State (banned in Russia), included a flashing image of the organization's flag, which served as a reason for the fine. You may recall that the current Russian legislation allows for punishing public display of prohibited symbols regardless of the context. We consider this practice inappropriate and stand in favor of revising the relevant norms.
At least two people were fined under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offenses for mass distribution of materials that were, in our opinion, prohibited inappropriately.
A Murom resident was sentenced to a fine for posting the song “Synagogue” by the Ensemble of Christ the Savior and Crude Mother Earth on his VKontakte page. We see no grounds for recognizing this song as extremist, since it is satirical in nature and ridicules, rather than promotes, anti-Semitism.
The Khostinsky District Court of Sochi issued a fine in the amount of three thousand rubles to local resident, Sergei Baldanov, a practitioner of Falun Gong Chinese spiritual movement, and confiscated his book Falun Dafa by Li Hongzhi. Baldanov was inappropriately found guilty of disseminating extremist materials, since, in fact, a different book by Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi, the Zhuan Falun treatise was banned and included on the Federal List of Extremist Materials. In our opinion, this treatise contained no signs of extremism. It is also worth noting that Baldanov did not engage in “mass distribution” of Falun Dafa; he gave his copy to a young woman, who showed interest in the exercises he was doing in the local park. The woman turned out to be a local anti-“sect” activist, brought FSB officers into the park, and later appeared as a witness in court. She had previously testified in the case of a Pentecostal pastor, fined for publicly reading the Bible in a cafe.
In May, we also learned of two cases of Jehovah's Witnesses being fined under Article 20.28 Part 1 of the Administrative Code (organizing the activity of a religious association, with respect to which a decision was made to suspend its activities). Both decisions were made in April, when the activities of the Jehovah's Witnesses Administrative Center were suspended. The court in Kyzyl (the Republic of Tuva) fined the leader of the local community a thousand rubles after receiving an anonymous message that “people gather talk on religious topics, and discuss the subject of the possible end of the world” in a certain house. The head of the community in the town of Uchaly, Bashkiria was fined for organizing a prayer meeting in a rented room.