Misuse of Anti-Extremism Legislation in December 2011

December provided plenty of examples of both the illegal implementation of criminal laws, and improper bans on extremism grounds.

Criminal Prosecution

Russian courts made two convictions for membership in the radical Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, which in Sova’s view is the wrongful subject to a ban founded in alleged terrorist activities. The convictions fell under Article 282-2 of the Criminal Code and were issued to residents of Naberezhnye Chelny, and to a resident of Samara in a Moscow court.

We draw special attention to a Moscow case against a group of activists associated with the Other Russia Party, who are accused under Parts 1 and 2 of Article 282-2 of the Criminal Code of membership in the banned National Bolshevik Party. The City of Moscow carried out sweeping searches and detainments accompanied by unchecked violence at the hands of Interior Ministry officers in relation with the case; one detainee’s nose was broken.

Two cases of note were initiated in Kaliningrad. In the first, the office and apartment of local newspaperman Boris Obraztsov were searched in a new investigation into the alleged re-publication of inflammatory comments on the Internet; Obraztsov had already been convicted of incitement to hatred and humiliation on religious grounds (Part 1 of Article 282 of the Criminal Code), in Sova’s view unlawfully. The second case was incorrectly classified: a woman was accused of inciting ethnic hatred after insulting her Armenian neighbors, with whom she was in the middle of a long-standing domestic conflict. Moreover, her comments lack the publicity factor necessary for bringing an incitement case. It is Sova’s position that the case may qualify for treatment under a new article of the Administrative Code – Article 5.61 – which addresses insults.

We were happy to note one positive development in December: The Supreme Court of the Republic of Altai overturned a verdict and ceased the prosecution of Jehovah’s Witness Aleksandr Kalistratov. The overturned conviction was for inciting religious hatred, which falls under Part 1 of Article 282 of the Criminal Code. Kalistratov had previously been subject to a trial in the Gorno-Altaisk Municipal Court – which resulted in acquittal, which was then canceled by the higher court. He was subsequently sentenced to 100 hours of community service.

Prohibition of materials for extremism

Russian prosecutors filed at least four illegitimate claims to ban a variety of materials for extremism in December. In Kaliningrad, a lawsuit was filed on the prohibition of Boris Obraztsov’s previously mentioned comments. In the Krasnodar Territory, a court began its deliberation on a proposed ban on the Jehovah’s Witness text, “We Thoroughly Witness the Kingdom of God.” In the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District, a lawsuit was filed to meaninglessly ban the “Political Will” of Adolf Hitler, which in any case is already addressed in the Federal Law “On Countering Extremism.” In Kabardino-Balkaria a motion to ban a negative Internet article about Balkarians was initiated. In our opinion, the article contains nothing more than a few signs of hate speech, which are not enough to qualify it for prohibition.

The Kaluga Region’s Zhukovsky District Court reiterated a previous decision, repeating its ban of Savko’s “Sermon on the Mount,” from “Mickey Mouse’s Journey through the History of Art,” for inciting religious hatred.

A Krasnodar Regional Court rejected appeals against the bans of several Falun Gong materials, including books outlining the movement’s fundamental practices and several human rights-related texts. The last ban on these materials was carried out with considerable irregularities.

The only positive event for December in this area is the refusal of Tomsk’s Lenin District Court to ban the book “Bhagavad Gita. As it Is.”

Administrative Prosecution

An illegal sentence was delivered in Togliatti this month when the editor-in-chief of online media outlet TLTgorod was fined 500 rubles (roughly $16 USD at the time of writing) for a violation of Article 20.3, Part 1 of the Administrative Code, propaganda and public demonstration of Nazi symbols. The decision was based on a picture of a local neo-Nazi illustrating an article about his trial. It is fully clear that the editor does not espouse Nazi ideas, but this did not prevent him from being fined. Unfortunately, current Russian laws allow courts to make such absurd decisions due to the taboo surrounding any and all depictions of Nazi symbols and paraphernalia.