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The following is our review of the primary and most representative cases of the misuse of Russia’s anti-extremism laws in the months of July and August 2012.
In early July, the State Duma adopted in the first reading a draft law, “On Amendments to Article 20.3 of the Administrative Code” (propaganda and the public display of Nazi paraphernalia or symbols), which provides for the introduction of a fine for the public display of extremist organizations’ attributes or symbols, while also increasing the possible fine for offenses already included in the article.
Sova opposes the bill. It is our position that any discussion of the potential toughening or expansion of such articles should only take place after the language is changed so that the demonstration without the purpose of propaganda is not penalized.
On July 30, Federal Law # 139-FZ, “On Amending the Federal Law ‘On the Protection of Children from Information Harmful to Their Health and Development’ and Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation” entered into force after the president signed off on it. The law is set to bring about the creation of a unified, automatic information system – the “Unified register of domain names, ‘Internet’ sites’ index pages and network addresses providing information, the dissemination of which is prohibited in the Russian Federation.”
Such a register should particularly facilitate a block on pages and sites that publish materials banned for extremism. In theory, the law was intended to settle the dispute surrounding the federal blocking of websites, which is currently the prevailing practice. Although the law has taken force, the specifics of how such a register would function remain unclear to representatives of Internet companies and government officials alike.
Throughout August, the Commission on Legal Affairs of the Russian Association of Electronic Communications held consultations with the Ministry of Telecommunications on the development of amendments to and implementation of the new law. The Commission’s most pressing questions involved determining the best method of blocking websites, which or what kind of organization should establish and maintain the register of banned sites, whether the register should be open to all Internet users, and finally, who should install and pay for the costly software necessary to block individual URLs. The Ministry should have a complete draft resolution on the implementation of the law, developed by the Commission, in September.
On July 30, the trial of three participants in Pussy Riot’s February punk protest at the Christ the Savior Cathedral began in Moscow’s Khamovniki District Court. The case was completed in record time, and on August 17, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Ekaterina Samutsevich were convicted under Article 213, Part 2 of the Criminal Code: hooliganism committed by a group of persons by prior conspiracy motivated by religious hatred and the hatred of a social group – Orthodox believers. All three were sentenced to two years in a penal colony
It is Sova’s position that the conviction was reached by way of a kind of substitution of articles and codes; the establishment of the trio’s guilt was reduced to establishing that they had violated the rules of church conduct. According to Russian law, proving guilt in a case of criminal hooliganism requires concrete proof of a danger to the public, in addition to the concrete foundation of the hate motive. Neither was established. In late August, the defense filed an appeal with the Moscow City Court.
The Pussy Riot case drew attention away from other important convictions founded in inappropriately used anti-extremism law. For example, in late August, the Yadrinsky District Investigative Committee of the Chuvash Republic opened a criminal case under Article 282, Part 1 – incitement to hatred and enmity – against a May 2011 Bribe newspaper article entitled “Show Me Your Tongue and I Will Tell You Who You Are.” The article had been deemed extremist in late July of this year. The Supreme Court of Chuvashia found that the article contained a "negative assessment of certain social groups, aimed at inciting hatred and enmity between them." Sova maintains that a criminal case is inappropriate, as the article itself was wrongfully banned; though it contains relatively mild examples of Chuvash (a Turkic ethnic group making up nearly 70% of the republic’s population) nationalism and hate speech, it hardly contains incitement.
The completely unlawful persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses intensified this summer. In late July, the Chita District Court convicted a couple, Andrei and Liutsiya Raitiny, under Article 282, Part 1 of the Criminal Code – inciting religious hatred – for the distribution of banned literature. They were sentenced to 200 hours of compulsory labor.
During the same period it became known that a Chuvashian court filed five criminal cases against ten people, including two women, in Cheboksary, Novocherkassk, Kanash and the Yantikovsky and Alatyrsky regions. All stand accused under Article 282, Part 2 – incitement to hatred and hostility and the humiliation of human dignity, by an organized group – and Article 282.1, parts 1 and 2 – the creation of an extremist group and participation in said group – for distributing Jehovah’s Witnesses literature and holding meetings related to the organization. Two of the defendants were detained.
Meanwhile, during the period in question, Jehovah’s Witness Maksim Kalinin was acquitted by a Mari-El court of charges under Article 282, Part 1 filed in 2010. Kalinin had been accused of distributing literature included in the Federal List of Extremist Materials, holding public sermons, and coordinating activities related to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It marked the second acquittal of a Jehovah’s Witness, after that of Aleksandr Kalistratov in Altai in December 2011.
In mid-July the Chelyabinsk Regional Court announced its verdict in the case of the August 29, 2010 Tornado Rock Festival row in Miass, in the Chelyabinsk region, where 40 people sustained injuries of varying severity. Thirteen people were convicted: three under Article 212, Part 1, the organization of mass riots, and paragraphs “a” and “c” of Article 282, Part 2, actions aiming at inciting hatred or enmity by a violent organized group; the ten others under Article 212, Part 2, participation in a riot. The court sentenced the group of three – Robert Nazaryan, Konstantin Kataev and Anrei Izmetyev, who the court decided had organized the brawl – to six, five, and four and a half years respectively in a penal colony. The other participants received between three and four years in prison. The court will collect a fine from the defendants for the benefit of the incident’s victims, with each victim receiving something between 25,000 and 50,000 rubles (about $785 - $1,565).
While we agree that the brawl’s participants deserve severe punishment, it is our position that the sentence was unlawful insofar as the motives established are improper. The social group targeted in the row was recorded as “fans of rock music.” Such a group can hardly be considered a social group in the terms prescribed under Russia’s anti-extremist legislation. Anyway, the reason for the attack was a private conflict between the defendants and some of the festival’s attendees, which took place the night before the brawl. The misuse of the “social group” clause has become all too common for such cases.
In early August, the Vladimir regional Investigative Committee opened a criminal case against Moscow anti-fascist Andrei Ivanov, charging him under Article 282, Part 1. Elements of criminal activity were found in Ivanov’s amateur film “Russian anti-Racist Skinheads,” which was shown in a Vladimir café. Investigators claim that the film “contains a negative assessment of supporters of nationalist views, propagandizes the inferiority of citizens on account of their membership in a social group, and calls for hostility towards ‘skinheads.’” Sova reviewed the film and was unable to find any calls for violence, though street violence is romanticized.
The film consists of clips of concerts by bands connected in one way or another to RASH (Red and Anarchist Skinheads) and SHARP (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice), along with interviews with members of these groups and antifa activists in general. While the film definitely contains a “negative assessment of supporters of nationalist views,” as it is devoted to the anti-fascist movement, nationalists are not a vulnerable group in need of protection. Additionally, it should go without saying that the main characters of the film, who are themselves skinheads, would not be calling for hostile actions against skinheads in general, as the indictment states.
In July in Moscow, four individuals who had participated in a 2008 action that involved “seizing” the reception of the Foreign Ministry – Yevgeny Donets, Tatyana Kharlamova, Olga Komarova, and Mikhail Klyuzhev – were convicted and fined under Article 282.2, Part 2 of the Criminal Code, participation in a banned organization. Four other participants in the demonstration had already been convicted. We find all of the convictions to be unlawful, since the decision deeming the organization in question – the National Bolshevik Party – as extremist was itself the result of a miscarriage of justice.
In early August, Magistrate’s Court No. 6 of Ufa’s Kirov District ruled on charges related to the activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir, the international Sunni Islamist organization. Ildar Ibragimov, Rustem Gallyamov, Shamil Galimov and Mikhail Toptygin were convicted under Article 282.2, Part 1 of the Criminal Code; Airat Akhmetshin and Ruslan Zainullin were charged under Article 282.2, Part 2. Ibragimov, Gallyamov, Toptygin and Galimov were sentenced to one year and four months in a penal colony, while the others received either probation, a year and a half in prison, or a year and four months in prison. The Kirov District Court upheld the decision. Hizb ut-Tahrir is the subject of an unlawful ban founded on allegations that it is a terrorist organization.
In July, in the Primorski Krai city of Spassk-Dal’nyi, a court fined the local Jehovah’s Witnesses head under Article 20.29 of the Administrative Code, the production and distribution of extremist materials, after he had distributed Jehovah’s Witnesses literature. According to the regional prosecutor’s office, three more people were subject to administrative liabilities on the same grounds.
Materials Banned for Extremism
In early July, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation denied representatives of the Krasnodar branch of Buddhist movement Falun Dafa, calling itself the “Center of Spiritual and Physical Perfection,” a supervisory appeal of the Krasnodar Pervomaisky Court decision that deemed the group’s teaching materials extremist. Attorneys representing the Krasnodar branch of Falun Gong (another name for Falun Dafa) filed a lawsuit with the European Court of Human Rights over the case. We remind readers that a Russian court wrongly banned the seminal books Falun Gong and Zhuan Falun, along with a number of informational and advocacy materials including “Report on the Allegations of Organ Harvesting by Falun Gong Practitioners in China,” “Falun Dafa in the World,” and “The Global Torch Relay in Defense of Human Rights.”
At least five illegal court decisions banning Islamic materials were issued or entered into force over the course of July and August; typically, such a court order during the period in question would concern multiple books. The rulings took place in the Astrakhan and Orenburg regions, as well as the cities of Kostroma, Novorossiysk and Omsk. Not only were books containing moderate hate speech banned, but also various texts containing absolutely acceptable language, from a treatise by eleventh-century Persian jurist al-Ghazali, to contemporary literature.
Incidentally, none of the texts in question contains the fallback of all extremist Islamic literature: the call for violence against the infidel. In this case, the police are openly disregarding last year’s Supreme Court decision stating that “criticism of political organizations, ideological and religious associations, political, ideological or religious beliefs, national or religious practices should not in and of itself be regarded as an action aimed at inciting hatred or hostility."
During the months in question various other materials, perhaps intolerant in speech and language but not violating the rather tough limits imposed by anti-extremist legislation, were found to be extremist in Russian courts. This applies to a few articles by Bashkir, Mordovian and Russian nationalists. Some of the texts we targeted by way of the continued law enforcement practice of ascribing protection to so-called social groups that should not be subject to such protection under anti-extremist law.
In July, the prosecutor of Tyumen’s Central District filed with the Central Regional Court a claim that it should designate the leaflets “To All Who Work in the Security Structures” and “Russia is in the Hands of Traitors” as extremist. Unfortunately, Sova has not had a chance to review the latter text, against which criminal proceedings under Article 282, Part 1 were initiated in May of this year in the Orel region. It is known that the text harshly criticizes the Russian Orthodox Church leadership, which are designated as a social group protected under anti-extremist legislation; this is yet another improper use of the “social group” clause.
The same applies to the officials and law enforcement officials criticized in the leaflet “To All who Work in the Security Structures,” published on the website “Will,” maintained by Svetlana Peunova. We remind readers that according to a July 28, 2011 clarification by the Supreme Court, “criticism in the mass media of individual officers (professional politicians), their actions, or beliefs, in all cases should not in and of itself be considered an act aimed at humiliating human dignity of a group of individuals, as in regards to these people the limits of acceptable criticism are wider than in the case of private individuals.”
We note a positive development this summer, as the St. Petersburg City Court denied the prosecutor’s appeal of a June decision by the Oktyabrskyi District Court. The Oktyabrskyi ruling had refused to designate as extremist the film Psychiatry: Industry of Death and some 21 brochures critical of psychiatry as a science or of psychiatric abuse. They were published by the St. Petersburg branch of the Citizens’ Commission of Human Rights (CCHR), an arm of the Church of Scientology. The City’s prosecutor insisted that the CCHR materials were aimed at inciting social hatred against psychiatrists. It found that the materials in question are designed in line with a scientific debate, providing consistent criticism of modern psychiatry, specifically its methods of diagnosis and treatment. However, insofar as they provide negative information about a group of people united by a profession (psychiatrists and psychologists), and individual members of this group, any incitement to violence against them or calls to impede on their rights have no place in such a debate. The court noted that while the authors’ opinions may be controversial, they are protected under the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution of the Russian Federation and the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. We note that as private individuals, psychiatrists (like other professionals) hardly represent a group needing protection from extremist attack.