Misuse of anti-extremism in December 2013
The following is our review of the primary and most representative events relating to misuse of Russia’s anti-extremist legislation in December 2013.
Creation of Regulatory Acts
On December 28, the President signed a law banning “separatist propaganda,” which had swiftly passed all stages of consideration in the State Duma. The Criminal Code now includes Article 280.1, formulated identically to Article 280. Strictly speaking, since “a violation of the integrity of the Russian Federation” is part of the definition of extremist activity, such public appeals were punishable under the Criminal Code Article 280 (although we always stated that only secessionist acts associated with violence should be considered illegal). So, while it is not clear what changes the new formula - “publicly calling for action that would threaten the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation,” – brings to the law enforcement practice.
On December 30, the President also signed the law on extrajudicial blocking of websites that call for extremist actions, riots and public events without permits, in a manner, similar to blocking child pornography. We consider extrajudicial blocking of materials, based on mere suspicion of extremism, unacceptable, because it inevitably leads to arbitrary decisions and abuse by the law enforcement and infringes on freedom of speech. If and when it is necessary to promptly block the site, the police must act with court approval, which can be issued in an expedited manner, as it is done for search or arrest warrants. Notably, the Russian Association of Electronic Communications (RAEC) spoke against the bill as well; the Association declared it untimely and insisted that it contradicted the Federal Law “On Combating Extremist Activity.” The Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights stated that the adoption of the law would entail a serious infringement of the constitutional rights and freedoms, pave the way for the growth of legal nihilism and create an illusion of fighting extremism instead of real work to eradicate it.
In early December, it became known that a criminal case under the Criminal Code Article 282.2 Part 2 (participation in an extremist organization) was opened against Abubakir Beiva, a resident of Sayanogorsk in the Republic of Khakassia. He is suspected of an attempt to organize a Tablighi Jamaat cell in his hometown. As previously stated, we believe that Tablighi Jamaat movement has been banned inappropriately, since its members do not preach violence, and there is no evidence of their involvement in any violent practices.
At the same time, it was reported that a special operation had been carried out in Dagestan as a part of previously opened criminal cases under the Criminal Code Article 30 Part 1 (preparations for a crime), the Criminal Code Article 278 (forcible seizure of power) and Article 282.2 Part 1 (organizing activity of an extremist organization). In the course of the operation, 52 people were detained; three of them were arrested on suspicion of their Hizb ut-Tahrir involvement. The detainees included Kyrgyz citizen Kazimzhan Sheraliev. We view as inappropriate the emerging practice of prosecuting Hizb ut-Tahrir followers under the charges of plotting to seize power, in the cases when these allegations are based solely on the fact on their involvement in the party.
In early December, it was reported that the FSB Directorate of the Kemerovo Region indicted opposition blogger Stanislav Kalinichenko under the Criminal Code Article 280 Part 2 (public incitement to extremist activity conducted with the use of mass media) for distributing via twitter the leaflets “Stop going to rallies and start acting!” that called to destroy vehicles and property belonging to the police and state officials. Stanislav Kalinichenko was initially called a witness in a case brought under Article 280 Part 1 (public incitement to extremist activity) for distribution of the leaflets, which started in July 2013, but the charges against the blogger were brought already under Part 2 of the same article. In and of itself, this leaflet is certainly inflammatory, but we believe that reclassification of this case is inappropriate, because, from the Russian legal perspective, Twitter cannot be considered mass media (and the amendments, equating online distribution to mass media in relation to Article 280, have not yet been fully adopted).
In mid-December a criminal case under the Criminal Code Article 282 part 1 of (incitement to hatred and enmity) and Article 239 Part 1 (the creation of a religious association whose activities involve violence against citizens or otherwise causing harm to their health) was filed in the Tobolsk City Court in the Tyumen Region against Ilnur Ashirmametov, the leader of Jehovah's Witnesses in Tobolsk. He is accused of attempting to prevent a blood transfusion to a Jehovah's Witness, as well as of printing and distributing banned Jehovah's Witnesses literature and preaching his faith.
In December, we observed a series of events related to the case of Pussy Riot punk collective and their performance in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Early in the month, the European Court of Human Rights communicated the appeal of the band’s members and submitted its inquiries, related both to the conduct and the essence of the trial, to Russia. In particular, the ECHR asked whether the prosecution and conviction for the action in the Cathedral, as well as the ban on the Pussy Riot videos, violated the right to freedom of expression, as expressed in Article 10 of the Convention on Human Rights.
In mid-December the Supreme Court suddenly decided to open the review proceedings regarding the sentence imposed on Mary Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. The Supreme Court drew attention to the fact that the court verdict failed to spell out the factual circumstances of the case, indicating only the presence of the religious hatred and enmity motive in the actions of Pussy Riot, and provided no evidence of the defenders being motivated by hatred towards any social group. In addition, the extenuating circumstances had not been taken into account. The case was sent for retrial to the presidium of the Moscow City Court.
Meanwhile, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were released on December 23 under an amnesty announced on December 18, as convicted under Article 213. It is obvious, however, that their case is far from over.
The amnesty also freed three Nizhny Novgorod antifascists, Pavel Krivonosov, Oleg Gembaruk and Dmitry Kolesov, accused in the so-called Antifa-RASH case under Article 213 Part 2 (hooliganism committed by an organized group or connected with resistance to a representative of authority). As you may remember, this process began in Nizhny Novgorod in March 2012. Initially, in addition to charges under Article 213 Part 2, the defendants were also charged under Article 282.1 Part 2 (participation in an extremist group), Article 115 Part 2 paragraph “b,” and Article 116 Part 2 paragraph “b” (intentional infliction of bodily harm and beatings motivated by hatred or hostility towards a social group, respectively). In March 2013, the Nizhny Novgorod District Court granted the petition of the defense and dropped the charges under Article 282.1 Part 2 paragraph “b,” Article 115 Part 2, and Article 116 Part 2 paragraph “b” due to the statute of limitations. Now, due to the amnesty the charge under Part 2 of Article 213 has been dropped as well.
Since the beginning of 2013, according to our data, a total of 14 verdicts were issued in extremism-related cases, which we view as inappropriately initiated. Six of the verdicts are delivered under the charges of being involved in activities of organizations banned as extremist and three - under the charges of promoting hatred, hostility or humiliation of dignity; one sentence was imposed for violent crimes, but we doubt that the guilt of the defendant has been sufficiently proved and that the hate motive has been attributed appropriately. The verdicts in 2013 affected the total of 14 people. People accused of involvement in the Muslim organizations, wrongfully banned in Russia, such as Tablighi Jamaat and the non-existent Nurcular were most common victims of wrongful prosecution in 2013 (five verdicts to nine people) as well as public activists (five verdicts to five people).
In mid-December, the Nadym city court of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District levied a fine of 2,000 rubles on Imam-muhtasib of the Nadym Mosque Izmail Gazizov and a fine of 50,000 rubles on nonprofit religious Muslim community organization Sobornaia Mechet Azat Safa under the Administrative Code Article 20.29 (dissemination of extremist materials). The case was based on the fact that the mosque provided public access to book 40 Hadith of Imam an-Nawawi, declared extremist by the decision of the Sol-Iletsky District Court in May 2012 and included on the Federal List of Extremist Materials. We view the decision to recognize this classic religious treatise as extremist material and measures against its distribution as inappropriate.
At the same time, the Berezniki City Court convicted the founding organization of the Bereznikovsky Rabochiy newspaper and its main editor Natalia Maltseva under the Administrative Code Article 20.3 Part 1 (propaganda and public demonstration of Nazi paraphernalia or symbols) and fined them one thousand and ten thousand rubles respectively. The newspaper issue of November 7, 2013 published an article, "Why are they calling for the young, the active, and the talented?" and used as an illustration the 1936 photograph of girls from the Hitler Youth with barely perceptible swastikas on their clothes. We believe that the administrative prosecution of the Bereznikovsky Rabochiy was excessive: the photo likely appeared in the paper due to carelessness of its technical personnel, and the newspaper had no intention to publicly display Nazi symbols (this is particularly evidenced by the fact that the editors promptly issued an apology, and the issue was removed from the on-line archive). A warning, addressed to the newspaper, would have been more appropriate in this case.
Civil Legal Proceedings
In mid-December, the Krasnodar Regional Court granted an appeal against the September 17, 2013 decision of the Oktyabrsky District Court of Novorossiysk, which recognized Semantic translation of Holy Quran in Russian, written by known Azerbaijani religious philosopher Elmir Guliyev, as extremist. We would like to remind that this notorious unfounded court decision had caused public outcry in Russia and abroad. We wholeheartedly welcome its repeal.
In December, it was reported that in late November of 2013 the European Court of Human Rights communicated the appeal from the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of the Krasnoyarsk Region against the ban on the book The Tenth Word: the Resurrection and the Hereafter from Risale-i Nur Collection of works by Said Nursi. Accepting the complaint, the ECHR posed a number of inquiries to Russia, including whether the ban violates Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) and Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the Convention on Human Rights. The book was inappropriately declared extremist by the decision of the Zheleznodorozhny District Court of Krasnoyarsk in September 2010.
Other State and Public Actions
In early December, it was reported that Alexei Navalny and Vitaly Bramm - the head of Kirov branch of the People's Alliance (Narodny Alians) - appealed to the Constitutional Court about the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code that allow law enforcement agencies to seize objects and documents while investigating a report of a crime, even if it was reported anonymously. Navalny and Bramm believe that practical application of the Criminal Procedure Code Articles 144 and 176, detailing the procedure of reviewing crime reports and the reasons for conducting an inspection, limits the constitutional right to property. The claim, filed with the Constitutional Court, was based on a search conducted inside the Kirov headquarters of Navalny’s supporters in May under the pretext of checking for “extremism” after an anonymous phone tip. Printed materials, including 90,000 leaflets, were seized from the headquarters by the police and still have not been returned to the activists. According to the investigators, the materials were sent to the Ministry of the Interior for examination. The headquarters staff attempted to appeal the actions of law enforcement officers in court, but failed; the court pointed out that the investigator had a duty to take and investigate reports of any offense committed or planned. Navalny and Bramm pointed out that this practice allows inspecting and seizing the property of citizens under formal pretexts without incurring any liability. We have repeatedly stressed that a single copy or several copies of printed materials are sufficient in order to examine the texts for signs of extremism; mass confiscation should take place only after the materials are legally recognized as extremist.In mid-December, as part of a criminal investigation of arson attacks on Orthodox Churches in Tatarstan initiated under Article 205 (terrorism), the police of Nizhnekamsk in the Republic of Tatarstan detained a group of young men. Police tortured three of them - Rafael Zaripov, Rushan Khusnutdinov and Almaz Galeev – in order to forcing them to take the blame for a crime; as a result Zaripov and Galeev got seriously injured. Relatives of the victims were able to bring in a prosecutorial investigation based on the information about the acts of torture. Later this month, the prosecutors declared that “the actions of the police officers show signs of a crime under the Criminal Code Article 286 Part 3 Paragraph “a” (abuse of power with the use of violence.)” The materials of the investigation were transferred to the Nizhnekamsk investigation department for initiating a criminal prosecution.