Misuse of Anti-Extremism in November and December 2014
In November, the president signed a law banning symbols of organizations, which collaborated with the Nazis during World War II (see our previous review). We believe that this law is redundant and poorly written, and its use can lead to inappropriate persecution.
Notably, in the end of October, the Constitutional Court recognized as constitutional the ban on any display of Nazi symbols and symbols resembling them to the point of confusion. Thus, the possibility still exists to prosecute people inappropriately for display of Nazi symbols regardless of the context and objectives of their action.
Legislative initiatives in December were aimed at increasing the severity of measures against extremism and terrorism. Apparently, the legislators believe in eliminating these threats exclusively through intimidation, which is often excessive or inept.
The deputies of the Chechen parliament plan to introduce a draft bill to the State Duma, according to which the punishment for offences against public safety (which, by the way, include not only terrorism, but also such offences as vandalism or hooliganism) all the way up to death penalty, should pertain not only to criminals but also to their relatives. Thus, lawmakers from Chechnya are offering a more radical version of the initiative for the persecution of terrorists’ relatives, which has already been submitted to the State Duma
The Duma passed in the second and third readings a bill that bans individuals, who belonged to the leadership of organizations recognized as terrorist or extremist, from founding any new associations for ten years.
The Ministry of Communications has drafted a bill to impose administrative responsibility on the media for the “production and publishing of materials <...> containing public incitement to terrorist activities and (or) materials publicly justifying terrorism, and (or) other materials calling for extremist activities or rationalizing or justifying the need for such activities.” The bill proposes fines ranging from 100 thousand to 1 million rubles with confiscation of the publication. At the same time, it fails to stipulate how this administrative responsibility corresponds with possible criminal responsibility under the relevant articles of the Criminal Code. The bill also suggests increasing the fines for legal entities under the Administrative Code Article 20.29 (mass distribution of extremist materials). According to this proposed legislation, they should range from 100 thousand to 1 million rubles.
The parliament of North Ossetia introduced a bill to the State Duma proposing to extend the law on extrajudicial blocking of online information (“Lugovoy Law”) to cover the materials that incite hatred but are not yet recognized by the court as extremist. It should be noted that the issue of determining whether or not the information incites hatred, presents danger in this respect, and deserves to be removed from the Internet, is very complex and definitely requires a court trial, since publishing such materials can fall under the Criminal Code Article 282.
In early November, the Morgaushsky District Court of the Chuvash Republic recognized Eduard Mochalov, the Editor-in-Chief of the Vziatka [Bribe] newspaper, guilty under the Criminal Code Article 282 Part 1 (incitement of hatred or hostility, and humiliation of human dignity on the basis of nationality) and Article 315 Part 1 (failure to comply with a verdict, judgment or other judicial act) and sentenced him to 400 hours of mandatory labor. Mochalov was charged under Article 282 for reprinting, in newspaper (Issue No. 1 of 2013) an article “We are Tartars, not Russians” by famous Tatar community activist Fauzia Bayramova (for our opinion on the article, see our July review).
In November, the information appeared about the criminal case filed against S., a citizen of Ukraine, by the Verkhoyansk Interdistrict Prosecutor's Office of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) under the Criminal Code Article 319 (insulting a government official) and Article 282 part 1. The case was referred to the court for consideration on the merits. In October 2014, S. was detained under the Administrative Code Article 20.21 (the appearance in a public place while intoxicated) and taken to a police station. Once there, the drunk detainee insulted police officers, and also “publicly, for the purpose of humiliation and degradation on a basis of nationality” used foul language against others, mostly Yakuts (probably both the police station staff and the visitors). In our opinion, the case against S. under Article 282 has been opened inappropriately, since his derogatory remarks were not made in public. The suspect voiced them inside the police station and addressed a small group, whose members had an opportunity to file a court claim against him for the offense.
A criminal case under Article 282 Part 1 was opened in mid-December against environmentalist Valery Brinikh, the chairman of Adyghe Republic Division of All-Russia Environmental Protection Association, for publishing the article “Silence of the Lambs” about environmental pollution from pig farms in Adygea on the website For Krasnodar. For Krasnodar website administrator Vitaly Isaenko could be another suspect in this criminal case. The request from the Adygea Republican Prosecutor’s Office to recognize this article as extremist is being considered by the Maikop City Court. The Prosecutor's Office found that the author of the article was “fueling ethnic hatred and sowing enmity” and “calling for extremist activity.” However, we found no signs of inciting hatred and no calls for extremist activity in the article. Obviously, the local authorities used Brinikh’s article as an excuse to put pressure on the activist, because the pig farm discussed in the article belongs to Vyacheslav Derev, a member of the RF Federation Council. In recent years, authorities in southern Russia have been particularly active in prosecuting environmentalists; their methods include filing criminal charges.
The Pervouralsk City Court of the Sverdlovsk region is considering the case against Elvira Sultanakhmetova, accused of inciting religious hatred under Article 282 Part 1. According to the prosecutors, Sultanakhmetova, when responding to an online survey “Can a Muslim celebrate the New Year?” opposed the celebration on the basis of the Koran. She urged Muslims not only to stop celebrating the New Year, but also not to wear St. George's ribbons or paint Easter eggs the way “vile pagans” do. Sultanakhmetova compared the “Happy New Year!” greeting with murder or adultery and interpreted dancing around the Christmas tree as the legacy of a bloody pagan ritual. In our opinion, the prosecution of Sultanakhmetova is inappropriate. She has not written anything that contradicts numerous explanations on the permissibility of this holiday for Muslims, which are easily found on Muslim websites, and, in general, has done nothing that could fall under Article 282.
Inappropriate prosecution of Muslims, who study the works of Sufi teacher Said Nursi, still continues.
Four local residents were charged in Ulyanovsk in November with creating a cell of a banned Nurcular organization; one of them is accused of organizing the activities of a banned organization under the Criminal Code Article 282.2 Part 1, and three more - of participating in such organization under Article 282.2 Part 2. The content of the charges is studying, discussion and dissemination of Said Nursi’s books and ideas.
In December, the Magistrate's Court in Perm sentenced six Nursi followers to fines ranging from 30 to 100 thousand rubles under Parts 1 and 2 of the Criminal Code Article 282.2 for continuing the activities of Nurcular religious association.
The Oktyabrsky District Court in Rostov-on-Don sentenced Gadzhibek Ismailov, who studied Nursi's books along with several associates, to a fine of 130 thousand rubles under Article 282.2 Part 1. According to the FSB, about a thousand copies of Nursi’s works were seized from Ismailov.
We do not consider appropriate to ban either the works by Said Nursi (which do not contain any extreme statements) or the Nurcular organization, which has never existed in Russia. We also oppose the persecution of individual believers for studying Nursi’s books.
Three participants of a picket against discrimination of Muslims and a rally under Hizb ut-Tahrir flags were sentenced to significant prison terms (from 3.5 to 6.5 years) in Kazan. They were found guilty under Parts 1 and 2 of the Criminal Code Article 282.2 for continuing the activities of the banned organization, Hizb ut-Tahrir, as well as under paragraph “c” of Article 282 Part 2 (inciting hatred as a member of an organized group). In our view, the sentence is inappropriate in its part related to Article 282, since displaying a flag with the Shahada, in and of itself, does not insult anyone's dignity and incites no hatred. The same applies to protesting against the persecution of Muslims. In addition, one of the defendants in the case was found guilty of a knowingly false accusation of a crime under Part 1 of the Criminal Code Article 306. If the court refers in such a way to an open letter to the President of Tatarstan Rustam Minnikhanov, this verdict constitutes an obvious misuse of the law.
The Rostov Regional Court repealed the decision of the Taganrog City Court in the “Case of 16” (Jehovah's Witnesses in Taganrog), and sent the case back for retrial. The decision of the primary court has been challenged by both sides: Jehovah's Witnesses, convicted under Parts 1 and 2 of Article 282.2 for continuing the activities of their banned Taganrog community, demanded a full acquittal, and the Prosecutor's Office filed a complaint with the higher court to overturn the sentence as overly lenient. We have not yet seen the text of the Regional Court’s decision; thus, it is not clear whose complaint has been upheld. We would like to remind that seven defendants were sentenced to probation and/or fines, and nine people were acquitted. We regard the persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses as religious discrimination.
In November and December, we recorded eight cases of administrative prosecution for mass distribution of extremist materials, or possession with intent to distribute, which were improperly initiated under the Administrative Code Article 20.29. Two people were charged in Kazan for the popular video Let’s Remind Crooks and Thieves about Their 2002 Manifesto produced by supporters of Alexey Navalny; local blogger Sergei Petrov was fined one thousand rubles in Cheboksary merely for mentioning a banned slogan in his article; a native of Morocco, who provided a link to On the way to the Koran, a book by Elmir Kuliev, on his VKontakte social network page, is facing a fine in Novgorod; the chairman of religious organization Amanat was sentenced to a fine in Kizlyar (North Ossetia) for possession of religious works; Satsita Chukueva, a businesswoman from Grozny, was fined one thousand rubles for the collection of prayers, Fortress of the Muslim, found in her store; a shop owner in Biysk (the Altai Region) paid twice the price for selling the Jehovah's Witnesses brochure Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life; an inmate serving a prison sentence in Adygea was fined for having loaned A General Introduction to Islam by Sheikh Ali Al-Tantawi to other prisoners.
In December, we recorded two cases of wrongful prosecution under the Administrative Code Article 20.3 (propaganda and public display of extremist symbols). Vladislav Nikitenko, a social activist from Blagoveshchensk (the Amur Region), was prosecuted for publishing demotivators that contained Nazi symbols intended not to promote Nazism but to ridicule the accusations of fascism made against Ukraine. Murmansk resident Dmitry Gashuta had published the symbols of the Ukrainian “Right Sector” online prior to the ban, that has been imposed on the organization; with no prior request to remove the forbidden images, he faced charges and was sentenced to two days of administrative arrest.
Administrative proceedings under the Administrative Code Article 5.35 Part 1 (failure to perform or improper performance by parents or other legal representatives of their obligations for caring, upbringing, education, and protection of the rights and interests of minors) were initiated in December in the Kosh-Agach District of the Altai Republic against the parents of a student, enrolled in Kyrgyz madrasah, where, according to the prosecutors, the instruction reflected the position of Tablighi Jamaat religious movement, banned in Russia. Parents made no attempts to stop their child from attending this school. We would like to remind here that we view the ban on Tablighi Jamaat as inappropriate, because its members do not preach violence, and there is no evidence of their involvement in violent activities.
Banning Organizations and Materials for Extremism, Blocking Websites and Other State and Public Actions
In mid-November, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation upheld the decision of the Samara Regional Court to recognize the Samara branch of Jehovah's Witnesses as an extremist organization and to ban its activities (see our June review for additional background information).
The video Pristavnoe Blagochestie [a pun, that can be loosely translated as “Piety with Ushers”], dedicated to the confiscation of the relics of St. Euphemia and St. Euphrosyne of Suzdal from the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church (ROAC), was inappropriately banned as extremist in November. We found no extremist statements in this half-hour piece. The criticism against the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) representatives and representatives of the Liberal Democratic Party (who sided with the ROC in the conflict over the relics) that served as the rationale for banning the video is generally adequate and contains no incendiary appeals.
The story about banning a joke achieved a wide resonance in November. In May 2014, the Industrialny District Court of Izhevsk in the Udmurt Republic recognized as extremist a joke, published on the VKontakte personal page of Pavel Fokeyev. Fokeyev tried to appeal the decision, but the Supreme Court of the Udmurt Republic upheld it in mid-November. The joke, with a title “The Court. The case of beating up a Caucasus native...” has been in existence, in a different version, since the 1940s; despite certain xenophobic overtones, it contains no dangerous incitement to violence and, in general, can hardly be considered hate speech. Based on this publication, and, likely, several additional banned nationalist materials, a criminal case against Fokeyev was opened under Article 282 Part. 1. Fokeyev, who had already served a sentence for violent racist attacks, certainly intended to incite hatred, but this consideration does not justify banning a joke as extremist material.
In mid-November, Alexei Venediktov, the editor-in-chief of the Echo of Moscow Radio Station and website filed a complaint in the Tagansky District Court of Moscow against the Roskomnadzor warnings, issued to the editorial board and the founder of the Echo of Moscow Radio Station and website in late October. The warning were issued for the Eyewitness (“Svoimi glazami”) show with the Los Angeles Times correspondent Sergey Loiko on the subject of military activities in the Donetsk airport, which was transmitted live on October 29, as well as for a transcript of this program, published on the Echo of Moscow website. In its warnings, Roskomnadzor indicated that the show “contains information justifying the practice of committing war crimes...,” “aimed at the complete or partial elimination of an ethnic or national group,” and demanded the removal of material from the site within ten days, but never explained which statements by the show’s participants were criminal in nature. From our point of view, the Eyewitness contained no calls for elimination of any ethnic or national groups; moreover, the show’s participants stressed that ethnic origin and linguistic affiliation played no role in determining one’s choice of the side in this conflict. No statements justifying the practice of committing war crimes were voiced in the course of the show. Probably, the authorities were displeased with the position of one of the show‘s guests, who was sympathetic to the Ukrainian side, and the fact that the reporters provided detailed information about the events at the airport.
The Krasnodar Regional Prosecutor's Office filed a claim in the Regional Court in mid-December demanding that a local Jehovah's Witnesses organization in Abinsk be recognized as extremist and disbanded. The prosecutorial charges are based on the fact that a member of the Abinsk Jehovah's Witnesses organization had faced administrative responsibility for distribution of banned pamphlets; the organization received a warning about the impermissibility of extremist activity, but the members of the organization continued to distribute religious literature.
In the meantime, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation recognized a Jehovah's Witnesses website, jw.org, as extremist. Three brochures published on this site have also been banned. The Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia was not informed about the fact of the Supreme Court proceedings to ban the website and brochures. Earlier, in May 2014, the Tver Regional Court refused for the second time to approve the decision of the Central District Court of Tver to ban the website and brochures. Subsequently, the Tver Regional Prosecutor's Office appealed to the Supreme Court, which upheld the prosecutorial claim.
In December, the Oktyabrsky District Court of Belgorod also began its consideration of the prosecutorial claim on recognizing three Jehovah's Witnesses’ booklets as extremist materials.
In the second half of December, by order of the Prosecutor General, Roskomnadzor blocked dozens of websites and individual pages containing information about a planned rally in support of Navalny brothers, Alexey and Oleg, in connection with their verdict in the Yves Rocher case. You may remember that, according to the Lugovoy Law, the Prosecutor General's Office, having received information about the existence of an webpage with incitement to riot, extremist activities or simply to “participation in mass public events held in violation of the established order” can appeal to Roskomnadzor and order it to request an urgent removal of this information or to block it. In our opinion, the clause of Lugovoy Law on blocking information about unsanctioned activities is inappropriate, because the fact that the event is not permitted does not justify banning the information about it. It is a clear attack against the freedom of speech. The request to block information about the activities, on which the authorities have not yet made their decision, is even more inappropriate. At the request of the Russian authorities, Facebook also blocked its Russian users from accessing the group, which announced the gathering in support of Navalny brothers, but did not block any newly created similar pages.