Misuse of Anti-Extremism in June 2016
The following is our review of the primary and most representative events in the misuse of anti-extremist legislation in Russia in June 2016.
In June the State Duma broke its work for summer holidays after adopting three bills which have to do with combating extremism.
Of them the essential was the so-called anti-terrorist package consisting of two draft laws prepared by both chambers of the Parliament. The package was adopted by the State Duma and the Federation Council by the end of the month though it underwent substantial changes. The package provoked much discussion and we also contributed to it so here we only make a short summary. Though the package is meant to demonstrate the state's will to suppress extremism, it gives almost no new effective instruments of protecting social security, violating the essential human rights instead. The package also provides additional ways of putting targeted pressure on web campaigning, religious associations and individuals.
The anti-terrorist package enforces unprecedented measures such as long-lasting preservation of electronic communications data on providers' expense which provides the law enforcement agencies with easy access. The package also criminalizes the non-informing the law enforcement of certain crimes, makes the adolescents from 14 years on (instead of 16) liable to criminal prosecution, toughens the penalties provided by anti-terrorist and anti-extremist Criminal Code articles without any due grounds, introduces ill-formulated restrictions of missionary work in Russia, etc.
On July 7, 2016, the anti-terrorist package was signed by President Putin.
On June 24, 2016, President Putin signed the law on regulating web news aggregators.
Web aggregators of Russian language news used by more than one million people a day can only belong to Russian citizens or legal entities. They should somehow avoid disseminating materials containing public calls to terrorist activity or public justifying terrorism, as well as other extremist materials. Aggregators are also prohibited from distributing materials aiming at defiling citizens or certain categories of citizens on the bases of their sex, age, race or nationality, language, religion, profession, residence, employment or political views. However, an aggregator's owner will not be sanctioned for distributing materials literally corresponding to those created by mass media officially registered in Russia. So the law should obviously make the aggregators' owners exclude other news sources. Aggregators' owners ought to remove news on Roskomnadzor's justified demand, otherwise they will be fined under Article 19.7.10-1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses. For legal entities the fine is up to one million in case of the first offense and up to three million for the next ones.
On June 23, 2016, the president signed the law “on the basis of crime prevention system in Russian Federation.” In fact, the law sums up the existing practices but it evoked certain apprehensions for it introduces (or just revives) such vague legal terms as “anti-social behavior.” Crime preventing control or participation of various social groups in crime prevention are beyond objection. However the law may be perceived by the law enforcement as a signal to carry out over-intensive prevention activities violating human rights, as it holds true for Dagestan. Moreover, it seems that various citizens' registers in Russia prove to turn from preventive instruments to repressive ones as it happened in 2000s to the Guard Control System and later to Rosfinmonitoring List.
We can also mention two bills which are obviously timed to upcoming elections, just as the anti-terrorist package is, but seem to have no such perspectives. Two Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia deputies suggested repeal of Article 282 of Criminal Code. A Just Russia deputy proposed a new article penalizing “defamation of Russian Federation.”
In June, Kievsky district court of Simferopol sentenced Ukrainian citizen Andrey Kolomiets to 10 years of imprisonment in maximum security penal colony under Article 30 Part 3 paragraphs “a,” “b,” “e,” “l” and Part 2 Article 105 (attempted murder of two persons in connection with the performance of their duties, committed in publicly dangerous way and motivated by political or ideological hatred) and Article 228 Part 2 (illegal acquisition, storage, and transportation of fragments of plants containing narcotic substances on a large scale). Kolomiets was found guilty in taking part in the clashes during the Maidan in Kiev in January 2014 as a member of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), throwing Molotov cocktails at two police officers from the Berkut unit and causing their clothes to catch fire (they were saved due to timely assistance). In addition, he was accused of storage and transportation of narcotic plants on large scale in Kabardino-Balkaria in 2015. If Kolomiets threw cocktails indeed, it happened on Ukrainian territory, then Ukraine could have initiated a criminal case against Kolomiets and appealed to the Russian authorities to facilitate the investigation. By initiating a case on their own initiative, the Russian law enforcement agencies violated the rules for determining jurisdiction.
In June, Vladimir Luzgin, a citizen of Perm who shared Ukrainian nationalist ideology was found guilty under Criminal Code Article 354.1 Part1 (denial of facts established by the verdict of the International Military Tribunal for the trial and punishment of the major war criminals of the European Axis countries, approval of the crimes specified by judgment, as well as the dissemination of false information on the activities of the Soviet Union during World War II combined with accusations of crimes established by the said judgment, committed in public)for reposting on his VKontakte social network page a text entitled “Fifteen facts on Banderites or what the Kremlin is silent of.” The Perm Regional Court fined Luzgin 200 thousand rubles. According to the court decision, the text contained false information on the alleged joint attack of the USSR and Germany on Poland on September 1, 1939, and about them initiating World War II. The court deemed the statements false alleging that such information could not be found in the verdict of the International Military Tribunal. From our point of view, the repost contains a free understanding of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact as well as a number of questionable statements relating to Banderite movement. However we believe that interpretation, ignorance, wrong statement, even intentional falsification of historical facts should not constitute a cause for criminal prosecution, if not combined with dangerous calls inciting hatred at present. That is why we opposed the Article 354.1 of which the wording (in particular, the formula on “dissemination of false information on the activities of the Soviet Union during World War II”) allows of prosecution for historical discussion.
At the end of June, the Proletarsky district court of Tver started the proceedings against Shamil Kazakov accused of inciting hatred towards a social group of the policemen of the Tver Region (CC Article 282 Part 1) and insulting an official (CC Article 319). A lawyer by training, Kazakov applied for a position of a district police officer but was rejected. While his job interview with head of the personnel bureau of Tver City Police Department, Kazakov made a hidden camera video and then shared it on the Internet. The video contained the conversation on “the Caucasians, Chechens, Dagestani, Tatars and Muslims” not hired by the Tver police. Then a criminal case was initiated against Kazakov for commentaries accompanying his video clip. Kazakov is now under house arrest. We have found no calls for violence in Kazakov's video which had spread widely over the social media. We should note that from our point of view policemen are not a vulnerable social group in need of special protection provided by the anti-extremist legislation. Moreover, we guess that the vague term of “social group” should be excluded from anti-extremist articles as a cause of constant abuse.
In June, two residents of the Vyatskopolyansky district in the Kirov region were found guilty by the court under Article 148 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (public actions, expressing obvious disrespect for society, with intention to insult religious feelings of believers). Konstantin Kazantsev and Rustem Shaidullin were sentenced to 230 hours of compulsory work for placing a stuffed dummy on a standing cross in the village of Staraya Malinovka in autumn of 2015. In our view, the suspects’ actions presented no public danger, and should have been appropriately qualified as an administrative offense, rather than a crime.
Fanis Gainutdinov, a resident of Samara was sentenced to six years of imprisonment in a penal colony under Article 282.2 Part 1 (managing activity of an organization banned as extremist) and Article 205.5 Part 2 (participation in activities of an organization banned as terrorist). According to the court decision, Gainutdinov was convicted for recruiting new members for the Hizb ut-Tahrir religious party (banned in Russia) of which he was a follower. He had been sentenced under the same articles in 2005.
In Chelyabinsk the local FSB detained three Muslims on suspicion of taking part in Hizb ut-Tahrir activities. A case was initiated under Article 205.5 Part 2. According to the FSB, the detainees were members of the Hizb ut-Tahrir unit of which the five followers had been convicted in Chelyabinsk in February 2016.
As you may remember, we view charges of terrorism against Hizb ut-Tahrir followers, based solely on their party activities (meetings, reading the literature, and so on), as inappropriate.
Administrative Prosecution and Banning Organizations as Extremist
In June, Shatsky district court of Ryazan region fined Zaur Korolyov, a resident of Putyatino village, two thousand rubles under Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses for displaying Nazi symbols. According to Korolyov himself, the law enforcement accused him of posting on his VKontakte web page images of swastika together with sickle and hammer on a balance and of the three symbols attached to each other. The court also regarded as display of Nazi symbols another Korolyov’s posting of a collage featuring Vladimir Putin in Nazi uniform with Vyacheslav Volodins’ statements on the President and Rudolf Hess’ statements on Hitler. Obviously, in this case, the author never intended to propagate Nazism, but instead used the Nazi symbols polemically, accusing the Soviet and Russian authorities of holding Nazi views, so there were no due grounds for a fine. However, the actual Russian legislation allows of punishing any display of Nazi and extremist symbols regardless of the presence or absence of the propaganda context.
In June, local Jehovah's Witnesses communities and individual believers faced active prosecution. We would like to reiterate that we view persecution against Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia and bans against their literature and communities as religious discrimination.
The Supreme Court of Russian Federation confirmed the rulings of the regional courts banning the Jehovah's Witnesses communities of Belgorod and Stary Oskol.
The Oryol regional court banned the local Jehovah's Witnesses community as extremist and issued a ruling on its liquidation.
The local Jehovah's Witnesses community of Udachny (The Sakha (Yakutia) Republic) can face liquidation too. In June, head of the local community got a warning on the impermissibility of extremist activity after a check by the law enforcement agencies when some banned brochures had been withdrawn. Previously, in January 2016, a Jehovah's Witnesses follower had been fined in Udachny for distributing brochures deemed extremist. If such incidents continue, the community can be banned.
In June, an individual and two legal entities (namely, the communities of Abakan in Khakassia and Saransk in Mordovia) were fined under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offenses for distributing Jehovah's Witnesses’ banned brochures.
By contrast, in Arkhangelsk the regional court dismissed the regional Prosecutor’s office request to liquidate the local Jehovah's Witnesses community as extremist. During the investigation of one of the alleged episodes, fingerprint identification showed that no fingerprints had been made on the pack of banned brochures by Alexander Parygin, head of the community. Parygin stated that the pack found in his car was a plant. Parygin had been fined for distributing banned brochures earlier and in October 2015 he himself requested the Ministry of Justice to liquidate his religious organization.