Misuse of Anti-Extremism in August 2016
On August 4, 2016, Roskomnadzor issued a draft document introducing the information evaluation criteria to guide relevant authorities and courts in their decisions on adding web pages to the Unified Register of Banned Websites. In particular, the draft states that Roskomnadzor can enter pages in the Unified Register even in the absence of court decisions on them, if they fit the description of materials already in the Register. We are worried that this legalization of extrajudicial restrictions, imposed by Roskomnadzor against mirrors of various previously blocked sites and pages with content substantially duplicating previously blocked content, can in practice lead to abuse - at least with regard to pages banned by courts as extremist (not always appropriately).
It was reported in August 2016 that, as far back as June 3, 2015, the Syktyvkar City Court of the Komi Republic found Russian nationalist Yuri Avdoshkin guilty under Article 280.1 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (public calls for separatism, committed with the use of the Internet). He was sentenced to 200 hours of mandatory labor and released from punishment under the amnesty. The Court found that Avdoshkin was “acting with separatist intentions” when he posted the text that included public appeals for secession of the Komi Republic from the Russian Federation. We do not know specifically what text, authored by the nationalist, has formed the basis for the charges against him, but it is unlikely that Avdoshkin, who gained notoriety as the co-chairman of the nationalist Northern Frontier (Rubezh Severa) organization and the chairman of “the Russians” Association in the Komi Republic, would be seriously calling on the Komi Republic to secede from Russia. In addition, we believe that only calls for violent separatism merit prosecution, and the court verdict contains no indication of any such calls being present in the text.
In early August, we learned about the verdict on Mukhidin Yusupov under Article 280 Part 1 (public incitement to extremist activities) and Article 282 Part 1 (actions aimed at the incitement of hatred or enmity, as well as abasement of dignity of a person or a group of persons on the basis of sex, race, nationality, language, origin, attitude to religion committed in public). Yusupov was sentenced to four years in prison, with a two-year ban on serving in any public or political official position, for the crimes of appealing to his inmates in a Moscow jail to participate in a religious struggle in Syria and making statements, which incited hatred of the police. We consider Yusupov’s verdict at least partially inappropriate; we don’t view the police as a vulnerable population group in need of protection against acts of hatred under Article 282. We also believe that Yusupov’s statements in the presence of three fellow inmates can hardly be considered public.
The verdict in the case of Shamil Kazakov was announced in mid-August in Tver. He was charged under Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code for inciting hatred against a social group “police employees of the Tver Regional Department of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs”, and under Article 319 (insulting a government official), based on his comments to the video on the subject of discrimination in police recruitment. Kazakov was acquitted under Article 282 and sentenced to 10 months of correctional labor under Article 319. We welcome the court's decision, since we view the charge under Article 282 as unfounded. Kazakov’s angry statements pertained to specific individuals, rather than police officers in general. In addition, we don’t view the police as a vulnerable population group in need of protection in the form of anti-extremist legislation, and, moreover, the vague concept of a social group itself is constantly abused by the law enforcement and should be excluded from the text of the anti-extremist articles.
Danila Alferiev, a 23-year-old activist of the Left Block (Levy blok) coalition was charged under Part 1 of Article 282 (incitement tо social hatred) in Ulyanovsk. The charges against Alferiev were filed by the law enforcement in connection with the address he gave at the rally on November 7, 2014. Paraphrasing a well-known statement by Andrey Kovalenko (the leader of the Moscow branch of the Eurasian Youth Union (Evraziysky soyuz molodyozhi, ESM)), the activist called for “cleaning out” the “fifth column” from the State Duma, taking part in the conflict on the Donbass, and “cleaning out the occupation from Russia,” upon receiving the corresponding order from Gennady Zyuganov. In our opinion, Alferiev’s words are not punishable under Article 282 - we believe that the authorities do not constitute a vulnerable social group in need of protection by anti-extremist legislation. The interpretation of the activist’s statements in the spirit of Article 280 of the Criminal Code (incitement to extremist activity), is also questionable – Alferiev’s calls can’t be qualified as direct incitements, and the extent of public danger in urging Zyuganov to push the young people to disobedience is clearly quite limited.
Local environmental activist Fyodor Maryasov was prosecuted under Article 282 of the Criminal Code in Zheleznogorsk of the Krasnoyarsk Region. According to him, the case has to do with incitement to hatred on the grounds of belonging to the social group “nuclear industry employees.” The activist believes that the criminal case was initiated in response to his criticism of the actions by Rosatom in the course of construction of the nuclear waste repository in Zheleznogorsk. We oppose the use of anti-extremist legislation as an instrument of pressure on activists. In addition, from our point of view, the criminal proceedings in this case have been inappropriate – the nuclear industry does not constitute a vulnerable social group in need of special protection under Article 282.
In August, we became aware of several convictions in the cases of Hizb ut-Tahrir followers. On August 4, the Moscow District Military Court delivered its verdict against Muslims Rishat Girfanov, Danil Kunakbaev, Denis Zagitdinov and Vasily Tkachyov. They were found guilty under Article 205.5 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (participation in the activities of a terrorist organization); each of them was sentenced to eight years in prison.
The same day, the Supreme Court of Russia upheld the sentence imposed on 12 May 2016 on five Muslims from Bashkortostan, accused of participation in Hizb ut-Tahrir. Vilyur Baisuakov Rustam Zainullin, Almaz Karimov, Ruslan Ryskulov and Airat Mustaev were found guilty under Part 2 Article 282.2 (participation in the activities of an extremist organization) and under Part 2 Article 205.5 of the Criminal Code and sentenced to prison terms ranging from five to six years in a minimum security penal colony. The mass media had never previously reported this sentence. A certain oddity of the verdict is the presence of two Criminal Code articles that pertain to the same offending action (qualified under Article 282.2 until addition of Article 205.5 to the Criminal Code).
In mid-August, three members of the “Saint Petersburg cell” of Hizb ut-Tahrir were sentenced in Saint Petersburg. Karim Ibragimov was sentenced to 17 years, and Eldar Ramazanov – to 16 years of imprisonment in a maximum-security colony under Part 1 of Article 205.5, Ilyas Kagirov was sentenced to 5 years in “minimum security colony under Part 2 of Article 205.5.
We regard prosecution against Hizb ut-Tahrir followers under anti-terrorist Criminal Code articles, based solely on their party activities (conducting meetings, reading literature, etc.) as inappropriate.
It was reported in early August, that local resident S. Gerasimenko, who posted an online ad for the sale of SS troops badge (the Waffen-SS) for 100 rubles, was fined 1000 rubles under Part 1 Article 20.3 of the Administrative Code (public display of Nazi paraphernalia) in Sochi in July. The offending object was confiscated by the court decision. We believe that confiscating of historic merchandize is not justified in such cases, since they represent material value for their sellers, rather than an instrument of propaganda.
Egor Savin, a candidate for the State Duma and the leader of the Novosibirsk branch of the People's Freedom Party (Partiya narodnoy svobody, PARNAS), reported in early August that a criminal case under Article 20.3 of the Administrative Code has been initiated against him. The defender claimed that he was charged with publishing an image that included swastika on the VKontakte social network, but he had no connection to the incriminating image. According to Russian electoral legislation, citizens, penalized for committing an administrative offense under Article 20.3 of the Administrative Code, can’t be elected if voting takes place before the end of the period, during which a person is considered subject to administrative punishment, that is, for one year from the end date of implementing a decision to impose an administrative penalty.
A minor from Olenegorsk in the Murmansk Region has been fined in late August under Article 20.3 Part 1 of the Administrative Code for posting on VKontakte an image with the symbols of the National Bolshevik Party (NBP), which is recognized as an extremist organization in Russia. From our point of view, the ban against NBP was inappropriate in and of itself, therefore, attempts to stop demonstration of the organization’s symbols are inappropriate as well.
In August, we became aware of a case under Article 20.29 of the Administrative Code for mass distribution of materials inappropriately recognized as extremist. The Verkhnekamsky District Court fined V. Dubovik, a prisoner in penal colony No. 27, on July 7 under Article 20.29 of the Administrative Code for distribution of the wrongfully banned book Osnovy very v svete Korana i Sunny [Foundations of faith in the light of Quran and Sunnah] in his colony.
The director of the Yakutsk College of Technology was fined 5 thousand rubles under Article 6.17 Part 1 of the Administrative Code (violation of the requirements for protection of children from information harmful to their health and (or) development) in Yakutsk. Law enforcement agencies, in the course of the audit, determined that the content filters, installed on the college computers, fail to prevent access to extremist materials. We believe that, as a rule, content filtering programs are ineffective, and the staff of educational institutions should not be held accountable for their performance.
Four food establishments and a computer club in Barnaul and Biysk of the Altai Region, as well as Aurora café in Kemerovo, were fined under Article 6.17 Part 2 of the Administrative Code (failure to utilize, by a person organizing access to information disseminated through information and telecommunication networks in places accessible to children, technical measures, software and hardware protection of children from information harmful to their health and (or) development) in August. The decision was based on the fact that extremist materials were accessible online from these institutions. We oppose prosecutions against the administrators of cafes, Internet cafes, hotels and similar establishments for lack of content filtering, since they service not only children (supervised by the parents), but also adult users, whose rights should not be limited.
Banning Materials as Extremist and Other State Actions
The second Russian language edition of Kommentarii k Tryom Osnovam [Commentary on three Fundamental Principles] by Salafi theologian from Saudi Arabia Muhammad ibn Saalih al-Uthaymeenwas added to the Federal List of Extremist Materials in August 2016. The book was recognized as extremist on May 19, 2016 by the Almetyevsk City Court of the Republic of Tatarstan, and we view this decision as inappropriate.
In late August, the election commission of the Volgograd Region banned the distribution of a number of printed propaganda materials, as well as audio and video clips, by candidates to the State Duma from PARNAS Igor Konotopov and Vadim Merkulov. The electoral commission members claimed that the materials contained signs of libel and insults against Vladimir Putin, and could constitute the evidence of the candidates’ extremist activities. We question the validity of these findings.
Also in August, the Russian Ministry of Culture withdrew the movie theater distribution license for the Call of the Cosmic Evolution – a movie about the Roerich family and the Roerich movement – on the grounds that it included demonstration of the Nazi symbols. However, the images in question are the original newsreels, and the display of Nazi symbols in this case clearly pursued no corresponding propaganda objectives.