Misuse of Anti-Extremism in April 2017
In the second half of April, a new text of the bill on revoking citizenship of persons convicted of terrorism and extremism was introduced in the State Duma. According to the bill, if a person, having obtained Russian citizenship, commits a crime under one of the relevant articles, it means that the citizenship was acquired for the purpose of carrying out activities that pose a threat to the foundations of the constitutional system of the Russian Federation; therefore, the applicant, when giving his citizenship oath to comply with the Constitution and the laws of Russia, knowingly provided false information, and his/her citizenship must be revoked. It should be noted that this version of the law was intentionally drafted so as to avoid a clear inconsistency with the Constitution, which explicitly states that citizenship can’t be revoked. The option of taking away one’s citizenship currently pertains only to naturalized citizens, rather than citizens by birth. However, a criminal conviction, related to a crime committed after acquiring citizenship, does not, in and of itself, prove that the offender had harbored the intent to commit this crime at the time of filing the citizenship application. Possibly, a court decision establishing the presence of such intention could be considered an acceptable proof. In our opinion, this bill, if adopted, can open a new avenue to abuse the mechanism for combatting extremism and terrorism and to further restrict the rights of migrants in Russia, with regard to whom the practice of revoking citizenship de facto already exists.
In mid-April, the Oktyabrsky District Court of Ulan-Ude found Buryat activist and blogger Vladimir Khagdaev guilty of public calls for separatism (Article 280.1 Part 2 of the Criminal Code) and of storing narcotic drugs on a large scale without the purpose of sale (Article 228 Part 2 of the Criminal Code) and issued a suspended sentence of three years with a three-year probationary period. According to the investigation, “having personal convictions in favor of uniting the Mongolian peoples in a single state,” Khagdaev published a post and two comments, which contained calls for actions toward separation of Buryatia from Russia, on VKontakte under the pseudonym “Genghis Bulgadaev” in November 2014 – January 2015. The incriminating social network post is an image showing a quote from an interview with journalist Alexandra Garmazhapova, in which she was critical of the Russian nationalists and mentioned separation of Buryatia from Russia as a hypothetical scenario; this post definitely contained no separatist appeals. In his comments, Khagdaev called for a “major geopolitical shift” and reshaping of the world and Russia, and also asked a rhetorical question “when will it be possible to take up weapons and go assimilate a Russian lieutenant-colonel neighbor?” We can’t call prosecution for these statements unequivocally illegal. However, it must be recognized, that two comments under the post, which attracted almost no attention, hardly presented significant public danger.
In April, the Investigative Committee in Ryazan initiated criminal proceedings under Part 1 of Article 282 against a 22-year-old local resident. According to the investigation, he placed on his personal social network page publicly accessible “images of a nationalistic character, statements about the veterans of the Great Patriotic War and the Orthodox Christians.” Recognizing the veterans as a vulnerable social group that needs protection under anti-extremist legislation is, in our opinion, questionable.
In late April, the Kurgan City Court acquitted former Imam of the city mosque Ali Yakupov, who had been charged under Part 1 of Article 282 (incitement of hatred or enmity on the basis of belonging to a social group “the communists”). The court decided that there was no corpus delicti in Yakupov’s actions, and recognized his right to exoneration. The prosecutors stated that they considered appealing the decision. According to investigators, Yakupov left a comment in November 2015 under the material published on VKontakte on the subject of the Muslim women in China not being allowed to wear a hijab, in which he allegedly spoke of “divine punishment” that was going to befall the Chinese communists. However, the court decided that an appeal to the higher forces could not be considered a xenophobic call. The judge emphasized that “God is not a civic entity, and appeal to him can’t be considered a call for acts of enmity.”
The Naberezhnye Chelny City Court of the Republic of Tatarstan issued a verdict in the case of nine followers of the religious movement Tablighi Jamaat (recognized in Russia as an extremist organization) in the later part of April. All nine defendants were found guilty of involvement in activities of an extremist organization (Article 282.2 Part 2) and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment ranging from 2 years to 3 years and 9 months. The investigation reported that the defendants joined the Tablighi Jamaat in the early 2000s. Aware of the fact that the movement was prohibited, in 2014-2016, they, nevertheless, participated in its activities, in particular, recruited new participants and held religious meetings in Kazan, Naberezhnye Chelny, Aznakaevo and other municipalities in Tatarstan. The Tablighi Jamaat movement is focused on promoting Islam and has not been implicated in any calls to violence, so we view prosecutions against its supporters as unjustified.
In the second half of April, it became known that Ilgar Aliyev, accused of involvement in organizing a cell of the extremist organization Nurcular, was detained in Izberbash (Republic of Dagestan); a criminal case was opened under Part 1 of Article 282.2. According to investigators, Aliyev conducted classes in Izberbash, as well as in Makhachkala and Khasavyurt, in the course of which he distributed and organized studying of literature with “extremist content.” We view the ban against Nurcular as inappropriate, especially since the movement has never existed in Russia at all – there are only individual believers, who face unfounded persecution for studying the books of Said Nursi.
In early April, the Privolzhsky District Military Court on its visiting session in Kazan issued a verdict in a criminal case of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, a banned religious and political party. Four local residents were convicted under Part 1 of Article 205.5 (organizing activities of an organization banned as terrorist) and Part 1 of Article 205.1 (financing of terrorism); two of them were also found guilty under Part 4 of Article 150 (involving a minor in a crime motivated by religious hatred). The Muslims were accused of disseminating party literature and recruiting new members for their activities. One of them was sentenced to 18 years in a maximum-security colony, two – to 17 years, and the fourth offender – to 16 years.
In late April, the North Caucasus District Military Court reviewed the case of Ruslan Zeytullayev, charged under Article 205.5 Part 1 for organization of a Hizb ut-Tahrir cell in Crimea. The re-trial of the case was based on the decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, issued in December 2016 in response to the complaint by the prosecutor in the case, who found the verdict handed down to Zeytullayev in September 2016 “excessively mild.” As a result, the new more severe verdict added 5 years to his prison term; Zeytullayev has been sentenced to 12 years in a maximum-security colony.
We would like to remind that we view charges of terrorism against Hizb ut-Tahrir followers merely on the basis of party activities (holding meetings, reading literature, etc.) as inappropriate.
Banning Organizations and Materials as Extremist
On April 20, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation granted the claim of the Ministry of Justice and recognized the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia as an extremist organization. Under the court's decision, the Administrative Center and 395 local religious organizations, as its structural subdivisions, are subject to liquidation. The property of the organization, if the appeals fail, will be claimed by the state. In addition, on April 24, the Zamoskvoretsky District Court of Moscow denied the claim by the Administrative Center to recognize the Ministry of Justice's decision to suspend its activities as illegal. In our opinion, the liquidation of Jehovah's Witnesses’ organizations for extremism, persecution against members of their communities and bans of their texts have no legitimate grounds and represent a clear instance of religious discrimination. The number of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia exceeds one hundred thousand. The almost total ban on Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia puts every one of them at risk of criminal prosecution for their faith.
Believers are already starting to feel the consequences of the courts’ decisions. Thus, on April 14, officers of the regional department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Chelyabinsk, accompanied by masked Federal National Guard fighters armed with submachine guns, forced the fence and stormed into the Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah's Witnesses community, where the prayer meeting was taking place. The law enforcement agencies qualified their actions as “an inspection” and explained that the local religious community had persisted despite the order to suspend the activities of the Administrative Center and local organizations of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia.
In April, we learned about a number of additions to the Federal List of Extremist Materials, which we consider inappropriately banned (more details can be found in the relevant news items on our website). They include two de-motivating posters with Putin, Medvedev and Patriarch Kirill (Nos. 4071 and 4072), the book Hearts of Fire, compiled by The Voice of the Martyrs persecution ministry, which narrates the stories of Christians in various countries persecuted for their faith by other religious groups or by the state (No. 4077), Michael Laitman's book Kabbalah: The Secret Jewish Doctrine, Part X. Fruits of Wisdom (No. 4084), The Call of All Mortal Men to Immortality treatise by Yehowists-Ilyinites (No. 4085), and A Joke about the Quran with the performance by video blogger Ilya Davydov (Maddison) (No. 4086).
In April, we learned about four cases of prosecution under Article 20.29 of the Administrative Code for distribution of inappropriately prohibited materials or storing them for the purpose of distribution.
Yuri Scherbachyov, leader of the PARNAS party regional branch, was detained in Arkhangelsk on the day of the action against corruption and later fined for placing on VKontakte the banned (inappropriately, in our opinion) video Let’s Remind Crooks and Thieves about Their 2002 Manifesto by Alexei Navalny’s supporters. Prosecutions for mentioning the slogan “Orthodoxy or death” continue in Chuvashia. Local activist Alyona Blinova was fined for posting on VKontakte the opinion of deputy Vitaly Milonov about prosecution of Dmitry Semyonov, the coordinator of the Open Russia movement in Chuvashia. The Supreme Court of Chuvashia, in the meantime, upheld the fine for Semyonov for mentioning the banned slogan in the Open Russia’s message regarding the previous court cases for publishing this phrase; Semyonov intends to file a complaint with the ECHR on all three cases of facing legal responsibility for this slogan. A Gelendzhik resident was fined for storing Jehovah's Witnesses materials, including banned ones, although her intent to distribute these materials was not proved in court. A resident of the village of Kanashevo in the Krasnoarmeisky District of the Chelyabinsk Region was prosecuted for allegedly storing in his prayer house an inappropriately banned collection of daily prayers The Fortress of the Muslim by al-Qahtani.
We also learned of two cases of prosecution under Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses for demonstration of Nazi or extremist symbols in the absence of propaganda intentions. Thus, the report under this CAO article was compiled in Severodvinsk against Valentin Tabachny, an instructor of Spetsnaz (Russian analogue of SWAT) local military-sports-patriotic club, who posted images with swastikas on VKontakte, using them as a way to express his criticism of Ukraine and the European Union and to equate his opponents with collaborators, Nazis and the Third Reich. A Naberezhnye Chelny resident Marat Latypov, a participant of an anti-corruption picket on March 26, was fined since his VKontakte page was found to include images with Nazi symbols or with the flags of the ISIS, banned in Russia as a terrorist organization. Latypov did not deny in court that his page featured prohibited symbols, but noted that he did not sympathize with the organizations in question; it was confirmed by a witness in court, and evident from the content of Latypov's Facebook account.
In April, we learned about two cases, in which heads of educational institutions faced responsibility under Article 6.17 Part 1 of the Code of Administrative Violations (violation of the established requirements for dissemination among children of information products containing information that is harmful to their health and (or) development) for poor quality of their web content filters. The heads of the Medical College and Geological Exploration College in Miass, the Chelyabinsk region were fined in late March, and the principals of the Yrban and Systyg-Khem secondary schools in the Todzhinsky District of the Tuva Republic – in April. As mentioned before, we believe that content filtering programs tend to be ineffective, and the personnel of educational institutions should not be held responsible for this fact.
A cafe which provided visitors with Wi-Fi services with no content filtering, faced responsibility in Tyumen under Article 6.17 Part 2 (failure to use measures, or technical software or hardware methods to protect children from information that is harmful to their health and development). We oppose prosecution against administrators of cafes, Internet cafes, hotels and other similar institutions for lack of content filtering, since they are designed not only for children (supervised by their parents), but also for adult users whose rights should not be limited.
The Leninsky District Prosecutor's Office in Grozny issued a motion to the owners of two restaurants for failure to check identities of their Wi-Fi users. Similar precedents occurred in 2016. Meanwhile, the legislation places responsibility for identifying users of public networks on providers, not on managers of cafes and restaurants.
We learned in April about two cases when books, inappropriately recognized as extremist, were confiscated by the customs and led to prosecution of their importers under Article 16.3 of the Administrative Code (non-compliance with prohibitions and (or) restrictions on the import of goods into and out of the Customs Union). Tolkovanie Prekrasnykh Imyon Allakha v Svete Korana i Sunny [Interpretation of the Beautiful Names of Allah in the Light of the Quran and the Sunnah] by Al-Qahtani was seized by the Kazan customs office, while the Belgorod customs officers seized two boxes containing 96 old issues of the Watchtower Jehovah's Witnesses magazine from a local woman, who was traveling to her daughter in Ukraine. They included 18 copies of banned issues of the magazine.