Misuse of Anti-Extremism in June 2017

The following is our review of the primary and most representative events in the misuse of Russia’s anti-extremist legislation in June 2017.


At the end of June, the Ministry of Telecommunications posted a draft law amending Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offences (public demonstration of Nazi symbols and symbols of prohibited organizations). It is proposed to add a clarification to Article 20.3 Part 1 of the Code that the use of the banned symbols “in the works of science, literature, art, as well as for edifying, educational and information purposes does not constitute public demonstration, provided there are no signs of propaganda.” We welcome this initiative of the Ministry of Communications. SOVA Center has repeatedly pointed out the absurdity of banning any demonstration of Nazi symbols regardless of their context, as currently prescribed by Russian legislation. However, we believe that it would be simpler and more appropriate not to list specific exceptions; it would be sufficient to make propaganda of the corresponding ideology a necessary condition for the demonstration of the banned symbols to be regarded as illegal.

The State Duma, in the second half of June, approved in the first reading a bill banning the use of anonymizers and VPN-services for access to websites that have been blocked in Russia. The bill proposes to add an article to the federal law on information prohibiting “owners of information and telecommunications networks, information systems and programs for electronic computers, as well as information resource owners,” who provide access to such systems and programs, from allowing them to be used for access to resources that are restricted in Russia. Our additional coverage of this bill can be found here.

Criminal Prosecution

In early June, the Meshchansky District Court of Moscow found Natalya Sharina, the former director of the Library of Ukrainian Literature guilty under Article 282 Part 2 clause “b” of the Criminal Code (incitement of ethnic hatred or enmity with the use of official position) and Parts 3 and 4 of Article 160 (embezzlement committed on a large or an especially large scale) and received a suspended sentence of four years with a four-year probation period. The prosecution was based on the fact that a forbidden book by Ukrainian nationalist Dmitro Korchinsky was found in the library as a result of a search conducted upon request of a local Ukrainophobic municipal deputy. Safekeeping and providing access of literature is the responsibility of librarians under the library act, which conflicts with the official requirement to vet the names of books from existing collections, as well as new acquisitions, against the constantly updated Federal List of Extremist Materials. Currently, this contradiction is managed at the level of procedural instructions. We view the criminal charges of engaging in a conscious propaganda act (deliberate distribution of materials that incite hatred) against a librarian, who had failed to withdraw a book from circulation, as clearly inappropriate.

The Kaluga District Court of the Kaluga Region, earlier this month, sentenced local resident Roman Grishin to 320 hours of mandatory labor, having found him guilty under Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code. The charges were based on the video New Hit from Kharkov: This is Rashism, Baby to a song by Boris Sevastyanov, which Grishin reposted on his VKontakte page in 2014. Activists from Krasnodar were arrested in 2015 under Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offences (propaganda or demonstration of Nazi symbols) for the publication on social networks of a video based on same song. The song contains sharp criticism of Russian state propaganda and foreign policy in connection with its actions in Ukraine (which, according to the author, are characteristic of totalitarian regimes), but includes no aggressive appeals. The video contains images of Nazi symbols and emblems of the prohibited Movement against Illegal Immigration (DPNI). However, in this case, as in many others, demonstration of Nazi symbols is not intended as propaganda of Nazi ideology. From our point of view, prosecution for sharing this video is inappropriate and certainly does not correspond to the composition of Article 282.

It became known in early June, that the Investigative Committee in Ulyanovsk has dropped the criminal case under Part 1 of Article 280 (public calls for extremist activity) and Part 1 of Article 282 (the incitement of hatred or enmity on the basis of belonging to a social group) of the Criminal Code against Danil Alferiev, an activist of the Left Bloc, due to the absence of corpus delicti. The case against Alferiev was opened in the summer of 2016, when he was accused of inciting hatred of a social group “representatives of the authorities that are currently leading Russia” based on his speech at the communist rally of November 7, 2014. The activist talked about “the fifth column sitting in the State Duma, which caused the Maidan to flare up in Ukraine and which must be cleaned out,” about the betrayal by “United Russia, Medvedev and Putin” and about his own readiness to take part in the Donbass conflict and “cleanse Russia from the occupation,” if given the corresponding order by the communists' leader Gennady Zyuganov. As Alferiev explained later, his speech had been a “political art performance piece” – a parody of the speech by Andrei Kovalenko, the leader of the Eurasian Youth Union Moscow branch, which gained some popularity online. As noted earlier, we see no grounds for prosecuting Alferiev.

Early in the month, the Sovetsky District Court of Chelyabinsk ruled to release Alexei Moroshkin, the creator of the Church of the Chelyabinsk Meteorite, also known as Andrei Breiva, from the psychiatric hospital, and he was released in mid-June. Moroshkin, as you might remember, was charged under Article 280.1 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (public incitement to separatism via the Internet) for posting a series of 12 texts, which called for secession of the Ural region from Russia and creation of the Siberian federal union, on the online community page “For Fighting Ukraine! For Free Urals! Together Against the Evil!” in April-March 2015. The texts by Moroshkin that we had an opportunity to review contained no calls for actual specific actions to implement any of his plans. In addition, we believe that Article 280.1 of the Criminal Code excessively limits freedom of speech, in general, and that prosecution is justified only for the instances of incitement to violent separatism. In November 2015, Moroshkin was released from criminal liability and transferred to the Chelyabinsk Regional Specialized Neuropsychiatric Hospital No. 1 for mandatary treatment, after having been diagnosed with “paranoid schizophrenia,” with added specification “reformist delusions of religious nature.” We view the psychiatric diagnosis (issued in connection with ironic statements regarding the establishment of the Church of the Chelyabinsk Meteorite) and the subsequent conclusion about the need to isolate Moroshkin as perplexing.

Activist Mark Galperin was charged with public calls for extremism (Article 280 Part 2 of the Criminal Code) in Moscow in mid-June. Later this month, the Meshchansky District Court of Moscow ruled to arrest Galperin. We would like to remind that Galperin is one of the leaders of the New Opposition movement, formed in 2016, which brings together representatives of various ideological trends, including nationalists. In February, it was reported that the case against Galperin was based on the online publication of his video interview to the Gradus-TV video project that had been recorded on Red Square. It should be noted that a whole series of these interviews can be found online, and we do not know which of them constitutes the incriminating video; however, they are all united by the theme, central for the New Opposition, of the “democratic revolution” – the regime change resulting from peaceful mass protests. In our opinion, the activist made no calls for extremist activity in these interviews.

In the middle of the month, the Blagoveshchensk City Court of the Amur Region sentenced Yevgeny Kim to three years and nine months of imprisonment with subsequent restriction of freedom for a period of one year, having found him guilty of committing crimes under Part 1 of Criminal Code Article 282.2 (organizing the activities of an extremist organization) and Part 1 of Article 282 (incitement to hatred). According to investigators, Kim, who shared the ideology of Nurcular international religious association (banned in Russia), held religious meetings in Blagoveshchensk in September – December 2015, during which he quoted from the texts of the banned books by Said Nursi. In addition, it follows from the case materials that, during the meetings, he made negative statements against the “infidels”, a number of ethnic groups (Russians, Jews, Armenians, English), as well as against a professional group “officers of the FSB,” and advocated the exclusive status of the Turkic peoples and of the version of Islam preached by the followers of Nursi. We do not view Kim’s verdict as appropriate in its part pertaining to charges under Article 282.2. We believe that bans against Said Nursi's books as well as the ban of Nurcular association are unwarranted. The latter has never even existed in Russia; there are only individual believers who face persecution for studying Nursi’s books. We cannot claim that the charges under Article 282 of the Criminal Code were inappropriate. Nevertheless, it has to be noted that the composition of Article 282 covers public actions aimed at inciting hatred, while Kim’s xenophobic remarks were addressed only to a very limited number of participants in the religious meetings.

In mid-June, the Moscow District Military Court delivered a verdict against five Muslims involved with Hizb ut-Tahrir. All of them were found guilty under Part 1 of Article 205.5 (organizing the activities of a terrorist organization) and sentenced to lengthy prison terms, 15 to 18 years, in a minimal-security penal colony.

In addition, a citizen of Tajikistan, suspected of collaborating with Hizb ut-Tahrir, was detained in late June in Moscow under the same article; two people were arrested in another investigation in St. Petersburg. As we have stated before, we believe that charging Hizb ut-Tahrir members with the propaganda of terrorism merely on the basis of their party involvement (holding meetings, reading literature, etc.) and prosecuting them under anti-terrorist Criminal Code articles is inappropriate.

In early June, FSB officers conducted yet another series of searches on the premises of the Scientology Church of St. Petersburg and homes of some believers as part of the investigation under Article 171 (illegal enterprise), Article 282 (incitement to hatred) and Article 282.1 (organizing an extremist community) of the Criminal Code. According to the investigation, the Scientology Church was engaged in shadow business practices, selling educational programs to its followers and not paying the corresponding taxes. In accordance with the ruling of the Nevsky District Court of St. Petersburg, Anastasia Terentyeva, Ivan Matsitsky, Galina Shurinova, and Sahib Aliev were arrested; Konstantsiya Esaulkova was put under house arrest. During the court hearings on pre-trial restrictions, the FSB investigator stated, in particular, that the Scientologists had created an extremist community with the purpose of humiliating the dignity of some of its members, who comprised a social group “the sources of trouble.” Obviously, he was referring to the “potential sources of trouble” category used by Scientologists; believers assigned to this category are prohibited from participating in auditing, that is, in communicating with a Scientology consultant. An FSB representative also stated that the defendants had disseminated extremist literature and advocated the exclusivity of their religion. We view prosecution against Scientologists for extremism as inappropriate. Adherents of any religion view their creed as exceptional, and the prosecution for such assertions is absurd. Psychological pressure (if any) exerted by the Scientologists’ against a segment of the Scientology followers, who became a target of criticism by their fellow believers, belongs to the sphere of internal relations within a religious community and has nothing to do with public humiliation of dignity on the basis of belonging to a social group.

Administrative Prosecution

In June, we learned about three cases of prosecution under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offences for dissemination (or storage with intent to distribute) of materials that, in our opinion, were inappropriately recognized as extremist. In Abakan, the follower of the Falun Gong spiritual practice was fined for distributing Zhuan Falun, the banned treatise by Falun Gong ideologist Li Hongzhi. Sergei Tuguzhekov faced responsibility after the law enforcement authorities seized a copy of the treatise from him and a computer printout of the same from another practitioner in March. Another case under Article 20.29 was opened in Togliatti against Sergei Ionov, an assistant to a municipal duma deputy from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation for posting on VKontakte the banned video Let’s Remind Crooks and Thieves about Their Manifesto-2002 by Alexei Navalny’s supporters. Ionov is sure that prosecution against him is connected to his role as the organizer of the June 12 anti-corruption rally. Gennady Makarov, an activist from Yelets in the Lipetsk Region, received five days of administrative arrest for his posts on the social networks VKontakte and LiveJournal, which discussed the fact that the image of Vladimir Putin in makeup had been recognized as extremist. The posts were accompanied by a corresponding image, but the caption, which served as the basis for the ban, had been removed. Makarov believes that the prosecution is related to his civic activities – in particular, to his conflict with the chief of the city police – and intends to appeal the court decision.

In June, we became aware of two cases of prosecution under Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offences for demonstration of Nazi symbols not aimed at propaganda of Nazism. Ivan Polukarov, a volunteer of Alexei Navalny’s headquarters in Tula, spent seven days under arrest for publishing the video Hello, I am a Russian Occupier (which shows Nazi symbols in one of its frames), despite the fact that the video condemns Nazism. The case against above-mentioned Togliatti resident Sergei Ionov under Article 20.3 was opened for images of a Mercedes with the swastika published by him on a social network; once again, the context was not taken into account.

In at least two cases over the past month, the courts inappropriately imposed a fine under Article 13.15 of the Code of Administrative Offences. The Magistrate Court of the Soviet District in the Republic of Crimea fined Rustem Mennanov, an activist of the Crimean Tatar national movement, 2,000 rubles under Article 13.15 Part 2 of the Administrative Code (dissemination of information about an organization included into a published list of social and religious associations in respect of which a court of law has rendered an effective decision to liquidate it or to prohibit the activities thereof). On November 13, 2016, Mennanov shared on his Facebook page a congratulatory message by the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People to Mustafa Dzhemilev on occasion of his 73rd birthday. The text in the Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar languages mentioned Mejlis, but failed to mention its status as a banned organization. The organization was added to the list of banned entities in February 2017, so the 2016 publication cannot be covered under Article 13.15 of the Administrative Code, which, moreover, only applies to mass media and blogs with an audience exceeding 3,000 users.

The Tver Magistrates Court fined The New Times magazine 100 thousand rubles under Article 13.15 Part 6 of the Administrative Code (production of mass media, publicly justifying terrorism) for publishing the material From Kaluga with Jihad by Pavel Nikulin. At the same time, the court returned to Roskomnadzor a warning issued to the magazine in May for the same material. Roskomnadzor claimed that Nikulin’s interview with a fighter from Jabhat al-Nusra organization, banned in Russia, contained signs of justifying terrorism. In our opinion, the material From Kaluga with Jihad contained no such incitement.

As we found out in June, a resident of Alexandrov in the Vladimir Region had been fined under Article 20.28 Part 1 of the Administrative Code (organization of activity of a religious association, in whose respect a decision has been taken to suspend its activity) for holding regular meetings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses religious association in a residential building. You may remember that the activities of the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia and nearly four hundred local communities were suspended in mid-March for the duration of the Supreme Court consideration of the claim by the Ministry of Justice’s seeking to ban the organization; the claim was satisfied in April.

In late June, after a court hearing in the case of illegal missionary work under Article 5.26 (such prosecutions are covered in our Religion in Secular Society section), Vitaly Arsenyuk, the sixty-seven-year-old leader of the local Jehovah’s Witnesses community, died from a major heart attack in Dzhankoy (Republic of Crimea). We consider it necessary to pay attention to this tragic incident, which shows the consequences of the persecution campaign against Jehovah’s Witnesses, launched by the authorities, which has no legitimate grounds.

Banning Materials as Extremist

A number of books that we view as prohibited inappropriately were added to the Federal List of Extremist Materials in June. These include Selected Hadith by Muhammad Yusuf Kandhlawiand Piety and the Fear of God [Blagochestiie i Bogoboyaznennost] by Muhammad Zakariya Kandhlawi, which contain no signs of extremism and have been prohibited only because their authors were ideologists of Tablighi Jamaat movement, banned in Russia (in our opinion, this ban lacked reasonable justifications). Notably, the texts presented in the Selected Hadith collection are the ancient legends about the words and actions of the Prophet Muhammad that are sacred for Muslims; Muhammad Yusuf Kandhlawi only selected and sorted them by subject. The decisions to ban these publications were issued by the Kirovsky District Court of Ufa on February 1, 2017.

In addition, in accordance with the decision of the Svetly City Court of the Kaliningrad Region issued in March 2017, the Federal List of Extremist Materials came to include the books Muslim Faith (Aqidah) by Ahmed Said Kilavuz, Islam. Briefly on What’s Most Important by Fahd ibn Ahmad al-Mubarak and From Shiism to Islam by Ali Mohammed al-Qudaibi. We found no incendiary statements in any of the above materials.

The Federal List of Extremist Material also came to include the Jehovah’s Witnesses publication Youth Issues: Practical Advice, Volume 2 (N. Y., 2008). The decision to ban the book was issued in March 2017 by the Proletarsky District Court of Rostov-on-Don. Another edition of this book was recognized as extremist in 2009. We believe that bans against Jehovah's Witnesses materials on the basis of advocating the superiority of their religion over others is inappropriate.

In mid-June, the Kogita publishing house received a notice that the prosecutor of the Moscow district of St. Petersburg had filed a lawsuit seeking to recognize the book Oriental Reflections by the Polish publicist Jan Nowak-Jeziorański as banned for distribution in Russia, and to add its digital version to the Registry of Banned Websites. The prosecutors indicated that Oriental Reflections should be banned in order to “protect the spiritual and moral values of the multiethnic people of Russia.” The text of the prosecutorial statement is accompanied by the expert examinations, conducted by the Ministry of Justice and by staff members of St. Petersburg State University and the Herzen State Pedagogical University of Russia, which asserted that the essays within the collection were “found to contain unreliably narrated historical events,” and Russia “is presented as a country where cruel crimes have often been committed;” the texts also contained “accusations of the Soviet leaders I. V. Stalin and Yu. V. Andropov” and “knowingly false statements about Russian President Vladimir Putin as a man “loyal to the criminal traditions of the KGB.””

The entire print run (529 copies) of Oriental Reflections was seized from the printing house in February 2016, to check for extremism upon request of the Russian Way movement, which demanded that the publishers face criminal responsibility under Articles 282 and 354.1 (rehabilitation of Nazism). In May 2016, the Investigative Committee issued a resolution refusing to open a criminal case. However, this decision, along with several subsequent ones, has been overturned, and yet another inspection is currently in progress. We believe that the texts included in the Oriental Reflections collection contain no aggressive statements that could be qualified as extremist. The prohibition of opinion-based journalism for criticizing politicians or containing interpretations, which do not correspond to someone’s ideas about history, will constitute a clear example of restricting freedom of speech and censoring historical debate.