Misuse of Anti-Extremism in November 2017
The following is our review of the primary and most representative events in the misuse of Russia’s anti-extremist legislation in November 2017.
On November 14, a plenary meeting of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation adopted a resolution that clarified certain aspects of the legislation on protecting the interests of children when resolving related disputes. In particular, the Supreme Court expanded the list of acts seen as falling within the definition of “abuse of parental rights” and can be used as the grounds for termination of parental rights under the Family Code. The Supreme Court recommends adding to the list such acts as involving children “in activities of a public or religious association or other organization, with respect to which an enforceable court decision on its liquidation or prohibition of activities has been issued (Article 9 of Federal Law No. 114- FZ “On Combating Extremist Activity” of July 25, 2002; Article 24 of the Federal Law No. 35-FZ of March 6, 2006 “On Counteraction to Terrorism”). Notably, the concept of “involving children in activities of the organization” is not defined in the legislation, providing opportunities for its expansive interpretation by law enforcement agencies and courts. In addition, the Supreme Court failed even to indicate that termination of parental rights should be preceded by a court conviction for involving a child in the activities of a banned organization. Thus, believers and political activists find themselves in a situation, in which they are facing not only potential inappropriate criminal charges for being involved in banned organizations, but also the threat of their children being removed from the family for no valid reason. We would like to remind that, in our opinion, a number of religious associations and organizations of a political nature are prohibited in Russia inappropriately. Even if the courts refrain from wide application of this Supreme Court decision in their practice, the very existence of such recommendations creates an additional “preventive” instrument for exerting pressure on citizens and pushing them to abandon the beliefs, which the authorities find objectionable, or to give up their protest activity.
On November 25, President Putin signed a law on “foreign agents” media, which also creates the widest opportunities for blocking Internet resources. The law was immediately published and has entered into force. Amendments to the law On Information, Information Technologies and Information Protection make extrajudicial blocking possible not only with respect to websites that contain calls for extremist activity, riots, or participation in actions without permits, but also websites that contain materials from “undesirable organizations” as well as “information, allowing to access” to any of the above. The meaning of the phrase “information allowing to access” is not entirely clear. But, at the very least, it implies hyperlinks to the websites or any publications of “undesirable organizations” or to calls, even extremely dated ones, to participate in non-permitted actions – and such links can be found on numerous sites of all kinds. Probably, a website can also be blocked for posting instructions on the ways to obtain anonymous access to problematic resources via VPN or anonymizers. We can’t exclude the possibility of an even broader interpretation – it is possible that any description of methods to find such materials falls under the ban.
On November 16, the State Duma adopted in the first reading a bill, submitted by Adalbi Shkhagoshev and supported by a large number of deputies, on increasing responsibility for facilitating terrorism. The bill proposes to change the wording of Part 4 of Article 205.1 (contributing to terrorist activities) by expanding the list of acts that could be interpreted as “contributing to terrorist activities.” The initiative consists of introducing punishment, up to life in prison, for some of the crimes that fall under Article 205.1 Part 1 of the Criminal Code. The bill looks insufficiently developed from the legal perspective, and the proposed innovations are unlikely to have a significant impact on legal practice. Probably, the bill’s authors and the deputies who supported it were guided primarily by their desire to demonstrate diligence in the fight against the terrorist threat.
Тhe Practice of the European Court of Human Rights
The website of the European Court of Human Rights continues to publish information on the complaints against decisions of Russian courts that were communicated in the fall of 2017.
Thus, in early September, the ECHR communicated the complaint from Dennis Ole Christensen, a citizen of Denmark, who was charged under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code for organizing the activities of an extremist organization (the community of Jehovah's Witnesses in Oryol) and placed under arrest in May 2017. In his complaint lodged with the ECHR, Christensen indicated that he regarded his arrest and the likelihood of criminal conviction as an unlawful, unjustified and disproportionate interference with his right to practice his religion in community with others, and that he had been subjected to discriminatory treatment on account of his faith. The ECHR asked Russia to clarify whether a violation of Article 9 of the Convention, which protects freedom of conscience, on its own or in conjunction with Article 14, which prohibits discrimination, could have taken place. In addition, the Russian side was asked whether the decision regarding Christensen’s arrest had been based on “relevant and sufficient” reasons.
In mid-September, the ECHR communicated the complaint of Vasily Bokin, the author of an article entitled To Stop the Genocide – published in the local newspaper Nash Golos – which was recognized as extremist in 2012. Bokin's article was published in 2009 as an open letter from Bokin to residents of the village of Oskino, who did not teach their children the Erzya (Mordvinian) language. The Inzensky District Court of the Ulyanovsk Region decided to ban it in August 2012 (the decision was approved by the regional court in October of the same year), having found that the article could contribute to incitement of hatred or enmity towards Russians or those Mordvinians, who did not support of the teaching of the local language, and that it contained indirect calls for violence. The ECHR issued a number of questions for Russia in connection with this complaint, including whether the principles of equality of sides and adversarial procedure were complied with (in relation to Bokin contesting the expert evidence); whether the article, fairly construed and seen in its immediate or wider context, could be viewed as a direct or indirect call for violence or as a justification of violence, hatred or intolerance; whether it could directly or indirectly, lead to any harmful consequences; whether the ban was necessary in a democratic society; whether the ban, as well as the decision that Bokin was to cover the litigation expenses, violated Article 10 of the Convention on Human Rights on freedom of expression. We believe that To Stop the Genocide was recognized as extremist inappropriately – its author did not call for violence and even stated directly that it was harmful, but the overall tone of the text could make a reader more inclined toward a violent scenario, therefore, in our opinion, a warning to Nash Golos would have been an adequate measure.
The complaint submitted by Cherkessky Kongress (Circassian Congress), an Adyghe non-governmental organization that have since voluntarily disbanded, and by one of its leaders Zaur Dzeukozhev was communicated on the same day. Cherkessky Kongress as an organization challenged the warning, issued by the Department of Justice of the Republic of Adygea in September 2011. The legality of the warning was confirmed by the Maikop City Court and the Supreme Court of the Republic in 2012. The warning came after the publication by the leader of Cherkessky Kongress, of an online thank-you letter, in which he thanked the Parliament of Georgia, for recognizing “the fact of genocide of the Circassian (Adyghe) people by the Russian State during the Russo-Circassian war of 1763-1864.” The Ministry of Justice decided that “such statements set the Russian and the Circassian peoples against each other, and, therefore, incite ethnic strife” and reprimanded the organization for falsifying historical facts on the grounds that “historiography uses the term “ Russo-Caucasian war;” the term” Russo-Circassian War is not used.” We view the actions of the Ministry of Justice as inappropriate, since a terminological choice for designating historical events is not, in and of itself, an extremist activity. Zaur Dzeukozhev challenged the warning about the impermissibility of extremist activity, issued to him, as a deputy chairman of the organization, in November 2010 by the Republic Directorate of the Ministry of Justice (and upheld by the Supreme Court of the Republic in 2011) for an interview he had given to a local newspaper and for a post on the Internet. We have no information regarding the content of these texts. Dzeukozhev also challenged the decision to dismiss his defamation claim against two newspapers in Adygea, which, in 2011, described him as a person involved in extremist activities. The ECHR asked the Russian authorities whether the actions of the Ministry of Justice and the national courts violated Article 10 of the European Convention, and whether the interference in this case with regard to the applicants' exercise of their right to freedom of expression, was “necessary in a democratic society.” In addition, the ECHR posed the question whether Dzeukozhev's right to effective judicial remedy had been respected in accordance with Article 13 of the Convention, and whether the dismissal of the Dzeukozhev’s defamation case violated his right to private life, guaranteed by Article 8 of the Convention.
In late September, the ECHR communicated the complaint of Vladimir Luzgin from Perm. Luzgin disputes the verdict issued against him in 2016, according to which he had been sentenced to a fine of 200 thousand rubles under Article 354.1 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (justification of Nazism). The court found that the article 15 Facts about Bandera, or What the Kremlin Is Silent About, shared by Luzgin, contained deliberately false facts about the joint attack by the USSR and Germany against Poland on September 1, 1939, and the unleashing of the Second World War by these states – the facts not reflected in the verdict of the Nuremberg Tribunal. According to the court, Luzgin had knowingly disseminated false information because of his support for the ideology of Ukrainian nationalism. In our opinion, the article shared by Luzgin includes a rather permissive interpretation of the core meaning of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, but we believe that interpretation, ignorance, misrepresentation, even deliberate distortion of historical facts should not trigger criminal prosecution, unless they are accompanied by appeals that incite hatred and present an immediate danger (such appeals are subject to prosecution under Article 282 of the Criminal Code). In connection with Luzgin’s complaint, ECHR posed the following questions to Russia: whether the verdict to Luzgin had been issued in violation of Article 7 of the European Convention, which guarantees punishment solely on the basis of the law, and whether the offender could have foreseen that his actions would fall under Article 354.1 of the Criminal Code; whether this interference with the applicant's exercise of his right to freedom of speech, as guaranteed by Article 10 of the Convention, was prescribed by law and necessary in a democratic society.
In mid-October, the Court communicated the complaint against their verdict by Andrei Yerofeyev and Yuri Samodurov – the organizers of the exhibition Forbidden Art 2006 found guilty of inciting religious hatred, and the complaint against the ban imposed on his work, by Alexander Savko, whose painting had been on display for this exhibition and was later recognized as extremist material. Yerofeyev and Samodurov were found guilty under Part 2 point “b” of Article 282 (incitement of hatred with the use of official position) in July 2010 by the Tagansky court of Moscow and sentenced to the fines of 200 and 150 thousand rubles, respectively. On October 4, 2010, the Moscow City Court upheld this sentence. The organizers of Forbidden Art 2006, held in the Sakharov Center, were accused of inciting religious hatred due to the fact that the exhibition had featured works on religious topics by contemporary artists, who, according to Orthodox activists, took excessive liberties when dealing with religious symbols. The court decision stated that the exhibition insulted the feelings of believers (you may recall that, at that time, this concept had not yet been introduced into the legislation). Alexander Savko's painting The Sermon on the Mount from the series Mickey Mouse’s Trip through the History of Art – the engraving of the Sermon on the Mount scene by Julius Schnorr von Karolsfeld, with the figure of Christ replaced by Mickey Mouse – was recognized (along with its reproduction posted on the Internet) as extremist material by the decision of the Zhukovsky District Court of the Kaluga Region; the Kaluga Regional Court upheld the ban in 2012. The ECHR posed a question to the Russian authorities whether the court decisions relating to the case of Yerofeyev and Samodurov and banning Savko's painting violated Article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which guarantees the right to freedom of expression.
Prosecutions for Incitement to Ethnic Hatred and Oppositional Statements
In mid-November, the Petrogradsky District Court of St. Petersburg issued a verdict under Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (incitement to hatred and abasement of dignity on the grounds of ethnicity) against Anatoly Pleshanov, the administrator of the VKontakte group “Overheard in the Tver Region.” The court imposed a one-year suspended sentence. The charges against the administrator were based on his statements, published in “Konakovo and Konakovsky District” group on VKontakte in the summer of 2014. The author expressed extremely negative opinion towards Ukrainians who decided to move to Russia, and also spoke out against the annexation of Crimea. He also made negative statements regarding migrants from Central Asia, but was not found guilty of inciting hatred against them. Pleshanov did not call for violence or other unlawful actions against Ukrainians; his statements can only be regarded as abasement of dignity on the basis of ethnicity, therefore, we saw no need for criminal prosecution in this case. SOVA Center believes that humiliation of dignity should be decriminalized as an act that does not pose a great danger to the society; the relevant formula can be transferred from the Criminal Code to the Code of Administrative Offenses or the Civil Code.
At the same time, we were informed about the newly initiated criminal proceedings under Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code against Valery Bolshakov – the chairman of the Union of Workers of Sevastopol and the secretary of the Sevastopol city organization of the Russian United Labor Front (ROT FRONT) party. According to the activist, on November 14, officers of the Investigative Committee and local FSB conducted a search in his apartment and beat him up in the process. Then he was taken for interrogation to the investigative department of the Nakhimovsky District in Sevastopol. His appointed lawyer was trying to persuade the activist to admit guilt in exchange for a suspended sentence. As a result, Bolshakov was released under travel restrictions and was given a judgment, stating that he “in the period, starting from 05.01.2015, espoused ideas of intolerance to the social group “the Terek Cossacks” and committed abasement of dignity of this social group.” We do not know, which of Bolshakov’s statement form the grounds for the charges against him. However, given the nature of his political activities, we are inclined to believe that he refrained from any calls for violence, and has been prosecuted inappropriately. In addition, as we mentioned above, we believe that abasement of dignity should be decriminalized.
In late November, the Krasnogvardeysky District Court of St. Petersburg issued a verdict in the case of Vladimir Timoshenko, finding him guilty of inciting hatred toward the social group “employees of agencies and institutions of the state” (Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced to two years in a maximum-security colony. The defense intends to appeal the verdict. Timoshenko was previously convicted in 2010 in the Novgorod Region for an attempt to prepare a terrorist attack (he intended to blow up the wall of the Novgorod Kremlin to draw attention to the problems of “Russia and the Russian people,”) as well as in Kislovodsk, in 2011, for illegal manufacture and trafficking of weapons. In January 2015, while in a penal colony in the Novgorod Region, Timoshenko dictated over the telephone to his fiancée the text, which she then published on his behalf in the “Slavic Strength – Nord West Peterburg” community on VKontakte. The text was dedicated to the “fight” against “the antinational regime of Putin and his power base, the punitive-repressive apparatus” and contained a call to “deliver a crushing blow” against this apparatus. We believe that the verdict to Timoshenko was inappropriate. In our opinion, the employees of agencies and institutions of the state do not constitute a vulnerable social group that needs protection in the form of anti-extremist legislation; moreover, the published text, unlike other documents seized from Timoshenko, contained а call only for an abstract “crushing blow,” not to any specific actions.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation satisfied the appeal of the Prosecutor General's Office and returned the case of Igor Stenin, the leader of the Russians of Astrakhan movement, to be considered anew by the appellate court, that is, by the Astrakhan Regional Court, which had earlier annulled his guilty verdict under Article 280 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (public incitement to extremist activity via the Internet). We would like to remind that Stenin, the leader of the Russians of Astrakhan movement, was sentenced by the Soviet District Court of Astrakhan in May 2016 to two years of the settlement colony. The court found him guilty of publishing on VKontakte under the pseudonym “Ingvar Stefan” a post on the subject of the war in Ukraine, which called for destruction of the “Kremlin invaders.” He was also charged for the comment made by another user, which the investigation mistook for a post shared by Stenin). On the orders of the Supreme Court, the verdict was reviewed and abolished for lack of corpus delicti. However, now the court will return for the consideration of the third party comment, despite the fact that Stenin have never shared it.
In mid-November, the Gryazovetsky District Court in the Vologda Region acquitted civic activist Yevgeny Domozhirov, who had been charged under Part 1 of Article 282 for inciting hatred toward the social group of “Vologda police officers.” As you may remember, Domozhirov posted on his website a material, in which he, in harsh terms, described the local police officers, who had arrived to conduct a search at his house and had damaged his mother's hand in the ensuing squabble. Domozhirov was also cleared of defamation charges related to a local entrepreneur, but was found guilty of insulting a police officer (Article 319 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced to 60 hours of mandatory labor.
In November, we recorded five cases of prosecution under Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses for demonstration of Nazi symbols not intended as propaganda of Nazism – that is, the kind that, in our opinion, should not entail any sanctions.
Aleksey Postanogov, a resident of Nadym, was fined under Article 20.3 in mid-October; this decision was upheld by the court of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District in mid-November. The charges were based on the fact that, in May 2014, Postanogov published a video on his VKontakte page on the subject of aggressive actions by Ukrainian nationalists, in particular during and after the Euromaidan. The video contained photographs and videos of members of the ultra-right organizations banned in Russia with the corresponding symbols, photographs and videos of people throwing their hands in the Nazi salute, as well as the flag of Ukraine with the swastika on it. Postanogov – a supporter of the Great Fatherland Party [Partiya Velikoe Otechestvo] headed by Nikolai Starikov – published the video with the obvious purpose of accusing Ukrainian nationalists of Nazism, which he denounced.
In late October, opposition activist Raisa Pogodaeva from Goryachy Klyuch in the Krasnodar Region, was arrested for 10 days for sharing a video by blogger Leonid Kudinov from Kuban. The video covered the arrest of the coordinator of protest walks from the Artpodgotovka movement, which took place in Krasnodar under the same Article 20.3 Code of Administrative Offences; the video stated that “patriotic” citizens regularly published images with swastikas without facing any consequences, and provided the examples of such collages. Kudinov had been previously fined for distributing this video as well. The blogger's misadventures continued in November, when Kudinov was prosecuted under same article twice. In mid-November, he was sentenced to 24 hours under arrest, and then to a fine of 2.5 thousand rubles later in the month for his new videos, on which he talked about his existing administrative case. In one of the videos he suggested punishing everyone who publishes collages with Western politicians in Nazi images; in another one he illustrated an anecdote about prosecuting a teacher who drew the swastika on a blackboard; in the third video he claimed that the neo-Nazis, who had fought in Donbass on the side of the unrecognized republics, never face any responsibility for their display of Nazi symbols.
In the latter part of November, Sergei Demidov, a resident of Volgograd, was fined for posting images of the flag of the Third Reich and details of the uniforms of Nazi military units on his VKontakte page. Demidov is interested in the history of the Great Patriotic War – particularly the Battle of Stalingrad – and participates in excavations of the battlegrounds in the Volgograd Region; he published photographs of the finds on his page. The content of his page shows no sympathy for Nazism.
Prosecutions against Religious Organizations and Believers
In early November, the Leninsky District Court of Makhachkala handed down a verdict under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code in the case of Ziyavdin Dapayev, Sukhrab Kaltuyev and Artur Kaltuyev, having found them guilty of organizing home madrassas – cells of the religious organization Nurcular (banned in Russia) – and spreading the teachings of the Turkish theologian Said Nursi. Dapayev was sentenced to four years of imprisonment in a minimum-security penal colony, the Kaltuyev brothers – to three years. We view the prohibition against Nurcular as inappropriate, especially since it has never existed in Russia to begin with – there are only individual believers who face unreasonable persecution for studying the books of Said Nursi, which contain no signs of radicalism.
Uralbek Karaguzinov and Mirsultan Nasirov, charged under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code for participation in the activities of Nurcular, were released from criminal responsibility with only a court-imposed fine in mid-November by the decision of the Oktyabrsky District Court of Novosibirsk. Both were accused of participating in the activities of the home madrassa organized by Komil Odilov. Article 76.2 of the Criminal Code stipulates that a first-time offender, who has committed a crime of small or medium gravity, could be released from criminal responsibility by the court with a court-imposed fine, in the event that the fine compensates the damage or otherwise redresses the harm caused by the crime. Karaguzinov and Nasirov petitioned for this rule to be applied. They accepted the charges, apologized to the state and committed themselves to telling their acquaintances about the ban on the activities of Nurcular in Russia. The court charged each of them a fine of 90 thousand rubles, ordering student Nasirov to pay it within two months, and retiree Karaguzinov – within six months.
At the end of the month, the Babushkinsky District Court of Moscow sentenced Kyrgyz-born Kubanychbek Sadyrov to two years in a minimal security penal colony, finding him guilty of participating in the activities of the extremist religious movement Tablighi Jamaat (Article 282.2 Part 2). Sadyrov pleaded guilty; the case was heard under a special procedure.
In mid-November, according to media reports that cited the FSB, 69 people suspected of involvement in the activities of the banned religious movement Tablighi Jamaat were detained in Moscow. According to the FSB, “the cell was headed by immigrants from Central Asia,”“the group included Russians as well,”“prohibited literature and means of communication, as well as electronic media with reports of illegal activities were seized from members of the organization.” The next day the Kuntsevsky Court of Moscow placed five of them under arrest for two months. The fate of the other detainees is not known.
In the latter half of the month, the FSB Border Service Directorate for the Kurgan and the Tyumen Regions reported that its staff had denied entry into the country to 39 members of Tablighi Jamaat since the year began.
We would like to remind here that we view the ban against the movement and prosecutions against its supporters as inappropriate, since Tablighi Jamaat, albeit engaged in propaganda of Islam in its fundamentalist version, was never known to be involved in political activities or calls for violence.
In late November, the Moscow District Military Court found Kyrgyzstan-born Zhoodarbek Toktomuratov guilty under Part 2 of Article 205.5 (participation in the activities of an organization recognized as terrorist) for his involvement in the activities of the Islamic radical party Hizb ut-Tahrir; he was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in a maximum-security colony. The defense intends to appeal the verdict.
In the latter half of the month, Alla Bespalova – the wife of Isa Ragimov, who was convicted as a Hizb ut-Tahrir member in 2016 – was arrested in St. Petersburg on charges of collaborating with Hizb ut-Tahrir. According to the investigation, Bespalova was in charge of the “regional Hizb ut-Tahrir women's cell; the charges have been filed under Article 205.5 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (organizing activities of a terrorist organization).
We would like to remind that we view charging Hizb ut-Tahrir members with terrorist propaganda based solely on the fact of their party activities (holding meetings, reading literature, etc.) and prosecuting them under antiterrorist articles as inappropriate.
In November, we learned that in the middle of October the Zelenchuksky District Court of Karachay-Cherkessia fined local residents Lyadif Kipkeyev and Ali Ebzeyev a thousand rubles each under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offences (storage of extremist materials for mass distribution). Kipkeyev was brought to justice after law enforcement authorities seized from him the forbidden Kniga Iedinobozhiya [The Book of Monotheism] by Saleh Al-Fawzan. Kipkeyev explained that he had not been aware of the ban against the book and had not read all of it; however, he had read excerpts from it to his acquaintances. Ali Ebzeyev kept in his house the book Stolpy Islama i Very [Pillars of Islam and Faith], recognized as extremist, and discussed its contents in the mosque. We view the ban against both books as unfounded, and, therefore, regard the prosecution for their storage and discussion as inappropriate.
In mid-November, the Sovetsky District Court of Kazan started its consideration of the claim by the Tatarstan Prosecutor's Office to recognize the book Krugi po Vode [Islam and Terrorism: What the Qur'an really teaches about Christianity, violence and the goals of the Islamic jihad] by Mark Gabriel as extremist material. The respondent in the case is the Euro-Asian Missionary Center [Yevroaziatsky missionersky tsentr] – a local religious organization of Evangelical Christians, in whose library this book was discovered. The Prosecutor's Office requests that the entire book be considered extremist, with the exception of surahs, ayat and other quotes from the Quran. The charges were based on an expert opinion that the book included statements about the superiority of Christianity over Islam. We doubt the validity of the claim. The author of the book, who describes himself as a former professor of Islamic History in Egypt, who has converted to Christianity, argues that the Islamic doctrine has contributed to the bloodshed and spread of hatred from its very beginning and continues to do so, but he blames only Islamic fundamentalists for the violence and not moderate Muslims, and, on his part, the author does not call for any violent actions.
Four Jehovah's Witnesses’ publications were added to the Federal List of Extremist Materials in November: two bulletins How Does Jehovah Communicate with People and Elders, Are You Trying to Teach Your Brothers?, brochure How Do I Feel about Blood Fractions and Medical Procedures Using My Own Blood and the Watchtower magazine issue of June 15, 2015. We believe that prohibition of the Jehovah's Witnesses literature as extremist is unfounded, and we regard prosecutions for its dissemination as religious discrimination.
In November, it became known that the Pushkinsky District Court of St. Petersburg is considering the claim of the city prosecutor's office to recognize books and brochures by American preacher William Branham as extremist materials. Evening Light – the non-profit community organization, which distributes these publications – has been involved in the process as an interested party. The St. Petersburg Directorate of the Ministry of Justice sent Branham’s texts to the local Center for Combating Extremism in 2016 to be checked for the signs of extremism. The opinion of the experts from St. Petersburg State University, commissioned by the Center for Combating Extremism, stated that the author used the neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) techniques, put his teachings above the teachings of other churches, and creates an “image of the enemy” in the form of “the Catholic (the category that, for the author, also includes the Orthodox) and Protestant churches,” by insulting the feelings of “the relevant groups of clergy and believers,” labeling his opponents as sectarians, and instilling “the ideas of a person’s inferiority on the basis of their religious affiliation.” Apparently, Branham’s text contain no calls for violence, while the statements regarding the verity of one set of religious beliefs and the fallacies of all the others are typical for any religious doctrine. Therefore, we are inclined to consider these prosecutorial claims inappropriate.
Prosecutions for Anti-Religious Statements
In mid-November, we were informed about a criminal case initiated against a resident of Oryol under Article 148 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (violation of the right to freedom of conscience and religion). According to the investigation, the defendant published several photos, “the content of which expresses obvious disrespect to the society and is intended to insult the religious feelings of believers” on his VKontakte page in the period from December 2012 to February 2016. The exact content of the photographs was not reported. Note, that we opposed the introduction of Article 148 (insulting the feelings of believers) into the Criminal Code, because we believed that this vague concept did not and could not have a clear legal meaning. If the images, published by the Oryol resident, contained no aggressive appeals that could be qualified under Article 282 of the Criminal Code (the incitement of hatred), he is being prosecuted inappropriately.