Misuse of Anti-Extremism in January 2018
The following is our review of the primary and most representative events in the misuse of Russia’s anti-extremist legislation in January 2018.
On January 11, 2018, the deputies of the LDPR faction submitted to the State Duma another bill on the abolition of Article 282 of the Criminal Code (incitement to hatred or enmity). The arguments of its authors basically repeat those used by the LDPR in their previous similar initiatives. The bill received negative feedback from the government and the Supreme Court of Russia. It is hard to interpret it as anything other than an electoral season action by the LDPR.
On January 12, the State Duma adopted in the first reading a bill on amending two federal laws: the Law on Media and the Law on Information, Information Technology and Information Protection. The amendment stipulates that individuals can also be regarded as mass media outlets that perform the functions of a “foreign agent. According to the proposed bill, the “foreign agent” media outlets are supposed to establish the corresponding Russian organizations to represent them and use the universal mandatory disclaimer to accompany their materials; in the absence of such a disclaimer for online materials, the website guilty of omission is subject to extra-judicial blocking. The proposal also includes a separate mechanism for blocking “foreign agent” media outlets that refuse to address their violations of the established process.
Тhe Practice of the European Court of Human Rights
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) communicated a number of complaints regarding the decisions issued by Russian courts. In particular, the following complaints were communicated in the cases involving anti-extremist legislation:
• by Rafis Kashapov, the Chairman of the Tatar Public Center sentenced to a prison term for criticizing Russia's policy towards Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea, regarding the use of Article 280.1 of the Criminal Code (public calls for actions aimed at violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation);
• by roofer Vladimir Podrezov, convicted in 2015 under Article 213 Part 2 and Article 214 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (hooliganism and vandalism committed by a group of people motivated by political hatred) in the case related to the star on the steeple of a high-rise building in Moscow that was covered with paint in the colors of the Ukrainian flag.
• by Mikhail Feldman and Oleg Savvin, who, along with Dmitry Fonarev, were convicted in 2015 on the charges of hooliganism committed by a group of persons by previous concert with the motives of political hatred and enmity and of hatred toward the social group “veterans of the Great Patriotic War” (Article 213 Part 2 of the Criminal Code) for hoisting a German flag on the garage of the Kaliningrad Regional FSB Office
• by activist Darya Polyudova from Krasnodar, sentenced to two years in jail in December 2015 under Parts 1 and 2 of Article 280 (public incitement to extremist activities) and Article 280.1 Part 2 (public calls for separatism) of the Criminal Code for her publications on VKontakte, specifically, for sharing a post about the demands of ethnic Ukrainians residing in Kuban, for a photo of herself holding a banner with the word “revolution” on it, and for a text calling for the overthrow of the regime.
Now, the Russian authorities have to answer questions of the Strasbourg Court in connection with these cases; in particular, they need to clarify whether the appellants’ rights to liberty and personal inviolability were violated, and whether the interference with their right to freedom of expression was justified, based on the law, and necessary in a democratic society.
Prosecutions for Incitement to Ethnic Hatred and Oppositional Statements
In mid-January a court in Voskresensk, the Moscow Region, sentenced Valentin Sokolov to one and a half years' imprisonment under Article 282 part 1 of the Criminal Code (incitement to ethnic hatred) for his publications on social networks. In the course of the proceedings, it was established that Sokolov had posted on Odnoklassniki an image containing the text that incited hatred towards Russians, he also posted on Facebook a number of videos accompanied by xenophobic remarks calling, in particular, for violence against black people. We consider this sentence partially inappropriate. The materials of the case indicate that the image, accompanied by the pro-Ukrainian text that included a call for killing the Russians, found on Sokolov’s Odnoklassniki page, was saved in the “Miscellaneous” folder without any explanation. The investigation and the court failed to take into account the fact that all published images on this social network automatically appeared in the “Miscellaneous” folder, while the actual post, in addition to the offending image, also contained a critical commentary by Sokolov.
In mid-January, the Investigative Committee re-qualified the charges in the case of nationalist Dina Garina of St. Petersburg, who was charged under Article 282 part 1 (incitement to hatred on the basis of ethnic affiliation and on the basis of belonging to the social group “Center E employees”) for her speech at a rally. After the court returned the case to the prosecutor, and the prosecutor demanded that the investigation eliminate the violations, Garina's actions were re-qualified under Article 319 of the Criminal Code (insulting a government representative), the statute of limitations for which had already expired. In our opinion, Garina's speech indeed contained insults and racist statements, characterizing the employees of the Centers E (units of the Department for Combating Extremism) as ethnic aliens (of non-Russian or mixed origin), and accusing them of “genetic hatred” towards the Russians. Nevertheless, we doubted the validity of the criminal prosecution of Garina under Article 282 of the Criminal Code – the law enforcement personnel should not be considered a vulnerable social group in need of special protection from manifestations of hatred. We regard the target for incitement to ethnic hatred in Garina's remarks as nebulous, and her statements contained no calls for violence.
Vyacheslav Gorbaty, an activist from the Moscow Region, was put under house arrest in late January; he was accused of involvement in an extremist organization (Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code) and financing it (Article 282.3 Part 1 of the Criminal Code). According to the investigators, the 58-year-old resident of Chernogolovka being the leader of the regional branch of the Initiative Group of the Referendum “For Responsible Power” (Za otvetstvennuyu vlast, IGPR “ZOV”), which continued the activity of the banned Army of People’s Will (Armiya Voli Naroda, AVN) – had collected 143,000 rubles for the organization's activities. The Army of People’s Will, an organization of the Stalinist-nationalist kind repeatedly implicated in xenophobic propaganda, was recognized as extremist in 2010. We view its ban as inappropriate, since this decision was based solely on the ban of the leaflet: You have elected – You are to judge! (Ty izbral – tebe sudit), which we regard as unfounded. Accordingly, we believe that the 2017 verdict against the leaders of the IGPR “ZOV” and the persecution of its members, are also inappropriate.
Special attention should be paid to the authorities’ attempts to invoke anti-extremist legislation in disputes over the use of national languages of the subjects of the Federation. In mid-January, the Prosecutor's Office of Bashkortostan issued a warning regarding the impermissibility of extremist activity to the Congress of the Bashkir People (Kongress bashkirskogo naroda, KBN) for the slogans heard at the rally in defense of the Bashkir language. KBN views the actions of the Prosecutor's Office as pressure related to the upcoming elections.
At the end of the month, the All-Tatar Public Center (Vsetatarsky obshchestvenny tsentr, VTOTs) failed in its attempt to challenge in a district court in Kazan the warning about the impermissibility of extremist activities issued in October by the Prosecutor's Office of Tatarstan. The prosecutorial claims against the organization, in our opinion, had nothing to do with combating extremism, since they dealt exclusively with the VTOTs position on the status of the Tatar language and its use in the official paperwork.
Batyrkhan Agzamov, an activist of the Tatar youth organization Azatlyk, who participated in rallies in Kazan in support of mandatory Tatar-language classes at schools in the Republic, reported that he was facing administrative prosecution under Article 20.3 Part 1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (public demonstration of Nazi symbols) for the publication of a collage, which depicted a member of the Donbass militia receiving a patch decorated with the kolovrat (Slavic solar symbol). The case materials include an expert opinion that confirms the similarity of kolovrat and swastika and mentions the image, listed on the Federal List of Extremist Materials, which included the kolovrat as its integral part. Meanwhile, Agzamov was not engaged in propaganda of Nazism; on the contrary, the image in question denounced the nationalistic views of the Donbass militia. In addition, the fact that a certain image is prohibited does not mean that all its elements are individually prohibited.
Two other cases of apparently inappropriate application of Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offences, reported in January, involved attention paid by law enforcement agencies to volunteers of Alexei Navalny’s campaign. In Petrozavodsk, the Commission on Juvenile Affairs refused on procedural grounds to consider such a case initiated against 17-year-old Daniil Smetansky, who, in 2013, posted on VKontakte an image featuring Putin and Hitler wearing the swastika on his sleeve. The court in Arkhangelsk fined 59-year-old Mikhail Listov one thousand rubles under the same article. Listov was charged for two VKontakte posts made in 2016: a 1945 photograph, in which Soviet soldiers throw Nazi banners on the Red Square during the Victory Day parade, and a still frame from the scandalous dance show, aired on Russia-1 TV channel, where one of the participants wore a Nazi uniform. In both cases, the authors did not engage in propaganda of the Nazi ideology.
The Federal List of Extremist Materials has added an item, which, in our opinion, was banned inappropriately. The text of the song “Kill the Cosmonauts” of the group Ensemble of Christ the Savior and Crude Mother Earth was added to the list as No. 4342. It was recognized as extremist on October 16, 2017 by the Blagoveshchensk City Court of the Amur Region. The court did not take into account the fact that this song, like most others in the Ensemble’s repertoire, was obviously tongue-in-cheek – the authors ridiculed the obscurantism of the Orthodox radicals and their perception of science through the prism of primitive religiosity. In our opinion, this work presents no danger to society; it is hard to imagine that the calls to kill cosmonauts for “climbing to heaven” or the proposal to ban scientific progress, contained in the text, could be taken seriously even by the most radical audience.
Prosecutions against Religious Organizations and Believers
The persecution of supporters of the Islamist party Hizb ut-Tahrir, recognized as terrorist in Russia, has continued. In late December – January, the Privolzhsky District Military Court sentenced four out of five defendants in the case of the Hizb ut-Tahrir “Kazan cell.” Marat Dindarov and Ibragim Shavkatov were sentenced to seven and six years respectively in a minimal security penal colony for participation in the activities of a terrorist organization (article 205.5 Part 2 of the Criminal Code). Kazan resident Ramil Gataullin was sentenced to seven years of imprisonment under the same article, while Amir Khakimullin was convicted of organizing the activities of a terrorist organization (Article 205.5 Part 1, and, according to some sources, also for participation in it) and sentenced to 17 years in a maximum-security penal colony and restriction of freedom for a year. We view the charges of terrorism against Hizb ut-Tahrir's followers merely on the basis of their party activities (holding meetings, reading literature, etc.) as inappropriate.
Prosecutions for Anti-Religious Statements
In mid-January, the magistrate court in Sochi dismissed the criminal case against Viktor Nochevnov, previously convicted under Article 148 part 1 of the Criminal Code (insulting the feelings of believers) due to the statute of limitations. Nochevnov was sentenced to a fine of 50 thousand rubles in August 2017, but, in October, the district court annulled the verdict and sent the case for a new trial. The Sochi resident faced charges for sharing a series of cartoon images of Jesus Christ on a social network. We opposed the criminal prosecution against Nochevnov. In our opinion, the formula “insulting the feelings of believers”, which has no legal meaning, should be removed from the Criminal Code altogether.
We learned in late January that, back in September 2017, musician Daniil Sukachyov of Novgorod was fined 30 thousand rubles under Article 5.26 part 2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (desecration of religious objects), and the district court confirmed the relevant decision of the magistrate in November. Sukachyov published on VKontakte a video set to the song of the Polish black metal band Batushka [Father], which used video of Orthodox worship, edited with addition of various superimposed effects (flames, smoke, etc.). We view the prosecution of the Novgorod resident as inappropriate – he did not create a video, but only posted it on the social network page; in addition, no actual religious objects were desecrated even in the process of creating the video.