Misuse of Anti-Extremism in October 2018
The following is our review of the primary and most representative events in the misuse of Russia’s anti-extremist legislation in October 2018.
The public discussion of the need to reform the anti-extremist legislation resulted in the introduction of a package of bills partially decriminalizing Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (incitement to hatred or enmity) by Russian President Vladimir Putin to the State Duma in early October. Purportedly, under the new Administrative Code Article 20.3.1 (the content of which corresponds to the content of the current Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code) citizens will be fined 10 to 20 thousand rubles, sentenced to up to 100 hours of community service, or put under arrest for up to 15 days. In addition, this article introduces possible liability for legal entities in the form of a fine in the amount of 250 to 500 thousand rubles. According to the proposed amendments, a citizen is subject to criminal liability under Article 282 Part 1 in the cases when s/he has faced responsibility under Article 20.3.1 of the Administrative Code within the past 12 months.
A Prosecutor General’s order to strengthen prosecutorial oversight over the investigations related to extremist crimes was signed in late September and published in October. In court cases that pertain to extremist statements the Prosecutor General’s Office, following the lead of the Supreme Court, focused on examining the motive of the supposed perpetrators and establishing the intent of inciting hatred; it further required that not only distributors, but also creators of such content be held accountable. The document specifically emphasizes that prosecutors need to put an end to the cases of unreasonable prosecution; at the same time, they should examine the legal validity of terminations of criminal cases and report the results to the Prosecutor General’s Office, as well as maintain detailed regional-level registers of extremist crimes and reports pertaining to such crimes. The document also raised the issue of the expert opinion quality in such cases. Finally, the prosecutor-general’s order paid the greatest attention to the need to investigate violent hate crimes and cases on extremist communities and organizations. We can assume that this document outlines the contours of a new law enforcement strategy for applying anti-extremist legislation.
In addition, President Putin signed a law allowing to ban foreigners, who are on the Rosfinmonitoring list of extremists and terrorists (as well as those whose bank accounts were frozen by a court or by the Interdepartmental Commission on Counteracting the Financing of Terrorism), from entering Russia. It should be noted that, in practice, foreigners included on the extremists’ list were regularly barred from entering the country even prior to these amendments “in order to ensure the defense capability or security of the state”.
Prosecutions for Incitement to Hatred and Oppositional Statements
Once the plenary meeting of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation adopted amendments to the procedure for considering extremism-related cases in September, law enforcement agencies changed their position on several court cases. The case opened under Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code against Natalia Kovalyova, who published satirical songs about corruption in the judicial community, has been dropped in Saratov – the investigation failed to find an intention to incite hatred in her actions. A court in Barnaul returned to the prosecutor for ascertainment of new evidence the case of Maria Motuznaya, accused under Article 282 Part 1 and Article 148 Part 1 (insulting the feelings of believers) of the Criminal Code for publishing four pictures on VKontakte (Motuznaya has since violated her travel restrictions and left Russia). In addition, in the same city, a suspended sentence for Natalia Telegina, convicted in 2017 under the same articles for repost of seven anti-Christian images and one picture directed against natives of the Caucasus region, was overturned based on the proposal of the local administration of the Federal Penitentiary Service.
Meanwhile, a court in Moscow returned the case of retiree Vyacheslav Gorbaty to the prosecutor due to the vagueness and inconsistency of the charges. Gorbaty has been charged under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (participation in the activities of an extremist organization) for his involvement in the Initiative Group of the Referendum “For Responsible Power” (IGPR “ZOV”), viewed by the investigation as the successor of the Army of People’s Will (Armia Voli Naroda, AVN) banned in 2010. We believe that the AVN, an organization of the Stalinist-nationalist kind repeatedly implicated in xenophobic propaganda, was banned inappropriately since the decision to recognize it as extremist was based solely on the ban of the leaflet promoting a referendum. Accordingly, we also view the prosecution against Gorbaty as inappropriate.
At the same time, a criminal case under Article 354.1 Part 2 of the Criminal Code was opened in Cheboksary (inappropriately, in our opinion) against opposition blogger Konstantin Ishutov, who published on Facebook a 1941 German flyer with promises to the residents of the USSR; the publication was accompanied by his comment that the Third Reich cared more for the Soviet people “than Putin does for the Russian people.” The blogger’s choice of the words was unfortunate – his statement could, in fact, be interpreted as an indirect approval of the Nazi actions. At the same time, the content of Ishutov’s pages on social networks shows no indication of any interest toward Nazi ideology – obviously, his intent was not to justify Nazism, but to criticize the policies of the Russian president. We believe that, in this case, an order to take down the publication would have been appropriate and sufficient. In addition, it is unclear why the case was initiated under Part 2 of the Criminal Code article on the rehabilitation of Nazism, which punishes acts committed with the use of official position, use of mass media or intentional creation of prosecutorial evidence.
The administrative cases related to the display of prohibited symbols presented a variety of outcomes. While Oleg Astafyev from Novokuznetsk was fined one thousand rubles under Article 20.3 Part 1 of the Administrative Code (public demonstration of Nazi symbols) for publishing the “Punk Anthem” music video by the Red Mold [Krasnaia Plesen] band, his compatriot Konstantin Ostroukhov, who managed to obtain the expert opinion of a cultural studies scholar, succeeded in having his identical case dropped. The video does, indeed, include Nazi symbols, but is generally directed against Nazism. By the same token, the Novokuznetsk Juvenile Affairs Commission discontinued the case of Lev Gyammer, charged for publishing four comic videos on VKontakte that did not advocate Nazism but contained a swastika.
The regional court in Vladimir overturned the ruling to fine opposition activist Kirill Nikolenko 1.5 thousand rubles for the photo of an election leaflet defaced with the swastikas. The decision was based on the plenary ruling of the Supreme Court on considering the extremism-related cases, issued in September.
In Ryazan, however, local resident Anatoly Laptev was fined one thousand rubles for distributing leaflets depicting an SS eagle with the head of Lenin and with a swastika in its claws. Although, as far as we can tell, the leaflets’ publishers adhere to nationalistic and anti-Semitic views, they did not praise Nazism, but, on the contrary, used the Nazi comparison as a way of criticizing Lenin, therefore, from our point of view, there was no legal basis for imposing a fine on Laptev.
Prosecutions against Religious Organizations and Believers
On October 1, a trial in the case of Nail Vakhitov and Salavat Muzafarov – followers of the Turkish theologian Said Nursi, accused of involvement in the prohibited Nurcular association – began in Kazan. The defendants have been charged under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (organizing the activities of an extremist organization). Previously we had no information on this case.
On the same day, Nursi follower Andrei Rekst was sentenced to a fine of 120 thousand rubles under Part 2 of Article 282.2 (participating in the activities of an extremist organization) in Krasnoyarsk. Denis Zhukov of Krasnoyarsk has been charged under the same article as well, as we found out in October.
We view the ban against Nurcular, which never even existed in Russia at all, as inappropriate. In our opinion, there are only individual believers, who face unreasonable persecution for studying the books of Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi.
The court proceedings in the case of nine followers of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir party began in Moscow in early October – Zafar Nodirov, Farhod Nodirov and Hamid Igamberdyev were charged under Article 205.5 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (organizing the activities of a terrorist organization), while Murodzhon Sattorov, Otabek Isomadinov, Alidzhon Odinaev, Aziz Khidirbayev, Sobirdzhon Burkhoniddini and Sardorbek Siddikov were charged under Article 205.5 Part 2 (participation in the activities of a terrorist organization). Rais Gimadiev, Ildar Akhmetzyanov and Eduard Nizamov – the leaders of the Russian wing and the regional Hizb ut-Tahrir structure, according to the FSB – were detained in Kazan on October 11 and arrested the next day under Article 205.5 Part 1 of the Criminal Code. Wheelchair user Amir Gilyazov was arrested in Chelyabinsk in late October as a suspect under Part 2 of Article 205.5, allegedly also in connection with his membership in this banned party.
Hizb ut-Tahrir followers from Sevastopol Akramzhon Abdullayev and Nematzhon Isroilov (citizens of Kyrgyzstan) were convicted in Rostov-on-Don. They were found guilty under Article 205.5 Part 2 and Article 205.1 Part 1 (involvement in terrorist activities) of the Criminal Code and sentenced to 15 and 13 years in prison, respectively. We believe that the radical Hizb ut-Tahrir party could be appropriately banned as an extremist organization, but not as a terrorist organization, since it has never practiced or advocated violence. Accordingly, prosecution of Hizb ut-Tahrir supporters under anti-terrorist articles solely on the basis of their party activities (conducting meetings, reading literature, etc.) is also inappropriate.
The wave of criminal prosecutions against Jehovah's Witnesses continued in October. On October 9, Kirov residents Andrzej Onishchuk (a citizen of Poland), Vladimir Korobeynikov, Andrey Suvorkov, Yevgeny Suvorkov and Maxim Khalturin were detained and then arrested. They have been charged under Article 282.2 Part 1 (organizing the activities of an extremist organization) and Article 282.3 Part 1 of (financing extremist activities) of the Criminal Code. The investigation reported that weapons and ammunition had been found during a search of one of the houses, but the believers claimed that the objects in question were findings from the Great Patriotic War era, which belonged to a relative of one of the defendants in the case.
Jehovah's Witness Anton Lemeshev was detained in mid-October in the city of Dyurtyuli, Bashkortostan, but then transferred under house arrest on October 31.
We view the decision to recognize the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia and 395 of their local communities as extremist, adopted by the Supreme Court of Russia in April 2017, which has become the basis for criminal prosecution of believers, as legally unfounded.
Prosecutions for Anti-Religious Remarks
In early October, a court in Irkutsk proceeded to consider the case of anarchist Dmitry Litvin, charged under Part 1 of Article 148 of the Criminal Code in connection with his publication of four anti-religious images on VKontakte. The defendant refused to have the case terminated due to expiry of the limitation period, since this outcome provided no basis for exoneration. From our point of view, the persecution of Litvin is inappropriate; from the available descriptions of the images, we can conclude that they included no aggressive appeals, and their publication presented no public danger. We are also convinced that the concept of “insulting the feelings of believers,” introduced in Article 148 of the Criminal Code, has no clear legal meaning at all and should not be applied in the legal context.
In October, we also learned about another case of unlawful prosecution under Article 5.26 Part 4 of the Administrative Code (deliberate public desecration of objects of religious worship). Severodvinsk resident Igor Markov was fined 15 thousand rubles in September for the publication of eight atheist memes. From our point of view, posting atheist images, let alone texts, even the crude ones, should not, in and of itself, be interpreted as desecration of objects of religious worship, since published photo collages do not imply any active actions with respect to the actual objects. It is also worth noting that the legislation never defines the concept of “desecration.”