Misuse of Anti-Extremism in November 2018
In mid-November, the State Duma adopted in the first reading a presidential package of bills related to partial decriminalization of Article 282 of the Criminal Code (incitement to hatred or enmity). According to the bills, the first violation by citizens or legal entities will entail administrative punishment, while criminal liability comes only after a repeated violation of the law within a year following an administrative prosecution. The Duma intends to pass this law by the end of the year.
A group of deputies forwarded a package of bills to the lower house of parliament on November 22; the goal of this legislation is to institute harsher conditions of serving the sentence for offenders, convicted under a number of the Criminal Code articles (primarily pertaining to terrorism) or the ones having a destructive impact on their cellmates, The idea of making these changes had been suggested by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The authors of the amendments propose expanding the list of conditions, which allow the courts to mandate prison for at least part of the term, and – under a number of Criminal Code articles – to stipulate initial mandatory prison term or even prohibit the transfer of inmates with positive characterizations to penal colonies. In addition, the proposed changes would allow the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia to determine at will the place, where offenders convicted of any crimes would serve their sentences, if noticed to have a “destructive impact” on their cellmates or to engage in propaganda of terrorist ideologies. The new legislation would also allow their arbitrary transfer to other correctional institutions. At the same time, according to the text of the bill, the Federal Penitentiary Service loses such rights in relation to offenders convicted under Article 282.1 Part 2 and Article 282.2 Part 2 (participation in an extremist community or an extremist organization) – evidently, such interventions against ordinary members of extremist organizations, and not their organizers, are viewed as excessive.
In November, the All-Russia People's Front (Obscherossiysky Narodny Front, ONF) forwarded to the Duma Committee on Culture a draft package of amendments to the Administrative Code, to the law “On Immortalization of the Victory of the Soviet people in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945” and to the Law “On Countering Extremist Activities.” The amendments’ purpose is to prevent the chance of citizens facing responsibility “for display of Nazi symbols, when it is done for academic, scholarly, cultural or educational purposes and not accompanied by propaganda of the Nazi ideology.” Earlier, similar bills were drafted by the Ministry of Communications and introduced to the State Duma by Senator Anton Belyakov. The current Russian legislation prohibits any demonstration of Nazi and other banned symbols regardless of whether this action is aimed at promoting the relevant ideology. We have repeatedly pointed out that this ban is absurd and leads to inappropriate prosecutions of citizens. Therefore, we welcome the legislative initiatives that can change the situation.
At the end of the month, the Russian parliament passed – and the president signed – a law reforming the procedural legislation. It will enter into force on the first day of operation for the appellate and cassation courts of general jurisdiction (this should take place no later than October 1, 2019). Among other norms, the innovations will also affect the court procedures with regard to claims on deeming materials as extremist or on recognizing information as prohibited. According to the new law, the cases pertaining to recognition of materials as extremist are transferred from the civil proceedings to the administrative sphere. When considering a prosecutorial claim to recognize certain materials as extremist, the court is obligated to involve persons, whose rights and legal interests may be affected by the judicial decision. In addition, “if a person, whose actions have led to filing of an administrative claim, has been identified” the court shall involve them in the case as a defendant and impose legal costs on them. If such a person has not been identified, the Ombudsman of the Russian Federation (or of a subject of the Federation) will be involved in the consideration of the case “for providing an opinion.” In addition, the court will be able to take “preliminary protective measures in the form of restricting access to extremist materials” while the case is under consideration, and, if the claim is satisfied, the decision regarding the ban take effect immediately. The cases to recognize certain information as prohibited will proceed in a similar fashion. The key procedural difference for these cases is mandatory participation of Roskomnadzor in the proceedings.
Prosecutions for Incitement to Hatred and Oppositional Statements
At the end of November, the Magassky District Court of Ingushetia sentenced the opposition activist Magomed Khazbiev to two years and eleven months of imprisonment in a penal colony with a fine of 50 thousand rubles, convicting him of illegal possession of weapons and explosives (Article 222 Part 1 and Article 222.1 Part 1 of the Criminal Code), insulting a representative of the authorities (Article 319 Part 1 of the Criminal Code) and inciting hatred against Head of the Republic of Ingushetia Yunus-Bek Evkurov, as well as against “representatives of the judicial system, law enforcement agencies, the government, and the authorities of the Republic of Ingushetia as a whole” (Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code). The latter charge was related to Khazbiev’s interview, in which he criticized the republic’s authorities and called for their replacement. We regard this part of the verdict as inappropriate, since a call for changing the government, as long as it doesn’t involve any calls for unlawful actions, belongs to the sphere of public debate, not of the criminal law enforcement. In addition, as explained by the Supreme Court, the criticism of officials “in and of itself, should not be viewed in all cases as an act aimed at humiliation of dignity of a person or a group of persons; the limits of permissible criticism of officials and professional politicians are wider then for ordinary citizens.” We also believe that the vague concept of “social group” should be altogether excluded from Article 282 of the Criminal Code, since its presence has led to continuous abuse.
A court in Ulyanovsk issued a suspended sentence of two years with the ban on leading any public interest organizations to Ivan Kolotilkin, an activist of the Community of the Indigenous Russian People (Obshchina korennogo Russkogo naroda, OKRN). He was found guilty under Article 282 Part 1 and Article 280.1 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (public incitement to separatism). The prosecution against Kolotilkin was based on the fact of him handing out leaflets, which contained ethno-xenophobic (probably anti-Semitic) propaganda and called for creating a new (ethnically) Russian state of on the territory of Russia. We doubt the appropriateness of his sentence in the part that falls under Article 280.1, since the known materials of the Ulyanovsk OKRN contain no calls for violent separatism, the only appeals that merit criminal prosecution, in our view.
Meanwhile, one inappropriately initiated case was terminated. An investigator from the regional FSB department found no “extremist” motive in the actions of Lydia Bainova, a resident of Abakan (Republic of Khakassia), charged under Article 280 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (public incitement to extremist activity via the Internet) for an angry online statement. Bainova published a post on a social network after an incident at the entrance to a playroom in one of the city cafes, where the children had told her and her daughter, “Only Russians can come in here.” In her post Bainova expressed her protest against the fact that people “towhom this land belongs” were not respected in Khakassia, and described the extent of her indignation, adding: “In such moments, it feels like we need to arrange a revolution, a takeover! Return power and land to our people! Take it back in a fight!” We welcome the decision to terminate the case. Bainova’s post was emotionally charged, but, in our opinion, such statements should not be regarded as calls for extremist activity representing a significant danger for society and meriting criminal prosecution.
As we learned in November, the Avtozavodsky District Court of Tolyatti fined local resident Sergei Tsvetkov 1,000 rubles in late October under Article 20.29 of the Administrative Code (mass distribution of extremist materials) for posting on VKontakte the videos identical to the banned video Pripomnim zhulikam i voram ikh manifest-2002 (Let’s Remind Crooks and Thieves about Their Manifesto-2002). A similar report under Article 20.29 of the Administrative Code had been filed in Dimitrovgrad of the Ulyanovsk Region with respect to local deputy Sergei Kryuchkov, but the court returned his case to the police, since the report had been compiled by an unauthorized person. This video, created by supporters of Alexey Navalny, was recognized as extremist in 2013. We consider its ban inappropriate – there are no aggressive appeals in the video; its content is limited to listing a number of unfulfilled campaign promises by United Russia from their 2002 party manifesto and calling to vote for any party except United Russia.
We continued to document the cases of inappropriate prosecution for public display of prohibited symbols (Article 20.3 of the Administrative Code). On November 16, Tatar activist Batyrkhan Agzamov was put under arrest for five days in Kazan under this article for his post on a social network criticizing neo-Nazis. The incriminating content was a meme, which featured three photos of Russian nationalists – including the ones carrying flags with the Celtic cross – with the caption “Russia is when people with shaved heads annually march all over your country performing Nazi salutes, while the Russians accuse the United States and Ukraine of fascism.” We believe that classifying the Celtic cross as one of the symbols covered under Article 20.3 of the Administrative Code is incorrect. Although this symbol is popular among the ultra-right, it is, nevertheless, not a Nazi symbol per se. Furthermore, the post clearly did not promote neo-Nazism, but criticized its spread among the youth. It is worth noting that Agzamov had previously been arrested for five days on a similar charge, which we also considered inappropriate.
A court in Kemerovo placed opposition activist Valery Kazantsev under arrest for two days in early November under Article 20.3 Part 1 of the Administrative Code for sharing a comic video based on an excerpt from the Bunker movie. Stas Kalinichenko, a coordinator of the Navalny headquarters, spent three days under arrest in late November for having published on Odnoklassniki an image, on which “four people clad in black uniform are standing on a wall, with the swastika-decorated flag hanging on the wall; two additional red banners can be seen next to them, but no images are visible on these.” We cannot identify the image in question, but we doubt that the activist published it with the purpose of advocating Nazism.
In addition, it became known in late November that a prosecutor's office in the Chelyabinsk region has opened a case under Article 20.3 Part 1 of the Administrative Code against the Deputy Director of School No. 1 and issued a motion to eliminate violations of the law, based on the fact that someone had drawn a swastika on the door of a school closet. We believe that punishing an author of the drawing or the author’s parents would have been appropriate, while, with respect to the school leadership, the motion to eliminate violations would have been a sufficient response.
Prosecutions against Religious Organizations and Believers
Members of the radical Islamic party Hizb ut-Tahrir continued to face prosecutions in November. The alleged leaders of its cells were arrested in the Aznakaevo and Bugulma Districts of Tatarstan in early November; according to the FSB, they were engaged in recruitment for paramilitary groups in the Middle East. In addition, the judicial board of the North Caucasus District Military Court granted the prosecutorial appeal and overturned the decision to return to the prosecutor the case of five alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir participants from Simferopol – Rustem Ismailov, Aider Saledinov, Emil Dzhemadenov, Uzeir Abdullaev and Teimur Abdullaev – charged under Article 205.5 of the Criminal Code (organizing the activities of a terrorist organization or participating in it). We believe that Hizb ut-Tahrir could be banned as an extremist organization, but not as a terrorist organization, since it has not practiced or advocated violence. As far as we know, this party is not engaged in recruitment for hostilities in Middle Eastern countries. In our opinion, prosecuting Hizb ut-Tahrir supporters under anti-terrorist articles solely on the basis of their party activities (conducting meetings, reading literature, etc.) is inappropriate.
Law enforcement agencies have continued initiating criminal proceedings against Jehovah's Witnesses. In Novosibirsk, members of the local Jehovah's Witnesses community were subjected to searches related to charges of organizing the activities of an extremist organization (Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code), and their alleged leader, Yury Saveliev, was subsequently detained. Law enforcement agencies in Khabarovsk broke up a meeting of Jehovah's Witnesses in a café, and then three local residents – Vitaly Zhuk, Stanislav Kim and Nikolai Polevodov - were arrested under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code. In addition, three women were charged as suspects for their alleged participation in the activities of an extremist organization (Article 282.2 Part 2). In Spassk-Dalny of the Primorsky Region four local residents were placed under house arrest in a case opened under Part 1 of Article 282.2. Wide-ranging searches of the believers’ homes took place in Dzhankoy; afterwards, Sergey “Sivash” Filatov, the former head of the local Jehovah's Witnesses organization, was named a suspect in the case initiated under the same article and has faced travel restrictions.
At the same time, a number of Jehovah's Witnesses were released from their pre-trial detention. These are Dmitry Mikhailov from Shuya (set free), Ilham Karimov, Vladimir Miakushin, Konstantin Matrashov and Aidar Yulmetiev from Naberezhnye Chelny (transferred under house arrest).
We view the decision, adopted by the Supreme Court of Russia in April 2017, to recognize the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia and 395 of their local communities as extremist (which has become the basis for criminal prosecution of believers) as inappropriate.