Misuse of Anti-Extremism in February 2019
At the end of February, Senator Lyudmila Bokova submitted two bills to the State Duma. One of them proposes to increase fines under Article 6.17 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (which provides penalties for violating the legislation of the Russian Federation on the protection of children from harmful information) and the other one suggests amendments to the same legislation. It is proposed to raise the maximum fines under Part 1 of Article 6.17 to four thousand rubles for citizens, to 20 thousand rubles for officials and businessmen that are not a legal entity, and to 100 thousand for legal entities. The maximum penalties under Part 2 (for failure to use the products protecting children from harmful information, for example, content filters) shall be increased to the same levels for entrepreneurs, who do not form a legal entity.
The second bill, introduced by Bokova, stipulates, among other things, that educational organizations be obliged to develop and implement their own information security programs for minors that comply with legal requirements. In addition, unannounced inspections of providers are proposed in the event of complaints that relate to measures protecting children from harmful information. From our point of view, the existing procedure for applying content filtering in public institutions restricts the rights of adults, and shifts the responsibility for the imperfection of content filters in educational institutions to the administration of institutions. Bokova’s draft legislation does not eliminate these problems, but, instead, formalizes the existing law enforcement practice and increases legal responsibility.
Prosecutions for Incitement to Hatred and Oppositional Statements
In connection with the partial decriminalization of Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (incitement of hatred), the investigating authorities and courts have been dropping criminal charges in the relevant prosecution cases, including the ones we regard as inappropriate or partially inappropriate.
The prosecution of Ufa resident Amin Shayakhmetov, who had published six texts on the website of the Shura of Muslims of the Republic of Bashkortostan, was discontinued back in January. The charges against him were based on the publication of six texts about Islam. Out of four incriminating texts available to us, we found only one to contain incitement to discrimination.
In Omsk, the case of radical feminist Lyubov Kalugina, charged with inciting gender-based hatred for her publications about men on a social network, was dropped in early February.
A court in In Sevastopol discontinued the criminal prosecution under Article 282 of the Criminal Code of Valery Bolshakov – the Chairman of the Sevastopol Workers Union and the secretary of the Sevastopol branch of the Russian United Labor Front Party (Rossiisky Ob’edinennyi Trudovoi Front, ROT FRONT). The prosecution was based on negative assessments of the Terek Cossacks, made by the activist in his social network post; we believed that the Terek Cossacks did not constitute a vulnerable social group needing protection in the form of anti-extremist articles of the Criminal Code. Bolshakov is also charged with public calls for extremist activity, including using the Internet (Article 280 Parts 1 and 2) and under Article 280.1 Part 2 (public calls for violation of the territorial integrity of Russia made on the Internet). We had no opportunity to review Bolshakov’s statements, and thus can’t say whether they contained calls for a violent overthrow of power that presented public danger and merited criminal prosecution. As for the charges of incitement to separatism, we consider them inappropriate in case the incriminating statements peacefully expressed criticism on the issue of annexation of Crimea to Russia, because, in our opinion, inhabitants of the peninsula have the right to openly express their opinion on this matter.
In late February, Article 282 of the Criminal Code was excluded from the sentence to Ingush opposition activist Magomed Khazbiev, who was sentenced to two years and 11 months of imprisonment in the fall of 2018; as a result, his prison term was reduced by three months. Khazbiev was found guilty 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). We viewed the charges of incitement of hatred against Khazbiev as inappropriate, since the incriminating statements criticized the authorities and encouraged them to be replaced, but included no calls for unlawful actions.
Meanwhile, the story of Svetlana Prokopieva’s fall 2018 radio show continued in Pskov. The program was dedicated to the causes of an explosion at the FSB office lobby in Arkhangelsk, and Roskomnadzor found it to contain the signs of justification of terrorism. The magistrate court fined the publishers of Echo of Moscow radio station in Pskov and of the Pskovskaya Lenta Novostei [Pskov News Feed] for publishing the audio record and its transcript. The fines under Article 13.15 Part 6 of the Administrative Code (mass media production or publication containing public calls for terrorist activities or materials publicly justifying terrorism) amounted to 150 and 200 thousand rubles, respectively. Prokopieva became а suspect under Article 205.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (public justification of terrorism in the media). In our view, the prosecution against the journalist and the media outlet is inappropriate, since the program never indicated that the ideology or practice of terrorism was correct and deserves to be emulated, and never spoke of their attractiveness or acceptability.
In late February, the Oktyabrsky District Court of Novosibirsk re-examined the prosecution’s claim to recognize Vasya Lozhkin’s image, known as Great Beautiful Russia as an extremist material. The court refused to satisfy the claim, not recognizing the work as extremist. Lozhkin’s satirical image, which ridicules jingoistic patriotism and xenophobia, was banned in 2016, along with three other images published by Novosibirsk nationalist Roman Bykov. Тhe owner of the original picture tried to challenge the ban in 2017, and, in early 2018, the President’s Human Rights Council asked the Novosibirsk Regional Prosecutor's Office to file an appellate motion. Subsequently, the case was routed for a new consideration in August 2018. We welcome the court decision, because we believe that the image had been banned inappropriately.
Prosecutions against Religious Organizations and Believers
Persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses reached a new level in February. On February 6, the Zheleznodorozhny District Court of Oryol convicted Danish citizen Dennis Christensen of organizing the activities of an extremist organization (the local Jehovah's Witnesses community in Oryol) and sentenced him to six years in prison under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code. The harsh sentence was condemned by international groups and intensified public discussion about the legality of the ban on the Jehovah's Witnesses organizations.
Meanwhile, criminal cases against Jehovah's Witnesses were being opened across Russia. Hassan Kogut was detained in Berezovsky, the Kemerovo Region, charged with participating in the activities of an extremist organization (Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code) and placed under house arrest. A major special services operation took place in Saransk, where Georgy Nikulin, Alexander Shevchuk and Vladimir Atryakhin were arrested on the charges of organizing the activities of a banned organization. Resident of Arkhangelsk Yevgeny Yakku was charged with recruitment into a banned organization (Article 282.2 Part 1.1) in addition to participation in it. Five Jehovah's Witnesses were detained in Ulyanovsk in late February, and one has remained in detention by the court decision.
However, the greatest public attention was attracted by the actions of security in the Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous District. First, in the city of Uray, Andrei Sazonov, the deputy director of the local heat and power company, was arrested under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (he was transferred under house arrest late in the month). Then another case against 19 people was initiated in Surgut and the Surgut Region under Parts 1, 1.1, and 2 of Article 282.2; three Jehovah's Witnesses – Yevgeny Fedin, Sergey Loginov and Artur Severinchik – were detained. At the same time, seven believers stated that they had been tortured during interrogations in the Investigative Committee building of the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug. Due to the resonance caused by this statement, the agency began an internal audit, regional ombudsman intervened in the situation, and the ECHR demanded that detained defendant Loginov, who complained about the torture, be sent for an independent assessment.
We believe that the decision to recognize Jehovah's Witnesses organizations as extremist was legally unfounded, and, accordingly, the subsequent criminal prosecution of Jehovah's Witnesses for continuing the activities of their banned communities has been inappropriate.
We learned in February that, in late January 2019, FSB officers detained five farmers from the Saratov District of the Saratov Region in a case opened under Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code; at least one of them was arrested. Law enforcement authorities believe that the detainees were trying to organize a cell of the Tablighi Jamaat movement, recognized as extremist in Russia since 2009. We regard the ban against Tablighi Jamaat as unjustified, since the movement was engaged in propaganda of its version of Islam and was never implicated in any calls for violence. Therefore, we view prosecution of the movement’s supporters for continuing its activities as inappropriate.
In addition, we learned this month about three sentences against supporters of the Hizb ut-Tahrir – a radical Islamic party, recognized in Russia as a terrorist organization. On January 30, 2019, the Privolzhsky District Military Court found Ainaz Yanyshev guilty of participating in the activities of a terrorist organization (Article 205.5 Part 2 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced him to seven years' imprisonment to be served in a maximum-security penal colony. Yanyshev’s prison term was lower than the accepted minimum, because he had entered into a pre-trial cooperation agreement and helped to identify other members of the banned organization. The case of Ainur Sagadeev and Shavkat Alsynbaev, who were detained in Bashkortostan in August 2017 together with Yanyshev, is currently under court consideration.
On February 15, the Moscow District Military Court sentenced Zafar Nodirov, Farkhod Nodirov and Hamid Igamberdyev to 16 years in a maximum-security penal colony on charges of organizing the activities of the Hizb ut-Tahrir cell (Article 205.5 Part 1 of the Criminal Code), and six other people to the terms of 11 to 12 years in a maximum-security colony for participating in its activities.
On February 21, the Volga District Military Court reviewed another case of the Bashkir followers of Hizb ut-Tahrir. 12 people were convicted under Part 2 of Article 205.5 and sentenced to imprisonment ranging from 11 to 16 years.
New charges related to the activity of Hizb ut-Tahrir were also reported in February. Crimean Tatars Rustem Emiruseinov, Eskender Abdulganiev and Arsen Abkhairov were detained in the Krasnogvardeisky District of the Republic of Crimea, under Parts 1 and 2 of Article 205.5; then the court put them under arrest. A new case against wheelchair-bound Amir Gilyazov, charged under Part 2 of Article 205.5 with justifying terrorism, was opened in the Chelyabinsk Region. Eight persons involved in the Bakhchisarai Hizb ut-Tahrir case were charged under Article 278 of the Criminal Code (forcible seizure of power).
In our opinion, charging Hizb ut-Tahrir followers with terrorism solely on the basis of their party activities (holding meetings, reading literature) is inappropriate.
Prosecutions for Anti-Religious Statements
On February 20, a justice of the peace fined Severodvinsk opposition activist Anatoly Kazikhanov 15,000 rubles under Article 5.26 Part 2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (deliberate public desecration of religious paraphernalia). His charges were based on about 30 atheist publications on VKontakte, including photographs of men in priestly robes with the caption "Healthy men, who live off grannies’ pensions"; a photo of a classroom with Orthodox icons on desks and a caption “On September 1, all Russian students will receive from the country's leadership the latest tablet computers from Skolkovo;” images of Patriarch Kirill accompanied by the threat of "I will track you by your IP address!"; and a meme, in which the photograph of the icon is accompanied by the note about the "dirty glass." From our point of view, online sharing of crude atheist images and texts should not, in and of itself, be interpreted as desecration of objects of religious worship, since publication of photo collages does not imply any actions toward actual objects. It is also worth noting that the concept of "desecration" is not in any way defined in the legislation.