Misuse of Anti-Extremism in June 2019
In late June, the State Duma approved in the first reading the draft law “On Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts Regarding the Improvement of Legal Regulation of the Use of Nazi Symbols in Works of Science, Literature and Art.” It is included in the package of bills submitted by Yelena Yampolskaya (United Russia), along with a proposal to amend Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (propaganda or public display of Nazi symbols or symbols of extremist organizations). The bill seeks to abolish the absolute ban on demonstrating Nazi symbols currently contained in the Federal Law “On Immortalization of the Victory of the Soviet people in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945,” and to amend the Federal Law “On Combating Extremist Activity” accordingly.
We welcome the initiative to soften a total ban on displaying Nazi symbols, however, in our opinion, the “Yampolskaya package” will not fully take the context of such displays into account. The proposal is to limit the ban by providing a list of situations, in which it does not apply; this list, however, is not exhaustive. In our opinion, the legislation should be amended with a clause to state that the ban on displaying the symbols of banned organizations and the corresponding sanctions apply only if this display is intended to promote the relevant ideology.
Prosecutions for Incitement to Hatred and Oppositional Statements
In June, the Nakhimovsky District Court of Sevastopol issued a suspended sentence of two and a half years with a ban on holding public office to Valery Bolshakov – the former head of the Sevastopol Workers Union and the secretary of the Sevastopol branch of the Russian United Labor Front Party (ROT FRONT). Bolshakov was charged with public appeals for extremist activity committed with the use of the Internet (Article 280 Parts 1 and 2 of the Criminal Code) and with public calls for violating the territorial integrity of Russia committed on the Internet (Article 280.1 Part 2 of the Criminal Code). It is known that some charges were related to publications, in which, according to the investigators, Bolshakov called for overthrowing the “Putin’s regime” and establishing the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” There were also charges related to Bolshakov’s one-man picket, which was allegedly motivated by his “persistent hostile and intolerant attitude toward representatives of the government.” Bolshakov had also been charged under Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code with humiliating the dignity of the Terek Cossacks, but this charge was dropped due to partial decriminalization of Article 282. Unfortunately, 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 a public danger and merited criminal prosecution. If the incriminating statements peacefully expressed criticism on the issue of annexation of Crimea by Russia, then we view the charges under Article 280.1 of the Criminal Code as inappropriate because, in our opinion, inhabitants of the peninsula have the right to openly express their opinion on this matter.
At the end of June, it became known that Oksana Yeremina, who participated in the oppositional action “He is Not Our Tsar” in Chelyabinsk in 2018, was charged under Article 213 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (hooliganism, motivated by political hatred committed by an organized group). The investigators consider Yuri Vashurin, Mikhail Takhirov and I. Tyshchenko her accomplices. The resolution states that on May 5, 2018, participants in an unauthorized rally filled the intersection and the area around the Aly Shopping Center, “using their quantitative advantage to obstruct the customary flow of people” and creating a threat of their accidental exit onto the roadway. Thus, according to the investigation, the defendants grossly violated public order and expressed obvious disrespect for society, “in order to express their political will and political opinion, as well as to protest the current Head of State, President of the Russian Federation V.V. Putin, and to express their disagreement with results of the 2018 elections of the President of the Russian Federation.” In our opinion, neither chanting slogans that call for a non-violent change in the state and regional leadership nor filling any square or intersection with participants during a mass event constitute hooliganism in and of themselves. We believe that such actions should not be interpreted as gross violations of public order, because they did not entail a violation of working or recreational environment for citizens, institutions, etc. These actions also should not be interpreted as expressing obvious disrespect for society, since the participants only expressed their political position rather than set themselves against the community by violating generally accepted standards of behavior.
In the second half of the month, the Zlatoust City Court of the Chelyabinsk Region fined local resident Mikhail Gorin 10,000 rubles under Article 20.3.1 of the Code of the Administrative Offenses. He was found guilty of inciting hatred against the social group “law enforcement agencies.” The charges were based on the fact that in 2018, Gorin posted a comment in the VKontakte group “Cops out of Control.” In his post he spoke rudely about the policemen and their friends, who were publishing materials in a local online group on traffic accidents, and about the group’s administrators, who, according to Gorin, were artificially creating a positive image of police officers in order to whitewash their illegal activities. In the commentary, Gorin expressed support to the administrator of the Cops out of Control and called not only for the dismissal of “such creatures in uniform” from the Internal Affairs agencies, but also for them to be burned alive at the stake, as witches were burned during the Inquisition. We believe that Gorin was prosecuted inappropriately. Gorin’s case is very similar to the case of Savva Terentyev, convicted under Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code for his call for burning the “infidel cops” on town squares. Terentyev took his case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which ruled that his conviction violated the Convention on Human Rights. In our opinion, many arguments from the case of Savva Terentyev v. Russia also apply to the Gorin case. First, law enforcement agencies should not be considered a vulnerable social group protected by anti-extremist legislation – on the contrary, they should be exceptionally tolerant of criticism unless it contains a real threat of violence. Next, both speakers were outraged by abuses perpetrated by law enforcement officers and both used phrases about burning at the stake without threatening specific people, but as a provocative metaphor expressing their desire to cleanse the society of law-breaking police officers. Finally, Gorin, just like Terentyev, published his statements on an unpopular platform. Cops out of Control includes only 11 social network users, and nobody, except for the administrator, participated in the discussion of Gorin’s post.
In early June, we found out that the European Court of Human Rights communicated the complaint of Semen Kochkin, the coordinator of the Alexei Navalny headquarters in Cheboksary, against his prosecution under Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (propaganda or public display of symbols of extremist organizations). In late May of 2017, the Moskovsky District Court of Cheboksary fined Kochkin one and a half thousand rubles under Article 20.3; this decision was approved by the Supreme Court of the Republic of Chuvashia. The prosecution of the activist was based on the fact of his sharing on VKontakte a video from the satirical program Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, translated by Andrei Bocharov, which briefly displayed the insignia of the Islamic State prohibited in Russia. As a result, the Tsivilsk election commission refused to register him as a candidate for the Council of Deputies of the Tsivilsk District of the Chuvashiya Republic. According to the Russian electoral law, citizens punished for committing an administrative offense under Article 20.3 are barred from standing for election, if voting takes place before the end of the period, during which a person is considered to be subject to administrative punishment, that is, for one year since the end of the enforcement of the administrative penalty decision. Additionally, since Kochkin was also prosecuted in summer 2017 under Article 20.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses for organizing and participating in the non-permitted event “He Is Not Dimon to You” (and sentenced to community service), he lost the right to organize public events for a year in accordance with Article 5 Paragraph 1.1 of the Federal Law “On Public Assembly.” The ECHR asked Russia whether Kochkin’s rights guaranteed by several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights had been violated, specifically, Article 6 (the right to a fair trial), Article 7 (punishment solely on the basis of the law), Article 10 (the right to freedom of expression), Article 11 (the right to freedom of assembly and association), as well as Article 3 of Protocol No. 7 to the Convention (compensation in case of a judicial error).
Meanwhile, in June, we learned about а new fine issued under Article 20.3 Part 1of the Code of Administrative Offenses for the display of prohibited symbols not intended to promote the relevant ideology. An 18-year-old resident of Vladikavkaz was fined for posting on VKontakte a satirical video “Hitler and Diretide 2014,” which included the swastika.
On the other hand, in mid-June, the Omsk Regional Court overturned the decision of the Pervomaisky District Court of Omsk, which had fined designer Ilya Frishman under Part 1 of Article 20.3. The proceedings in his case have been discontinued. Frishman was fined one thousand rubles in April for posting videos with Nazi symbols on VKontakte, namely a spoof of the movie Seventeen Moments of Spring created by the TV Channel 1 show Big Difference and three humorous videos based on a popular scene from the Bunker movie. Frishman stated in court that he had never intended to advocate the Nazi ideology, and that he was an ethnic Jew and an Israeli citizen, whose ancestors had died at the hands of the Nazis, but the court did not take his arguments into account. However, the district prosecutor spoke in his defense, demanding that the Frishman case be discontinued due to the lack of corpus delicti. Representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, in turn, opposed the elimination of the fine, stating that the bits from the Bunker, modified and taken out of context, did not condemn fascism, but, on the contrary, represented it as “something funny and amusing.” They further argued that displaying Nazi paraphernalia in such videos not only failed to cause its denunciation among young people but, instead, was making it fashionable. The court ordered an expert examination of the videos and subsequently canceled the fine based on its results.
The Leninsky District Court of Chelyabinsk discontinued the administrative case against eco-activist Vasily Moskovets, the leader of the Stop GOK movement. A report under Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses was compiled against Moskovets in mid-June upon request from a local resident, who had found on his page a photo, published in August 2014, of a fence bearing the graffiti “14 SS 88 WHITE POWER.” The resident was angered by the fact that the photo contained the SS insignia. Moskovets explained that he had indeed published a photo of this graffiti but with no intent to advocate neo-Nazism. On the contrary, he had first sent a message to a prosecutor’s office, and when, a month later, he discovered that the graffiti had not been painted over, he wrote a social network post criticizing the inaction of the authorities, to which he attached the photo. Meanwhile, a case under Article 20.29 of the Administrative Code (distribution of extremist materials) was opened against Stop GOK activist Galina Gorina who published the poem Last Wish for Ivans on her VKontakte page in October 2018. This clearly satirical poem is written in the form of the statement, voiced by oligarchs and government officials, who enriched themselves by mining and selling natural resources, and addressed to the uncultivated people (“Ivans,” “Papuans”) caught up in drug and alcohol abuse. The poem contains neither incitement to violence, nor ethnic or racial slurs, therefore we view it as inappropriately prohibited. Earlier, in April, another Stop GOK activist, Pavel Kamchatny, was fined under Article 20.29 of the Administrative Code in Chelyabinsk for publishing the same text.
YouTube videos based on songs “Mother, Take Me Back!!!” and “Magadan” by Ukrainian artist Boris Sevastyanov were added to the Federal List of Extremist Materials in June. These videos were banned by the Artyomovsk City Court of Primorsky Krai on March 5, 2019. In our opinion, despite the fact that Boris Sevastyanov adheres to nationalist views, the videos “Mother, Take Me Back!!!” and “Magadan” were prohibited inappropriately. The first song is written from the perspective of a Russian soldier, who died in the Donbas conflict. It urges Russia and the soldiers' mothers to take soldiers home from the “worthless war” and contains no aggressive appeals. In the preface to the second song, the author expresses confidence that “Russia will face major unrest, if it does not start changing today;” the text states that Russia is due for a wave of mass persecutions, which can only be prevented by a “Moscow Maidan.” This song can be interpreted as a call for a change of the government by a mass political protest, but an extremely vague one and not accompanied by any calls for violence. On earlier occasions, oppositional activists had been prosecuted repeatedly for publishing the video set to Sevastyanov’s song “This is Rashism, Baby,” recognized as extremist.
In June, we learned about 14 cases of prosecution under Article 20.1 Part 3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses for expressing disrespect for the society and the state on the Internet. Most cases involved invectives against the president, but some instances involved judges, bailiffs, prosecutors, police officers, and local authorities. In one case, the defendant faced the charges for a dance near a monument. Activists, particularly those campaigning against the creation of a landfill site in Shiyes of the Arkhangelsk Region, were often brought to responsibility under this article.
The Presidential Administration in June ordered the Ministry of Internal Affairs to limit the practice of using Article 20.1 Parts 3-5 of the Code of Administrative Offenses introduced by the “Klishas law.” Summarizing the information on the current law enforcement cases, the officials came to the conclusion that all these cases stand in contradiction to its meaning. Consultations with the Ministry of Internal Affairs were then held so that the department could provide clarifications of the new legislative norms of Article 20.1 to its staff at the local level. According to the Kremlin, mayors, governors and police officers are not covered under the law, since they do not exercise state power. A similar opinion was expressed by Leonid Levin, the Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Information Policy. Fines for insulting remarks addressed to Vladimir Putin personally are expected to stop – as the Presidential Administration pointed out, the ban on insulting the president meant criticism of the president as an institution, rather than a specific person. In the course of Direct Line with the President TV show in June, Putin stated that the law was intended to combat insults against the state symbols, and restricting criticism of the authorities through it is an abuse.
Prosecutions against Religious Organizations and Believers
In mid-June, the North Caucasus District Military Court ruled in the case of five Crimeans arrested in October 2016 in Simferopol and charged with continuing the activities of the Islamic radical party Hizb ut-Tahrir banned in Russia. The court sentenced Teymur Abdullaev, who was charged with organizing activities of a terrorist organization (Article 205.5 Part 1 of the Criminal Code) to 17 years of imprisonment in a maximum-security penal colony. Rustem Ismailov was sentenced to 14 years and Uzeir Abdullaev to 13 years under Article 205.5 Part 2 (participating in activities of a terrorist organization). Emil Dzhemadenov and Aider Saledinov were sentenced to 12 years in a maximum-security colony under the same part of the article.
Eight people were detained in Crimea in June on suspicion of involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir; seven of them were later arrested. Searches took place in Alushta, Belogorsk and the Simferopol district.
We believe that charging Hizb ut-Tahrir members with the propaganda of terrorism solely on the basis of their party involvement (holding meetings, reading literature, etc.) and prosecuting them under anti-terrorism articles is inappropriate.
The Sovetsky District Court of Kazan in mid-June sentenced five residents of the republic, having found them guilty of continuing the activities of the banned Faizrakhmanist community. Depending on their respective roles, they were found guilty of committing crimes under Parts 1 and 2 of Criminal Code Article 282.2 (organizing activity of an extremist organization or participating in it), Part 1.1 of Article 282.2 (involvement of others in activities of an extremist organization), or Part 1 of Article 282.3 (financing activity of an extremist organization). As the spiritual leader of the community, 52-year-old Gumar Ganiev was sentenced to seven years in prison to be served in a minimum-secutity penal colony; 58-year-old Talgat Gizatullin and 41-year-old Rustam Galiev were sentenced to five years, 58-year-old Glimyan Khazetdinov to six years, and 61-year-old Mudaris Ibragimov – to five and a half years in a penal colony. The Faizrakhmanist community founded by former deputy Mufti of Tatarstan Faizrakhman Sattarov, was recognized as an extremist organization in 2013 after the relevant agencies found out that its members were leading an isolated way of life and did not seek help from medical institutions or send their children to schools. Such organizational features are not subject to anti-extremist legal regulation. As far as we know, the community led an insulated but not aggressive way of life; therefore the decision to recognize it as extremist was, in our opinion, inappropriate. Accordingly, we consider the sentences to the Sattarov’s followers inappropriate as well.
In June, we documented a number of new criminal cases initiated in different regions of Russia against at least fourteen Jehovah's Witnesses.
Back in early May, a criminal case was initiated in Arkhangelsk under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code against 78-year-old Kaleria Mamykina, who was charged with participation in the activity of an extremist organization. She was prosecuted for continuing the activity of the eliminated local Jehovah's Witnesses community.
In early June, after a series of searches at Jehovah's Witnesses homes in Dagestan, the Sovetsky District Court of Makhachkala sent Arsen Abdullaev, Maria Karpova, Anton Dergalev and Marat Abdulgalimov to pre-trial detention for two months as suspects under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (organizing the activity of an extremist organization).
Simultaneously, after searches conducted in Sevastopol as part of the investigation of the case under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code, local resident Viktor Stashevsky – previously a member of the local Jehovah's Witnesses organization – was detained and later released under travel restrictions.
Two Jehovah's Witnesses, Ruslan Alyev and Semyon Baibak, were detained and then placed under arrest in Rostov-on-Don. In the Bryansk Region, Tatyana Shashmeva and Olga Silaeva were detained and then arrested by the court after a series of searches in different localities as part of the investigation of the case under Article 282.2 Part 2. In Ussuriysk, charges under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code were brought against Sergey Korolchuk, and Sergey Melnikov, the latter was sent to pre-trial detention. In Kaluga, Roman Makhnev and Dmitry Kuzin were arrested under Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code in late June.
The decision to recognize the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia and 395 local organizations as extremist was made by the Supreme Court of Russia in April 2017; the appeal against this decision was denied, and they were added to the List of the Extremist Organizations. We believe that this decision, which has served as the basis for initiating mass criminal proceedings against the believers under Article 282.2, was legally unfounded. We regard it as a manifestation of religious discrimination.
We found out in June that the Nevsky District Court of St. Petersburg deemed the book Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party (Moscow, 2015) prohibited for distribution in Russia. The decision was made in late May upon request from the City Prosecutor's Office. This book has been distributed by the followers of the Falun Gong spiritual practice (its authorship belongs to the Epoch Times media project). The court relied on the expert opinion, which stated that the anthology contained psychological signs of incitement of hostility “against the Communist Party” and statements “aimed at inciting social enmity against followers of the Chinese Communist Party and communism in general.” In our opinion, the ban against Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party lacks legal justification, despite the sharp criticism of the CCP's activity contained in the book. No particular political party (especially a foreign one) and no particular ideology is entitled to protection from criticism. The authors of the book stay within the framework of historical and political discussion, do not allow any manifestations of ethnic xenophobia, do not advocate violence, and, on the contrary, emphasize the importance of a “non-violent transition to a society liberated from the CCP.” We believe that the decision of the Yekaterinburg court, which had previously declined the prosecutorial request to ban the book for inciting hatred toward the Chinese supporters of the CCP, was appropriate, while the decision of the St. Petersburg court constitutes excessive interference with freedom of expression.
Prosecution for Anti-Religious Statements
Novocheboksarsk resident Ilnur Kamaldinov – a participant of the local punk band The Barricades of Protest – was punished under Article 5.26 Part 2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses in mid-June for desecrating religious symbols. The charges were based on the memes, posted in 2014 and 2016 and recently discovered on his VKontakte page by law enforcement agencies. The memes included a photo of Patriarch Kirill with the caption “Thanks are fine, paying the church is better” and a photo of a religious procession captioned “The nuthouse is out for a walk under the supervision of orderlies.” We believe that posting crude atheistic images and texts online should not be interpreted as a desecration of objects of religious veneration since it by no means implies any actions toward the corresponding objects. It should also be noted that the legislation never defines the concept of “desecration.”