Misuse of Anti-Extremism in July 2019
In July, Russia ratified the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Convention on Countering Extremism that was signed in 2017. Among other matters, the convention expands the earlier SCO-level definition of extremism. While the definition of extremism used in the Shanghai Convention of 2001 was tied to violence, the new definition also came to include “other unconstitutional actions.” The Convention also introduces a list of “extremist acts,” largely corresponding to the definition of extremism used in the Russian Law “On Combating Extremist Activity.” Additionally, this list includes incitement to political enmity, which is absent in the Russian definition. According to the Convention, the SCO member states are obligated to impose responsibility for these acts and a number of related activities. The document provides for close cooperation among law enforcement agencies in their investigations of extremist cases, which includes dispatching staff members to attend operational search activities in the territory of other participating states. The Convention also mandates that all those involved in extremist crimes be denied refugee status. This type of strengthened cooperation is a cause for concern, since it may lead to further deterioration of the already problematic situation of dissidents in the SCO countries. Additional information about the convention can be found here.
Draft instructions of the Prosecutor General's Office on working with information subject to extra-judicial blocking were published on the Federal Portal of Draft Regulatory Legal Acts. This document is intended to replace the current instructions developed before the most recent changes to grounds for blocking – such as the newly adopted “Klishas laws” against “insulting the state” and fake news. In particular, the new instructions establish clear deadlines for prosecutorial bodies that work with notifications of information being disseminated in violation of the law. According to the document, the very fact of an administrative case initiated under articles on insulting the state and the society, on fake news or on activities of organizations deemed undesirable constitutes a reason for blocking the relevant materials. Lower-ranking prosecutors are expected to route notifications regarding dissemination of information that calls for extremist activity, information by undesirable organizations or fake news to the Directorate of the Prosecutor General's Office for Supervision of the Implementation of Laws on Federal Security, Interethnic Relations and Countering Extremism and Terrorism, while calls for mass riots, in most cases, will be handled by the Prosecutor General's Offices in federal districts and the “insults against the authorities” – by the General Directorate for Supervision of the Implementation of Federal Legislation.
In July, the President of Russia signed a law to prohibit those included on the Federal Financial Monitoring Service (Rosfinmonitoring) list of extremists and terrorists from operating railroad trains. The State Duma passed, and the Federation Council approved a law on crowdinvesting that prohibits persons on the Rosfinmonitoring list from soliciting investments or owning crowdinvesting platforms. The government submitted to the State Duma a draft bill extending the ban on establishing or membership in non-profit organizations to include individuals whose funds were frozen by the Interdepartmental Commission on Countering the Financing of Terrorism. The Kurultay of Bashkortostan and Deputy Pavel Kachkaev suggested extending the obligation to mention the prohibited status of extremist organizations in their disseminated materials to news aggregators and online cinemas and penalizing them similarly to mass media for non-compliance with this requirement.
Prosecutions for Incitement to Hatred and Oppositional Statements
In July, we learned that Roman Vatanen, a resident of the Karelian urban locality of Kalevala, was fined one thousand rubles in mid-June under Article 20.3 Part 1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (public display of Nazi symbols). According to Vatanen, he posted on his page an image that compared the rule of President Putin with the regime of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany. Since Vatanen had been previously convicted under a particularly grave criminal article and had faced administrative responsibility under the law of “disrespect for the authorities,” the court also sentenced him to three years of administrative supervision in July (Vatanen had previously been under supervision as well). We are not familiar with the image published by Vatanen; however, we assume that the swastika it contained was intended as a means of political criticism rather than propaganda of Nazism. We view the current legal norms, which punish the display of Nazi symbols regardless of its context, as inappropriate.
We have a similar opinion on yet another case against Yury Kartyzhev, a resident of Malaya Vishera of the Novgorod Region, who has become famous as the first person to be punished under the administrative article on “disrespect for the authorities.” He was fined one thousand rubles in early July under Article 20.3 Part 1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses for posting a photo from an NSDAP congress with a visible swastika on VKontakte in May; the image was accompanied by the caption “United Russia.”
For the same reasons, we regard as inappropriate the decision of the Nadym City Court to fine Mark Omarov under Article 20.3 Part 1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses. Back in 2017, he posted on his VKontakte page a photograph of Nikolai Desyatnichenko – a teenager accused of justifying Nazism for his speech in the Bundestag – with a superimposed swastika.
Another case of insufficiently justified use of Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses took place in Irkutsk, where, in early July, antiques dealer Sergei Ius was fined one thousand rubles for placing on Avito an announcement about the sale of the Third Reich military equipment, postcards with images of Hitler and Mussolini, and seals with Nazi symbols. We believe that the antiques dealer did not pursue the goal of advocating Nazi ideology and hardly deserved prosecution; destroying the antiques after their confiscation seems to us even less expedient.
Galina Gorina, an activist of the Stop GOK environmental movement in Chelyabinsk, was fined a thousand rubles in late June under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (mass distribution of extremist materials) for publishing the poem Last Wish for Ivans. Another Stop GOK supporter was fined in July for publishing the same poem; the third one was punished with a fine for publishing the Dulles Plan. In addition, Yoshkar-Ola resident Kirill Yezhov was fined three thousand rubles in late July under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offenses for posting on his VKontakte page a video Let's Remind Crooks and Thieves about Their Manifesto-2002 created by supporters of Alexey Navalny.
We view all these materials as prohibited inappropriately. The Last Wish for Ivans is a satirical poem in which we find no signs of incitement to hatred; The Dulles Plan was banned for statements aimed at “inciting hatred and enmity towards the representatives of the state authorities of modern Russia,” however, in our opinion, it contains no such statements; Let's Remind Crooks and Thieves about Their Manifesto-2002 merely lists a number of unfulfilled campaign promises by United Russia and calls for voting for any other party.
At least six people were punished in July under Article 20.1 Part 3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses for “insulting the authorities;” proceedings on several more cases are scheduled for August. In most cases, the offense in question was an insult against the president or heads of regional administration. At the same time, in several instances the police refused to initiate administrative cases under this article upon complaints from citizens, or the courts discontinued such cases. Additionally, in mid-July, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia sent out methodological recommendations to its employees. The recommendations indicated that cases should be initiated only for publications containing obscene language, pornography or socially unacceptable offensive comparisons directed against state symbols, the president, the parliament, the government or courts, and in which authors set themselves against the community and demonstrate “arrogance, cynicism, and demeaning attitude” towards the society, the state, and its symbols.
The standards of the law enforcement practice on the fake news continue to take shape. In the Arkhangelsk Region, the police has discontinued the case of activist Alexander Mironov, who was charged under Article 13.15 Part 9 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (dissemination of deliberately inaccurate socially significant information disseminated under the guise of reliable messages that presented the threat of mass violation of public order and (or) public security) for criticizing Plesetsk municipal deputies. However, in Yakutia, the journalist of the Yakutsk Vecherny newspaper was fined 30,000 rubles under the same article for writing an article about the beating of a local resident by FSB officers, which included the words about Big Brother, who “reads all the forum comments and one day can kidnap and beat you.” From our point of view, these words contain no deliberately inaccurate information, and their dissemination could not have created a threat to public safety.
Prosecutions against Religious Organizations and Believers
In July, we learned about several administrative prosecution cases related to religious literature that we consider inappropriately prohibited. Back in early June, the Orenburg District Court of the Orenburg Region ruled against Rustam Yerzhakovsky, a citizen of Kazakhstan, who intended to export to Turkey one copy of The Fortress of a Muslim – a book that has been recognized as extremist in Russia. Yerzhakovsky was fined one thousand rubles with confiscation of a banned book under Article 16.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (non-observance of interdictions and (or) restrictions on exportation of goods from the customs territory of the Eurasian Economic Union). The Fortress of a Muslim is a popular collection of prayers for every day, which, in our opinion, contains no signs of incitement to religious hatred, therefore the courts did not have grounds to recognize it as extremist.
In late July, Khava Shakhtamirova, a resident of Novy Urengoy, was fined two thousand rubles under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offenses for the fact that she offered passersby to study the brochure “Women in Islam versus Women in Judeo-Christian Tradition.” We regard the ban on this book as inappropriate since its text is respectful of Judaism and Christianity.
In mid-July, the Supreme Court of Russia reduced by three months the lengthy terms of imprisonment faced by each of the four Crimea residents convicted in the Bakhchysarai Hizb ut-Tahrir case: Enver Mamutov, Rustem Abiltarov, Zevri Abseitov, and Remzi Memetov. They were convicted under Article 205.5 Part 1 or Part 2 (organizing the activities of a terrorist organization or participation in it) and under Article 278 utilizing Article 35 Part 2 and Article 30 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (preparation for forcible seizure of power by an organized group by prior conspiracy). We believe that accusing members of Hizb ut-Tahrir of involvement in terrorist activities solely on the basis of their party activities (holding meetings, reading literature, etc.) is inappropriate. Qualifying any positive comments on Hizb ut-Tahrir activities as appeals for terrorism or justification of terrorism is also inappropriate.
Prosecutions against Jehovah's Witnesses continued in July. Early in the month, Alexander Solovyov, a follower of this doctrine in Perm, was found guilty of participation in the activity of an extremist organization (Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced to a fine of 300 thousand rubles.
In the Nizhny Novgorod Region, cases under Article 282.2 Parts 1 and 2 of the Criminal Code (organizing the activity of an extremist organization and participation in it) were opened in July against nine Jehovah's Witnesses, two of whom – Alexei Oreshkov and Alexander Vavilov – were also incarcerated. Sergey Yavushkin and Alexander Bondarchuk were put under house arrest in Kemerovo under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code
Two Jehovah's Witnesses were arrested in Kaluga; one of them, Roman Makhnyov, stated that he had been subjected to inhuman treatment by the local FSB officers.
Searches in Jehovah's Witnesses' residences were conducted in a number of regions, including in the Trans-Baikal Region, which has never reported any information about criminal proceedings opened against Jehovah's Witnesses.
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. We believe that this decision, which entailed mass criminal proceedings against the believers under Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code, was legally unfounded, and regard it as a manifestation of religious discrimination.
Prosecutions for Anti-Religious Statements
We received no information about new cases of persecution for anti-religious statements in July. However, it is worth noting that Maria Motuznaya from Barnaul, whose case under Article 282 Part 1 (incitement to hatred) and Article 148 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (insulting the feelings of believers) was discontinued early in the year, managed to receive a court-mandated compensation for unlawful criminal prosecution in the amount of 100 thousand rubles.