Misuse of Anti-Extremism in July 2020
In mid-July, the State Duma adopted in the first reading a government bill introducing amendments to Articles 9 and 10 of the Law "On Combating Extremist Activity." According to these amendments, courts making decisions to ban or suspend the activities of an organization as extremist must report their decisions to the Ministry of Justice within three days for inclusion in the corresponding list. Adding banned organizations to the list currently takes up to five years.
In late July, the Federation Council approved a law on amendments to Article 1 of the Law "On Combating Extremist Activity.” The corresponding bill was submitted to the State Duma on July 8 and quickly passed all three readings. The law replaces the wording "forcible change of the foundations of the constitutional order and violation of the integrity of the Russian Federation" in the definition of extremism with the following: "forcible change of the foundations of the constitutional order and (or) violation of the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation (including alienation of part of the territory of the Russian Federation) with the exception of delimitation, demarcation or re-demarcation of state borders of the Russian Federation with neighboring states." Thus, the law "On Combating Extremist Activity" will be brought in line with the new edition of the Russian Constitution. The State Duma is also considering amendments to the Criminal Code and the Code of Administrative Offenses with regard to punishment for separatism and incitement to separatism. Article 280.1 of the Criminal Code (public calls for carrying out actions aimed at violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation) is to be supplemented with an administrative punishment mechanism – the first violation in the course of the year, will entail liability under the new Article 20.3.2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses. Part 1 of this article is expected to stipulate a fine of up to sixty thousand rubles for citizens, up to one hundred thousand rubles for officials and up to three hundred thousand rubles for legal entities. Part 2 of Article 20.3.2 stipulates a fine of up to one hundred thousand rubles for citizens, up to two hundred thousand rubles for officials and up to five hundred thousand rubles for legal entities as a punishment for actions committed with the use of mass media or the Internet. At the same time, one of the types of sanctions under Article 280.1 Part 1 of the Criminal Code is increasing in severity – the fine under it will be increased to four hundred thousand rubles. In addition, Article 280.2 (violation of the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation), punishing for "alienation of part of the territory of the Russian Federation or other actions (with the exception of delimitation, demarcation, re-demarcation of the state border of the Russian Federation) aimed at violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation" is introduced to be applicable in the absence of signs of crimes falling under Article 279 and 2801 of the Criminal Code. Punishment under Article 280.2 comes only in the form of a real prison term ranging from six to ten years. Thus, the new article is intended to cover an act of separatism that is neither a rebellion nor a call for secession; accordingly, it will target either those who, in fact, succeeded in separating a territory, or those who somehow organize such an act without resorting to public appeals or preparing an insurrection.
In early July, a bill on amendments to the Federal Law "On Information, Information Technologies and Protection of Information," developed by the State Duma commission to investigate the facts of interference of foreign states in the internal affairs of Russia, was submitted to the State Duma. The amendments pertain to Article 15.3 Part 1 of the law – now not only information containing "calls for mass riots and carrying out extremist activities" (current version), but also the one "containing justification for and (or) excuse of extremist activities, including terrorist activities" will be subject to extrajudicial blocking. We oppose the very mechanism of extrajudicial blocking of online materials, since it leads to arbitrariness and abuse by law enforcement agencies, and we believe that the proposed amendments, with their vague wording, will only aggravate the situation, making both academic research and public discussion a possible target for prosecution under the law.
In mid-July, Deputies Alexander Khinshtein and Sergei Boyarsky introduced to the State Duma amendments to the Code of Administrative Offenses (CAO) intended to punish hosting providers and website owners for failure to block or delete unlawful content. The deputies proposed introducing new Article 13.41 into the Code of Administrative Offenses, according to which fines for failure to take measures to restrict access to websites (except for copyright infringement cases) can reach up to 100 thousand rubles for individuals, up to 400 thousand for officials, and up to 4 million for legal entities; fines are doubled for repeated offenses. Fines for failure to block extremist content are also doubled (quadrupled for repeated violations). In our opinion, the current Russian legislation that pertains to restricting the dissemination of information on the Internet has systemic shortcomings, and its application often restricts freedom of speech unreasonably and disproportionately. Heavy fines not only for internet providers, who fail to block websites, but also for hosting providers and website owners will only exacerbate this situation.
In the second half of July, the government introduced to the State Duma a bill to amend the federal law "On Freedom of Conscience and on Religious Associations." Among other changes, the bill seeks to add to the law an indication that the following types of people are not allowed to lead or participate in religious groups: a foreign citizen or a stateless person, whose residence in the Russian Federation was deemed undesirable; a person included on the Federal Financial Monitoring Service (Rosfinmonitoring) List of Extremists and Terrorists; a person whose actions were found by a court decision that has entered into legal force to contain signs of extremist activity; an individual whose accounts are frozen by the Interagency Committee for Combating Money Laundering and the Financing of Terrorism. Thus, under this bill, the legal requirements already existing for non-profit organizations (including religious ones) will be extended to leaders and members of religious groups. In our view, these new restrictions represent yet another unjustified intrusion into the exercise of the right to freedom of religion.
Sanctions for Anti-Government Statements
In early July 2020, at a visiting session in the Pskov Regional Court, a three- judge panel of the 2nd Western District Military Court found journalist Svetlana Prokopieva guilty of justifying terrorism via mass media (Article 205.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced her to a fine of 500 thousand rubles and covering the costs of expert examinations as well as to confiscation of her mobile phone and laptop. The persecution was based on Prokopieva's radio show “A Minute of Enlightenment,” aired in the fall of 2018 on the Echo of Moscow in Pskov radio station and dedicated to the causes of the explosion at the FSB office lobby in Arkhangelsk. Analyzing this incident, Prokopieva argued that the actions of a young man, who had committed the explosion, stemmed from the repressive policies of the state, and that young people growing up in the atmosphere of state-sanctioned brutality were at risk of responding to the state in the same manner. In our opinion, the conviction is inappropriate since the journalist’s show contained no statements to indicate that the ideology or practice of terrorism was correct and deserved to be imitated and never claimed it to be attractive or appropriate.
We learned in July that the investigation had been discontinued in the case of activists from Buryatia Nadezhda Nizovkina and Tatyana Stetsura. The activists had never been notified of the termination of their case and found out about it accidentally five months later. Nizovkina and Stetsura had been facing the charges under Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (incitement to hatred) since 2009 for distributing in Ulan-Ude leaflets that formed a "negative image" of the Russian military, police officers and investigative personnel, FSB officers and officers of the penal system. In January 2011, the Sovetsky District Court of Ulan-Ude found them guilty and sentenced each of them to a fine of 100 thousand rubles, but this sentence was later overturned and the case cycled between the courts and the prosecutor's office for nine years, until, finally, it was closed due to partial decriminalization of Article 282.
The Voskresensk City Court in the Moscow Region placed activist Alexei Kholkin under arrest for five days under Article 20.3.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (incitement to social hatred). According to media reports, the administrative prosecution against Kholkin was based on the link to the video "Everyone Comes Out to Protest. The Government Should Resign,” which he posted on his Facebook page intending to "incite hatred of government officials." The video features a number of activists, including Vladimir Filin, Elena Rokhlina, Angelica Latsis and Kirill Myamlin – members of the Permanent Council of the National Patriotic Forces of Russia (PDS NPSR) – who criticize the policy of the Russian authorities and call for joining a protest rally. The video contains no calls for xenophobic or anti-state violence, so we view the prosecution against Kholkin for publishing this video as inappropriate. We also believe that government officials do not form a social group in need of protection from incitement to hatred and would like to remind our readers about the resolution, issued by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation back in 2011, which emphasized that the limits of acceptable criticism of officials are wider than those of private individuals.
In July, a report under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (mass distribution of extremist materials) was filed against Luiza Kolosova, an activist from the city of Babaevo in the Vologda Region and a member of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. The charges stemmed from sharing, in 2017, a banned video “Let’s Remind Crooks and Thieves about Their Manifesto-2002,” created by supporters of Alexei Navalny, on VKontakte. This video, recognized as extremist in 2013 and often used as a reason to prosecute opposition activists, merely lists a number of unrealized campaign promises made by United Russia in its 2002 manifesto and calls to vote for any other party. We view the ban against this video as unfounded and sanctions for its distribution as inappropriate. Prosecution against Kolosova was based on a statement by a certain "D. Yu. Mikheev,” who also acted as a claimant on a number of extremism-related cases in other regions of Russia. A Barnaul court fined local resident Dmitry Lakeyev for storing the same video in the "Videos" section of his personal VKontakte account.
We were informed in July about five cases of prosecution under Article 20.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (petty hooliganism) for disseminating information expressing disrespect for the authorities or the society in an indecent form. We believe that Parts 3-5 of Article 20.1 are aimed at suppressing criticism of the authorities, who had been adequately protected by other legal norms prior to the introduction of these amendments.
A fine under Article 20.1 Part 3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses was imposed on Andrei Mitin from Prokopyevsk of the Kemerovo Region and on Lev Giammer, the coordinator of Navalny's headquarters from Krasnodar for their (harsh but not obscene) statements about the president on social networks; the former was fined 30 thousand rubles, and the latter – 80 thousand rubles. In Yeisk of Krasnodar Krai, local resident Nikolai Makukhin received a fine of 30 thousand under Article 20.1 Part 4 of the Code of Administrative Offenses for his Facebook comment that expressed the author’s belief “that Roldugin's billions are Putin's money, which he has been stealing from the Russian people for 20 years." Political scientist Fyodor Krasheninnikov from Yekaterinburg spent seven days under arrest for the repeated offense of speaking rudely about Russian judges on his Telegram channel. A report under Article 20.1 Part 3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses was filed in Rostov-on-Don against Vera Oleinikova, an activist from Moscow, due to her Instagram photo holding a poster that referred to the police in a rude manner.
In July, the Supreme Court of Tatarstan recognized The Hidden History of the Tatars. The National Liberation Struggle of the Tatar People in the 16th – 18th Centuries for the Establishment of an Independent State, a book by the writer and journalist Vakhit Imamov published in 1994, as extremist. Imamov is planning to challenge the decision. Imamov's book is a popular retelling of events from the history of the uprisings of the peoples of the Volga region that took place in 16th through18th centuries; according to its annotation, the work is targeted "primarily towards students of schools and gymnasiums of Tatarstan, as an additional textbook on the history of their native land." The book, written in 1991, does, in fact, contain a positive assessment of the Tatars' struggle for independence and national rights and against the "colonial oppression" of Tsarist Russia. At the end of Imamov's work, he says that "the struggle to create a state independent of the Moscow dictate, which began 440 years ago, continues today." This statement accurately reflects the situation in the early 1990s, when the new status of the republics of the former USSR was being determined. All this, in our opinion, does not provide any grounds for banning the book as extremist today. It can be assumed that banning the work of Vakhit Imamov, an honored cultural figure, has become another step for the Tatarstan’s authorities in their quest to fight local nationalists.
Abuses When Enforcing the Legal Norms against the Spread of Nazi Ideology
The Central Investigation Department of the Investigative Committee of Russia announced in July that two new cases had been opened under Article 354.1 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (rehabilitation of Nazism) in connection with the photographs of Nazis published on the "Immortal Regiment" websites. According to the agency, Kemerovo resident Dmitry Borodaenko uploaded a photo of Adolf Hitler to the Memory Bank website no later than May 6, and Maxim Gusev from Perm uploaded a photo of SS Gruppenführer Andrei Shkuro to the same website, also no later than May 6. Criminal cases for similar actions committed this May were initiated earlier against seven residents of different regions of Russia, and the investigation for two of them was completed in July. We believe that the actions of the internet users have been qualified incorrectly. Uploading photos of Nazi leaders to a website, even timed to coincide with the May 9 celebration, in and of itself, constitute neither a public endorsement of the Nazi crimes, nor dissemination of any information about the day of Russian military glory.
A case under Article 354.1 Part 3 of the Criminal Code (desecration of the symbols of Russia’s military glory, committed in public) was opened in mid-July against blogger Mikhail Alferov from Kemerovo, based on a video posted by Alferov on YouTube on May 9, 2020. The video depicted Alferov walking around the city and criticizing, in harsh terms, the opulent decoration of the city for the Victory Day, which contrasted with the unsatisfactory condition of residential buildings. The blogger also expressed his dissatisfaction with the use of St. George ribbon and demanded that police officers remove it from their uniform. In our opinion, statements about certain symbols, even if regarded as offensive, should not be equated with desecrating the symbol itself (by the way, the very concept of "symbols of military glory" is not clarified in Russian legislation). A report against Alferov in connection with the same video was also filed under Article 20.1 Part 3 of the Administrative Code, but returned by the court due to the fact that had been compiled by unauthorized persons.
In late June, the Ostankinsky District Court of Moscow fined TV anchor Yevgeny Kolesov under Article 20.3 Part 1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (public display of the symbols of an extremist organization) in the amount of one thousand rubles and also fined the anti-swindler organization Power of the Law (ROO Sila Zakona), of which Kolesov is a founder, 10 thousand rubles for using a Svarog’s Square in the organization's logo as displayed on its website. This symbol was used by the nationalist organization Northern Brotherhood (Severnoe Bratstvo), recognized as extremist in 2012. Kolesov insists that he used this sign because he viewed it as an ancient Slavic charm; he expressed his intention to appeal the decisions of the Ostankinsky District Court. We found no evidence of propaganda of the Northern Brotherhood’s ideology in the activities of Kolesov and his organization, therefore we are inclined to believe that the fines under Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses were issued inappropriately. In our opinion, punishment for displaying prohibited symbols is appropriate only when they are displayed to promote the corresponding ideology.
Makhmadjon Rakhmatjoni and Shobudin Badalov, activists of Group24 (Gruppa24), were sentenced to 15 days of administrative arrest in July by the Tverskoy District Court in Moscow under Article 20.3 Part 1 of the Administrative Code. The case was based on a picket they held on May 9 near Red Square. In an attempt to draw attention to human rights violations in Tajikistan, Rakhmatjoni and Badalov held posters with portraits of Adolf Hitler and President Emomali Rahmon of Tajikistan, and the caption "The Difference between the Dictators." The Nazi swastika was visible on Hitler's uniform. We consider the arrest of Rakhmatjoni and Badalov inappropriate, since the action was obviously based on the idea of Nazism as an unacceptable ideology.
Persecution against Religious Organizations and Believers
In late July, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Khakassia dismissed the claim of the republican prosecutor's office to liquidate and recognize as extremist Khakassian Regional Public Organization for Spiritual and Physical Self-Improvement of a Person under the Great Falun Law “Falun Dafa.” Falun Dafa new religious movement is built around the practice of qigong gymnastics in combination with elements of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. It has been banned and persecuted in China, and its followers abroad sharply criticize the Chinese authorities. The Khakassian organization was accused of trying to disseminate Zhuan Falun, – a treatise by Falun Dafa (Falun Gong) founder Li Hongzhi declared extremist in 2011. According to the Falun Gong practitioners, the Khakassian Falun Dafa organization, founded in 2006, ceased its operations in 2017, and have tried to notify the state authorities about it. Zhuan Falun was recognized as extremist on the grounds that it allegedly advocated the superiority of the adherents of Falun Gong ideology over other people. In our opinion, propaganda of the truth of one’s own convictions cannot be regarded as incitement to hatred, and the book does not contain any calls for violence, therefore the ban against it and prosecution for its distribution are inappropriate. We welcome the court’s decision not to ban the organization, but would like to remind that Falun Dafa practitioners may face renewed persecution, since, in July, the activities of the movement’s seven foreign and international organizations were deemed undesirable on the Russian territory.
In July, we learned about two earlier sentences for involvement in the Islamic radical party Hizb ut-Tahrir, which has been recognized as terrorist in Russia. On March 11, 2020, the Central District Military Court in Yekaterinburg sentenced Ildar Akhmetzyanov, a resident of Chistopol, to 17 years in a maximum security colony under Article 205.5 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (organizing the activities of a terrorist organization). Akhmetzyanov is appealing against the verdict. On May 13, 2020, the same court sentenced Rais Gimadiev under the same article; he received 16 years in a maximum security colony. Akhmetzyanov and Gimadiev, along with previously convicted Eduard Nizamov, were accused of involving Muslims in the ranks of Hizb ut-Tahrir, as well as creating an underground network structure in Russia and facilitating the replenishment of military formations operating in the Middle East. As far as we know, Hizb ut-Tahrir does not resort to terrorist methods of struggle and does not participate in the recruitment of personnel to participate in hostilities in the Middle East. Therefore, we consider prosecution against the party followers under “terrorist articles” merely on the basis of their party activity (holding meetings, reading literature, etc.) inappropriate.
In early July, seven Muslims were detained in Crimea after a series of search raids. The arrests were carried out as part of the yet another investigation under Article 205.5 Part 1 and 2 of the Criminal Code (organizing the activities of or participation in a terrorist organization). Ismet Ibragimov and Vadim Bektemirov were detained near Simferopol, Emil Ziyadinov in the village of Oktyabrsky, Seyran Khairetdinov, Alim Sufianov and Alexander Sizikov (a sight-disabled person) in the Bakhchisarai region, and Zekirya Muratov in Alushta. In Alushta, the authorities also searched the house of Diliaver Memetov, but he was not at home at the time, and was put on the wanted list. The FSB reported that prohibited materials by Hizb ut-Tahrir had been confiscated during searches, while the detainees’ relatives reported that the materials had been planted. Sizikov was placed under house arrest; the others were sent to a pre-trial detention center.
On the last day of the month, the FSB, Federal National Guard (Rosgvardia) and the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported on the detention of six alleged supporters of the Tablighi Jamaat movement, banned in Russia. They were detained for investigation in the case under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (organizing the activities of an extremist organization). Tablighi Jamaat was banned in Russia in 2009 – in our opinion, without proper justification. This association is engaged in propaganda of fundamentalist Islam, but was never known to call for violence, and therefore, the persecution of its supporters, from our point of view, is inappropriate.
The Furmanov City Court of the Ivanovo Region found 34-year-old Yevgeny Spirin guilty of organizing the activities of an extremist organization under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code and sentenced him to a fine of 500 thousand rubles in late July. According to the investigation, Spirin organized and conducted meetings of the local community and talked with residents of the Ivanovo Region about religion in order to promote the activities of this organization. The prosecutor asked for a sentence of seven years in prison. We would like to remind that we regard as inappropriate both the prohibition of Jehovah's Witnesses organizations in Russia as extremist and the persecution against believers for continuing the activities of their communities.
In July, we learned about a number of new cases of persecution against Jehovah's Witnesses.
Back in late June, the FSB of Russia for the Krasnodar Territory opened two new cases under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (participation in the activities of an extremist organization) against Vladimir Skachidub and Maxim Beltikov from the village of Pavlovskaya; according to the investigation, they acted as preachers. They were put under travel restrictions.
In early July, six believers in Vladivostok, who served as witnesses in the case of Elena Barmakina, were put on the Rosfinmonitoring list. Five women and one man between the ages of 29 and 60 were put on the list of persons involved in extremist or terrorist activities: Nina Astvatsaturova, Roman Verigin, Violetta Verigina, Ludviga Katanaeva, Eva Katanaeva and Elena Tsorn; their houses were later searched. At least five detainees became suspects in the case. Nina Astvatsaturova was charged under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code.
A criminal case was opened in Kaliningrad, in which Mikhail Kopytov became a defendant, and searches were carried out in the homes of local Jehovah's Witnesses. 12 people were detained and interrogated.
A series of search raids took place in Prokopyevsk of the Kemerovo Region under the auspices of a criminal investigation under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code; Andrei Vlasov and Viktor Mikhnyuk were interrogated. Vlasov was placed under house arrest.
In mid-July, as part of the investigation in the Voronezh Region of two criminal cases under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code related to the activities of a local banned community, searches were carried out in at least 110 homes of Jehovah's Witnesses. At least 14 people were questioned. Two believers reported severe beatings for their refusals to share their smartphone passwords. Later, another detainee reported that he had been tortured during interrogation in the regional department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs – they had beaten him in the face and put a plastic bag over his head, demanding to name the elders of the community. Alexey Antyukhin, Sergey Baev, Mikhail Veselov, Yuri Galka, Valery Gursky, Vitaly Nerush, Stepan Pankratov, Igor Popov, Evgeny Sokolov and Anatoly Yagupov became suspects in the case. All ten of them were arrested.
Searches took place at five Jehovah's Witnesses’ addresses in Seversk of the Tomsk Region, as part of a criminal investigation under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code. Nine people were taken for interrogation and then released; one of the believers, Sergei Korotun, was placed under house arrest.
In Solikamsk of Perm Krai, searches were conducted at three Jehovah's Witnesses’ addresses; six people were detained. Two suspects, Vladimir Timoshkin and Vladimir Poltoradnev, were placed under house arrest, and another believer was banned from certain activities.