Misuse of Anti-Extremism in August 2020
We found out in mid-August that Senator Alexander Bashkin had submitted to the State Duma a bill intended to counteract the spread of “criminal subcultures.” The draft Federal Law “On the Foundations of the Offense Prevention System in the Russian Federation” includes a definition of “criminal subculture” as “a system of principles, views, lifestyles and behavioral norms shared by a group of people, who informally unite in order to popularize and promote criminal traditions, symbols of the criminal world, manifested intolerance to law-abiding behavior and justification of criminal behavior.” The law is supposed to be supplemented with a detailed definition of “activities aimed at forming and supporting a criminal subculture,” including a number of acts, such as public justification of “criminal activity of persons convicted of deliberate crimes,” “obstructing correction of convicted offenders or calling for non-fulfillment by convicted offenders of their basic duties,” coercion to provide assistance to convicted offenders, posting online “information containing a criminal subculture ideology,” and so on, as well as “inciting hatred or enmity toward employees of law enforcement, justice, prosecutorial or penal systems, or toward judges in connection with their respective responsibilities” and providing assistance with any of the listed actions. Thus, structurally, this definition is clearly built on the same principle as the definition of extremist activity.
“Information aimed at carrying out the activities that form and support a criminal subculture” is to be added to the list of reasons for including resources on the Unified Registry of Banned Websites. This draft bill continues the series of measures undertaken to combat A.U.E. criminal subculture, which was banned on August 17 (as a unified extremist organization, despite the fact that it has never existed as such). However, if the law is adopted, the scope of its action may turn out to be much wider than the fight against a specific subculture. The executive branch will have an opportunity, if desired, to bring under this definition such acts as public discussion of controversial cases or providing public or human rights assistance to prisoners, and to suppress such initiatives by blocking information about them.
Another possible consequence is increased censorship in the cultural sphere. Meanwhile, fighting the glamorization of crime with prohibitive, violent measures is obviously not effective – the correct strategy includes ensuring public confidence in the judicial and penitentiary systems as well as working with the public morals and the public opinion toward rejection of the cult of violence. It should also be noted that the norm proposed by Bashkin is redundant; protection of official representatives in the course of fulfilling their duties – a partial purpose of the bill – is already provided by a number of criminal articles, and the propaganda of hatred against them (which is not a specific attribute of A.U.E. subculture and therefore should not be considered only in its context) is covered under anti-extremist legal norms.
Persecution against Civic Activists
In mid-August, the Oktyabrsky District Court of Novorossiysk returned to the prosecutor the case of Alexei Dymovsky, an ex-Major of the Ministry of Internal Affairs charged with illegal storage and transportation of explosives (Article 222.1 Part 1 of the Criminal Code) and public calls for extremist activity committed over the Internet (Article 280 Part 2 of the Criminal Code). At the same time, the court changed the measure of restraint for him from detention to house arrest. The charge brought against Dymovsky is related to “Alexey Dymovsky: Thought to kill Putin...,” a video recorded on October 14, 2019. In the video, Dymovsky is driving a taxi across Novorossiysk to a police precinct in order to voluntarily hand over the explosives, which the police had failed to pick up following his report. Along the way, he explains that he stored trinitrotoluol at home for several years, because he “wanted to use this TNT against Vladimir Putin,” but later abandoned these ideas, because he came to the conclusion that Putin was a “mentally ill person.” In the video, Dymovsky also calls on all honest people to unite and invites them to a meeting. After the video recording was completed, the car, with Dymovsky in it, was stopped by traffic police officers; he decided to voluntarily surrender his TNT to them and was subsequently interrogated in a police office. A few days later, he was arrested on charges of illegal storage and transportation of explosives. From our point of view, the charge under Article 280 of the Criminal Code is inappropriate, since the video does not contain any calls for violence against the president or other officials, and calling for the unification of all honest people is a peaceful action. According to the defense, the court returned the case to the prosecutor due to the fact that certain materials, which the defense intended to use as evidence of Dymovsky's innocence, had disappeared from it – in particular, the interrogation reports of the taxi driver and the video recording operator, as well as a compact disk with the video in question, on which the ex-Major is recorded declaring his intention to voluntarily surrender explosives. Alexei Dymovsky gained fame in 2009, when he publicly addressed Russian officers and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin with a story about the ticket quotas and corruption in the Ministry of Internal Affairs system. After that, he was dismissed from the police, and a case of fraud with the use of official position was opened against him; it was later terminated. Dymovsky's speech was a notable event in the public discussion preceding the reform of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
In mid-August, the Leninsky District Court of Perm issued a verdict in the case of hooliganism committed by an organized group (Article 213 Part 2 of the Criminal Code), which was opened following an action, in which a Vladimir Putin dummy had been tied to a light post. Alexander Shabarchin and Danila Vasiliev were found guilty; Shabarchin was sentenced to two years in a minimum-security colony, and Vasiliev received a one year suspended sentence. Alexander Etkin (Kotov) was acquitted. The case was initiated in connection with a public action conducted on November 11, 2018 – a dummy appeared on a Perm street, representing Putin dressed in a prison uniform emblazoned with the words “liar” and “war criminal Pynya V.V.” In a video that was subsequently posted on the “Groza Permi” YouTube channel, people in camouflage uniforms escorted a man in a Putin mask through the Perm city center and then tied a dummy, with the president's photograph for a face, to a post near the local central department store. Several expert examinations were carried out in the case; two of them failed to find any manifestations of hatred or enmity in the video, and the third and the fourth found signs of political and ideological hatred, as well as hatred of Putin's supporters as a social group, in the actions captured on the video. However, the court excluded the social hatred motive from the charges, pointing out that “citizens who support Putin” are not a social group. We welcome this part of the court's decision. On the other hand, we doubt that the investigation had sufficient grounds to qualify the tying of the dummy to the post as hooliganism, that is, a gross violation of public order.
In the second half of August, the Central District Military Court in Samara sentenced Airat Dilmukhametov, an activist of the Bashkir national movement, to nine years in a maximum-security penal colony with a three-year ban on administering websites. Earlier, in the period from March 2019 to January 2020, Dilmukhametov was charged under Article 280.1 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (public calls for separatism) for the publication of a video address and for a speech on the Echo of Moscow radio station in Ufa about his concept of the Fourth Bashkir Republic. He was also charged under Article 205.2 Part 2 (public justification of terrorism committed on the Internet) for the video depicting his reaction to persecution of members of the radical Hizb ut-Tahrir party, which is banned in Russia as terrorist, charged under Article 280 Part 1 (public appeals to extremist activity) for his statement about Chechens, and charged under Article 282.3 Part 1 (financing of extremist activities) for publishing fundraising appeals in support of his struggle “for the new IV Bashkir Republic.” We are inclined to view all these charges as inappropriate (see here, here, here and here for more details). Dilmukhametov was sentenced to six years in prison in 2011 for inciting extremist activities and publicly justifying terrorism, and to three years in prison in 2015 – once again, for justifying terrorism.
In the second half of the month, the Leninsky District Court of Chelyabinsk found the Other Russia activist Alexander Kryshka guilty under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (participation in the activities of an extremist organization) and issued a suspended sentence of two and a half years. Alexander Kryshka was detained on June 8, 2020 in Chelyabinsk along with two other activists of the unregistered Other Russia party. All three were arrested; according to the investigation, the defendants had been continuing the activities of the banned National Bolshevik Party (NBP). The incriminating activities included, in particular, an attack on April 25, 2020 against a monument to Czechoslovak Legion soldiers in Chelyabinsk (on which the defendants inflicted several blows with a sledgehammer, while unfurling the banner “You Shall Pay for Konev!”) as well as an alleged arson attempt at the Leninsky District Police Department in protest against the beating and rape of a detainee on May 6. We regard the ban of the NBP and the prosecution of activists for participation in it as inappropriate.
Sanctions for the Distribution of Banned Anti-Government Materials
In early August, the Leninsky District Court of Tyumen fined Ruslan Farkhutdinov two thousand rubles under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (distribution of extremist materials). The administrative case against Farkhutdinov was based on the fact of publishing an image in the “Typical Tyumen” VKontakte public group; the image “depicts a man in a black mask, of a similar build to President of the Russian Federation V.V. Putin, <...> with the caption “Citizens of Russia, be vigilant! The ratings are falling; expect terrorist attacks. It's a trend.”” Recall that the phrase “Citizens of Russia, be vigilant! The ratings are falling; expect terrorist attacks,” cited in this meme, was banned in 2017 in St. Petersburg and included on the Federal List of Extremist Materials as Item 4316. We view this ban as unfounded, since the text contains no accusations or other statements that could be considered extremist. Therefore, we consider the administrative prosecution against Farkhutdinov inappropriate as well.
It became known in late August that the Babaevsky District Court of the Vologda Region fined Louisa Kolosova under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offenses for sharing the video “Let’s Remind Crooks and Thieves about Their Manifesto-2002,” created by supporters of Alexei Navalny, on VKontakte in 2017. 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 report by a certain “D. Yu. Mikheev,” who also acted as a claimant on a number of extremism-related cases in other regions of Russia.
Sanctions for Incitement to Hatred
On the last day of July, the Vakhitovsky District Court of Kazan fined Mikhail Scheglov, the chairman of the Russian Culture Society, 10 thousand rubles under Article 20.3.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (incitement to hatred or enmity, as well as humiliation of human dignity). The Supreme Court of Tatarstan upheld this decision in late August. The statements, for which Scheglov was punished, had been delivered in an open letter to Rustam Minnikhanov, the head of Tatarstan. Opposing church closures related to the coronavirus, Scheglov noted that such a ban on the part of the authorities looks “not as concern for people's health, but as a form of militant atheism and new persecution of Christians” taking place “in the very center of Orthodox Russia,” which is “deeply symbolic for a “national” republic with its definite numerical preponderance of the non-Orthodox.” In our opinion, Shcheglov's statements contain neither calls for violence against Tatarstan’s Muslims nor insults against them. In essence, his words constitute criticism of the actions of the authorities, which he regarded as unfair with respect to the Orthodox believers. Even if we interpret these statements as creating a negative image of the Muslims (who allegedly abuse their dominant position in the government of Tatarstan), they can only be qualified as a mild case of hate speech, which, in our opinion, does not present sufficient grounds for prosecution.
In the second half of August, the Taganrog City Court of the Rostov Region fined local resident Vladislav Shulga under Article 20.3.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses. An ex-employee of G.M. Beriev Aircraft Plant, Shulga is a defendant in the case related to the 2017 thallium poisoning of plant employees. Linguistic signs of humiliation of human dignity were found in the following commentary by Shulga, left on the Yersh.Taganrog portal: “It is not the laws that are stupid, but those who are set to enforce them are criminals! Scum are our judges, scoundrels are our policemen, and swindlers are our prosecutors.” From our point of view, law enforcement officers should not be considered a vulnerable social group in need of protection under anti-extremist legislation. On the contrary, as the European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly pointed out, they must be extremely tolerant of criticism, unless there is a real threat of violence. Shulga's comments contained no incitement whatsoever – the author merely emotionally expressed his attitude towards the police, possibly due to the fact that he is currently being prosecuted. Therefore, we believe that the administrative case against Shulga was inappropriate.
In August, we learned that three Tatar nationalists faced responsibility in courts of Tatarstan over the summer under Article 20.3.1 for speaking at a rally, which took place in Kazan on October 12, 2019 to commemorate Kazan defenders during the city’s capture by the troops of Ivan the Terrible. Fauzia Bayramova, the chair of the Ittifaq party, was fined 10 thousand rubles in early June; Imam Airat Shakirov received 40 hours of community service in August, and 81-year-old Galishan Nuriakhmet, the deputy chairman of the All-Tatar Public Center (Vsetatarsky Obschestvennyi Tsentr, VTOTs), was fined five thousand rubles. The prosecution was based on the statements made by the three rally participants, which differed but generally amounted to pointing out Russia's colonial policy and the need to fight colonial oppression (we wrote more about this here). The law enforcement agencies and the court regarded these statements as inciting hostility towards the Russians. We do not agree with this position – in and of itself, a public expression of disagreement with the “colonial” policy of the federal and republican authorities is not the same as inciting hatred towards ethnic Russians. In addition, we consider the presumed criminalization of public discussion and peaceful political struggle regarding the status of the regions problematic, since this direction, if taken by the authorities, leads to unacceptable restrictions on freedom of expression.
In August, a report under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offenses was compiled in Kurgan with respect to Polina Guzeeva, an artist from Yekaterinburg. The charges were based on the fact that, in 2010, Guzeeva posted on her VKontakte page a video set to the song “Why Did You Lay with a Black Man?” by Alai Oli. The song was banned as part of a series of xenophobic materials published on VKontakte, which primarily included memes threatening Russian girls who have relationships with people of other origins, and aggressive songs by bands popular among the neo-Nazis. Entry No. 3481 included a post containing a meme of the kind described above and links to two audio files, one of which was the Alai Oli song. The publisher, followed by the law enforcement agencies and the court, perceived this song as racist, although its intent is clearly to ridicule racist attitudes that are widespread among young people from disadvantaged residential areas of Moscow and St. Petersburg. In this case, as in many others, interpreting a creative work turned out to be an unsurmountable challenge for the law enforcement agencies and the court, and their misinterpretation led to an unjustified ban of the work and prosecution against a number of social media users for its distribution. It should also be noted that, in August 2020, when the report was compiled, the link to the song in question could not be found in Entry No. 3481 of the Federal List of Extremist Materials – most likely, it was dropped for technical reasons.
As we found out in early August, two additional criminal cases related to Adolf Hitler’s photographs published on the Immortal Regiment website in early May 2020 have been initiated under Article 354.1 of the Criminal Code. A 28-year-old resident of the Nyurbinsky District of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) was prosecuted under Article 354.1 Part 3 of the Criminal Code (dissemination of information expressing obvious disrespect to society about the days of military glory and memorable dates of Russia associated with the defense of the Fatherland, as well as desecration of the symbols of Russia’s military glory, committed publicly), and Alexander Khoroshiltsev from Voronezh – under Part 1 of the same article (denial of the facts established by the verdict of the Nuremberg Tribunal, endorsement of the crimes established by this verdict, as well as dissemination of knowingly false information about the activities of the USSR during the Second World War, committed publicly). These cases became, respectively, the tenth and the eleventh among those initiated in connection with the photographs of the Nazis published on the Immortal Regiment website. We believe that the actions of the Internet users are qualified incorrectly. An action, such as uploading photos of Nazi leaders to a website, even on the Victory Day of May 9, in and of itself, constitutes neither a public endorsement of the crimes of Nazism, nor dissemination of any information about the day of Russian military glory. Apparently, these photographs were not accompanied by any statements approving or denying Nazi crimes.
In August, the Vologda City Court fined local activist Yevgeny Domozhirov two thousand rubles under Article 20.3 Part 1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (propaganda or public display of Nazi symbols). The prosecution was based on a video “They Destroy. Real Fascists,” which Domozhirov posted on his personal VKontakte page in May. In the video, the activist complained about the clearing of the park, in which the trees had been planted by the World War II veterans, and stated that the local authorities behaved “like real fascists both with respect to the veterans and to this memory.” The video featured images of Governor Oleg Kuvshinnikov and Mayor Sergei Voropanov, edited to add Nazi caps to their heads. In our opinion, prosecution for displaying the swastika is appropriate only in cases, where this symbol appears in the context of Nazi ideology propaganda. In this case, as in many similar ones, the swastika was used as a visual means of criticizing the authorities – as a symbol of the criminal regime.
Persecution against Religious Organizations and Believers
Several cases of Jehovah's Witnesses were reviewed in August.
In early August, the Pskov Regional Appellate Court replaced the verdict to 61-year-old Gennady Shpakovsky with a suspended sentence. Shpakovsky was sentenced in June to six and a half years of imprisonment under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (organizing the activities of an extremist organization) and Article 282.3 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (financing extremist activities) for continuing the activities of a banned local community.
On the same day, the Industrialny District Court in Khabarovsk decided to return to the prosecutor's office for eliminating violations in the indictment the case of Vitaly Zhuk, Stanislav Kim and Nikolai Polevodov charged under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code, and Tatyana Zhuk, Maya Karpushkina and Svetlana Sedova charged under Part 2 of the same article. Earlier, in February, another Khabarovsk court issued suspended sentences to Kim and Polevodov under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code.
In early August, the Sverdlovsk Regional Court overturned the verdicts of Alexander Pryanikov, Venera Dulova and Daria Dulova from Krasnoturyinsk; their case was returned to the Karpinsky City Court for a retrial. They were found guilty in January under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code. Pryanikov received a suspended sentence of two and a half years, Venera Dulova – a two year suspended sentence, and her 19-year-old daughter Daria – a one-year suspended sentence.
However, new cases were also initiated against Jehovah's Witnesses in different regions of Russia.
The second case of aforementioned Alexander Pryanikov, initially charged under Article 282.2 Part 1.1 of the Criminal Code in February, has also come to include Article 150 Part 4 of the Criminal Code (involvement of a minor in a criminal group) and Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code. His wife Anastasia, who was charged under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code, has received the status of a suspect under Article 282.2 Part 1.1 of the Criminal Code. Svetlana Zalyaeva and Ruslan Zalyaev, against whom the cases under Article 282.2 Parts 1.1 and 2 of the Criminal Code were initiated in May, have also become suspects under Article 150 Part 4 of the Criminal Code.
Six believers – Nikita Moiseev, Alexey Gorely, Evgeny Razumov, Alexey Dyadkin, Oleg Shidlovsky and Vladimir Popov – were charged under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code in the Rostov region; they were all taken into custody.
In mid-August, it became known that a criminal case had been initiated in Partizansk under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code against Liya Maltseva; she was placed under travel restrictions.
A criminal case was initiated in the second half of August in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug – Ugra under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code against two residents of Yugorsk, 42 and 48 years of age; they were placed under travel restrictions.
In our opinion, the decision to ban all Jehovah's Witnesses organizations in Russia, made by the Russian Supreme Court in April 2017, was legally unfounded, and we regard it as a manifestation of religious discrimination. We also view prosecutions against parents for raising their children in the same religious tradition that they themselves follow under the charges of involving minors in criminal activities as inappropriate.
In mid-August, the Nevsky District Court of St. Petersburg finally began considering the case of St. Petersburg Scientologists opened back in 2017. Members of the Church of Scientology Ivan Matsitsky (leader of the local organization), Sahib Aliyev (accountant), Galina Shurinova (executive director), Anastasia Terentyeva (head of official affairs) and Konstantsia Esaulkova (lawyer) were charged under Article 33 Part 3 Paragraph “C” and Article 282 Part 2 of the Criminal Code, Article 33 Part 3 and Article 282.1 Part 1 of the Criminal Code, Article 282.1 Part 2 of the Criminal Code; Article 33 Part 3 and Article 171 Part 2 Paragraphs “A” and “B” of the Criminal Code; Article 33 Part 5 and Article 171 Part 2 Paragraphs “A” and “B” of the Criminal Code; Article 33 Part 3 and Article 174.1 Part 4 Paragraph “B” of the Criminal Code – that is, they are charged with organizing incitement to hatred by an organized group, organizing the activities of an extremist community and participating in it, organizing illegal business by an organized group with the extraction of income on an especially large scale and providing assistance to it, and organizing money laundering on an especially large scale. At the first session of the court, the indictment was announced. The defendants have not agreed with the version presented by the investigation; they do not admit their guilt and believe that they are being persecuted for their faith. In our opinion, the charges under anti-extremist Articles 282 and 282.1 of the Criminal Code were brought against the Scientologists inappropriately.
At the beginning of the month it became known that a criminal case against an alleged supporter of the Tablighi Jamaat movement, banned in Russia, had been forwarded to court in the Leningrad Region. A citizen of Kyrgyzstan is charged under Article 282 Part 2 of the Criminal Code. According to the investigation, the defendant “took an active part and held religious events (“dawah” and “taalim”) in a construction camp on the territory of the Kingiseppsky District.”
It was reported in mid-August that another criminal case under Article 282.2 Parts 1 and 2 of the Criminal Code was opened in Mordovia against several alleged Tablighi Jamaat supporters.
Tablighi Jamaat was banned in Russia in 2009, in our opinion, without proper justification. This religious movement is engaged in the propaganda of fundamentalist Islam, but it was never implicated in any calls for violence; therefore, we view persecution against its supporters as inappropriate.
On August 18, 2020, the Krasnoglinsky District Court of Samara satisfied the claim of the Samara Region Prosecutor's Office and partially recognized the Russian-language editions of two authoritative interpretations of the Quran (tafsirs) as extremist. The first volume of tafsir as-Sa’di and the second and third volumes of Ibn Kathir's interpretation are prohibited, with the exception of direct quotations from the Quran. Lawyers who represent the interests of publishers intend to challenge the ban. As-Sa’di's interpretation of the Quran indeed contains a number of interpretations that can be regarded as an endorsement of modern military jihad. It should be borne in mind that this is a fairly popular interpretation of the Quran, and the negative impact of its prohibition may exceed the impact of some of its statements. As for the tafsir of Ibn Kathir, a ban on friendship with “unbelievers” and calls to fight with them can be found in this text, but we must not forget that Ibn Kathir is not a modern author, but a 14th century scholar, and the historical conditions, under which he was writing, were very different from our modern one, so his text cannot be expected to conform to the modern understanding of tolerance.
Sanctions for Insulting the Feelings of Religious Believers
It became known in mid-August that the case of a 30-year-old resident of Kiselevsk in the Kemerovo Region, who was charged under Article 148 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (public actions expressing clear disrespect for society and committed in order to offend the religious feelings of believers), went to court. According to the investigation, the defendant published materials on the Internet that were offensive for the Muslims and Islam and contained offenses against the attributes of this religion. The linguistic expert examination confirmed that the materials contained “signs of obvious disrespect for the society and offences against the religious feelings of Muslims.” We do not have the details of the publication made by the Kiselevsk resident. If they really contained insults against the Muslims or incited hatred towards them, then his actions should have been qualified under Article 20.3.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses; otherwise, he should not have been prosecuted at all.
In late August, we learned about a criminal case opened under Article 148 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (public actions expressing clear disrespect for society and committed in order to insult the religious feelings of believers, committed in places specially designed for worship). An 18-year-old male Chita resident became a suspect. In late July 2020, with the help of a friend, he recorded a TikTok video, in which he enters the Cathedral of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God and, crossing himself, lights up his cigarette from a church candle. After the video leaked to the media, he apologized for it three times. Although the young man violated the accepted rules of conduct in the church, his actions in the church, judging by the video, caused no damage to the objects of worship and did not attract anyone's attention (in contrast to the publication of the video). Thus, Part 2 of the article in this case was applied inappropriately.
We opposed the amendments, which introduced the notion of insulting the feelings of believers into the text of Article 148 of the Criminal Code, because we believe that this vague concept does not and cannot have a clear legal meaning.