Misuse of Anti-Extremism in April 2021
In early April, the State Duma adopted a law on electoral candidates with the “foreign agent” designation. The adopted amendments, subsequently approved by the Federation Council and signed by the president, introduce two new legislative concepts – “a candidate affiliated with a person or entity performing the functions of a foreign agent” and “a candidate who is a person performing the functions of a foreign agent.” The former means any candidate who, within two years prior to the scheduling of an election, worked for a “foreign agent” non-profit organization, was the head or member of a “foreign agent” unregistered public association, was an employee of a “foreign agent” media resource or received money or material assistance from foreign agents while carrying out political activities. The latter category includes individuals recognized as “foreign agents” or “foreign agent media.” Both an election commission and a candidate must inform the voters about their “foreign agent” status on their signature lists and all their campaign materials, including debates. In addition, the law extends the ban on participation in election campaigns, already in place for “foreign agent” NPOs, to unregistered public associations recognized as “foreign agents” or “foreign agent media.”
In late April, the president also signed a law establishing administrative responsibility for failure to mention the foreign agent designation when distributing the materials by “foreign agent media.”
In mid-April, the State Duma adopted in the first reading a bill that added the reference to “a specialized information databank of extremist materials” to the federal law “On Countering Extremist Activity.” The Ministry of Justice is expected to enter the materials added to the existing Federal List of Extremist Materials into the unified databank for internal purposes – to simplify the comparison and identification of extremist materials discovered by state authorities with the previously prohibited ones.
Sanctions for Oppositional Activities and Criticism of the Authorities
In mid-April, the Moscow City Prosecutor's Office filed an administrative court claim seeking to recognize the Anti-Corruption Foundation (Fond borby s korruptsiei, FBK) and the Foundation for the Protection of Citizens' Rights (Fond zaschity prav grazhdan, FZPG) (both organizations had been recognized as performing the functions of foreign agents) along with all “Navalny's headquarters” throughout the country as extremist organizations. According to the prosecutors, these organizations “under the guise of liberal slogans ... are engaged in creating the conditions for destabilization of the social and socio-political situation,” and their actual intent “is to create conditions for changing the foundations of the constitutional order also using the “color revolution” scenario.” In addition, a press release issued by the Prosecutor's Office mentioned that these entities carry out the activities of foreign and international organizations recognized as “undesirable” on the territory of Russia. Later, the agency said that Navalny's organizations were engaged in extremist activities “by calling for violent actions, extremist actions, mass riots, and by trying to involve minors in illegal activities, as was confirmed in a number of cases by judicial acts that have entered into legal force.”
The Prosecutor's Office has also suspended the activities of the Navalny's headquarters; they were added to the Rosfinmonitoring list. The activities of FBK and FZPG were suspended by the court. The prosecutorial claim will be reviewed behind closed doors since it contains materials classified as “secret.” However, it is known that, among other things, the materials refer to a criminal case under Article 239 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (creating a public association whose activities involve violence against citizens or other harm to their health), which, as it turns out, was opened against Alexei Navalny, FBK Director Ivan Zhdanov and former Head of Navalny's Headquarters Leonid Volkov in February.
According to the law, changing the foundations of the constitutional order, as well as calling or making preparations for such actions, are classified as extremist activities only if the change in question is violent in character. We do not know exactly what calls for violence by the FBK or Navalny's headquarters or what actions defined in the law as extremist activity the prosecutors had in mind; we are also not aware of any court verdicts for such calls that have entered into force. The definition of extremist activity has never included carrying out the activities of “undesirable organizations.” This definition also does not include calls for mass riots and the involvement of minors in illegal activities. Prosecution under Article 239 of the Criminal Code does not fall into the category of fighting extremism.
In St. Petersburg, a criminal case was opened in late April under Article 214 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (vandalism committed by a group of persons motivated by political enmity). The case was based on the graffiti painted on an electric cabin – Alexei Navalny’s portrait captioned “The Hero of the New Times.” We believe that this criminal case was initiated inappropriately. In our opinion, neither the image of Alexei Navalny with his hands folded in a shape of a heart nor the image caption contained signs of inciting political enmity. There are also some additional considerations of a more general nature. We doubt the appropriateness of ascribing the motive of political and ideological hatred or enmity in a Criminal Code article that covers vandalism. Vandalism motivated by hatred is essentially close to another illegal action – incitement to hatred. However, incitement to political or ideological hatred, unlike, say, racial or religious hatred, does not constitute an offense or crime under Article 20.3.1 of the Administrative Code or Article 282 of the Criminal Code. Such actions, unless they are associated with violence, are indistinguishable from legal political struggle, which implies rivalry between political platforms and leaders.
In addition, Article 214 of the Criminal Code is] often used in cases where property damage has not been too serious. We believe that for the instances, in which the vandalism case cannot be terminated for insignificance, the introduction of a corresponding administrative norm would have been appropriate.
In early April, the court in Mari El fined Stanislav Rukavishnikov one thousand rubles under Article 20.29 of the Code of the Administrative Offenses (public distribution of extremist materials). He posted on his VKontakte page “Let’s Remind Crooks and Thieves about Their Manifesto-2002,” a video created by supporters of Alexei Navalny. In late April, an administrative offense report was compiled against Albert Khalimov, a blogger from Perm, for publishing the same video on two separate occasions. The publication of this video frequently leads to sanctions against opposition-minded social media users, even though it merely lists a number of unfulfilled campaign promises from the 2002 United Russia party manifesto and calls to vote for any other party. We view the prohibition of this video and sanctions for its distribution as inappropriate.
Alina Grek, who was planning to participate in an action in support of Navalny, was placed under arrest for five days under Article 20.29 of the Code of the Administrative Offenses in Simferopol. Her VKontakte page was found to contain the video “Hitler vs. Putin: a Great Rap Battle” (Entry No. 4289 on the Federal List of Extremist Materials) shared in 2014. We view the ban against this video as inappropriate. The video’s authors did not advocate Nazism, but merely criticized Putin's policies and ridiculed the mutual accusations of fascism traded between Russia and Ukraine.
It became known in early April that, in late March, Penza resident Yuri Makeyev was sentenced by a court to 20 hours of community service under Article 20.3.1 of the Code of the Administrative Offenses for his VKontakte comment. Under a post about the brutal beating of a detainee in the Criminal Investigation Department building of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Penza Regional Directorate Makeyev left the comment, “Such werewolves must be publicly and cruelly executed.”
Although lynching and “cruel executions” are obviously unacceptable in a democratic society, we believe that Makeyev was prosecuted inappropriately. First, Makeyev’s statement was a reaction to a specific instance of abuse of power by law enforcement officials. Furthermore, he did not threaten specific people but rather used a provocative metaphor to express his desire to rid the society of the law enforcers who violate the law. Finally, law enforcement agencies should not be considered a vulnerable social group in need of protection under anti-extremist legislation – on the contrary, they should be extremely tolerant of criticism unless a real threat of violence is involved.
Other Sanctions for Incitement of Hatred
In Cheboksary, a case under Article 20.3.1 of the Administrative Code was initiated against student Marina Pralkova for sharing on VKontakte in 2015 a text from the public group “The Lamp Conversations” written by radical feminist Lyubov Kalugina. The post spoke of four stages, which, according to Kalugina, women go through in understanding their oppressed position. Those who have reached the fourth stage, according to the author, are preparing a theoretical and ideological basis for future generations of women who will be able to “fight for their place under the sun to the last drop of blood” and “will finally sweep away the power of sperm scum from the face of this beautiful planet.” The expert examination carried out at the prosecution’s request concluded that the text contained a set of linguistic and psychological signs of inciting hatred towards men and humiliation of their dignity.
We view the case against Pralkova as inappropriate. The post she has shared is dedicated to women's awareness of their position in society and the strategy of combating patriarchy, the active phase of which, as follows from the text, will unfold in the distant future. Meanwhile, the text contains no incitement to violence against men. The characterization given by Kalugina to men in general can be called offensive, but such rhetoric is generally typical for certain radical feminists and, as far as we know, at the current stage of social development it does not, in and of itself, entail socially dangerous consequences. In addition, Pralkova shared the post back in 2015, and so far this act had no noticeable consequences.
Prosecutions for “Rehabilitation of Nazism”
In April, there were several reports of new criminal cases for the rehabilitation of Nazism opened in connection with uploading photographs of Nazi criminals and collaborators to the Immortal Regiment website in 2020. In Vladivostok, such a case was initiated under Article 354.1 Part 3 of the Criminal Code (public dissemination of information expressing obvious disrespect to society about the days of Russia’s military glory) in connection with the uploaded photo of Goebbels. Two cases under Part 1 of the same article (denial of the facts established by the Nuremberg Tribunal) were initiated in the Irkutsk region against Artyom Bulachev and Ruslan Z (a minor). The detainees were found to possess ultra-right insignia – one of them was wearing a “Skinhead Irkutsk” T-shirt and had “SS” tattooed on his thigh.
In general, we are inclined to believe that the actions of internet users who submit such photos to the Immortal Regiment website are qualified incorrectly. Apparently, these photographs were not accompanied by any statements approving or denying Nazi crimes. An action such as uploading photographs of Nazi leaders to a website, even if committed on the commemorative day of May 9, in and of itself, constitutes neither a public endorsement of Nazi crimes, nor a denial or approval of the facts established by the Nuremberg Tribunal, nor dissemination of any information about a day of Russia's military glory.
Persecution against Religious Organizations and Believers
The prosecutions of Jehovah's Witnesses on the charges of involvement in the activities of local religious organizations, which have been banned for carrying out extremist activities, continued. In our opinion, these bans have no legal basis.
In the Jewish Autonomous Region, a court issued a suspended sentence of two and a half years under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (participation in the activities of an extremist organization) to Jehovah's Witnesses follower Tatyana Zagulina. The sentences of Larisa Artamonova and Elena Reino-Chernyshova were increased in severity – the appellate court replaced their small fines with suspended sentences of two and a half years.
In Sychevka of the Smolensk Region, Maria Troshina and Natalia Sorokina received a six-year suspended sentence under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (organizing the activities of an extremist organization). In Smolensk, Valery Shalev and Ruslan Korolev received suspended sentences of six and a half years, and Yevgeny Deshko – a six-year suspended sentence.
In Krasnodar Krai, the Abinsky District Court sentenced Alexander Scherbina to three years behind bars on the same charge. Earlier, Jehovah's Witnesses Alexander Ivshin and Oleg Danilov received real prison terms in the same court.
Four new criminal cases were initiated in the same district. Alexander Nikolaev and another Jehovah's Witness, whose name has not yet been reported, became suspects under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code, and Anna Yermak and Olga Ponomaryova – under Article 282.2 Part 1.1 of the Criminal Code (recruiting into an extremist organization).
Maxim Derendyaev and Alexander Kutin were arrested in Izhevsk in connection with a new criminal case under Article 282.2 Part 1. Sergei Ashikhmin has been banned from performing certain activities.
In Tula, Yevgeny Godunov, Angela Putilskaya and Yulia Popkova were placed in a pre-trial detention center, and Gurami Lobadze – under house arrest.
In Yaroslavl, a court put Jehovah's Witnesses Andrey Vyushin, Pyotr Filiznov, Alexander Kuznetsov and Maria Kuznetsova under arrest.
Inver Siniukhov was arrested in Maykop (Republic of Adygea).
New criminal cases were also initiated under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code against Yuri Usanov from the city of Taiga in the Kemerovo Region and a resident of the Chelyabinsk Region, whose name was not reported. Svetlana Yefremova from Lesozavodsk of Primorsky Krai and Sergei Kuznetsov from Vyazemsky of Khabarovsk Krai faced criminal prosecution under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code.
In early April, 11 alleged followers of the Tablighi Jamaat movement (recognized as extremist in Russia, in our opinion, inappropriately) were detained in the Omsk Region. Three of them became defendants in the case under Article 282.2 Parts 1 and 2 of the Criminal Code; law enforcement agencies plan to expel the others from the country for violation of the migration regime.
Another Tablighi Jamaat follower was detained in mid-April in the Ivanovo Region – a case against him was opened under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code.
In Yekaterinburg, the Central District Military Court found Rais Mavlyutov guilty under Article 205.1 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (incitement to terrorist activity), Article 205.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (public calls for terrorist activity committed on the Internet) and Article 205.5 Parts 1 and 2 of the Criminal Code (organizing the activities of a terrorist organization and participation in it) and sentenced him to 23 years of incarceration, with four of them to be spent in prison. Law enforcement agencies and the court considered Mavlyutov an active member of the radical Islamic party Hizb ut-Tahrir, which was recognized as a terrorist organization in Russia, despite the fact that it has never been implicated in any terrorist attacks.
Alleged supporters of Hizb ut-Tahrir were detained in April in the Kemerovo and Novosibirsk regions.
In mid-April, the Naberezhnye Chelny City Court granted the prosecutor's office's claim to recognize as extremist the following publications: a large number of books of Islamic theologian Said Nursi in Ottoman Turkish, four of his books in Tatar, two in Russian, Islam in Modern Turkey by Mary Weld (Sükran Vahide), Ayats and Hadith in Risale-i Nur by Kenan Demirtaş and Selected Hadith from Qutub al-Sitta by Cemal Uşşak. This court decision sets an unfortunate record in Russia’s literature-banning practice – 47 book and serial titles (a total of 163 separate publications) were declared extremist.
We consider this prohibition inappropriate. As we have repeatedly noted earlier, in our opinion, the writings of Said Nursi contain no aggressive appeals or attempts to incite violence among their readers, while his statements about the truth of one religion and the falsity of others cannot serve as a basis for banning religious literature. Banning an entire list of books only on the grounds that they are related to the teachings of Nursi (whose followers in Russia are viewed as members of Nurcular, an association recognized as extremist) is even less acceptable – yet, this consideration was used as the principal argument in favor of the ban. The lawsuit failed to provide a single specific quote in support of the claim.
We must also recall that, in 2018, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found that Russia had violated the European Convention on Human Rights by banning 15 works by Nursi. We also doubt the appropriateness of banning the book by Mary Weld (an admirer and a scholar of Said Nursi’s heritage, whose work is the theologian’s biography) as well as the claims against Kenan Demirtas’ work on Risale-i Nur.
The Orthodox Church of the Sovereign Mother of God
In late April, a court in Moscow recognized The Rose of the Seraphites. The Bogomil Gospel, a book by Bishop Veniamin Bereslavsky of the Orthodox Church of the Sovereign Mother of God, as extremist. According to the experts, the book contained statements regarding the superiority or inferiority of people depending on their religious affiliation, calls for introducing restrictions or preferences in family relations for a group defined on religious grounds, and justification of hate and hostile, intolerant, antagonistic attitude towards a group of individuals identified by their religious affiliation.
We see no reason to ban The Rose of the Seraphites as an extremist material. The book contains the statements about the doctrine espoused by the author, which is extolled as the truth and the salvation, as well as the statements critical of Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Judaism, modern church institutions and secular life. All this, however, has nothing to do with incitement to hatred, since the disagreements in question are religious and philosophical and do not result in any calls for aggressive actions or discrimination against other believers. The book’s stand on family relations, psychological effects the book can have on readers, or its difference from the doctrinal literature of the religious movements considered “traditional for Russia” cannot, in and of themselves, serve as grounds for its prohibition, since they do not constitute signs of extremism.