Misuse of Anti-Extremism in September 2021
In late September, the FSB published an order “On Approving the List of Information in the Field of Military and Military-Technical Activities of the Russian Federation, Which, When Received by a Foreign State, its State Agencies, an International or Foreign Organization, Foreign Citizens or Stateless Persons, Can Be Used to Threaten the Security of the Russian Federation.”
The document was developed to be applied in the context of the law, according to which collecting the information on Russia’s military and military-technical activities that can be used “against the security” of Russia by a foreign recipient in the interests of foreign states and citizens constitutes possible grounds for recognizing an individual as a “foreign agent,” if no signs of treason and espionage are present.
The approved list consists of 60 topics and is somewhat different from the project presented in July. In particular, the clause that covers information “on preparing, signing, content, implementation, terminating or suspending the operation of international treaties and agreements” was expanded with the phrase “except for the cases stipulated by the obligations of the Russian Federation in connection with its participation in international treaties and agreements.” However, for example, the clause that prohibits the collection of “information on the progress and results of the crime report reviews and preliminary investigations carried out by investigators” of the FSB and the military agencies of the Investigative Committee except for information made public with permission from these agencies has been left unchanged. A number of other clauses also create many opportunities for excessive restrictions on access to information and freedom of speech.
Designating an individual collecting such data as a foreign agent already constitutes an excessive restriction on these freedoms. However, in reality, this step also implies an immediate threat of criminal prosecution – if a person becomes a “foreign agent” specifically due to collecting such information, then any violation of the foreign agents legislation committed by this person will be punished immediately under the criminal rather than administrative procedure; for example, if they fail to declare themselves a “foreign agent” and never ask to be included in the appropriate register, they could receive five years in prison for this violation alone.
Passive Suffrage Restrictions
In the first half of September, election commissions and courts across the country continued to remove from ballots the candidates in any way connected with the activities of Alexei Navalny's organizations based on the law that came into force in June and prohibited persons “involved” in the activities of organizations recognized as extremist and terrorist from running for office. As practice shows, these cases tend to use a very expansive definition of “involvement,” but this does not worry election commissions as well as courts that readily confirm their decisions. Not only former members of Navalny's organizations but also candidates who participated in rallies in his support or spoke out on social networks against his prosecution were removed from the elections.
For example, a court in the Kemerovo Region removed Galina Filchenko from the elections to the State Duma for taking part in a rally in support of Navalny in Moscow on January 23. Self-nominated candidate Alexandra Semenova was removed from the Perm City Duma elections. The court interpreted the administrative charges she faced in 2017–2018 for participating in non-permitted actions organized by Navalny's associates as proof of her involvement in “extremist” organizations. In both cases, the lawsuits demanding the annulment of the candidates’ registration had been filed by rival politicians running in the same elections.
The Central Election Commission excluded Elena Izotova and Nikolai Kuzmin, two Yabloko candidates for the State Duma, from the party's federal list. In the lawsuit against Izotova, the Kazan prosecutor alluded to her posts on social networks, as well as the fact that, in February 2021, she greeted the head of the local Navalny Headquarters upon his release from a temporary detention facility.
As far as we know, only one court refused in September to satisfy the prosecutorial claim for deregistration of an alleged Navalny supporter from the elections. The Yeisk City Court of Krasnodar Krai did not disqualify from the State Duma elections the self-nominated candidate Alexander Korovainy, since he attended the rally on January 31, 2021 as a journalist and removed from the Internet a video he had published in support of Navalny even before Navalny's organizations were recognized as extremist.
Also, already after the elections, a court in Kazan satisfied the claim of the district prosecutor's office and recognized Yabloko member Gulnaz Ravilova as “involved” in the activities of an extremist organization, the Navalny Headquarters. The claim was based on the fact that Ravilova had publicly expressed on social networks her disagreement with the sanctions against Navalny personally and with the ban against his organizations. Ravilova had also justified in her posts the actions of local activists Andrei Boyarshinov and Timur Tukhvatullin detained for their actions in support of the politician. From our point of view, protesting the sanctions against a banned organization should not be regarded as involvement in its activities. Therefore, we view granting the indicated status to Ravilova as inappropriate.
It is also worth noting that, on September 6, Roskomnadzor started blocking the Smart Voting website after the Russian Prosecutor General's Office requested that access to information resources associated with the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) recognized as extremist be restricted. On the first day of the elections, September 17, Apple and Google removed the “Navalny” app, which allowed access to the Smart Voting list, from their stores; Apple also disabled for its Russian users the Private Node service, which masks the IP address and encrypts traffic. This was done in response to the demands of the Moscow Prosecutor's Office, which recognized the Smart Voting materials as incitement to extremist activity based on Article 15.3 of the Law on Information on the grounds that Smart Voting was a project of Alexei Navalny and his supporters whose structures had been recognized as extremist organizations. On September 18, YouTube blocked three Smart Voting videos, while Google blocked the lists of Smart Voting candidates shared via Google Docs.
After the end of the elections, on September 21, supporters of Alexei Navalny started complaining that VKontakte was blocking Russian users’ access to the supporters’ personal pages. These restrictions were based on a request from the Prosecutor General's Office related to Smart Voting. A few days later, it became known that the request of the Prosecutor General's Office mentioned 173 resources, access to which was to be blocked including pages on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, VKontakte, Odnoklassniki, and Yandex Zen as well as Telegram channels and websites of individual projects.
We believe that the current Russian legislation restricting the dissemination of online information unreasonably and disproportionately restricts freedom of speech. This is particularly true with regard to the extrajudicial blocking rules. The ECHR has repeatedly pointed out their inconsistency with the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights and their arbitrary application.
Sanctions for Oppositional Activities and Criticism of the Authorities
In late September, the Main Investigation Department of the Investigative Committee announced the initiation of a case under Article 282.1 Parts 1 and 2 of the Criminal Code (creating an extremist community and participating in it) against Alexei Navalny and his supporters. Navalny, Leonid Volkov, Ivan Zhdanov and “other persons” not named in the Investigative Committee’s announcement became suspects under Part 1. Lyubov Sobol, Georgy Alburov, Ruslan Shaveddinov, Vyacheslav Gimadi, Pavel Zelensky and Rustem Mulyukov and unnamed “other persons” became suspects under Part 2.
According to the investigators, Navalny, as the director of the FBK, created an “extremist community” in 2014. Later, the politician and his supporters created the Navalny's Headquarters public movement as well as eight other non-profit organizations "to expand the scope of criminal activity" of the FBK.
Unfortunately, we had no opportunity to review the text of the decision to open the criminal case; however, the grounds listed in the Investigative Committee's announcement raise doubts and numerous questions.
The Investigative Committee provided several examples of “extremist” crimes committed by members of the “criminal community.” However, it remains unclear why this list of crimes included the cases opened under articles completely unrelated to anti-extremist legislation (Articles 239 and 151.1 of the Criminal Code). The Investigative Committee also failed to provide any information regarding the nature of the links between “community” members. It is also unclear why the investigation regarded activist Mulyukov from Ufa and FBK camera operator Zelensky as members of this community, but not thousands of other activists and dozens of people employed by Navalny's structures.
A court in Chelyabinsk sentenced anarchists Dmitry Tsibukovsky and his wife Anastasia Safonova to two and a half and two years in prison respectively, finding them guilty of hooliganism committed by a group of persons by prior conspiracy with the use of weapons and motivated by political hatred and enmity (Article 213 Part 2 of the Criminal Code). The charge was related to the anarchists’ action on February 14–15, 2018, when they placed a banner with the inscription “The FSB is the Main Terrorist” on the fence of the Chelyabinsk FSB Office and also threw a flare (classified by the investigation as a weapon) over the fence (a video recording of the action was published by the People's Self-Defense VKontakte community).
We consider this verdict inappropriate. In our opinion, although the activists were guided by political motives, the qualification of their actions under Article 213 of the Criminal Code is incorrect. The banner was placed on the fence in the middle of the night with no witnesses, and, as far as we can judge, the actions of the anarchists did not violate citizen’s work or leisure conditions, work of any institutions, etc., that is, did not result in a gross violation of the public order. In addition, they were likely not attempting to demonstrate their disrespect for society – on the contrary, the purpose of the action was, to draw public attention to a socio-political issue they viewed as important. It is also unclear why the investigation regarded a flare thrown down on the snow as a weapon.
The Oktyabrsky District Court of Ufa issued a three-year suspended sentence to 60-year-old retiree Ilmira Bikbaeva under Article 282.3 Part 1 of the Criminal Code for making several small monetary transfers to the account of Agilyash, the mother of the Bashkir nationalist Airat Dilmukhametov, in 2018–2019. Airat Dilmukhametov was sentenced to nine years in a maximum-security colony in August 2020. He was found guilty under four articles of the Criminal Code for his public statements. We are inclined to consider all these accusations inappropriate. Therefore, criminal prosecution against Bikbaeva is also unfounded, even if the transferred funds were related to the activities for which Dilmukhametov had been punished – although she claims they were not.
In September, it was reported that two VKontakte users faced sanctions under Article 20.3.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (incitement to hatred) for publishing materials sharply critical of state authorities and law enforcement agencies. Perm resident Ivan Shilonosov was sentenced to 20 hours of community service for his critical comments about police officers, and Pavel Matvienko, an activist from Novosibirsk, was fined for posting a photograph of a woman with the “Putin is Hitler” poster.
From our point of view, law enforcement officers and government officials should not be considered a vulnerable social group protected by anti-extremist legislation. On the contrary, as the European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly pointed out, they should be extremely tolerant of criticism, unless it includes a real threat of violence. It is also worth reiterating that we are in favor of excluding the vague concept of “social group” from anti-extremist legislation altogether.
In September, two residents of Rostov-on-Don were arrested under Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (public display of symbols or attributes of an extremist organization) for their social media posts featuring the Smart Voting logo. The Pervomaisky district court arrested Bella Nasibyan, a staff member of Yabloko candidate Alexander Ryabchuk’s headquarters and a life streamer at YouTube channel RusNews. Nasibyan had shared a Ryabchuk’s poster featuring the Smart Voting logo on her Instagram page. Igor Khoroshilov, editor-in-chief of local independent website Voicedaily.ru, was arrested twice for ten days by the Proletarsky district court, on the basis of sharing posts with the Smart Voting logo on Facebook. In both of the cases the courts saw the Smart Voting logo as a symbol of the banned FBK. Since we believe that the ban on Navalny’s organizations lacks proper legal grounds, we think that administrative sanctions for display of the relevant symbols are inappropriate as well.
In Yekaterinburg, the court placed three members of the Other Russia of Eduard Limonov party – Yevgeny Nekrasov, Sergei Demidov and Stepan Yurchenko – under arrest for 15 days under Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses for demonstrating during a rally the symbols of the Other Russia of Eduard Limonov – the hand grenade commonly known as “limonka” and a lightning bolt in a white circle on the red background. According to the party's supporters, the law enforcement agencies saw in this flag “an element of the symbols of the banned National Bolshevik Party.” We consider the 2007 decision to ban the NBP as an extremist organization inappropriate. Accordingly, from our point of view, sanctions for displaying the party’s symbols are inappropriate as well.
A court in Chuvashia fined Alexei Glukhov, a lawyer and the head of the Apology of Protest (Apologiya Protesta) project one and a half thousand rubles under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (mass distribution of extremist materials). The case was based on his 2016 retweet of the tweet by Grani.ru video portal regarding the trial of Chuvash activist Dmitry Semenov whom Glukhov defended in court. The video mentioned the slogan “Orthodoxy or Death," which, in our opinion, was recognized as extremist inappropriately. In addition, we believe that a person should not be punished for simply mentioning prohibited materials.
At least three people – Matvei Kochetkov and Oleg Felde from Barnaul and Kirill Lebedev from Ivanovo – were fined in September under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offenses for publishing the video “Let’s Remind Crooks and Thieves about Their Manifesto-2002” created by supporters of Alexei Navalny. The video merely lists a number of unfulfilled campaign promises from the 2002 United Russia party manifesto and calls to vote for any party other than United Russia. We consider the 2013 ban against it unreasonable and sanctions against its distribution inappropriate.
The Partizansky District Court in Krasnoyarsk Krai fined Larisa Babaeva 30 thousand rubles under Article 20.1 Part 3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (dissemination on the Internet of information expressing disrespect to the state, society or government agencies in an indecent form) for repeatedly publishing statements critical of Vladimir Putin and comparing him to Hitler in the “We Tell the Truth” Viber chat. We would like to remind that, in our opinion, the prosecutions against members of opposition and activists under Article 20.1 Parts 3-5 of the Code of Administrative Offenses are aimed at suppressing criticism of governmental activities.
Sanctions for “Rehabilitation of Nazism” and Display of Nazi Symbols
The Chelyabinsk Regional Court in September fined 19-year-old Ivan Kvitko 50 thousand rubles under Article 354.1 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (public denial or justification of crimes established by the Nuremberg Tribunal). On May 5, 2020, Kvitko submitted a photograph of Adolf Hitler for publication on the Immortal Regiment Online project website. The moderators saw the submission and blocked it.
We do not doubt that the actions of Kvitko and other Internet users who uploaded photographs of Nazis and their collaborators to the Memory Bank for the Immortal Regiment Online display deserve condemnation, but, in our opinion, they are qualified under Article 354.1 of the Criminal Code incorrectly. We believe that an action, such as uploading photos of Nazis to a website, even if done on the eve of the Victory Day of May 9, does not constitute a public endorsement of Nazi crimes, or dissemination of any information about the days of Russia’s military glory and memorable dates – especially if the photographs are not accompanied by statements endorsing or denying Nazi crimes.
Meanwhile, a new similar case was initiated in Bashkortostan against an 18-year-old resident of the town of Tuymazy. According to the investigators, he submitted a photograph of the Wehrmacht Field Marshal Ewald von Kleist, convicted by the USSR Supreme Court as a Nazi criminal in 1952, to the Memory Bank website to be published by the Immortal Regiment Online project. The young man’s actions were qualified under Article 354.1 Part 3 of the Criminal Code (public dissemination of information about the days of Russian military glory associated with the defense of the Fatherland, expressing clear disrespect for society).
Another case related to the rehabilitation of Nazism (Article 354.1 Part 4 of the Criminal Code) was initiated in Ingushetia in connection with the publication of the video “Day of Shame.” Its author Islam Belokiev, 32, has lived outside of Russia for a long time; a video of the same title was published on his YouTube channel, “Thoughts of Islam,” on May 9, 2021. In this video, the blogger argued that Muslims should not celebrate Victory Day or use the St. George ribbon as a memorial symbol, since the history of the war is associated with the deportations and death of their ancestors. He also believes that Muslims should not congratulate war veterans, since “many of them” served in the NKVD and took part in the persecution against peoples of the Caucasus.
We believe that, although the content of this video may anger many people who respect Victory Day and war veterans, it does not, in and of itself, provide sufficient grounds for criminal prosecution against its author. As a reminder, the European Convention on Human Rights protects the freedom to impart information and ideas that may be perceived as offensive, shocking and disturbing. Dissemination of information inciting hatred and containing calls for violence and discrimination can be restricted. However, Belokiev's address contained no calls for violence or discrimination against any vulnerable group of the population; the author has just emotionally expressed his point of view on a socially significant issue.
A court in Krasnodar Krai fined philatelist Sergei Ryazantsev two thousand rubles under Article 20.3. of the Code of Administrative Offenses (public display of prohibited symbols) for offering four stamps with Nazi symbols for sale through an online auction. In addition to the fine, the court ordered to confiscate the stamps as the matter of an administrative offense but to keep them in the administrative case file rather than destroy them at once. In our opinion, the confiscation of goods in such cases is unjustified, since these antiques are objects of material value for the seller and not a propaganda tool.
In Tatarstan, a court sentenced activist Andrei Boyarshinov from Zelenodolsk to two days of administrative arrest after police officers noticed on his arm a bracelet with the Odal rune which had been used by the SS structures and is popular among modern neo-Nazis. However, we are inclined to believe that the Odal rune depicted on the bracelet along with other runic symbols was not used by Boyarshinov to advocate Nazism – moreover, it is not a banned symbol. Therefore, there are no sufficient grounds for prosecuting him under Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses.
In the Volgograd Region, a court fined 18-year-old Danila Kostitsyn one thousand rubles for publishing in the “Overheard Nikolaevsk” online community the “Tom and Jerry” cartoon with the cat dressed in a German military cap and overlaid with the Nazi flag image. Attempts to prosecute social media users for sharing similar Tom and Jerry videos already took place in several regions.
For all the cases under Article 20.3. of the Code of Administrative Offenses, we believe that the display of Nazi symbols or symbols of extremist organizations should only be punished if intended to promote the corresponding ideology. Unfortunately, the note added to Article 20.3 of the Administrative Code to clarify the situations when the use of such symbols is permitted does not preclude the possibility of inappropriate sanctions.
Sanctions for “Insulting the Feelings of Believers”
In late September, it became known that a criminal case was initiated against a 36-year-old resident of Kemerovo under Article 148 Part 1of the Criminal Code (public actions expressing clear disrespect for society and committed in order to insult the religious feelings of believers). According to media reports, the woman published comments on a social network in which she insulted Christians and “cursed religious symbols using obscene language.”
It is worth reminding that we have opposed the amendments that introduced insulting the religious feelings into the composition of Article 148 of the Criminal Code since we believe that this vague concept does not and cannot have a clear legal meaning. We do not know the content of the comments posted by the Kemerovo resident. If they incited hatred of Christians, her actions should have been qualified under Article 20.3.1 of the Administrative Code; otherwise, she should not have been held liable at all.
Persecution against Religious Organizations and Believers
The mass prosecutions against Jehovah's Witnesses continued in September; they were charged with involvement in the activities of local religious organizations banned as extremist. We believe that these prohibitions had no legal basis, and, therefore, prosecutions against the believers are inappropriate.
According to our records, at least five verdicts were issued against nine Jehovah's Witnesses in September.
- The Sverdlovsky District Court of Kostroma sentenced Dmitry Terebilov to three years in a maximum-security colony under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (participating in the activities of an extremist organization).
- The Porkhov District Court of the Pskov Region issued a three-year suspended sentence with a two-year probationary period to Alexei Khabarov under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code.
- The Birobidzhan District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region found Andrei Gubin guilty under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code and issued a suspended sentence of two and a half years with a two-year probationary period and restriction of liberty for one year.
- The Traktorozavodsky District Court of Volgograd delivered a verdict in the case of five believers. Sergei Melnik and Igor Yegozaryan were found guilty under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (organizing the activities of an extremist organization) and sentenced to six years in prison each. Valery Rogozin, Vyacheslav Osipov and Denis Peresunko were additionally found guilty under Article 282.3 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (financing of extremist activities). Peresunko and Osipov were sentenced to six years and three months each in a penal colony and Rogozin – to six and a half years.
- The Leninsky District Court of Ufa issued a two-year suspended sentence with a probationary period of three years to Anatoly Vilitkevich under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code.
Also in early September, the Amur Regional Court reviewed an appeal against the verdict to Alexei Berchuk and Dmitry Golik issued by the Blagoveshchensk City Court in June. Berchuk’s eight years in prison under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code remained unchanged, but the punishment for Golik, convicted under Article 282.2 Parts 1 and 1.1 of the Criminal Code (involvement in the activities of an extremist organization) has changed. The appellate instance dismissed the charge under Part 1.1 and reduced the sentence to six years and two months of imprisonment followed by restriction of liberty for a year and two months.
People also faced new criminal charges of involvement in the Jehovah's Witnesses activities. The following believers have become suspects or defendants in such cases:
- Dmitry Semenov and Nadezhda Semenova from Kamchatka Krai – under Article 282.2 Part 1.1 of the Criminal Code;
- An unnamed elder of the Jehovah's Witnesses community from the Chelyabinsk Region – under Article 282.2 Part 1;
- 57-year-old Jehovah’s Witnesses follower from the Tambov Region – under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code;
- Residents of the Sverdlovsk Region: Valentina Kugukova – under Article 282.2 Parts 1.1 and 2 of the Criminal Code; Stanislav Fokin – under Article 282.2 Part 2 and Article 282.3 Part 1; Marina Fokina, Kristina Gruzdeva and Alexandra Zakharova – under Article 282.2 Part 2 only.
In late September, the 2nd Western District Military Court found Khamid Igamberdiev guilty of publicly justifying terrorism (Article 205.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code). Igamberdiev, who does not have Russian citizenship, was convicted in September 2019 in the case of the “Moscow Nine” followers of the radical Islamic party Hizb ut-Tahrir and sentenced under Article 205.5 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (organizing the activities of a terrorist organization) to 16 years in a maximum-security colony with an additional punishment in the form of a year of restriction of freedom. Now the court added three more years to his imprisonment; taking his previous sentence into account, the total term behind bars now amounts to 17.5 years.
The criminal case was opened in connection with the conversations that Igamberdiev had with his cellmates in the pre-trial detention center. According to Igamberdiyev, the experts, followed by the investigation and the court, interpreted as justification of terrorism his denial that Hizb ut-Tahrir, of which he still considers himself a member, was ever engaged in terrorist activities
We view Igamberdiev's verdict as inappropriate. The Hizb ut-Tahrir party, recognized as terrorist in Russia, has never been implicated in violence. Denying that Hizb ut-Tahrir engages in terrorist activities (as well as holding meetings, reading literature, etc.) should not be interpreted as justification of terrorism. It is also worth noting that conversations with three inmates should hardly be considered public propaganda.
A new case against Hizb ut-Tahrir supporters in Moscow was reported in September. M. Ganiev became a suspect under Article 205.5 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (organizing the activities of a terrorist organization), Mirzalim Mirkhalikov (citizen of Russia) – under Article 205.5 Part 2 (participating in the activities of a terrorist organization); P. Zainabedinov, Makhmud Odinaev (citizen of Tajikistan), Eganberdi Rakhmanzhanov (citizen of Kyrgyzstan), G. Saitmuratov, and M. Urinboev – under both parts of Article 205.5. All seven suspects are under arrest.