Misuse of anti-extremism in October 2021

The following is our review of the primary and most representative events in the misuse of Russia's anti-extremist legislation in October 2021.


Official clarifications of the Russian Ministry of Justice regarding the application of the law that banned the display of portraits of Nazi leaders and leaders of the collaborationist structures were published on October 6. Let us remind that the law has given portraits and public speeches of Nazis and their collaborators the same status as the works of Nazi and Nazi leaders (which the law on countering extremist activities classifies as extremist materials). At the same time, similarly to the ban on the use of Nazi symbols, the exemption is provided for the cases, in which portraits are used to form a negative attitude towards the ideology of Nazism and there are no signs of propaganda or justification of Nazism. After the law was passed, the Russian Book Union (Rossiysky knizhny soyuz, RKS) recommended that publishing houses and bookselling networks stop distributing books with Nazi portraits on the covers and dispose of them. Later, the RKS made adjustments to its recommendation noting the possibility of a broad interpretation of the law and the need for clarifications on its proper application. The Ministry of Justice explained that distribution or public display of materials that include speeches and portraits of leaders of Nazi and collaborationist structures (including in books and audiovisual works) should not be considered extremist activity if these materials do not call for extremist activities, do not excuse or justify the need to carry out extremist activities, national and (or) racial superiority, the practice of committing military or other crimes aimed at the complete or partial destruction of any ethnic, social, racial, national or religious group, or if the leaders of the above groups, organizations or movements recognized as criminal as well as their ideology are criticized and presented in a negative context. The Ministry of Justice indicated that the materials are not considered extremist if they contain no signs of Nazi propaganda and condemn such propaganda. This applies, in particular, to portraits of Nazis and their collaborators that appear in academic works, literature, art, media products, feature films and documentaries (including in the documentary footage), in educational, scholarly and popular science publications, in images (illustrations and photographs) used in these publications, at exhibitions, in libraries, museums and Internet databases, or in educational programs created for teaching and learning purposes and implemented by educational organizations. The explanation provided by the Ministry of Justice, of course, should be commended; however, the application of the law remains problematic. The recommendations of the Ministry of Justice do not resolve the issue of criteria that should guide the court when considering the decision of whether to recognize portraits as extremist materials. The practice shows that courts only take into account the content of the materials, or – when considering cases on distribution of such materials under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offenses – only the fact of their presence on the Federal List of Extremist Materials, but not the context of the publication, as suggested by the Ministry of Justice.

On October 27, a group of State Duma deputies headed by Elena Yampolskaya, the chief developer of the above-mentioned Nazi portraits law, came up with a new initiative related to the amendments to the federal law “On Immortalization of the Victory of the Soviet People in the Great Patriotic War” signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in July. The amendments banned “publicly equating the goals, decisions and actions of the USSR leadership, the USSR commanders and military personnel with the goals, decisions and actions of the Nazi Germany leadership or commanders and military personnel of Nazi Germany and the Axis countries during World War II, as well as denying the decisive role of the Soviet people in the defeat of Nazi Germany and the humanitarian mission of the USSR in the liberation of the European countries.” The Nazi “goals, decisions and actions” in question are the ones established by the Nuremberg Tribunal, as well as by prior and subsequent national, occupation and military tribunals. The ban applies to public speaking, public display of work, mass media and online information. To punish violation of this prohibition, it has been now proposed to introduce a new Article 13.47. Under the first part of this article, the authors suggest punishing citizens with a fine of one to two thousand rubles or arrest for up to 15 days, officials with a fine ranging from one to four thousand rubles, and legal entities with a fine ranging from 10 to 50 thousand rubles. In the event of a repeated violation, under the second part of the article, the proposed punishment for individuals is a fine ranging from two and a half to five thousand rubles or arrest for up to 15 days, for officials – a fine ranging from five to 20 thousand or disqualification for a period of six months to a year, and for legal entities – a fine of 50 up to 100 thousand rubles or suspension of activities for up to 90 days. Police and Roskomnadzor officers will be able to file reports under Article 13.47 of the Code of Administrative Offenses; prosecutors will be able to open cases under it as well. The article contains no clarifications as to which statements can be interpreted as “equating the actions” and “denying the decisive role.” We believe that establishing responsibility for an offense described in this form will go far beyond simply countering neo-Nazi manifestations and lead to further restrictions of freedom of speech in a peaceful historical debate. 

A draft federal law developed by Rosfinmonitoring was published on October 11. It gives the heads of the FSB, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Rosfinmonitoring, as well as their deputies and individual heads of the territorial branches of the FSB and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the authority to order urgent extrajudicial blocking of money transfers from cards and electronic wallets, if there is information that the money is being used to finance “extremist activities, including extremist mass riots; the activities aimed at organizing and/or holding public events in violation of the established procedure that can lead to riots, pogroms, arson, disruption of the functioning of life support facilities, transport or infrastructure, or other similar negative consequences;” or drug trafficking. The law enforcement decisions to block such operations can be made only in urgent cases, can be challenged by the Prosecutor General's Office, and are valid for ten days, at which point the decision to restrict financial transactions must be issued in court. The bill provides for a court-appointed monthly allowance to meet the day-to-day needs of the people affected. The document states that courts will establish monthly payments to protect the livelihoods of people whose financial transactions are blocked and of their family members. Decisions to block monetary transfers will not apply to transactions made to pay for labor, taxes, fees, fines, utility bills, etc. Expanding the powers of law enforcement agencies at the expense of courts is always a cause for concern, since it increases the risk of abuse and generally contradicts the principle of separation of powers, which is fundamental for a democratic society.    

The State Duma introduced a bill “On Amendments to the Air Code of the Russian Federation” on October 28. Among other provisions, the bill suggests the ban on working in aviation for people included on the Rosfinmonitoring list of organizations and individuals for whom there is evidence of their involvement in extremist or terrorist activities.

On October 28, the plenum of the Supreme Court amended Resolution No. 11 of June 28, “On Judicial Practice in Criminal Cases Concerning Crimes of Extremism,” (the previous amendments to the resolution were made in 2016 and 2018).

Among other changes, important clarifications were issued for two articles on public statements. Article 280 of the Criminal Code (calls for extremist activity) and Article 280.1 (calls for violating the territorial integrity of Russia) have become subject to the instructions that previously pertained only to actions on the Internet falling under Article 282 of the Criminal Code. The Supreme Court pointed out that, when considering such cases, the courts should take into account not only the fact of posting online “a text, image, audio or video file containing signs of incitement to extremist activities or actions aimed at violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation, incitement of hatred and enmity or abasement of the dignity of a person or a group, but also other information indicating the social danger of the action or lack thereof, including the intended purpose or motive for committing the corresponding action.” It should be noted that the previous wording did not mention the “intended purpose” pursued by the person when making a post. 

The Supreme Court also explained that, when deciding on the qualification of cases under Article 280 or 280.1 of the Criminal Code, courts should investigate whether the person's actions had a direct purpose and intent to motivate others to carry out extremist activities or commit actions aimed at violating the territorial integrity of Russia, using the criteria previously recommended for evaluating statements suspected of inciting hatred.

The Supreme Court also indicated that involving others in the activities of the organization or community, committed by the organizer (leader), is covered under Article 282.1 Part 1 (organizing the activities of an extremist community) or Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (organizing the activities of an extremist organization) and does not require additional qualifications under Article 282.1 Part 1.1 or Article 282.2 Part 1.1 of the Criminal Code, which specifically punish involving other people in the corresponding crimes. The Supreme Court did not extend this clarification to ordinary participants, so a participant who involved others in the activities of a banned organization might face a more severe cumulative punishment than its leader.      

Finally, the most important amendment was the Supreme Court’s recommendation regarding prosecution for being involved in the activities of organizations recognized as extremist. The Court indicated that for criminal proceedings under Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code courts should name specific socially dangerous actions committed by the guilty party, the significance of these actions for continuing or resuming the activities of a prohibited organization, and the motives for committing them. With regard to former members of banned religious associations, the Supreme Court indicated that their actions, “not related to continuing or resuming the activities of an extremist organization but solely in exercise of their right to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, including through individual or joint religious worship, conducting services or other religious rites and ceremonies” do not, in and of themselves, constitute a crime under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code. In our opinion, this clarification is less-than-perfectly worded and is unlikely to completely eliminate numerous cases of prosecution for essentially non-criminal activities on the charges of continuing the activities of extremist organizations. The problem could be fully resolved only by changing Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code. Nevertheless, the Russian courts now have the option to cite this Supreme Court clarification in order to avoid at least the most absurd sentences for continuing religious practice, which directly violate the constitutional right to freedom of religion. Based on the same considerations, the former members of such organizations should have an opportunity to continue their political activity that is not directly aimed at resuming the activities of banned organizations.         

Sanctions for Oppositional Activities and Criticism of the Authorities

In the middle of the month, the prosecutor's office of the Vakhitovsky District of Kazan opened an administrative case under Article 20.3.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses against the All-Tatar Public Center (Vsetatarsky Obschestvennyi Tsentr, VTOTs). The claim was based on the address to the State Council of Tatarstan delivered by VTOTs at its traditional rally on October 15, 2021 – the day of memory of the fallen defenders of Kazan in 1552. The address discussed the amendments to the Russian Constitution adopted in 2020 and talked about the colonial policy of the Russian Empire. It also pointed out that the federalism of modern Russia was under threat, and, therefore, it was necessary for the people of Tatarstan to demand the state-forming status along with the Russian people, as well as the adoption of legislation on recognizing “the principal status, the state status” of the Tatar language in the republic and legislation on the system of Tatar national education. The prosecutor's office ordered an expert examination of the address, finding “possible presence of a hostile context” with respect to the Russians, as well as contrasting the Russians and the Tatars as “the state-forming people” and “the colonized people.” We believe that this address provided no grounds for proceedings under Article 20.3.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses. It shows no intent to incite ethnic hatred. The document merely criticizes the historical colonial policy of the Russian Empire and modern supporters of the idea of ​​mono-ethnic Russia and contains peaceful calls to recognize the state-forming status of the Tatar people in Tatarstan and thus “strengthen the federative structure of the whole country.” The VTOTs Presidium separately noted in the address that granting the Russian people the state-forming status was also commendable specifically for their achievements in creating the Russian Federation.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Justice suspended the VTOTs’ activities by order of the prosecutor's office of the republic. It is worth reminding that, in January 2021, the Prosecutor's Office of Tatarstan demanded the liquidation of the VTOTs and that it be recognized as an extremist organization. The proceedings based on the prosecutorial claim have been paused for an expert examination. Once the case under Article 20.3.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses was opened, the prosecutor's office suspended the activities of VTOTs, while the claim to liquidate it was being considered. As a justification for this measure, the prosecutors argued that the organization continued its extremist activities. The order of the prosecutor's office is valid until a decision is issued on the liquidation of VTOTs, and its violation entails administrative responsibility. We believe that this decision was not fully justified.

In mid-October, the Ishimbay Town Court of the Republic of Bashkortostan fined local activist Farit Rakhmatullov five thousand rubles under Article 20.3.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses. In March, the channel of his wife Alfiya Rakhmatullova published the video “People, wake up” with Farit's speech, in which experts later found linguistic and psychological signs of humiliating law enforcement and government officials. We believe that Rakhmatullov faced sanctions inappropriately. In his emotional speech, he did speak negatively about the police and officials, calling them “fascists,” “dogs,” “polizei,” “creatures,” etc.; however, he made no calls for violence. The Oktyabrsky District Court of Arkhangelsk fined public activist Olga Yelsakova 15 thousand rubles in a similar case in the second half of October. In a comment she made on VKontakte in 2020, Yelsakova called the police officers “polizei,” “rotten polizei,” “polizei wolves,” “genocide perpetrators,” and accused law enforcement officers of protecting the interests of corrupt officials. We had no opportunity to get fully acquainted with the case materials, but it follows from the published fragment that Yelsakova's comments did not include any incitement; she only emotionally reacted to the actions of law enforcement agencies that she saw as unjust.

In mid-October, the Ust-Katav Town Court of the Chelyabinsk Region fined Artyom Kunakin 10 thousand rubles under the same article. He left a harsh remark in the Moi Piter VKontakte community under the entry that discussed the brutal detention and beating of a subway passenger who refused to wear a mask. Commenting on the actions of the police officers involved in the detention, Kunakin wrote: “Such cops should themselves be offed.” When leaving his comment, Kunakin was outraged by the abuse perpetrated by law enforcement officials and, in our opinion, this emotional statement should hardly be considered a call for violence against police officers. We believe that the arguments of the European Court of Human Rights from the decision in the case “Savva Terentyev v. Russia” are applicable here (Terentyev was convicted under Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code for his call for burning the “infidel cops” on town squares, and the ECHR found that this decision violated his right to freedom of expression). Both speakers were expressing their outrage about the abuse of power by law enforcement officials. It is obvious that Kunakin, like Terentyev, expressed his desire to cleanse society of law-breaking law enforcers in a harsh but non-specific form.

The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly noted that law enforcement officials should be extremely tolerant of criticism unless it contains a real threat of violence. The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, in its Resolution "On Judicial Practice in Criminal Cases Concerning Crimes of Extremism" dated June 28, 2011, also emphasized, citing the ECHR practice, that the permissible limits of media criticism against civil servants are wider than the permissible limits of criticism against private individuals; we believe that this clarification should apply not only to the media but to individuals as well.  

The latter argument is relevant in the case of Vyacheslav Chernov, ex-candidate from Yabloko for the State Duma from the Kemerovo Region. Two reports against him were compiled in mid-October under Article 20.3.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses for the videos he posted on his Instagram page. The first video, dedicated to Igor Prokudin – a local oligarch and former vice-governor of the Kemerovo Region – used the expressions “a gang of crooks in robes, corrupt deputies, gangs of shameless crooks, petty bureaucrats and deputies, a gang of stupid scoundrels, torturers,” which the experts interpreted as “linguistic units and expressions aimed at inciting hatred or enmity, as well as humiliation of persons belonging to the social group of representatives of the Russian authorities.” In his second video, the activist spoke about the members of the Tashtagolsky District Council giving them a “negative assessment.” Apparently, Chernov's videos contained no calls for aggressive actions, so there was no need to protect civil servants from the incitement of hatred.             

Meanwhile, in the second half of October, the Perm Regional Court returned the case against Yegor Pleshivykh under Article 20.3.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses for a retrial. Earlier, on August 17, the Industrialny District Court of Perm sentenced him to 50 hours of community service. The Perm resident faced responsibility for publishing, in 2018, on the webpage of the COMFORT ZONE hardcore band, the band’s album, which contained a song titled “282.” Experts of the Perm Krai Forensic Center of the Ministry of Internal Affairs found that the song “expressed a hostile attitude towards a group of persons on the basis of their belonging to law enforcement agencies, such as police officers (including employees of the Center for Countering Extremism) or FSB officers.” The Regional Court returned the case for a new trial, since the expert in the case had not been warned about administrative responsibility for giving deliberately false testimony, and also because the court of the first instance interpreted Pleshivykh’s actions as “aimed at humiliating the dignity of a group of persons that belong to a social group,” despite the fact that it was never mentioned in the report. The regional court demanded that the district court review the case by questioning the authors of the expert examination in order to eliminate the violations.

In late October, a criminal case under Article 282.2 Parts 1 and 2 of the Criminal Code (organizing an extremist organization and participating in it) and Article 210.1 of the Criminal Code (taking a high position in the criminal hierarchy) was opened against inmates of Correctional Colony No. 3 in Tovarkovo of the Kaluga Region suspected of creating a cell of the banned Prisoners Criminal Unity (Arestantskoe Ugolovnoe Yedinstvo, AUE) organization in the colony. The case was initiated after the prisoners protested against the denial of medical care in the second half of October. It is worth reminding here that, although we have no doubts regarding the illegal nature of the AUE as a criminal subculture, banning it as a structured extremist organization was, in our opinion, insufficiently justified. 

In mid-October, the Yoshkar-Ola City Court of the Republic of Mari El fined Alexander Domrachev 1,300 rubles under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (mass distribution of extremist materials) for sharing on his VKontakte page the video “Let’s Remind Crooks and Thieves about Their Manifesto-2002,” created by supporters of Alexei Navalny and banned in 2013. The video merely lists a number of unrealized campaign promises made by United Russia in its 2002 manifesto and calls to vote for any party other than United Russia. We consider the ban on this video groundless, and frequent sanctions against opposition activists for its distribution inappropriate.

In mid-October, the Moskovsky District Court of Cheboksary fined Semyon Kochkin, the ex-head of the Navalny Headquarters in the city, under Article 20.3 Part 1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (public display of prohibited symbols) twice in the amount of one and a half thousand rubles. Before that, in early October, two reports were compiled against the activist. The first report was based on Kochkin's Twitter posts with links to the Smart Voting website, which automatically displayed featuring the Smart Voting logo with a red exclamation mark. The second report was filed in connection with a Facebook post – in June 2021, the activist published a video “Semyon Kochkin on the Plans for the Future,” which, once again, featured the Smart Voting logo. Law enforcement agencies view Smart Voting as a project of the banned Anti-Corruption Foundation (Fond borby s korruptsiei, FBK). It is not clear why the Smart Voting logo has been interpreted as an FBK attribute or symbol. 

In the second half of the month, it became known that six employees of the Moscow Regional Prosecutor's Office were fired for following the FBK in social networks and “liking” its posts. Allegedly, the staff members dismissed based on the audit included the deputy prosecutor of Lytkarino, a 7th department office employee, and an employee of the Organization and Control Department of the Moscow Regional Prosecutor's Office.

The FBK, the Citizens Rights Defense Fund (Fond zaschity prav grazhdan, FZPG), and the Navalny Headquarters network were recognized as extremist organizations in June; this decision came into force in August. We believe that there were no legal grounds for banning Navalny's organizations as extremist and, accordingly, that sanctions for involvement in their activities or public expressions of support are inappropriate. 

On October 11 and 12, activists Kirill Imashev, Sergei Demidov, Stepan Yurchenko and Yevgeny Nekrasov were sentenced to 15 days under arrest in Yekaterinburg under Article 20.3 Part 1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (public display of prohibited symbols). All four were members of the unregistered party The Other Russia of E. V. Limonov and had just finished serving their administrative arrest: Imashev under Article 19.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (disobeying the lawful demands of the police), and the other three under the Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses. They were detained again right before they were supposed to leave the detention center. The new reports under Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses were compiled based on the fact that, on August 28 and September 25, the young people handed out leaflets and newspapers with symbols similar to the flag of the banned National Bolshevik Party (NBP). On October 19, another local member of the Other Russia, Maksim Kamensky, was placed under arrest for ten days for similar actions during the rally on August 28; on October 20, activist Nikita Bayanov was sentenced to ten days under arrest for displaying NBP symbols during a party rally on September 3. We consider the 2007 decision to ban the NBP as an extremist organization inappropriate. Accordingly, in our opinion, sanctions for displaying the party symbols are also unlawful. In addition, the symbols of The Other Russia of E. V. Limonov differ from those of the NBP.    

Sanctions for Inciting Ethnic or Religious Hatred

In early October, the Zamoskvoretsky District Court of Moscow partially satisfied the claim of stand-up comedian Idrak Mirzalizade against the Russian Interior Ministry and ordered the department to establish a “reasonable period” for a ban on his stay in Russia instead of imposing a lifetime ban. The comedian's defense appealed against this court ruling and intends to seek a complete cancellation of the Interior Ministry's decision. Earlier, in late August, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia announced that the presence of stand-up comedian Idrak Mirzalizade on the Russian territory was undesirable for life. Mirzalizade is a citizen of Belarus with a Russian residence permit. In early August, Mirzalizade was placed under administrative arrest for ten days under Article 20.3.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (incitement to ethnic hatred), and the Moscow City Court upheld this decision. It was based on the statements he made on his YouTube show Razgony about the non-Slavs facing discrimination when looking for housing. We believe that the grounds for Mirzalizade’s arrest were insufficient. His speech, albeit somewhat provocative, was intended as critical of xenophobia faced by natives of the Caucasus, and the comedian directly emphasized his negative attitude towards any nationalism. We view a lifelong ban on entering the country as a disproportionately harsh response to an administrative offense.   

On the same days, the Leninsky District Court of Stavropol fined the Jewish Community of the Stavropol Territory, a local religious Orthodox Jewish organization, one hundred thousand rubles under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (mass distribution of extremist materials). The community did not appeal the court decision believing that their complaint had no prospects. During an audit, local police and FSB officers found Forcibly Baptized, a banned book by Marcus Lehman, in the Jewish Community building. The court decision states that the book was publicly accessible and therefore publicly distributed. The community insists that the book was found in a warehouse. Forcibly Baptized is a novel by Marcus Lehmann (1838-1890), a German rabbi, writer and public figure. It tells about the fate of Jews who lived in the 14th century on the territory of Poland and Lithuania, in particular, about persecution and discrimination they faced. The book was banned in 2017 by the Tsentralny District Court of Sochi; a bookstore in Moscow was fined in 2018 for having it. In our opinion, the novel shows no signs of incitement to religious and national hatred, and there were no grounds for prohibiting it.     

Sanctions for “Rehabilitation of Nazism”

In mid-October, the Chelyabinsk Regional Court sentenced 29-year-old Alexei Galishko to a fine of 60 thousand rubles under Article 354.1 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (public denial or justification of crimes established by the Nuremberg Tribunal). The court found that on May 5, 2020, Galishko submitted through VKontakte a photo of Adolf Hitler to be publicly displayed on the Immortal Regiment Online website; the submission was blocked by a moderator.

A similar sentence for the same act was issued in late October by the Irkutsk Regional Court to Semyon Shtrung, a 21-year-old resident of Bratsk; Shtrung was fined 100 thousand rubles, and his smartphone “and other means of committing the crime” were confiscated.

In the second half of the month, a similar case was initiated against a 24-year-old resident of the Arkhangelsk region, who submitted photos of Hitler, Jodl, Keitel and Rosenberg for display on the Immortal Regiment website under different names on May 5–7, 2020.

We believe that in all these cases the defendants' actions have been qualified incorrectly. In and of itself, uploading photos of Nazi leaders to the site, even on the eve of May 9, is not a crime under Article 354.1 Part 1 of the Criminal Code, since it does not constitute public approval of the crimes of Nazism, denial of the facts established by the Nuremberg Tribunal, or dissemination of any information about the activities of the USSR during the war.

Sanctions for “Insulting the Feelings of Believers”

In late October, the magistrate of Judicial Sector No. 370 of Tverskoy District of Moscow sentenced blogger Ruslan Bobiev and his girlfriend Anastasia Chistova to 10 months in prison under Article 148 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (public actions expressing clear disrespect for society and committed in order to insult the religious feelings of believers). The case was based on a provocative photograph that depicted Bobiev and Chistova imitating oral sex in front of the St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow; the young woman, wearing a jacket that had "police" imprinted on the back, was squatting in front of Bobiev, while he was holding her by the hair. The actions of the defendants, who took the staged photo, could hardly be noticed and understood by passers-by, whether believers or not, and did not violate public order, given that Bobiev and Chistova were not detained on the spot. 

A few days earlier, it was reported that another similar criminal case was opened in Moscow, this time against Lolita Bogdanova (Lola Bunny), an OnlyFans webcam model. The prosecution of Bogdanova was based on a video that contained footage of Bogdanova exposing her breasts in Red Square with St. Basil's Cathedral in the background. Bogdanova started receiving threats via personal messages; the Telegram channel of Male State founder Vladislav Pozdnyakov published a link to her Instagram page along with insults. In our opinion, Bogdanova's behavior was unlikely to have bothered the church attendees, since the video was filmed outside, but it could have caused inconvenience to visitors to Red Square, and, in this case, it could be qualified under Article 20.1 Part 1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses as disorderly conduct.

On the last day of October, a similar criminal case was initiated in St. Petersburg upon request from radical activist Timur Bulatov. The defendant was Irina Volkova, a 30-year-old Instagram blogger. The case was based on the photo that Volkova had posted on Instagram; the photo shows her squatting with her back to the camera, with her skirt pulled up and her underwear visible against the background of St. Isaac's Cathedral. The photo found its way onto popular public pages on VKontakte in late October, and Volkova started receiving numerous personal messages with insults.

We believe that criminal prosecution is inappropriate in all these cases. The posts of the defendants also contained no signs of inciting hatred towards Orthodox believers that could entail responsibility under Article 20.3.1 of the Administrative Code. We also believe that insulting the feelings of believers is a vague concept that does not and cannot have a clear legal meaning, and therefore should not appear in the Criminal Code. 

Persecution against Religious Organizations and Believers

Jehovah's Witnesses

The mass prosecutions against Jehovah's Witnesses continued in October; the believers 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 sentences were passed against ten Jehovah's Witnesses in October:

  • The Pavlovsky District Court of Krasnodar Krai sentenced Vladimir Skachidub from the village of Pavlovskaya to four years and two months in a minimum-security penal colony under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code
  • The Gagarinsky District Court of Sevastopol sentenced Igor Shmidt to six years in a minimum-security penal colony under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code;
  • The Sharypovo Town Court of Krasnoyarsk Krai issued a suspended sentence of six years and three months with a probationary period of four years and one and a half years of additional restrictions to Anton Ostapenko under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code;
  • The Trusovsky District Court of Astrakhan sentenced Yevgeny Ivanov, Ruslan Diarov and Sergei Klikunov to eight years in a minimum-security penal colony followed by one year of restriction of liberty under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code and Article 282.3 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (financing of extremist activities); Olga Ivanova was sentenced to three and a half years in a minimum-security penal colony with a three-year ban on activities related to leadership or participation in a public organization under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code;
  • The Pavlovo Town Court in the Nizhny Novgorod Region issued Alexey Oreshkov, Alexander Vavilov and Alexander Rakovsky a three-year suspended sentence under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code.
  • People also faced new criminal charges of involvement in the Jehovah's Witnesses activities. Nineteen believers have become suspects or defendants in such cases:

  • Yaroslav Kalin, Mikhail Moysh, Alexey Solnechny, Sergey Kosteyev, Nikolay Martynov, Andrey Tolmachev, and Sergey Vasilyev from the Irkutsk Region – under Article 282.2 Parts 1 and 2; six believers were sent to a pre-trial detention center, and 70-year-old Vasilyev was placed under house arrest (according to the believers, the security forces brutally beat and tortured several other Jehovah's Witnesses during the searches conducted as part of the investigation in this case);
  • Three believers, including Sergei Kletkin and a 78-year-old woman from Nikolaevsk-on-Amur in Khabarovsk Krai – under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code; all three have been placed under travel restrictions;
  • Yelena Nesterova, Tatiana Svoboda and Tatiana Bondarenko from Komsomolsk-on-Amur in Khabarovsk Krai – under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code; they have been placed under travel restrictions;
  • Anatoly Marunov and Sergey Tolokonnikov from Moscow – under Article 282.2 Part 1.1 of the Criminal Code; another Moscow resident, Roman Mareyev – under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code; Tolokonnikov and Mareyev were sent to a pre-trial detention center, Marunov was placed under house arrest.
  • Vadim Gizatulin, Irina Mikhailenko and Olga Zhelavskaya from Chelyabinsk – under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code.
  • In mid-October, the General Prosecutor's Office of the Republic of Belarus refused to extradite Oleg Lonshakov, a follower of the Jehovah's Witnesses teachings, to Russia; he was released from Brest Pre-Trial Detention Center No. 7. Lonshakov was detained and then arrested in Brest at the end of September because Russia placed him on the inter-state wanted list as a person charged under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code. Lonshakov had been living in Brest for over a year, received a residence permit there and applied for political asylum. Previously, he had lived in the village of Tavrichanka in Nadezhdinsky District of Primorsky Krai; in July 2020, a series of searches were conducted in the residences of local Jehovah's Witnesses in that area. It is worth noting that, in 2020, the Prosecutor's Office of Belarus also refused to extradite Jehovah's Witness Nikolai Makhalichev to Russia.


    In early October, a series of searches took place in Moscow and the Moscow Region, as part of the investigation in a criminal case under Article 282.2 Parts 1 and 2 of the Criminal Code on involvement in the activities of the banned religious association Nurcular; at least 11 Muslims were subsequently delivered to the investigating authorities. At least six people became suspects under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code; three of them were classified by law enforcement officers as organizers, and three more – as members of the cell. All of them (P. Zeynalov, M. Ksyupov, U. Abdullaev, Ye. Tarasov, I. Abdullin and N. Nesterovich) were arrested. The Investigative Committee believes that in December 2019 through January 2020, the suspects studied prohibited literature in an apartment on Vavilov Street in Moscow and “made active attempts to create a multi-level system for promoting their radical ideology in Russia” and “for this purpose selected and recruited new participants, primarily from among Moscow college students.”

    In late October, a criminal case under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code was also initiated against a 45-year-old Nursi follower from Izberbash (Republic of Dagestan); local residents were prosecuted for their involvement in Nurcular on prior occasions.

    We consider the ban against Nurcular as an extremist organization inappropriate, since it was based on the unjustified bans against the books of Turkish theologian Said Nursi. In 2018, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Russian courts violated Article 10 of the European Convention on Freedom of Expression when it banned Nursi's books for promoting the superiority of Islam over other religions. We further believe that Russian Muslims who study Nursi's heritage do not constitute a single organization, and their criminal prosecution is unfounded.  

    In the second half of the month, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Mordovia reviewed and toughened the sentence to three followers of the banned Islamic movement Tablighi Jamaat from Saransk, who were sentenced to heavy fines under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code in August. The Supreme Court of the republic found the verdict excessively lenient and sentenced Aisu Aizatullin to three years of imprisonment in a minimum-security penal colony and a two-year ban on activities related to leadership and participation in activities of public or religious organizations, Ryais Tyshkin – to three years in a minimum-security colony, and Khafiz Aizatullin – to one year in a minimum-security colony. We believe that the Tablighi Jamaat religious movement was banned in Russia inappropriately. This association is engaged in the propaganda of fundamentalist Islam but has never been implicated in any calls for violence, and therefore sanctions against its supporters are, in our opinion, unjustified.

    In late October, the Southern District Military Court issued a verdict in the case of four residents of Crimea from Bakhchisarai charged with involvement in the banned Islamic radical party Hizb ut-Tahrir. The court sentenced Seytumer Seytumerov to 17 years of imprisonment under Article 205.5 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (organizing the activities of a terrorist organization), as well as Article 30 Part 1 and Article 278 of the Criminal Code (attempted forcible seizure of power or forcible retention of power). Osman Seytumerov, Rustem Seitmemetov and Amet Suleymanov were sentenced under Article 205.5 Part 2 (participating in the activities of a terrorist organization) in aggregation with Article 30 Part 1 and Article 278 of the Criminal Code to 14, 13 and 12 years of imprisonment, respectively. All four will serve the first three and a half years of their sentences in prison, and the rest of their sentences in a maximum-security penal colony. We oppose the charges against Hizb ut-Tahrir supporters under anti-terrorist articles, since the organization does not practice violence and its members have only been convicted basing on party activity – holding meetings, studying and distributing party literature, etc. The fact that the party preaches the idea of ​​creating a worldwide Islamic caliphate, in our opinion, does not provide grounds for charging its followers with actually planning a violent seizure of power in Russia. 

    A new criminal case against supporters of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Moscow and the Moscow Region was reported in October; eight people are involved. However, it might be the same case we already recorded in September, when seven people were arrested in the same region.

    It should also be noted that, in the second half of October, we learned about a criminal case under Article 205.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (public justification of terrorism) against activist Olga Smirnova. She is accused of taking part in pickets in support of Crimean Tatars persecuted for their involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir. According to the investigators, during the picket of the open-ended “Strategy-18” action in August, Smirnova, “addressing an indefinite circle of people, for the purpose of forming the ideology of terrorism, publicly showed a poster with the text, accompanying it by personal statements that contained a positive assessment of persons and their actions related to the activities of an organization recognized as terrorist on the territory of the Russian Federation.” In our opinion, refusal to recognize the peaceful party activity of Hizb ut-Tahrir as terrorist and supporting the party's followers who are being inappropriately prosecuted should not be regarded as justification of terrorism, and therefore the case against Smirnova should be discontinued.