Misuse of Anti-Extremism in November 2021

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


On November 17, a group of deputies led by Sergei Mironov of A Just Russia party and by Senator Olga Epifanova submitted to the State Duma of the Russian Federation a bill with amendments related to assigning a “foreign agent media“ status to individuals and Russian legal entities. The bill’s authors propose a judicial procedure for assigning such status. Under their plan, if an organization or an individual repeatedly disseminates materials from foreign or Russian “foreign agent media” or participates in the creation of such materials and has received significant foreign funds once, the Ministry of Justice issues them a written warning. Only after this and in the event of repeated, (that is, apparently the second or more) receipt of significant funds by such an individual or legal entity, the Ministry of Justice can file a court claim to recognize this person as a “foreign agent” media. In this case, a court evaluates the quantity of the foreign funds received by the entity or person in question and, on this basis, decides whether they should be recognized as a “foreign agent” media resource. We believe that the proposed amendments may reduce the growth rate of the “foreign agent media” registers. However, in our opinion, the overall situation can be corrected only by returning to the former wording of Article 6 of the Law on Mass Media that was in force until 2017. Numerous responsibilities imposed on entities regarded as “foreign agent” media force people and organizations to either reject foreign funding or limit their public speaking and information dissemination in order to avoid incurring this status. Meanwhile, foreign funding, in and of itself, should not entail any restrictions on rights including the freedom of expression.

On November 22, the parliament of the Chechen Republic submitted to the State Duma a bill on amendments to the Law on Mass Media, which would “prohibit media and information and telecommunication networks from disseminating information about national identity, religious affiliation or belonging to ethnic groups of the Russian Federation of persons involved in the commission of crimes.” This is not the first such initiative – earlier, there were several proposals to prohibit mentioning the ethnicity and religion of criminal offenders, and the parliament of the Chechen Republic in 2016 unsuccessfully proposed a ban on dissemination of information about the ethnicity and faith of those involved in terrorist activities. It should be noted that the problem of unnecessary references to ethnic and religious identities of crime participants in the media (and such mentions are, in our opinion, indeed a powerful tool for the formation of negative ethnic stereotypes) has once again become more pronounced. However, there are situations in which such information is of fundamental importance for understanding the circumstances of the crimes in question and thus is of public interest. A ban on its dissemination would constitute an excessive restriction of the right to freedom of expression and information guaranteed by the Constitution of the Russian Federation and Russia's international obligations. Meanwhile, Russian legislation provides for the responsibility of media outlets and journalists as individuals for disseminating information that incites hatred and enmity or contains calls for violence and discrimination; there is no need for additional restrictions in this sphere. If the new legislative proposal pertains not to actual inflammatory statements, but to mentioning or not mentioning ethnicity or religious affiliation in a criminal chronicle, then it becomes the issue of professional literacy and journalistic ethics. A journalist has to understand that, when they neglect professional rules, they might face a complaint submitted against them to the Press Complaints Panel, face dismissal or reputational consequences.

Sanctions for Oppositional Activities and Criticism of the Authorities

On November 8, the Moscow City Prosecutor's Office filed a claim with the Moscow City Court to liquidate the Memorial Human Rights Centre (HRC). The claim states that Memorial had failed to declare itself as a “foreign agent” NGO, and, after it was added to the corresponding list by the Ministry of Justice anyway, it received eight fines for failure to mark the materials posted on a number of web pages linked to the center with the “foreign agent” label. According to the Prosecutor's Office, “the organization in its activities demonstrates persistent disregard for the law, does not ensure visibility of its activities, impedes proper public control over it” and thereby “grossly violates the rights of citizens, including their right to reliable information about its activities.” The prosecutorial claim also includes a psycholinguistic study carried out by the Center for Sociocultural Expertise, a notorious author of many dubious conclusions. According to the expert opinion, the materials of the center “contain linguistic and psychological signs of justifying the activities of participants of international terrorist and extremist organizations,” “deny the facts established by the decisions of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation that have come into force, forming an opinion that they were not legal or legally binding.” The incriminating material in question is the list of political prisoners (Memorial has been maintaining it since 2008 as part of its program to support defendants in the criminal cases they view as politically motivated) and information about these cases posted on the center's website.

SOVA Center views the attempt to liquidate Memorial Human Rights Center and International Memorial (the Prosecutor General's Office simultaneously filed the liquidation claim against the sister organization with the Supreme Court, also under the pretext of violating the “foreign agents,” law) as a disproportionate and unjustified measure. We are convinced that the persecution of “foreign agents” should be stopped, and the relevant legislation should be abolished as incompatible with international human rights law and the constitutional rights of Russian citizens. By accusing human rights organizations of justifying extremism and terrorism, Russian law enforcement agencies are trying to silence the unpleasant questions arising from dubious bans against organizations that are not involved in violence or incitement to hatred that could lead to violence or discrimination but have been recognized as extremist or terrorist. Whatever charges an organization or an individual may face, the right to freedom of expression guarantees the opportunity to openly express doubts about the validity of relevant court decisions and to argue in support of those doubts. Human rights defenders, lawyers, and ordinary citizens should have such an opportunity.

In early November, a criminal case was opened in Moscow under Article 282.1 Parts 1 and 2 of the Criminal Code (creating an extremist community and participating in it) against the alleged members of the Left Resistance (Levoe soprotivlenie) movement, Moscow-based activists Daria Polyudova, Kirill Kotov, Sergei Kirsanov and Alena Krylova, journalist Igor Kuznetsov from Tomsk, and labor activist Andrei Romanov, who has received asylum in Finland. Polyudova was charged under Article 282.1 Part 1 of the Criminal Code for, no later than October 2017, creating an extremist community “based on her negative attitude toward the existing system of government in the Russian Federation and its federal structure,” “to prepare and commit extremist crimes,” “namely, public justification of terrorism and public calls for extremist activity.” Other alleged members of the Left Resistance were charged under Article 282.1 Part 2 of the Criminal Code for “performing functional duties to ensure its activities" –specifically, for organizing rallies, processions and pickets “aimed at discrediting the authorities and provoking clashes with police officers,” as well as for administering the Left Resistance VKontakte community page and promoting its activities on the Internet. Daria Polyudova created the Left Resistance movement in 2017 under the slogans of adherence to true Marxism, the revival of the third “anti-Stalinist” communist international and the “democratic revolution in Russia,” which would begin as “decolonization of the regions and peoples of Russia” and continue as “an international revolution to liberate all peoples and regions of the planet.” Polyudova’s earlier sentence under Article 280 Part 1 and Article 205.2 of the Criminal Code entered into force in October 2021. We consider part of these charges justified and part – inappropriate and view the punishment in the form of six years of imprisonment imposed on her as disproportionate. All the acts, for which Polyudova was convicted, are listed as her extremist activity in the court case on creating the Left Resistance. However, none of these acts were associated with posts on the Left Resistance page, and none of them involved other alleged community members. Actually, Polyudova is not charged for any joint actions with the other defendants except for the very fact of creating a community. Thus, it is not clear what all the individuals charged under Article 282.1 of the Criminal Code have in common except the VKontakte page (there are no charges related to any specific publications on this page), and on what basis they are prosecuted specifically for joint extremist activities.

In early November, a series of searches and interrogations of the supporters of Alexei Navalny took place in the Kemerovo Region and the Republic of Bashkortostan. Investigative actions were conducted within the framework of a combined criminal case, which included previously opened cases of money laundering (Article 174 Part 4 Clause “b” of the Criminal Code), creating a non-profit organization, whose activities are associated with inducement of individuals to commit unlawful deeds (Art. 239 Part 2 of the Criminal Code), financing of extremism (Article 282.3 Part 1 of the Criminal Code) and creating an extremist community and participating in it (Article 282.1 Parts 1 and 2). At least 16 people were searched and interrogated; most of the detainees were released and questioned as witnesses. However, Lilia Chanysheva, the ex-coordinator of Navalny's headquarters in Ufa, was placed under arrest as a suspect under Article 282.1 Part 1 of the Criminal Code; according to the investigation, she was in charge of the Alexei Navalny headquarters network, a structural unit of the extremist community. Activist Rustem Mulyukov from Ufa was interrogated as a suspect under Article 282.1 Part 2 of the Criminal Code and released under travel restrictions.

We would like to remind you that the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), the Citizens Rights Defense Fund (FZPG), and the Navalny Headquarters network were recognized as extremist organizations on June 9, 2021; this decision came into force on August 4. We believe that there were no legal grounds for banning Navalny's organizations as extremist or prosecuting people for participation in their activities. More information on our position can be found here.

In November, we learned about several individuals prosecuted under Article 20.3 Part 1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (propaganda or display of symbols of organizations recognized as extremist) for displaying Smart Voting symbols and other symbols associated with the projects of Navalny or his supporters. Retiree Sergei Scherbakov was arrested for five days and fined 1,000 rubles for displaying posters with these symbols at a picket; Alexander Ryabchuk, a teacher from Bataysk of the Rostov Region, was fined for posting the Smart Voting logo on Instagram, and Andrei Starukhin, a resident of Plavsk in the Tula Region – for posting FBK symbols on a social network.

On the other hand, the case under Article 20.3 Part 1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses against Natalya Peterimova was closed in late November. Peterimova, a former activist of Navalny's headquarters in Krasnoyarsk, had been prosecuted for her photographs that included posters with red exclamation marks on white background. It was reported in November that the case of Vladislav Yezhov from Surgut (Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug), also prosecuted for posting a picture with the Smart Voting logo on a social network, was terminated in October.

The law enforcement agencies did not open a case against an activist from Tula for publishing the FBK symbols on VKontakte, but he received a warning about the impermissibility of extremist activities.

In Chuvashia, Semyon Kochkin, the former coordinator of Navalny's Cheboksary headquarters, was fined 2,000 rubles for his 15 tweets mentioning the FBK and the local headquarters. He posted them in 2019 prior to the ban on Navalny's organizations; moreover, the decision against him was issued under Article 13.15 Part 2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses, which is supposed to apply to the media, not to social network users.

A report under Article 20.3 Part 1 was compiled in early November against Andrei Dmitriev, one of the leaders of The Other Russia of E. V. Limonov. It was based on the fact that Dmitriev was seen wearing a mask with the symbols of The Other Russia of E. V. Limonov during the action in honor of the anniversary of the October Revolution. Law enforcement agencies view these symbols as identical to the symbols of the banned National Bolshevik Party (NBP). The court returned the case file to the police for eliminating procedural violations. We consider the 2007 decision to ban the NBP as an extremist organization inappropriate, and therefore sanctions for displaying the party symbols are, in our opinion, inappropriate as well. In addition, the symbols of The Other Russia of E. V. Limonov (the organization's emblem is a hand grenade commonly known as “limonka” crossed by a lightning bolt) differs from the known NBP symbols, and the law provides no punishment for displaying “elements” of prohibited symbols or “symbols similar to those of extremist organizations.”

In late November, the Tsentralny District Court of Kemerovo sentenced Vyacheslav Chernov, an ex-candidate to the State Duma from Yabloko, to ten days of arrest under Article 20.3.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (incitement to social hatred) on two counts, both related to the videos about the “illegal takeover” of Chernov’s property in the resort town of Sheregesh posted by Chernov on his Instagram page. One of the videos profiled Igor Prokudin, a local oligarch and former vice-governor of the Kemerovo region; in the second video the activist talked about the deputies of the Tashtagol District Council, and in both of them he criticized the authorities in harsh terms. Taking into account the fact that Chernov scolded the officials but did not call for aggressive actions against them, we believe that there was no reason for sanction in this case. Back in 2011, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation indicated that criticism of officials in the media should not, in and of itself, be regarded as an action aimed at humiliating their dignity, since the limits of permissible criticism are wider for officials than for private individuals. In our opinion, this argument is also applicable to cases not involving mass media.

In the second half of November, it was reported that the Chelyabinsk Prosecutor's Office opened a case under Article 1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses against local resident Alexander Levanov. According to media reports, the case was based on the comment “We remember you; you are under cops’ protection,” which Levanov left under a certain video on VKontakte. If the above commentary was the only reason for the case against him, then we view it as inappropriate, since Levanov’s words contain no incitement to violence. In our opinion, law enforcement officers should not be considered a vulnerable social group protected by anti-extremist legislation and, as the European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly pointed out, should be extremely tolerant of criticism, unless it involves a real threat of violence.

According to the information that appeared in mid-November, the prosecutor's office had not approved the indictment in the case of the Khabarovsk artist Maxim Smolnikov, known as Xadad. The case was returned to the investigation for a comprehensive psychological and linguistic examination. Smolnikov has been charged under Article 205.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (public justification of terrorism on the Internet). From May to September 2021, he was under arrest; then the preventive measure was replaced with a ban on certain actions. The prosecution against the artist was based on a post published on October 31, 2018 on his VKontakte public page, which discussed an explosion staged by anarcho-communist Mikhail Zhlobitsky in the FSB Office building in Arkhangelsk. According to Smolnikov, Zhlobitsky took such a radical step due to the repressive policy of the state and, in particular, because of the torture practiced by the FSIN and FSB officers. The artist noted that this explosion is more like an act of self-immolation, rather than a “guerilla or terrorist attack,” called the incident “too high a cost [of the political struggle]” and expressed condolences to the relatives and friends of the deceased anarchist. We regard the prosecution against Smolnikov as inappropriate, since we cannot see in his statements any signs of public justification of terrorism or propaganda of terrorism that would correspond to the definition provided in the notes to Article 205.2 of the Criminal Code - the artist's text contained no statements indicating that terrorism was appropriate or permissible.

In late November, the Chelyabinsk Regional Court overturned the sentence to anarchists Dmitry Tsibukovsky and his wife Anastasia Safonova, sending the case for a new trial to the Central District Court of Chelyabinsk; they were released from the pre-trial detention center with the prohibition of certain actions. They were sentenced in September to two and a half and two years in a penal colony respectively under Article 213 Part 2 of the Criminal Code. They were found guilty of hooliganism committed by a group of persons by prior conspiracy with the use of weapons and motivated by political hatred and enmity for participating in the action on the night of February 14–15, 2018. On that date, the anarchists 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 over the fence; a video recording of the action was published by the People's Self-Defense VKontakte community. We believe that the action did not constitute a gross violation of public order, therefore the charge of hooliganism was unfounded in this case.

Sanctions for “Rehabilitation of Nazism” and Display of Nazi Symbols

In the second half of November, the Kemerovo Regional Court issued a verdict against local opposition blogger Mikhail Alferov charged 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 as well as desecration of symbols of Russian military glory, committed publicly) and Article 319 of the Criminal Code (insulting a government official). He was found guilty and sentenced to 470 hours of community service and additional punishment in the form of a fine and a ban on posting appeals and other materials on the Internet for two years and 10 months. It is worth reminding that the prosecution was based on a video that Alferov posted on YouTube on May 9, 2020. In the video, he criticized in harsh terms the lavish decoration of the city for Victory Day in contrast to the unsatisfactory condition of residential buildings. The blogger also expressed his dissatisfaction with the symbolic use of the St. George ribbon demanding that the police remove it from their uniforms. We consider the verdict against Alferov inappropriate in terms of the charges under Article 354.1 of the Criminal Code. In our opinion, statements about certain symbols, even if they are regarded as offensive, should not be equated with the desecration of the symbol itself (by the way, Russian legislation never defines the concept of “symbols of military glory).”

At the same time, it was reported that Roskomnadzor had compiled a report under Article 13.15 Part 4.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses on abuse of freedom of the press against Radio Liberty. The claims were related to the article by Boris Sokolov “Senseless and merciless. Why Stalin issued Order No. 270” published on the Radio Liberty website on August 16, 2021. According to Roskomnadzor, the text contains some false information about the activities of the USSR during the Second World War or about the veterans of the Great Patriotic War. The charges were prompted by the segment, in which the author of the article mentioned “ciphered telegram No. 4976” sent by Georgy Zhukov, then the Commander of the Leningrad Front, in September 1941 following Stalin’s Order No. 270 issued in August. Sokolov described it as a “draconian order” and “sinister directive.” The document in question has not survived, but was cited in one of the surviving documents as follows: “Explain to all personnel that all the families of those who surrender to the enemy will be shot and, upon their return from captivity, they will also all be shot.” Roskomnadzor stated that Zhukov's instruction constituted not an order but an “explanation,” and that by calling Zhukov's actions “draconian” and “sinister” the author sought to discredit him. It is unclear on what grounds Roskomnadzor deemed it appropriate to intervene in the historical discussion in this case. Scholarly debates on whether the ciphered telegram ever existed, and whether it should be considered a directive or a free interpretation of the quite inhumane Order No. 270 have nothing to do with propaganda of Nazism, pose no danger to society and do not call for the severe sanctions established by the law. In our opinion, Russian legislation on the “rehabilitation of Nazism” is full of vague formulas and allows the state to unreasonably restrict the right to freedom of expression in order to censor historical research and maintain ideological control.

At the end of November, Martha Hillers' book A Woman in Berlin: A Diary from April 20 to June 22, 1945 was included on the Federal List of Extremist Materials. The book was declared extremist in September 2021 by the Abakan City Court of the Republic of Khakassia. It is a diary by German journalist Martha Hillers on the experiences of women in post-war Berlin, published in 1954; among other detail, the book tells about alleged rapes of women in Berlin by Soviet soldiers. The Russian edition of the book was published in 2019. We do not know what charges the law enforcement brought against Hillers' memoirs. Perhaps the law enforcement officers thought that the book contained signs of inciting hostility towards Russians – however, the word “Russians” is used in the text to denote “Soviet,” and not specifically ethnic Russians; in addition, the author’s statements about, say, German men, are also quite unflattering; the book generally describes far from the best sides of human nature. We found no propaganda of Nazism in Hillers' memoirs.

We found out in November that the Kuznetsky District Court of Novokuznetsk reviewed the case on public display of symbols similar to the Nazi symbols to the point of confusion (Article 20.3 Part 1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses) against ceramics artist Irina Voropaeva in the second half of October and dropped it with an oral warning (Article 2.9 of the Code of Administrative Offenses) due to insignificance of the offense. In March of 2020, Voropaeva posted on VKontakte the Kolovrat symbol, which, according to an expert opinion, looked like two combined swastikas and, therefore, was associated with the Nazi swastika. The court based its decision, by analogy, on the Resolution of the Plenary Meeting of the Supreme Court of Russia, “On Judicial Practice in Criminal Cases Concerning Crimes of Extremism,” and pointed out the need to take into account the size and composition of the statement’s audience, the number of times the information had been viewed and the influence of the posted information on the behavior of the audience members. Based on these criteria the Kuznetsky District Court decided that Voropaeva’s action should be considered insignificant. We are inclined to believe that there were no grounds at all for sanctions against Voropaeva, since the Kolovrat is a popular Slavic neo-pagan symbol that exists in many easily distinguishable forms, and the Nazi swastika or the symbol of the long-banned Russian National Unity (RNE) are just its particular instances. However, we welcome the thoughtful approach of the court that studied the context of the publication and came to the conclusion that the artist's actions presented no public danger. The case against the aforementioned Vladislav Yezhov from Surgut opened for his publications, which included a swastika not aimed at propaganda of Nazism, was dropped in October.

Communist Dmitry Smokov, an ex-candidate for the local city council, was fined one thousand rubles in Nizhnevartovsk under Article 20.3 Part 1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses for demonstrating Nazi symbols in a VKontakte post made eight years ago. He posted a video with the lead singer of the punk group Sex Pistols Sid Vicious wearing a T-shirt with a swastika. Smokov's publication, obviously, had no propaganda intent – evidently, he has never espoused extreme right-wing ideology but is actively interested in rock music.

In Novocherkassk, local resident, Denis Bolesov, was fined two thousand rubles for posting an image with the Nazi swastika on VKontakte. He pleaded guilty but noted that his post was anti-fascist in its content. Judging by the content of his page, Bolesov adheres to Stalinist views and supports the Essence of Time (Sut' vremeni) movement of Sergei Kurginyan, so it is unlikely that he was promoting Nazism.

In late November, a report was compiled in Omsk against local activist Richard Roman King under Article 20.3 Part 1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses; however, the judge has returned it to the police for revision. According to the activist, the case is related to an image he posted on VKontakte – a film still of Nazis in SS uniforms taking away a prisoner next to a photograph of Russian Interior Ministry personnel detaining a protester. The caption on top of the image read “Do you feel the difference? Not anymore...”

In our opinion, sanctions under Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses are only appropriate when the Nazi symbols are used to promote the corresponding ideology. Unfortunately, even the note on exceptions added to Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses does not prevent all the cases of its use we consider inappropriate.

Sanctions for “Insulting the Feelings of Believers”

In late November, it was reported that, back in October, the Magistrate of the Judicial District No. 1 of the Penzensky District of the Penza Region sentenced local resident Pavel Pischulin, charged under Article 148 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (insulting the religious feelings of believers), to 180 hours of community service. The case was based on a number of Pischulin's VKontakte posts with various statements mocking Orthodox Christianity, Jesus Christ and priests. We view this sentence as inappropriate, as well as another sentence to an unnamed resident of the Penza Region fined 25 thousand rubles under Article 148 Part 1 of the Criminal Code for posting online his comments about the “practitioners of Islam.” SOVA Center opposed the introduction of Article 148 of the Criminal Code on insulting the feelings of believers, since, in our opinion, this vague concept does not and cannot have a clear legal meaning. Sanctions for inciting hatred towards believers are justified, but in these cases such incitement obviously never took place.

Meanwhile, in St. Petersburg, a criminal case was initiated under Article 148 of the Criminal Code in the second half of November against two St. Petersburg residents, aged 15 and 17, who posted online their photo with lowered trousers and underwear set against the background of the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. We believe that in this case, the criminal prosecution is inappropriate. If the teenagers had been disturbing passers-by, they would have been detained on the spot and, quite reasonably, brought to justice for petty hooliganism under Article 20.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses, but obviously they did not bother anyone.

Persecution against Religious Organizations and Believers

Jehovah's Witnesses

The mass prosecutions against Jehovah's Witnesses continued in November; the believers were charged with participation 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 three sentences were passed against five Jehovah's Witnesses in November:

  • The Seversk City Court of the Tomsk Region issued a suspended sentence of four years to 80-year-old Elena Savelyeva under Article 282.2 Part 1.1 of the Criminal Code (involvement of others in the activities of an extremist organization);
  • The Sovetsky District Court of Lipetsk sentenced Viktor Bachurin, Alexander Kostrov and Artur Netreba under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (participating in the activities of an extremist organization) to a fine of 500 thousand rubles but took into account the length of their pre-trial detention and reduced the fines to 300 thousand rubles;
  • The Prioksky District Court of Nizhny Novgorod issued a four-year suspended sentence to Victoria Verkhoturova under Article 282.2 Part 2.
  • Тhe acquittal in the case of Jehovah's Witness Dmitry Barmakin, by the Pervorechensky District Court of Vladivostok on November 22, 2021 sets an important precedent. Barmakin was charged under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (organizing the activities of an extremist organization). In the acquittal, Judge Stanislav Salnikov cited the latest resolution of the plenary meeting of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation adopted on October 28, 2021. According to the clarifications given by the Supreme Court, 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. In addition, the Supreme Court indicated that in the event of a ban against a religious organization, individual or joint religious worship by its former members should not be interpreted as participation in an extremist organization. The verdict of the Pervorechensky District Court is the first one based on the new Supreme Court decision. We commend the decision of Judge Salnikov, who, in the course of Barmakin’s trial, showed his consistent commitment to the constitutional right to freedom of religion

    In late November, the Pskov Regional Court overturned the sentence to Alexey Khabarov convicted under Article 282.2 Part 2. The case was sent for re-trial in the same Porkhovsky District Court, which had earlier issued a three-year suspended sentence to Khabarov under the different composition of the bench.

    People also faced new criminal charges of being involved in the Jehovah's Witnesses activities. At least eight believers have become suspects or defendants in such cases:

  • Sergei Korolev, Sergei Kosyanenko and Rinat Kiramov in the Astrakhan Region – under Article 282.2 Part 1; all three have been placed under arrest;
  • Yuri Chernykh and Pavel Brilkov in Prokopyevsk of the Kemerovo Region – under Article 282.2 Part 2;
  • Andrey Okhapkin, arrested in Kineshma of the Ivanovo Region – under Article 282.2;
  • Valery Shitts in Lesosibirsk of Krasnoyarsk Krai – under Article 282.2 Part 1;
  • 82-year-old Zinaida Minenko in Zheleznovodsk of Stavropol Krai – under Article 282.2.
  • A criminal case under Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code was also opened in Kopeysk of the Chelyabinsk Region, but the name of the defendant has not been reported.


    It became known in late November that a court in Saratov had issued suspended sentences ranging from two to three years against four local residents under Article 282.2 Part 2 for participating in the activities of the banned Islamic movement Tablighi Jamaat. The court agreed with the version of the events provided by the investigation, according to which the defendants traveled to preach in the Saratov Region and the Volgograd Region and organized trips of like-minded people to India, Bangladesh and Pakistan for theological education.

    Back in early November, the Privolzhsky District Court of Kazan sentenced the former imam and teacher Gabdrakhman (Albert) Naumov under Article 282.2 Part 1 and Article 282.3 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (financing of extremism). He was sentenced to six and a half years in a minimum-security colony. According to the investigators, Naumov “organized the activities of conspiratorial groups” since 2015, and held “secret Nurcular propaganda meetings.” Furthermore, in November 2015, he allegedly organized and financed the Sunday courses on the foundations of Islam for village schoolchildren of Tatarstan, in order to increase the number of Nurcular followers in the republic. Only two books by Nursi were found in Naumov's possession, and the defense insists that the secret witnesses have only inferred Naumov's participation in Nurcular based on hearsay.

    In addition, it became known in mid-November that three people were detained and then arrested in Kazan under Article 282.2 Parts 1 and 2. According to the investigation, these individuals were members of a Nurcular cell, including a 36-year-old teacher at the Kazan National Research Technological University who allegedly recruited his students into the cell. Three more people – Khunar Agaev, Aydar Sageyev and Amrakh Akhmedov – were arrested on similar charges in Naberezhnye Chelny. The investigation believes that Agaev, assisted by Sageyev, organized a Nurcular cell in the city in 2020, and Akhmedov participated in its activities.

    It was also reported in mid-November that the Izberbash City Court in the Republic of Dagestan terminated seven criminal cases under Article 282.2 Part 2 in September-October. The relevant court decisions were published for two of the cases, and they pertained to the charges of participation in the local Nurcular “cell;” we assume that the other five closed cases under the same article also involved the charges related to the activities of a banned association.

    We would like to remind that we consider the ban against Nurcular inappropriate and generally believe that Russian Muslims who study Nursi's heritage do not constitute a single organization. Nevertheless, Nurcular was banned in Russia as a single extremist organization, and, as a result, Muslims who read and discuss moderate Islamic religious literature – the books of Turkish theologian Said Nursi – face prosecution.

    In late November, the Gudermes Town Court fined local resident Adam Saiev under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (mass distribution of extremist materials) for posting on VKontakte a song by Chechen songwriter Timur Mutsuraev. The court ruling says that police officers found Mutsuraev's song “A Hadith of the Prophet” on Saiev's personal page. Saiev pleaded guilty, repented and was fined 1,000 rubles, even though this song by Mutsuraev is not on the Federal List of Extremist Materials – unsurprisingly, since it contains no signs of extremism. It recounts one of the hadiths about the Prophet Muhammad mourning the impending decline of the Ummah. Thus, there were no grounds for prosecuting Saiev.