Misuse of Anti-Extremism in April 2022

The following is our review of the primary and most representative events in the misuse of Russia's anti-extremist legislation in April 2022.


On April 16, a bill establishing administrative responsibility for equating the “goals, decisions and actions” of the leadership of the USSR and Nazi Germany and for “denying the decisive role of the Soviet people” in its defeat was signed into law. A new legal norm, Article 13.48, has been added to the Code of Administrative Offences (CAO). The first part of this article punishes citizens with a fine of one to two thousand rubles or arrest for up to 15 days, officials – with a fine of two to four thousand rubles, legal entities – from 10 to 50 thousand rubles. Repeated violation of the ban entails liability under the second part of the article, which provides for a fine of two and a half to five thousand rubles or arrest for up to 15 days for citizens, a fine from five to 20 thousand or disqualification for a period of six months to a year for officials and a fine of 50 to 100 thousand rubles or suspension of activities for up to 90 days for legal entities. Roskomnadzor staff and the police will be able to compile reports under Article 13.48 and the prosecutors will be able to open the corresponding cases. The wording of the new article in the Code of Administrative Offences contains no explanations as to which statements can be interpreted as “equating actions” and “denying the decisive role.” Establishing responsibility for an offense described in this manner indicates a new step in restricting freedom of speech – in this case, restricting freedom of peaceful historical discussion.

On April 6, a draft law prepared by the State Duma Commission on the Investigation of Foreign Interference in Russia's Internal Affairs was submitted to the Duma. The law expands the mechanism of extrajudicial blocking upon request of the Prosecutor General's Office. If the law is approved, websites will be blocked for discrediting the activities of the Russian armed forces and government agencies abroad, spreading “fakes” about it, or calling for sanctions against Russia and its citizens. In addition, the Prosecutor General's Office will be expected to block the websites (or resources confusingly similar to them) which have repeatedly posted on their pages any type of illegal information subject to blocking extrajudicially or by court decisions (except for information discrediting honor and dignity, pirated content and violations of the law on personal data) permanently through Roskomnadzor. The bill states that “the removal of access restrictions” for such blocked resources “is not permitted.” It also gives the Prosecutor General's Office the right to prohibit the activities of foreign media in Russia as a response to other countries closing down Russian media outlets, in consultation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Once the prosecutor's office decides to terminate the activities of a foreign media outlet, the ban should encompass the production and distribution of its informational materials, including via other mass media and the Internet, as well as possession of such materials with intent to distribute them. In addition, if the law is passed, the Prosecutor General's Office will be able to take away registration and broadcasting licenses of Russian media resources for disseminating any “inaccurate information” and “discrediting” the actions of the Armed Forces and officials abroad, as well as for “disrespect for the authorities,” calls for sanctions, rallies or riots, and “propaganda, rationalization and (or) justification” of extremism. Media resources and their staff will also be held responsible for reprinting materials from other mass media that contain any such information. Such a law will put the open media activities in Russia under the total control of the Prosecutor General's Office and create the conditions to establish the information blockade of the country from within.

On April 19, a draft law was submitted to the State Duma to “regulate the status of St. George’s Ribbon as one of the symbols of Russia's military glory and the Victory of the Soviet people in the Great Patriotic War of 1941–1945” and to protect this symbol from discreditation and attacks. The explanatory note states that “the practice of bringing individuals to criminal and administrative responsibility for desecration of St. George’s Ribbon has already been taking shape,” however, the bill’s authors want the ribbon to have a status that guarantees its protection under Article 354.1 Parts 3 and 4 of the Criminal Code (CC) that punishes rehabilitation of Nazism expressed in the desecration of symbols of Russia's military glory, as well as under Article 13.15 Part 4 CAO (public desecration of symbols of Russia’s military glory) that covers offenses committed by mass media. It should be noted that, while the legal status of St. George's Ribbon has never been legally codified, this lack of legal recognition does not prevent law enforcement agencies from treating it as a symbol of military glory. Earlier, SOVA Center wrote about criminal prosecutions for “public desecration” of St. George’s Ribbon under Article 354.1 Part 3 CC. In one case, St. George’s ribbon was used as a symbol of confrontation on Ukraine’s east and south. In the other cases, a modified ribbon was used to make a critical statement about the Russian authorities’ political course. In our opinion, in such contexts, the ribbon cannot be unambiguously regarded as a symbol of victory in the Great Patriotic War. It is also worth reminding that in General Comment No. 34 to Article 19 (Freedom of Opinion and Expression) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, The UN Human Rights Committee expresses its concern regarding laws that punish acts such as, in particular, disrespect for the flag and symbols.

On April 25, a draft law attempting unification and systematization of numerous previously adopted norms that regulate the activities of various “foreign agents” – NGOs, unregistered public associations, individuals and the media (both resources and individuals) – was submitted to the State Duma. The draft law states that a “foreign agent” (rather than a person or association “acting as a foreign agent,” as currently stated) is a status that can be assigned to a Russian or foreign (the latter is also a new addition) individual or legal entity (not only an NPO, as in the current version) or even a group of persons who have received “support” and (or) are “under other forms of foreign influence” and carry out certain activities. The bill defines as a foreign influence not only any financial, property, organizational, methodological, scientific, technical or other such assistance received from foreign sources, but also “influencing a person, including through coercion, persuasion and (or) other means.” The types of activities that provide the grounds for recognizing a person as a “foreign agent” include political activities (in a very broad definition given in the law on NGOs), targeted collection of information on Russia’s military and military technology activities, “the dissemination of messages and materials intended for an unlimited circle of people, and (or) participation in the creation of such messages and materials,” as well as funding the collection of information about military activities and mass distribution of materials.

Information about “individuals affiliated with ‘foreign agents’” (the document describes who should be classed as such, including all employees of organizations recognized as “foreign agents”) also has to be collected in the new unified register, although they are not subject to requirements and restrictions provided for actual “foreign agents.” The bill also stipulates some changes in the obligations, restrictions and procedures associated with the “foreign agent” status.

Law Enforcement Practice

As in the preceding month, inappropriate enforcement of anti-extremist legislation in April often occurred in connection with protests against the “special military operation” in Ukraine.

As of April 29, the OVD-Info human rights project reported 1,554 reports filed under Article 20.3.3 CAO for discrediting the actions of the Russian Armed Forces and government agencies abroad, which went into force in early March. People face sanctions for displaying posters, slogans on their clothes, statements made during protests or other unrelated occasions, distribution of printed campaign materials, graffiti on walls and other objects, and statements made online. In our opinion, introducing the legislation that banned discrediting the actions of the Russian armed forces and government agencies abroad constituted an unreasonable restriction on the right to freedom of expression in order to suppress criticism of the official political course.

The first reports of criminal prosecution for discrediting the Russian Armed Forces under Part 1 of the new Article 280.3 CC appeared in the second half of April. The cases were based on repeated public statements that corresponded to the wording of Article 20.3.3 CAO. In Kabardino-Balkaria, a case under this part of the article (and also, probably, under Article 150 Part 2 CC for involving a minor in the commission of a crime) was initiated against Zaurbek Zhambekov, a resident of Nalchik. According to investigators, he asked his 12-year-old daughter to rip a Z-shaped St. George’s ribbon off a car at a city parking lot. As it turned out, the car belonged to a police officer. Zhambekov had been previously fined under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO for his posts on social networks. In our opinion, the criminal prosecution against Zhambekov is inappropriate. First, as mentioned above, we believe that prosecution for discrediting the actions of the Russian military and the government unreasonably restricts freedom of speech. Secondly, tearing a sticker off someone else's car, if the property has been damaged, can be adequately qualified under Article 7.17 CAO (destruction or damage to another person’s property). However, in this case, the person who committed the relevant actions has not reached the age of administrative responsibility. The girl's father, who allegedly gave her a dubious assignment, could be held liable under Article 5.35 Part 1 CAO (improper performance of obligations in the upbringing of minors) instead of criminal prosecution.

In the Kemerovo Region, a criminal case under Article 280.3 Part 1 CC was opened against businessman Vladimir Latypov. Earlier, in mid-March, the Central District Court of Kemerovo fined Latypov under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO and Article 20.6.1 Part 1 CAO (failure to comply with the rules of conduct during the high-alert regime) for holding a one-person picket with an anti-war banner. He was fined once again in mid-April for a picket with a similar poster under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO. The total amount of his fines reached 70 thousand rubles. The Kemerovo Regional Court dismissed the activist’s appeal against the first ruling under Article 20.3.3 CAO, and it entered into force making criminal prosecution possible.

The new administrative norm, Article 20.3.4 CAO that punishes calls for sanctions against Russia, its citizens or organizations, started to be applied as well. At the end of March, the Lefortovsky District Court of Moscow fined Vladislav Arinichev 35 thousand rubles based on a video, in which Arinichev discussed the imposition of sanctions against Russia. In late April, the Gorno-Altaysk City Court issued a fine of three hundred thousand rubles to a publishing house behind the weekly newspaper Listok. The case was presumably based on the article published in Listok under the heading “The Head of the Altai Republic Khorokhordin, Speaker Kokhoev of the State Assembly and Director Koncheva of the Gorny Altai State TV and Radio Broadcasting Company Will Likely Not Be Able to Visit Civilized Countries.” In this article, Viktor Rau, Listok’s editor-in-chief currently staying abroad, suggested reporting those who supported the special operation on the territory of Ukraine to a certain Telegram bot for subsequent transfer of this information to foreign specialized organizations and ministries of foreign affairs.

Prosecutions for “Rehabilitation of Nazism”

In early April, the St. Petersburg City Court sentenced college student Georgi Gromada to 300 hours of community service under Article 354.1 Part 3 CC in its previous version (disseminating information expressing clear disrespect for society on Russia’s days of military glory and memorable dates related to the defense of the Fatherland) for submitting a photograph of a Nazi collaborator, ataman Pyotr Krasnov for demonstration during the Immortal Regiment Online campaign in May 2020. The defendant explained that his action was a protest against the fact that “veterans live in poor conditions,” while “a huge amount of money is allocated for the Victory Day celebrations.” In our opinion, Gromada’s action has been qualified by law enforcement agencies under Article 354.1 CC incorrectly. In and of itself, uploading photographs of Nazi leaders to a website, even on the eve of May 9, does not constitute dissemination of any information about the day of Russia’s military glory. The joint press service of the St. Petersburg courts reported that the decision in Gromada’s case was the first sentence under Article 354.1 CC in the region. However, it was reported in early April that charges were filed in nine additional similar cases in St. Petersburg.

Interestingly, the incriminating acts in other similar cases reported in April were also committed back in 2020.

For example, in the Leningrad Region, a 23-year-old resident of the village of Novogorelovo was detained and then placed under travel restrictions in mid-April. A case was opened against him under Article 354.1 Part 3 CC for an attempt to send a photo of a Wehrmacht soldier, armed and in uniform, to the Immortal Regiment website in May 2020. In another case reported in late April, an indictment was approved in the Ulyanovsk Region against a 21-year-old college student in Dimitrovgrad charged under the same article for uploading a photograph, which depicted the tank crew of the SS Division Totenkopf in front of a German tank.

Back in early April, it also became known that a 19-year-old local resident was detained in Nizhny Tagil as a suspect under Article 354.1 Part 1 CC (public denial of the facts established by the verdict of the Nuremberg Tribunal) for allegedly uploading a photograph of Adolf Hitler to the Immortal Regiment project website in 2020. He was still a minor at the time of his alleged crime, so he will not be held responsible. However, based on media reports, a second defendant might appear in the case. Additionally, it became known in mid-April that the investigation has been completed in the case under Article 354.1 CC Part 1 against a 21-year-old resident of Yekaterinburg, who submitted a photograph of Heinrich Himmler in April 2020 to be displayed on the Immortal Regiment website. Qualifying such actions under this part of the article on the rehabilitation of Nazism seems unreasonable, since the act of submitting a photo to be uploaded onto a website does not deny any facts.

In addition, in April, several cases under Article 354.1 Parts 3 and 4 CC were initiated based on actions interpreted as desecrating the symbols of Russia’s military glory and insulting the memory of the defenders of the Fatherland. We believe that not all actions that are morally reprehensible merit criminal prosecution – it is only justified for crimes that pose a significant danger to society.

Thus, in the second half of the month, the case under Article 354.1 Part 4 CC was initiated in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug–Yugra against a 21-year-old Zambian student attending a local university. In mid-April, the young woman posted on a social network a video of a dance at the Eternal Flame memorial in Victory Park accompanied by a provocative comment. Note that the punishment under Article 354.1 Part 4 CC can be up to five years in a penal colony.

In Samara, a case under the same part of the article was opened against a 29-year-old local resident, who, according to investigators, desecrated the Eternal Flame of the Grieving Motherland monument in early April, recorded his actions then distributed the video via a messenger. The regional media clarified that the Samara resident had urinated on the Eternal Flame. In this case, we believe that Article 214 CC (vandalism), which stipulates a less severe punishment, would be appropriate.

It became known in late April that a criminal case had been opened under Article 354.1 Part 3 CC (in its previous edition) against a 27-year-old resident of St. Petersburg, who, in May 2021, posted on social networks “desecrated images of St. George’s ribbon and texts” in his comments under posts congratulating the Great Patriotic War veterans and celebrating the Victory Day

In late April, the case under Article 354.1 Part 4 CC was opened against Rovshan Askerov, a journalist and a participant of the What? Where? When? (Chto? Gde? Kogda?) intellectual game show, for his Facebook post. According to the investigation, “not later than April 6, 2022, Askerov published on his page on Facebook (banned in the Russian Federation) deliberately false information insulting and discrediting the memory of Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov, a great Russian commander, defender of the Fatherland and Marshal of the Soviet Union.” In his post, Askerov called Marshal Zhukov a “murderer in uniform,” a “thief” and a “looter with experience.” In our opinion, Askerov's post was not intended to promote Nazism and does not require criminal prosecution. The vague language of Russian legislation against the rehabilitation of Nazism allows the state to prosecute citizens for expressing an opinion on certain historical episodes and figures; this constitutes an excessive restriction on freedom of expression under international law.” Issues related tо protecting the honor and dignity of veterans, as well as other persons, should, in our opinion, be considered in civil proceedings.

In addition, back in March, a criminal case under Part 2 Paragraph “c” and Part 4 of Article 354.1 CC (dissemination of deliberately false information about the activities of the USSR during the Second World War and information expressing clear disrespect for society regarding Russia’s memorable date, committed online) was opened against activist Ruslan Akhmetshin. In early May, he was detained at Moscow's Domodedovo airport while trying to leave for treatment in Armenia; the next day the Oktyabrsky District Court of Arkhangelsk took him into custody. Reportedly, the case was based on Akhmetshin's VKontakte posts, in which he claimed that the May 9 celebration in Russia is a “vulgar carnival,” “not a day of sorrow, but a masquerade led by hyping bureaucrats.” He also wrote that the USSR and Germany were allies for two years and occupied Poland together. The Investigative Committee decided that the comments about the Victory Day had signs of obvious disrespect for society, and the statement about the USSR and Germany contained “deliberately false information about the unleashing of the Second World War by the Soviet Union and the existence of allied relations between the USSR and Germany.” In our opinion, neither criticism of the ways of celebrating Victory Day, nor different interpretations or even deliberate distortions of historical facts provide a sufficient reason for criminal prosecution.

In the second half of April, information appeared in the media about the criminal case under Article 354.1 Part 3 CC opened in connection with the display of the “Big Mother” sculpture by Oleg Kulik. Kulik's work was displayed at the Art-Moscow exhibition in Gostiny Dvor. Writer Zakhar Prilepin and deputy Alexander Khinshtein criticized the sculpture saying that it was a parody of the Motherland Monument by Yevgeny Vuchetich. Khinshtein also announced that he was sending inquiries to the Prosecutor General's Office and the Investigative Committee. Yelena Yampolskaya, head of the State Duma Committee on Culture, also sent a letter to the Prosecutor General's Office asking to check the legality of exhibiting this work. Kulik himself claims that he created the sculpture in 2018 after a painful separation from his wife. The artist also claimed that he did not consider his work a parody and implied no references whatsoever to Vuchetich's sculpture. Khinshtein also sent inquiries to the Investigative Committee and the Prosecutor General's Office regarding a painting from Kulik's “Irresponsible Painting” series. The painting allegedly resembles “The Motherland Calls!” poster by Irakli Toidze, but it is not yet known whether it has been included in the criminal case. We believe that Kulik's sculpture is an independent artistic statement that contains no propaganda of Nazism and no calls for discrimination or violence. Its demonstration did not encroach on any symbols of Russia's military glory (legislation provides no list of such symbols) or on the memory of the defenders of the Fatherland. Therefore, we see no grounds for opening a criminal case and for restricting Kulik's artistic freedom in general.

Sanctions for Inciting Hatred

At the beginning of the month, the Moscow Regional Court sent for retrial the case under Article 20.3.1 CAO (inciting hatred or enmity) against activist Roman Ivanov, editor-in-chief of Chestnoye Korolyovskoye!” YouTube channel. In early March, Ivanov was sentenced to a fine of 10 thousand rubles. The case was based on his live broadcast and video published on February 24, in which the activist condemned the start of a “special military operation” on the Ukrainian territory, called Russian president Vladimir Putin a “new fascist dictator,” characterized him and his entourage as enemies, and the United Russia party as criminal. We view the case against Ivanov as inappropriate. It is worth reminding that we are opposed in principle to sanctions for inciting hatred against government officials. As the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation pointed out in its ruling of June 28, 2011, the limits of permissible criticism are wider for officials than for private individuals. In addition, SOVA Center advocates excluding the vague concept of “social group” from anti-extremist legislation altogether.

Nevertheless, new cases on inciting hatred were reported in April, both administrative under Article 20.3.1 CAO, and criminal under Article 282 CC (applicable in case of a repeated offense committed within a year.)

In early April, Vyacheslav Chernov from Tashtagol, Kemerovo region – an entrepreneur, a blogger, and a former State Duma candidate from Yabloko – announced on social networks that a criminal case had been opened against him under Article 282. According to Chernov, the charges against him were based on a video about the investigation into the causes of the explosion at the Listvyazhnaya mine, which he published on Instagram in December 2021. The blogger said that the tragedy occurred due to the “system of total lies” that affects every aspect of life – election results, coronavirus statistics, environmental situation or safety precautions. He also accused the head of the regional Investigative Committee department of involvement in the illegal takeover of the mine, compared the prosecutors with “escorts” and criticized the investigators for focusing on persecution of “rural bloggers.” Earlier, in November 2021, Chernov spent 10 days under arrest under Article 20.3.1 CAO for two Instagram videos. Based on the linguistic expert opinion, the court decided that Chernov had incited hatred against the Russian official representatives and the Tashtagol District Council deputies. We consider the earlier sanctions against him inappropriate as well; meanwhile, the prior arrest made it possible to open a criminal case against him now under Article 282 CC.

In early April, the Khimki City Court of the Moscow Region arrested local environmental activist Alexei Dmitriev for 10 days under Article 20.3.1 CAO. The case was based on Dmitriev’s Instagram post – a meme that blamed Adolf Hitler for the shelling of Kyiv in 1941, and Vladimir Putin for doing the same in 2022. According to linguists who authored the expert opinion in the case, the post contained the signs of inciting hatred, enmity, and humiliation of Putin's human dignity as a representative of the social group “persons holding public office in the Russian Federation.” Earlier, in March, Dmitriev faced administrative responsibility under other CAO articles.

In early April, the Uray Town Court in the Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Okrug fined local resident Pavel Verbitsky ten thousand rubles under Article 20.3.1 CAO. The case was based on a comment Verbitsky posted on February 24 or 25 on “Uray Black List,” a local public page on VKontakte. The comment contained an obscene poem that criticized the military special operation in Ukraine in a rude form and called for protests against the government policy. In addition, Verbitsky was charged for two posts on his personal VKontakte page. In one of which he used obscenities to express his wish that supporters of the special operation remove themselves from his friend list; in the other one he cursed the Communist Party faction in the State Duma for supporting military operations. According to a linguistic expert opinion, the poem published by Verbitsky contained incitement to violence against members of the United Russia party, since the poem called for “tearing them to shreds.” In our opinion, this statement cannot be regarded as a direct and dangerous call to violence – rather, it is an emotional, but merely allegorical turn of phrase. The expert also found Verbitsky's post to contain “demeaning characterizations, negative emotional assessments and negative attitudes towards the Russian leadership, representatives of the State Duma, members of the United Russia party and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, calls intended as propaganda of inferiority of the Russian government representatives.” The nature of the law enforcement’s objections against Verbitsky’s suggestion to unfriend him is unclear.

In mid-April, 65-year-old Alexander Khots, a local LGBT activist and opposition member, was placed under arrest for 15 days in Tula under Article 20.3.1 CAO. The charges were based on certain statements Khots made on the Internet, which were found to contain the signs of humiliation of dignity of the law enforcement as a group. We have read Khots’ Facebook posts. Against the backdrop of the “special military operation” on the territory of Ukraine, they were growing progressively more emotional, but we found no calls for violence against the police, and therefore we are inclined to consider the sanctions against him inappropriate. In our opinion, law enforcement officers do not form a social group that needs protection from incitement to hatred. On the contrary, they must be exceptionally tolerant of criticism, unless there is a real threat of violence (as repeatedly noted by the European Court of Human Rights, in particular). Earlier, in March, Khots spent another 15 days under arrest under Article 20.3 CAO (public demonstration of the symbols of an extremist organization) and also fined under Article 20.3.3 CAO (discrediting the armed forces) for a Facebook post.

Sanctions for “Disrespect for the Authorities”

In April, we recorded five cases filed under Article 20.1 Part 3 CAO for disrespectful statements on the Internet against the country’s authorities. As we mentioned before, we believe that this article is directly aimed at suppressing criticism against the authorities, and we view sanctions under it as inappropriate. One of those punished was the above-mentioned activist Alexander Khots from Tula, who was fined 90,000 rubles in late April for insulting the president. In Komi, former school history teacher Nikita Tushkanov was fined 30,000 rubles in mid-April for publishing the material “My Country Fought Fascism So Fiercely That It Has Become Fascist;” he also was fined under Article 20.3.3 CAO for discrediting the activities of Russia’s Armed Forces for the same post. In addition, in the second half of April, a report under Article 20.1 Part 3 CAO was filed against the ex-mayor of Yekaterinburg, Yevgeny Roizman, for his obscene comment (made on Twitter and reproduced in the Instagram stories format) on the statement made by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Another report was filed against Viktor Shalyakin, the chairman of the Novgorod branch of the Yabloko party, for publishing a video, in which he called Vladimir Putin the “Antichrist.” The Kirovsky District Court of Astrakhan fined local resident Sergei Deryushkin 200 thousand rubles under Article 20.1 Part 4 CAO (that is, for a repeated incident within a year) in the second half of April. The charges were based on the YouTube video “A Costumed Clown or a Policeman;” the court found the video to contain disrespectful statements about the police. Earlier, in December 2021, Deryushkin was fined a total of 230 thousand rubles based on three reports under Part 3 of the same article for using the derogatory term “garbage” (musor) to denote police officers and for his obscene characterizations of the traffic police officers and the court bailiffs.

Prosecutions for Vandalism

The events in Ukraine led to a series of criminal cases related to vandalism (Article 214 CC) due to various anti-war inscriptions in public places. We include in our monitoring only the cases, in which law enforcement agencies charged defendants with vandalism motivated by ideological or political hostility (Article 214 Part 2 CC), although the presence or absence of a hostility motive in such cases obviously depends solely on the discretion of specific law enforcement officers and not on the circumstances of a particular incident.

We would like to remind you that we doubt the validity of prosecution for politically motivated vandalism in principle. In our opinion, we are talking, in fact, about a form of propaganda that is associated with the infliction of material damage. Manifestations and even incitement of political hostility per se are not criminalized. Therefore, unless political vandalism is associated with propaganda of violence and xenophobia, the degree of its public danger depends on the degree of material damage it has caused. In our opinion, cases under Article 214 CC should be terminated for insignificance, if property damage is minor. In the cases, when the case cannot be dropped but the damage is still relatively small, it might be helpful to introduce an article similar to Article 7.17 CAO covering the destruction or damage of other people's property or to amend the existing article by adding vandalism that did not cause major damage.

In early April, it became known that a criminal case on vandalism under Article 214 Part 2 CC was opened against Moscow resident Sergei Zvyagin in connection with anti-war graffiti placed on a building wall. Law enforcement agencies decided that this graffiti discredited the Russian armed forces and President Putin. Zvyagin was placed under house arrest.

In mid-April, the Moscow District Court of St. Petersburg placed Nikita Chirkov under arrest as a suspect under Article 214 Part 2 CC. According to investigators, on the night of March 23, Chirkov, using a can of black paint, spray-painted the letter Z, the equal sign and the swastika on the back of the granite pedestal of the Nikolai Chernyshevsky monument on the square of the same name.

A few days later, the same court fined Chirkov a thousand rubles under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO (propaganda or display of Nazi symbols) for painting a similar image at a bus stop on Moskovsky Prospekt. From our point of view, Chirkov's actions were intended not as propaganda of Nazism but as anti-war propaganda, so a fine under Article 20.3 CAO was inappropriate in this case. We believe that this article is appropriately applied only in the cases when Nazi symbols are used to advocate the corresponding ideology.

Sanctions for Displaying Nazi symbols

Several additional cases under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO filed in April, are also connected to the events in Ukraine.

Thus, in early April, the Tverskoy District Court of Moscow placed Natalya Tyshkevich, a former editor of the DOXA online magazine, under arrest for 15 days for her Instagram post published in 2017. According to the magazine, law enforcement agencies and the court decided that the published image contained the symbol of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), recognized in Russia as an extremist organization, although the image in question was the trident from Ukraine’s state emblem. We have not seen the exact image published by Tyshkevich, but the fact that the trident of Vladimir the Great (along with other symbols and banners of various colors) was used at various points by various Ukrainian organizations, including those recognized as extremist in Russia in 2014, should not entail sanctions for displaying the official state symbols of Ukraine.

The Blagoveshchensk City Court of the Amur Region also placed local activist Vladislav Nikitenko under arrest for 15 days under the same article for his VKontakte post made in 2015. The 2015 posts on Nikitenko's page discussed the fact that, in December 2014, he was punished under the same Article 20.3 CAO for memes that ridiculed the charges of fascism against Ukraine. One of his posts titled “Finally Classified as Nazis!” used a frame from the comedy “Hitler Kaput!” as an illustration. Another post under the heading “‘Dissemination of Nazi Symbols’ as a Mega-Lunacy of the Russian Law Enforcement System” contained a photograph of the permanent exhibit of the Central Armed Forces Museum of the Russian Federation with visible Nazi symbols. We believe that, both in 2014 and now, Nikitenko was punished inappropriately. In his 2015 posts, Nikitenko only talked about his case and criticized the law enforcement practice under Article 20.3 CAO. In our opinion, sanctions for displaying Nazi symbols are justified only when the symbols are used to promote Nazism.

Meanwhile, the Oktyabrsky District Court of Omsk placed City Council Deputy Dmitry Petrenko under arrest for seven days for his Telegram post aimed at demonstrating the similarity between the letter Z and the vertical Wolfsangel sign used by the 4th SS Polizei Panzergrenadier Division. Earlier, Petrenko became a defendant in the case under Part 2 Paragraph “a” of Article 207.3 CC (dissemination of deliberately false information about the actions of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation abroad committed using one’s official position) due to a post published in March, which claimed that Russian troops carried out targeted air and artillery strikes on civilian infrastructure in Mariupol and other Ukrainian cities and that it resulted in tens of thousands of casualties among the local population.

In mid-April, the Krasnoarmeisky District Court of Krasnodar put activist Vitaly Molodanov under 15-day arrest for posting on a social network on February 27 an image of Vladimir Putin in a Nazi uniform with a swastika on the background.

Sanctions against Supporters of Alexei Navalny

In early April, it was reported that Elizaveta Bychkova, the ex-coordinator of Navalny's headquarters in Arkhangelsk, became a suspect under Article 282.1 Part 2 CC (participating in the activities of an extremist community) joining the ranks of defendants in the joint criminal case against Alexei Navalny and his supporters. This case with the charges under Article 282.1 CC (creating an extremist community) was initiated in October 2021; the total number of defendants is at least 18. We believe that this case was initiated inappropriately, since the activities of Navalny's banned organizations and their founders and participants were not extremist.

Law enforcement agencies continued to file cases under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO for demonstrating the symbols of Navalny's banned organizations. In mid-April, the Central District Court of Kemerovo ordered a day of arrest for local resident Rodion Martyanov for posting on his VKontakte page materials from the banned Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) that contained the organization's logo. In late April, the Kiselyovsk City Court of the Kemerovo Region fined local activist Bulat Shumekov two thousand rubles for displaying FBK symbols. In late April, the Central District Court of Krasnoyarsk put lawyer Nikolai Munsky under arrest for 10 days because of his VKontakte post that contained the symbols of the Smart Voting project. In mid-April, a report under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO was filed against Pskov municipal deputy Nikolai Kuzmin based on his social network post of a photograph with the symbols of banned Alexei Navalny’s organizations; a similar case against him was dismissed in March. A similar post served as the basis for a report filed against Pskov activist Andrei Yegorov; a similar case against him was also dropped in March due to the expiry of the limitation period. Since, in our opinion, there were no sufficient legal grounds for banning Navalny's organizations as extremist, we consider sanctions for displaying their symbols inappropriate.

The Oktyabrsky District Court of Barnaul fined a local resident Arina Zinovieva a thousand rubles in the second half of the month under Article 20.29 CAO (mass distribution of extremist materials) for sharing on VKontakte the video “Let’s Remind Crooks and Thieves about Their Manifesto-2002,” created by supporters of Alexei Navalny. The video, banned as extremist, 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 view the ban of this video as unfounded, and sanctions for its distribution as inappropriate.

Prosecutions for “Insulting the Feelings of Believers”

In mid-April, a criminal case was opened in St. Petersburg under Article 148 Part 1 CC (insulting the religious feelings of believers) against photographer Sergei Kondratiev. It was based on an eight-second video posted by Kondratiev on Instagram. In the video, he kissed a man against the background of St. Petersburg's Trinity Church. The soundtrack was a phrase that contained an obscene word (“**** your mother, what a beauty!”) performed in a manner imitating church hymns. We believe that the case was initiated inappropriately. SOVA Center opposed the introduction of the parts on insulting the feelings of believers into Article 148 CC, since, in our opinion, this vague concept does not and cannot have a clear legal meaning.  Kondratiev’s video shows no signs of inciting hatred towards Orthodox believers that could entail liability under Article 20.3.1 CAO.

Persecution against Religious Organizations and Believers


In mid-April, the Southern District Military Court sentenced Crimean Tatar activist Emil Ziyadinov to 17 years of imprisonment with the first four years to be served in prison, the remaining term in a strict regime colony under Article 205.5 Part 1 CC (organizing the activities of a terrorist organization) and Article 278 CC with Article 30 Part 1 CC (preparation for violent seizure of power). He was found guilty of involvement in the activities of the Islamic radical party Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in Russia as a terrorist organization. We believe that there were no sufficient grounds for banning Hizb ut-Tahrir as a terrorist organization, since this party was never implicated in terrorist attacks. Thus, we view the charges of terrorism against Hizb ut-Tahrir followers made solely based on their party activities (holding meetings, reading literature, etc.) as inappropriate. In our opinion, the fact that Hizb ut-Tahrir preaches the idea of establishing a worldwide Islamic caliphate does not, in and of itself, provide sufficient grounds for charging its followers with planning a violent seizure of power in Russia.

In early April, officers of the FSB Regional Directorate for Crimea and Sevastopol searched the house of Server Bariev in the settlement of Razdolnoye. Bariev was charged under Article 205.2 Part 2 CC (calls for terrorist activities or public justification of terrorism). As reported later, a criminal case against Bariev was opened based on his social media posts, in which he allegedly promoted the ideology of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Bariev was put under preventive travel restrictions. We consider it incorrect to characterize the dissemination of the Hizb ut-Tahrir ideology as propaganda or justification for terrorist activities unless these materials contained incitement to violence.

In the second half of April, we were informed of another criminal case opened in Dagestan under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC (participating in the activities of an extremist organization) for involvement in the international religious association Nurcular. According to investigators, the suspect, a 35-year-old resident of the republic, “took part in meetings to study the ideological sources of the indicated extremist organization.” It is worth reminding that a similar case was initiated against three residents of Dagestan in March, while, in 2021, a court in Dagestan dropped several cases against the alleged Nurcular participants charged under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC. We view the ban against Nurcular as inappropriate. It was recognized as an extremist organization in 2008 on the basis of unfounded (according to the ECHR among others) bans imposed on the books of moderate Turkish Islamic theologian Said Nursi for promoting the superiority of Islam over other religions. We also believe that Russian Muslims who study Nursi's heritage do not constitute a single organization. Nevertheless, Nurcular has been banned in Russia specifically as an extremist organization, and Muslims who read and discuss Nursi's books are persecuted as a result.

Jehovah Witnesses

Persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses continued in April. They are being charged with involvement in the activities of local religious organizations banned as extremist – in our opinion, without proper legal grounds.

Back in late March, the Khostinsky District Court of Sochi issued a verdict against four believers charged under Article 282.2 Parts 1.1 and 2 CC (involving others in the activities of an extremist organization and participating in it). The court sentenced Tatyana Velizhanina to a year and five months of imprisonment and Vladimir Deshko – to one year and four months. Both were released from punishment since the court took into account the time spent in custody and under house arrest during the investigation. Yuri Loginsky and Yuri Moskalev received two-year suspended sentences.

We know of seven sentences issued against eleven Jehovah's Witnesses in April.

  • The Abakan City Court found Matryona Spiriadi and Alexander Vergunov guilty under Article 282.2 CC Part 2 and issued suspended sentences of two and a half years.
  • The Seversky City Court of the Tomsk Region issued a three-year suspended sentence to Sergei Belousov under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC.
  • The Ussuriysky District Court of the Primorsky Territory issued a two-year suspended sentence to Vitaly Ilyinykh under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC.
  • The Neftekumsky District Court issued a verdict against Konstantin Samsonov, Alexander Akopov and Shamil Sultanov. All three were found guilty under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC (organizing the activities of an extremist organization) and Article 282.3 Part 1 CC (organizing the financing of extremist activities). Samsonov was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison (taking into account the time spent in the pre-trial detention, he will spend six years in a penal colony). Akopov and Sultanov – to fines of 500 thousand rubles (the fines were canceled due to their pre-trial detention).
  • The Kondopoga City Court found Alexei Smelov guilty under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC and sentenced him to a fine of 400 thousand rubles.
  • The Seversk City Court of the Tomsk Region sentenced Andrei Ledyaykin to two years and two months in a minimum-security penal colony under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC.
  • The Birobidzhansky District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region issued suspended sentences of five and a half and five years respectively to spouses Oleg Postnikov and Agnessa Postnikova under Article 282.2 Parts 1.1 and 2 CC.

Meanwhile, in early April, the Tomsk Regional Court considered an appeal against the sentence of Alexei Yershov from Seversk sentenced in January to three years behind bars under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC. The appellate court changed his verdict to a suspended sentence.

In mid-April, the Norilsk City Court of the Krasnoyarsk Krai returned to the prosecutor's office the case of Alexander Polozov and Stepan Shevelev charged under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC. The judge noted that the fact that the defendants professed the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses was not a crime.

However, another similar decision was overturned. In early April, the Primorsky Regional Court reversed the acquittal of Dmitry Barmakin by the Pervorechensky District Court of Vladivostok; his case was returned to the lower court for a new trial. Barmakin, charged under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC, in 2021, was the first believer acquitted based on the Supreme Court ruling issued on October 28 of the same year. According to the clarifications provided by the Supreme Court, when considering cases under Article 282.2 CC, the courts must name specific socially dangerous actions committed by a defendant and establish their significance for the continuation or resumption of the activities of an extremist organization as well as the defendant’s motives for committing these actions. In addition, the Supreme Court pointed out that in the event of a ban against a religious organization, the individual or communal performance of religious rites by its former members should not, in and of itself, be interpreted as participation in an extremist organization.

In April, we also learned about new criminal cases against Jehovah's Witnesses.

Thus, in late March, 55-year-old Yuri Yakovlev was detained, and then arrested as a defendant under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC in Sosnovoborsk, Krasnoyarsk Krai after a series of search raids.

In early April, a series of search raids and interrogations of Jehovah's Witnesses, that had begun a month earlier, continued in Kazan.

In mid-April, homes of believers were searched in Yoshkar-Ola, the village of Silikatny (Mari El) and Nizhny Novgorod; Yevgeny Plotnikov was arrested and placed in a pre-trial detention center.

In the second half of April, Vladimir Moiseenko, previously convicted in the “case of 16” Taganrog Jehovah's Witnesses in 2015, and Valery Tibiy were named suspects under Article 282.2 CC in Taganrog.

In addition, it became known in late April that the investigation in a previously unknown criminal case against a 66-year-old local resident in Temryuk of the Krasnodar Krai charged under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC has been completed.