Misuse of Anti-Extremism in June 2022
On June 11, the president signed laws amending the Criminal Procedure Code and other legislative acts. They provide for terminating Russia's execution of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) judgments issued after March 15, 2022. Meanwhile, the compensations awarded by the ECHR decisions issued prior to this date will continue to be paid out until 2023. The ECHR had previously ruled that the Russian Federation would cease to be a High Contracting Party to the European Convention on Human Rights only as of September 16, 2022, as prescribed by the Convention, and that the court would continue to consider all complaints against Russia pertaining to events that occurred before that date. Moreover, it was assumed that Russia would have to comply with the judgments adopted by the ECHR even if issued after September 16.
On June 30, the Duma passed in the third reading the law expanding the extrajudicial blocking mechanisms based on requests of the Prosecutor General's Office. Resources can now be blocked for discrediting the activities of the Russian armed forces and government agencies abroad, spreading “fakes” about them, 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, whether 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.”
The same law drastically expands the powers of the Prosecutor General's Office with regard to the media. The agency now has 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; these media outlets will have their registration and broadcasting license revoked. Once the prosecutor's office decides to terminate the activities of a foreign media outlet, the ban is expected to 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. The Prosecutor General's Office will also have the right to temporarily or permanently suspend registration and broadcasting licenses of Russian media resources for disseminating any “inaccurate information” or “discrediting” the actions of the Armed Forces and officials abroad, as well as for “disrespecting the authorities,” calling for sanctions, rallies or riots, and “propaganda, rationalization and (or) justification” of extremism. Media resources and their staff will also face responsibility for reprinting materials from other mass media that contain any such information. The first two violations lead to suspension of the media activities for up to three and up to six months respectively, but the suspension can be rescinded earlier by Roskomnadzor’s decision. In case of “repeated” dissemination of illegal information, the General Prosecutor's Office will permanently terminate the registration and broadcasting license of the implicated media outlets without a court decision. This law obviously puts the activities of mass media in Russia under the total control of the Prosecutor General's Office and creates the conditions for imposing the information blockade of the country from within.
On June 29, the State Duma adopted a law that consolidates and systematizes numerous previously adopted norms that regulate the activities of various “foreign agents.” The law states that a “foreign agent” (rather than a person or association “acting as a foreign agent,” as it was previously 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 prior version) or even to 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 activity (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,” and even financing of any such activity. The exceptions to “political activity” include activities in the sphere of science, culture, art, healthcare, social services and social protection, protection of human life, motherhood, fatherhood and childhood, family and traditional family values, social support for the disabled, promotion of healthy lifestyles, environmental protection, and charity. However, any such activity will not be considered “political” only inasmuch as it “does not contradict the national interests of the Russian Federation, the foundations of the public order of the Russian Federation, and other values protected by the Constitution of the Russian Federation.”
Contrary to the legislators’ repeated assurances that the “foreign agent” status does not imply discrimination, the law includes a list of restrictions imposed on “foreign agents,” some of which were not legally mandated previously. Individuals listed in the register cannot be appointed to positions, perform various functions in public official bodies, or participate in election campaigns and referendums (including nominations of or support for candidates). A public official or an individual recognized as a “foreign agent” may be denied access to state secrets. Foreign agents may not organize or sponsor public events or perform educational activities “aimed at minors and (or) pedagogical activities in state and municipal educational organizations.” They are not allowed to produce information products for minors, act as experts in the state environmental reviews, operate significant objects of critical information infrastructure or ensure their safety. A number of financial restrictions have been imposed as well. Foreign agents are not entitled to state financial support (including those related to creative endeavors). The funds of associations recognized as “foreign agents” may not be insured. Foreign agents are not allowed to use a simplified system of taxation, accounting and reporting and are subject to the same restrictions as foreign citizens who face bans against investments in business entities that are of strategic importance for the country’s defense and security.
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 law also describes the obligations of “foreign agents” to label materials related to their foreign agent activities and relevant interactions with government agencies (labeling of personal materials by individuals is not required) and to compile and submit regular reports to government agencies. Under the law, the Russian government will determine the specifics of labeling materials. Procedures for state bodies to carry out measures to control the activities of “foreign agents” and identify possible legal violations are also stipulated including the procedures for scheduled and unscheduled inspections. The Ministry of Justice is expected to provide “foreign agents” with binding instructions to be executed within a month. The possible sanctions for violations are listed as well and include administrative and criminal responsibility, liquidation of the association, and blocking of information resources that belong to “foreign agents.” The law should come into force on December 1, 2022.
In early June, another draft law on foreign agents, of a rather technical nature, was submitted to the State Duma. It was adopted in the first reading on July 5. The draft law envisions amendments to several laws needed for putting into effect the above-mentioned restrictions for “foreign agents.” However, the document also includes amendments to the federal law “On assemblies, rallies, demonstrations, marches and pickets” that, in our opinion, imply significant territorial restrictions of the right to hold assemblies on unsubstantiated grounds.
In mid-June and early July, the State Duma passed in three readings a law to change the state security legislation. The second reading of the bill included significant amendments recommended by the Duma Committee on State Building and Legislation. The law introduces new articles into the Criminal Code (CC) to provide penalties for telecommunications operators who repeatedly violate the procedure of installation, operation and modernization of technical means of countering threats (tekhnicheskikh sredstv protivodeystviya ugrozam, TSPU). Penalties are also envisioned for Russian citizens who establish and maintain relations of “cooperation on a confidential basis with a representative of a foreign state, international or foreign organization in order to assist them in activities knowingly directed against the security of the Russian Federation” (if their actions do not constitute a corpus delicti for the charges of treason). Punishable actions also include public calls for actions directed against state security and violation of the requirement to protect state secrets by leaving the country or transporting data storage media abroad.
The law includes provisions establishing criminal liability for the following actions: participation by citizens or stateless persons residing in Russia in any armed conflicts abroad that “contradict the interests of the Russian Federation;” defecting to the enemy during an armed conflict; transferring, gathering, stealing or storing information that can be used against the Russian armed forces during an armed conflict; participation in activities of an undesirable organization not only in Russia but also on any other territory. The punishment for mercenarism has also increased.
The law provides for “partial criminalization” of propaganda, demonstration and production of banned symbols. It introduces a new Criminal Code article, Article 282.4 CC (repeated propaganda or public demonstration of Nazi attributes or symbols, or attributes or symbols of extremist organizations or other attributes or symbols, propaganda or public demonstration of which is prohibited by federal laws), thus criminalizing repeated violations of Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (CAO). The new article provides for harsh penalties ranging from a fine of 600 thousand rubles to four years in prison. We provide more details on the law here. The law is expected to come into force on the day of its publication, except for the provisions of the new article on violation of the centralized TSPU management rules. The latter should come into force in 2023 simultaneously with the introduction of a new Administrative Code norm, Article 13.42.1 (the corresponding amendments were part of another bill adopted by the Duma in July).
Sanctions for Statements on Ukraine and the “Special Military Operation”
As of July 1, the OVD-Info human rights project reported 2,779 reports filed under Article 20.3.3 CAO (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 intended to suppress criticism of the official political course.
We found out in June that the Nalchik City Court of Kabardino-Balkaria passed the first verdict under Article 280.3 Part 1 CC in late May for repeated public actions aimed at discrediting Russian armed forces (in combination with involving a minor in committing a crime). Zaurbek Zhambekov was found guilty and received a two-year suspended sentence with a two-year sentence postponement and a fine of 30,000 rubles that could be paid in installments. The criminal case against Zhambekov was opened after Zhambekov asked his 12-year-old daughter to rip a Z-shaped St. George’s ribbon off a car at a city parking lot in late March. A court decision under Article 20.3.3 CAO against the defendant has to be in effect in order to initiate criminal proceedings under Article 280.3 CC; Zhambekov had been previously fined under Part 1 of the same article for his social network posts. In our opinion, the criminal prosecution against Zhambekov is unjustified, and not just because the prosecution under these articles unreasonably restricts freedom of speech. 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 gave her a dubious assignment, could have been charged under Article 5.35 Part 1 CAO (improper performance of obligations in the upbringing of minors) instead of criminal prosecution.
Several new cases were opened in June under Article 280.3 Part 1 of the Criminal Code.
Andrei Sorochkin, a local activist of the Yabloko party, was sanctioned in Nizhny Novgorod in early June. Earlier, in April, Sorochkin was fined under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO for his one-person picket holding an anti-war poster. In May, he was detained for a poster “with inaccurate information about the Russian army” displayed on his car’s rear window. He faced preventive measures in the form of a ban on certain actions. In mid-May, Sorochkin was charged again under Article 280.3 Part 1 for anti-war posters found in his office during the search raid; he was placed under house arrest due to his attempt to leave the country.
In mid-June, criminal proceedings were initiated in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky against activist Alexander Kamenyuk, the former head of A Just Russia regional branch. According to law enforcement authorities, the case was based on the post published by Kamenyuk in May, which contained “inaccurate information about the Russian Armed Forces.” At least two prior administrative reports under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO had been filed against Kamenyuk, one of which had undergone judicial review, but the court decision was not yet in force – therefore, the criminal case was opened inappropriately.
It became known in late June that the law enforcement in the Sverdlovsk Region had opened a criminal case under Article 280.3 Part 1 CC against Father Nikandr (Yevgeny Pinchuk) from Verkhoturye, a hieromonk of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad under the auspices of Metropolitan Agafangel. In March, the hieromonk published a post on VKontakte, in which he characterized the actions of the Russian army as aggressive and expressed his views on the violation of the divine commandments by Russia’s leadership. According to the website of the Verkhotursky District Court of the Sverdlovsk Region, the hieromonk was fined under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO in March, and the court decision came into force in the same month.
In the second half of June, the Gorno-Altaisk City Court ruled to issue a fine of 120 thousand rubles to Victor Rau, the editor-in-chief of the weekly newspaper Listok currently residing abroad. The fine under Article 20.3.4 CAO was imposed for calling for sanctions against Russia, its citizens and organizations. The legal entity that publishes the newspaper had been fined earlier. The case was 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, Rau 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 foreign ministries.
We learned in June that the Proletarsky District Court of Rostov-on-Don placed Oleg Popovkin under arrest for five days in mid-May under Article 20.3.1 CAO (incitement of hatred or enmity, as well as humiliation of human dignity). In February, Popovkin published comments in the Science/Nauka community on VKontakte that criticized the actions of the Russian military in Ukraine and contained rude and insulting remarks about the Russian people. The court found that Popovkin's comments incited hatred of the “Russian military” and “the Russians.” The comments were found to contain, “in the form of a statement of fact,” knowingly false information that the Russian armed forces “fail to meet the technical and tactical requirements of modernity, are involved in committing war crimes,” and “suffer technical losses in the form of destroyed aircraft and tanks,” and that Zelensky had no reason to negotiate with them. We oppose the practice of imposing sanctions for incitement of hatred against a social group in general and doing so based on belonging to the Russian armed forces in particular. We believe that attempts to curtail criticism of such groups constitute an unwarranted interference with the right to freedom of expression. As for Popovkin's harsh statements, interpreted by the law enforcement officers as inciting hatred toward the Russians, we view them not as a manifestation of ethnic prejudice but as criticism directed against his political opponents and supporters of the special military operation. Therefore, they were qualified under Article 20.3.1 CAO inappropriately.
In early June, the Tsentralny District Court of Khabarovsk placed Andrei Tsapkalenko under arrest for 10 days under Article 20.3.1 CAO. In early March, Tsapkalenko gave an interview at Komsomolskaya Square in Khabarovsk “expressing his negative opinion regarding the social group of supporters of the political activity of President V.V. Putin; the opinion included statements that humiliated their dignity.” The recorded stream that included the interview was posted on YouTube under the title “Detention for Peace Khabarovsk March 6, 2022.” We believe that Putin's supporters do not constitute a vulnerable social group in need of protection from hate speech, and we found no calls to violence against them in the video. Therefore we consider Tsapkalenko's arrest inappropriate.
In the second half of the month, the Nikulinsky District Court of Moscow placed former State Duma candidate Mikhail Lobanov under arrest for 15 days under Article 20.3.1 CAO in addition to issuing a fine of 40 thousand rubles under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO. The charges under these articles were related to Lobanov's posts on social networks. One such post talked about sending Chechen soldiers and volunteers from the Middle Eastern countries to Ukraine as part of the so-called “special military operation.” Lobanov called the Middle Eastern volunteers “militants” in his publication and concluded his post with the words “This is the Russian World. Don’t get mixed up.” The second post contained criticism of the Russian government’s economic course. Lobanov claimed that the government supported the most prosperous strata of the population ignoring the situation of less socially protected groups. Expert Tatyana Troitskaya, who provided an expert opinion that formed the basis for Lobanov’s arrest at the request of the local Center for Countering Extremism (“E-Center”), found the first post to contain signs of inciting hatred against Chechens, Muslims and natives of the Middle East. The second post allegedly contained signs of humiliating the social group “Russian officials and Government members” and discrediting the activities of the Russian military. In our opinion, Russian officials and government members, just like the Russian Army in the case described above, should not be considered a vulnerable social group in need of special protection from manifestations of hatred. The criticism of political opponents in the first post was misconstrued as hatred based on ethnicity.
In late June, the same court fined Alexander Pischalnikov, a municipal deputy of the Troparyovo-Nikulino District, 15 thousand rubles on similar charges. He faced responsibility under Article 20.3.1 CAO for his Facebook comment under his own post about the civilian deaths in the Kyiv region of Ukraine. In response to a commenter who had mentioned the Angel Alley (a memorial to children killed during the conflict) in Donetsk, Pischalnikov used harsh language in refuting her arguments. He said that the deaths in Donbas did not justify the actions of “our people” in “the rest of Ukraine” such as the death of the family described in the original post. Having examined the comment, Troitskaya concluded that Pischalnikov belittled the significance of people’s deaths in Donbas and the value of their lives, exaggerated the value of the lives of the dead Ukrainian family, and demonstrated his disdainful attitude toward the children who died in Donbas and toward the symbol of their memory. He also allegedly used discriminatory statements toward the Russian-speaking population of Donbas, and created an opposition of “us” vs. “Ukraine” “in order to present the special operation as a war of “us” (ethnic Russians and Russian citizens) against the Ukrainian people based on ethnicity.” Thus, Troitskaya believed that the deputy’s “discriminatory statements” humiliated the dignity of a group of people (the Russian-speaking population of Donbas) on the grounds of their ethnicity, language, and origin as well as incited hatred “towards ethnic Russians and Russian citizens referred to as ‘us’.” In our opinion, this argumentation is faulty. In his comment, Pischalnikov merely claimed that people’s lives were equally valuable, and the deaths of civilians cannot be justified by the deaths of other civilians. He made no discriminatory statements. It should be noted that the deputy was also fined twice under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO, in the amount of 35 and 40 thousand rubles for several Facebook posts.
In the second half of June, the Tverskoy District Court of Moscow placed Kirill Suvorov, an activist from Krasnoselsky District under arrest for 17 days and fined him 40 thousand rubles. Three reports were compiled against him – under Article 20.3.1 CAO, Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO (public demonstration of Nazi symbols), and Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO. Suvorov's Facebook page contained statements “directed toward negative attitude” against the military operation and negative characterizations of the Russian army, the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, the Ministry of Defense and, as the depersonalized court order stated, “of soldier units under the leadership of [full personal name]” (possibly referring to “Kadyrovites”). Law enforcement agencies and the court found Suvorov's posts to incite social and ethnic hatred. For the reasons provided above, we consider the sanctions against him under Article 20.3.1 and 20.3.3 CAO inappropriate. He was punished under Article 20.3 CAO because his page contained swastika drawings accompanied by statements equating “Z” (the symbol of the special military operation) with Nazi symbols. In our opinion, sanctions for displaying Nazi symbols are justified only when the intent is to promote Nazism. In this case, however, the activist used these symbols as a means of political criticism based on his negative attitude toward Nazi ideology.
We similarly view as inappropriate the sanction against activist Andrei Polyakov fined in mid-June by the Sovetsky District Court of Tambov under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO in the amount of one thousand rubles. The case was based on Polyakov’s comment on VKontakte. In a discussion about the “special military operation,” he wrote that he knew a man “who also despised both Poland and Ukraine and did not consider them to be full-fledged states.” He added “Was going to destroy. It didn't work out” and attached a photo of Adolf Hitler with Nazi symbols to illustrate his comment.
In late June, the Nyandomsky District Court of the Arkhangelsk Region issued a fine of one thousand rubles under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO to activist Radik Adnobaev, an ex-member of the Kargopol City Council. In a social network discussion, Adnobaev wrote “Glory to Ukraine, Glory to the heroes!” After this comment, his interlocutor promised to get him punished and apparently followed through on his threat. We consider the sanction against Adnobaev inappropriate, since Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO stipulates punishment for displaying symbols or attributes of banned organizations but not for publishing their slogans. In addition, the slogan “Glory to Ukraine,” which came into use in the early 20th century, should not be seen exclusively as the slogan of Ukrainian nationalist organizations banned in Russia, especially since it has been used universally in Ukraine in recent years and, since 2018, has become the official salute in the Ukrainian army and police. Adnobayev was then also fined under Article 20.3.3 CAO in the amount of 30 thousand rubles.
In mid-June, searches took place in the homes of Daria Soboleva, a volunteer with the Moscow-based Open Space (Otkrytoe prostranstvo) project that provides assistance to activists, and human rights activist Irina Putilova as part of the case opened under Article 213 Part 1 Paragraph “b” (hooliganism motivated by political and ideological hatred). The search warrants informed that the case had been initiated as early as May 1 in connection with an exhibition, which included items inscribed with anti-war slogans, planned and displayed in June on the Open Space premises. Two days earlier, representatives of the SERB movement had summoned the police to Open Space; the police seized anti-war stickers, a SotaVision banner, and letters from guarantors found on site. We believe that the criminal charges of hooliganism were brought inappropriately. As far as we know, the objects exhibited in Open Space did not lead to any infringement upon the public right to work and leisure, the work of institutions, etc., that is, it did not result in a gross violation of public order necessary to qualify actions under Article 213 CC. We also believe that the anti-war slogans displayed at the exhibition expressed their authors’ political position and showed no disrespect for society. It is also unclear on what grounds this peaceful political position is interpreted by the law enforcement authorities as a manifestation of political or ideological hatred.
Prosecutions for “Rehabilitating Nazism”
In the second half of the month, the Stavropol Regional Court found a 17-year-old local resident guilty under Article 354.1 Part 4 CC (desecration of symbols of Russian military glory, insulting the memory of defenders of the Fatherland committed on the Internet) and sentenced him to a year in a juvenile correctional facility. In March, the minor, spending time with his legally adult friends, urinated on the Eternal Flame memorial in Nevinnomyssk. The teenager’s actions were caught on surveillance cameras; moreover, the young men also filmed them and published the footage on VKontakte. The criminal cases against the other two perpetrators are now being tried in court.
In our opinion, the act committed by the residents of the Stavropol Territory is immoral and worthy of public condemnation. However criminal prosecution is justified only with respect to crimes that pose a significant danger to society. In this case “desecration” of monuments, even if this term is understood wider than causing direct damage should be punishable under Article 214 CC (vandalism) if they present significant public danger. Article 354.1 CC (desecration of symbols of military glory) provides for even harsher punishment, which we view as disproportionate to the degree of the act’s public danger. In addition, Russian law has yet to define the list of symbols of military glory. As for insulting the memory of unspecified defenders of the Fatherland, the criminalization of acts defined in such abstract terms hardly corresponds to the international legal standards on human rights.
At the same time, the Tambov Regional Court found local activist Andrei Polyakov guilty under Article 354.1 Part 1 CC (public dissemination of deliberately false information about the activities of the USSR during World War II) and sentenced him to a fine of 250 thousand rubles. According to the law enforcement, in his VKontakte posts of January 2020, Polyakov equated the actions of the Soviet leadership, the Red Army and Soviet guerillas with the actions of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi troops. According to Polyakov himself, his prosecution was triggered by a complaint from a local Stalinist who claimed that Polyakov had spread false information about Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya, Stalin's “scorched earth” Order 428, the siege of Leningrad and the evacuation of Stalingrad residents. Some episodes were added to the charge during the investigation. In our opinion, dissemination of any information about the activities of the USSR during World War II should not be legally restricted; the fact that such actions are punishable under criminal law grossly interferes with freedom of expression.
It became known in mid-June that the law enforcement completed its investigation in the criminal case against Victor Bondarev from Novosibirsk. Bondarev faces charges under Article 128.1 CC (disseminating deliberately false information discrediting the honor and dignity of another person on the internet) and Article 354.1 Part 4 CC on rehabilitation of Nazism (humiliation of honor and dignity of a World War II veteran committed online). The case was based on Bondarev’s social network posts published in 2021. According to the investigation, these posts contained “deliberately false information insulting and defaming the honor and dignity of a veteran of the Great Patriotic War” – Bondarev had negatively characterized his mother’s common-law husband, war veteran Vitaly Simonov, accusing the latter of bullying his mother, locking her up in a nursing home, and stealing. Bondarev pleaded not guilty and was placed under travel restrictions. We are not familiar with Bondarev's statements, but we think that qualification of his actions under Article 354.1 Part 4 CC is incorrect and excessive. If Simonov and his family believe that Bondarev disseminated unreliable personal information about the veteran, it would have been enough to charge him with libel. We also believe that such charges should be addressed in civil rather than criminal proceedings: Simonov's relatives could have filed a civil lawsuit for protection of honor and dignity.
It became known in late June that the case on rehabilitation of Nazism was opened against Moscow resident Mikhail Nalimov, the coordinator of the organizing committee “To Remove Lenin;” he has been placed on the wanted list. His criminal case is based on his VKontakte posts. According to investigators, Nalimov posted images with Victory Day symbols, including the St. George's ribbon, augmenting them with satanic pentagrams. Nalimov’s views include conservative monarchism and Orthodox fundamentalism; he believes that the power in Russia is in the hands of Satanists, and the Victory symbols are associated with the satanic cult. In our opinion, Nalimov’s posts are, indeed, provocative and inspired by conspiracy theories (including xenophobic ones), but we are inclined to believe that the criminal prosecution under Article 354.1 CC for posting the images described above is inappropriate. In our view, criticism of the Victory Day celebrations, differences in interpretation or even intentional distortions of historical facts and cultural traditions should not entail criminal prosecution unless they are accompanied by incitement to violence, hatred and discrimination. Unless Nalimov's posts contained appeals of this kind, the distorted images posted online were unlikely to pose any kind of public danger.
At the same time, we found out that Tver regional court stopped the proceedings in June due to the expiry of the limitation period on two criminal cases under Article 354.1 Part 3 CC in its previous wording (public distribution of information expressing clear disrespect for society, days of military glory and memorable dates of Russia related to defense of the Fatherland) against a Tver resident and a Torzhok resident. Both faced charges for uploading photos of Nazis to the Immortal Regiment Project website in May 2020 – a photo of Adolf Hitler, and a photo of Rudolf Hess respectively. The actions of Internet users who uploaded Nazi photos to the Immortal Regiment Project website are reprehensible, but we believe their qualification under Article 354.1 CC is incorrect. In our opinion, the act of uploading photographs of Nazi leaders to a website, even on the eve of May 9, in and of itself does not constitute dissemination of any information about the days of Russia’s military glory or memorable dates; in these cases, the photos evidently were not accompanied by any statements endorsing or denying Nazi crimes.
Sanctions for Inciting Hatred
On June 10, the Supreme court of Tatarstan ruled to liquidate the All-Tatar Public Center (Vsetatarsky Obschestvennyi Tsentr, VTOTs) as the extremist organization upon request of the Tatarstan Prosecutor's Office. The agency filed a claim for the Center’s liquidation in January 2021. You can read more about our position on the lawsuit here. The Ministry of Justice suspended VTOTs' activities in October after the prosecutor's office opened an administrative case under Article 20.3.1 CAO. The claim was based on the address to the State Council of Tatarstan delivered by activist Abdullazyan Zalyalov at the traditional VTOTs rally. Experts concluded that the address contained a "possible presence of a hostile context" regarding the Russians and contrasted the Russians and the Tatars as "the state-forming people" and "the colonized people." We believe that the statement should not have been interpreted as incitement to ethnic hatred. However, the Vakhitovsky Court of Kazan fined the Center 250 thousand rubles in December upholding the prosecutorial claims. It should be noted that VTOTs activists were repeatedly charged in administrative and criminal cases – often inappropriately, in our opinion; the organization has been issued a warning.
In early June Leninsky District Court of Krasnoyarsk fined Semyon Oreshkin 10 thousand rubles under Article 20.3.1 CAO. The case was based on a comment made by Oreshkin in July 2021 under the publication in the “Krasnoyarsk” community on VKontakte. The post contained the text “Not here. In Naberezhnye Chelny, the police restrained a passenger on a minibus for lowering his mask. My police take care of me...” and a video of the incident. Oreshkin’s comment on this text contained several profanities directed at the police.
In the second half of June, the Sovetsky District Court of Omsk fined Maxim Shkolnikov ten thousand rubles under Article 20.3.1 CAO having found that his comments in the “Omsk Live” community under the news about anti-coronavirus measures in the city had humiliated the social group “police officers.” Shkolnikov used profanities to characterize Omsk police officers as people with “low moral and personal qualities,” who are also quite selective in performing their official duties.
At the same time, the Leninsky District Court of Krasnoyarsk fined Andrei Khokhlov, a supporter of Nikolai Platoshkin’s “For New Socialism” movement, 15 thousand rubles under Article 20.3.1 CAO. Khokhlov wrote comments on the regional Newslab website using the nickname “Seva.” According to a linguistic expert involved in the examination, nine comments published in 2021–2022 incited hostility and hatred on the basis of belonging to the socio-professional groups “representatives of the Russian Federation government bodies,” “representatives of the law enforcement,” and “representatives of the United Russia party.”
We believe that Oreshkin, Shkolnikov, and Khokhlov were inappropriately punished under Article 20.3.1 CAO. In our opinion, police officers should not be considered a vulnerable social group protected by anti-extremist legislation. On the contrary, they should be exceptionally tolerant of criticism, as long as it does not involve a real threat of violence (as the European Court of Human Rights, among others, noted on several prior occasions).
On June 8, 2022, the Tagansky District Court of Moscow fined Lucky Lee – a strip club owner and a showman, who calls himself a civic activist – under Article 20.3.1 CAO. Lee faced responsibility following his VKontakte post, which, according to the police report cited in the court ruling, contained a negative assessment of “a representative of a group of persons united by professional affiliation,” a public person – the ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Russia Lee Seok Bae. The ruling also stated that Lucky Lee negatively characterized a group of persons defined by “national, racial” criteria. The case was initiated on the basis of a note sent by the Korean Embassy in Russia. Lucky Lee considers himself a “peacemaker” and demands that South Korean diplomats seriously consider his proposals for the peaceful unification of Korea and pass them on to their government. In a 2021 post, Lee called Ambassador Lee Seok Bae, who was avoiding a meeting with him, a hypocrite. Later, Telegram feeds reported that Lucky Lee published caricatures of the ambassador on Instagram. Lucky Lee's defense argued in court that he was not aware of his actions due to his mental disorder and provided medical documentation that he had undergone psychosocial rehabilitation. However, according to the court decision, Lucky Lee could be held administratively liable because he had published the post before he was admitted to the hospital, was not under mental health observation and had a driver's license. We do not know which post served as the basis for the sanction. However, it is unlikely that Lee, an ethnic Korean and an activist for the peaceful unification of Korea, was inciting hatred toward Koreans, let alone calling for violence against them. More likely, his post merely contained harsh remarks about the ambassador personally. In our opinion, neither the ambassador nor the diplomatic staff in general constitute a vulnerable social group in need of special protection from incitement of hatred. Therefore, we are inclined to consider the sanction of Lucky Lee under Article 20.3.1 CAO inappropriate.
Sanctions against Alexei Navalny's Supporters
It became known In June that Violetta Grudina, the former head of Navalny's headquarters in Murmansk, was put on the international wanted list. According to Grudina, she faces charges under three articles: Article 282.1 CC (organizing an extremist community or participating in it), Article 236 Part 1 CC (violation of sanitary and epidemiological rules), and Article 207.3 CC (distribution of knowingly false information about the use of armed forces). The information about the extremist association case against Alexei Navalny and his supporters became public in late September 2021. The case came to involve about two dozen people. We believe that this case was opened inappropriately, since the activities of the banned Navalny’s organizations, their founders and participants were not extremist. In December 2021, as part of the investigation into the case, mass search raids were conducted against former employees of Navalny's regional structures. Grudina was put on the wanted list at the same time, but the article under which she was charged was not known.
In June, law enforcement agencies vigorously sanctioned activists, including municipal deputies, for their old social network posts that included symbols of Navalny's projects – most often the Smart Voting project logo. Some of those who wrote about Smart Voting were critical of the project, but, nevertheless, faced sanctions. Among those punished are Moscow municipal deputies Yulia Scherbakova and Elena Selkova, Levon Smirnov, Ruslan Borovsky (sentenced to 10 days of administrative arrest), Alexander Zamyatin and opposition politician Nikolai Kavkazsky (10 days of arrest). Additional defendants, Ilya Seliverstov and Yevgeny Lebedev, who had previously announced their intention to run for the municipal deputy positions, were placed under arrest for 10 days. Andrei Natalchuk and Elena Karavaeva who also intended to participate were fined two thousand rubles each; Lyudmila Khairova, a regional activist who had left Russia, was issued a fine of two thousand rubles as well. It should be noted that people sanctioned under Article 20.3 CAO lose their right to run for a public office for one year, counting from the date the decision on their administrative offense enters into force. The Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), the Citizens' Rights Defense Fund (FZPG) and the Alexei Navalny Headquarters were recognized as extremist organizations in 2021. We believe that there were no legal grounds for this ban and, accordingly, we consider sanctions for displaying their symbols inappropriate. It is also unclear why any mention of Smart Voting is regarded as paraphernalia or symbols of Navalny's structures.
In early June, the Zheleznodorozhny District Court of Barnaul fined local resident Anastasia Selezneva under Article 20.29 CAO (mass distribution of extremist materials). Selezneva's page on VKontakte was found to contain the video “Let’s Remind Crooks and Thieves about Their Manifesto-2002” created by Navalny’s supporters and added to the Federal List of Extremist Materials. In mid-June, the Leninsky District Court of Ivanovo fined Semyon Voropanov two and a half thousand rubles for sharing the video, and later in the month, the Sovetsky District Court in the same city fined Nikita Rozhkov one thousand rubles for the same offense. The video merely lists a number of unrealized campaign promises made by United Russia in its 2002 draft party 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.
It became known in late June that the magistrate’s court in Kalininsky District of Cheboksary fined local activist Alexander Paramonov two thousand rubles under Article 13.15 Part 2 CAO (mentioning an extremist organization without indicating its status) for reposting FBK publications on Twitter. Initially, the report against Paramonov was filed under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO, but it was replaced by Article 13.15 CAO during the proceedings. Paramonov himself did not confirm his involvement in the account that published the incriminating content. The law enforcement officers regarded a joint photo of Paramonov and ex-coordinator of Navalny's local headquarters Semyon Kochkin posted on the same account as evidence of Paramonov's guilt. Earlier Kochkin had also been fined under Article 13.15 CAO for his publications about Navalny's structures that failed to indicate their extremist status but he managed to get the fine canceled. It should be noted that Article 13.15 Part 2 CAO should apply to the media, not to social network users.
Persecution against Religious Organizations and Believers
In the second half of June, the Naberezhnye Chelny City Court made a decision not to review the claim filed by the Republican Prosecutor's Office of Tatarstan to recognize as extremist 47 books by Turkish theologian Said Nursi, several multi-volume series of his works and a number of books about his doctrine. In total, the claim pertained to about 163 different publications seized from eight residents of Naberezhnye Chelny, including Nakiya Sharifullina, convicted under Article 282.2 CC Part 1 (organizing an extremist organization) for her involvement in the banned religious association Nurcular. In April 2021, the same court in a different composition ruled that the publications were extremist. The experts who examined the books claimed that they represented “ideological sources of the religious extremist association Nurcular,” or included such sources and their “fragments.” The experts also pointed out that a number of publications were identical to materials previously recognized as extremist in Russia. In September, the Supreme Court of Tatarstan reversed the decision to ban the publications, stating, among other things, that the lower court had considered the issue of banning books in Ottoman (old Turkish) language in the absence of their translation, that is, without an opportunity to become familiar with their content. At the new hearing, the Naberezhnye Chelny City Court sent the books for a new expert examination. We have no information about the conclusions reached by the experts or whether they translated the books. However, according to the lawyer who took part in the trial, the decision to leave the claim without consideration was made precisely because the court did not know the language, in which the majority of the books were published. We view the ban on Said Nursi’s works as inappropriate. We also question the earlier decision to ban Islam in Modern Turkey by Mary Weld (Sükran Vahide) and the claims against Ayats and Hadith in Risale-i Nur by Kenan Demirtaş, which the prosecutor's office also sought to ban. Finally, we consider the ban against Nurcular as an extremist organization inappropriate; we believe that such an association has never existed in the first place.
In Rostov-on-Don, 13 citizens of Central Asian countries were detained in early June. They were suspected of involvement in the Islamic radical party Hizb ut-Tahrir recognized as a terrorist organization in Russia. A criminal case was reportedly initiated against the “cell” organizer. The Leninsky District Court of Rostov-on-Don placed at least one detainee, Haidarali Ashurov, under arrest, as a suspect in preparation to participate in the activities of a terrorist organization (Article 30 Part 1 and Article 205.5 Part 2 CC). According to the investigation, he was studying party materials and tried to join a Hizb ut-Tahrir cell but was not accepted. Ashurov stated that he did not admit his guilt. We believe that the grounds for banning Hizb ut-Tahrir as a terrorist organization were insufficient since this party was never implicated in terrorist acts. 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.
On June 7, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issued a ruling in the case of Taganrog LRO and Others v. Russia. The judgment considered 20 complaints by Jehovah's Witnesses filed between 2010 and 2019; the total number of applicants was 1,444, including 1,014 individuals and 430 legal entities. The ECHR considered only a few of the applicants' complaints in detail, indicating that the rest did not require special consideration because the findings would apply to all similar situations. The applicants complained about the liquidation of several of their local organizations, the subsequent recognition of the Jehovah's Witnesses Administrative Center in Russia along with 395 local communities as extremist organizations, the bans against their religious literature and the official website, and criminal prosecution and administrative sanctions against believers. The ECHR found that by prosecuting Jehovah's Witnesses Russia was violating several articles of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (European Convention) – Article 9 on freedom of conscience, Article 10 on freedom of expression, Article 11 on freedom of assembly and association, as well as Article 5 (the right to liberty and security of person) and Article 1 (protection of property) of the Protocol No. 1 to the European Convention. Even though Russia has refused to execute ECHR decisions made after March 15, the Convention itself prescribes a different course of action. According to Article 58 Part 2, denunciation does not release a party from its obligations with respect to any action, violating such obligations and committed by that party before the effective denunciation date. In addition, the ruling on the complaint by Russian Jehovah's Witnesses sets an important precedent for protecting believers' rights in the Council of Europe member states.
Meanwhile, prosecutions against Jehovah's Witnesses continued in June. They are being charged with involvement in the activities of local religious organizations banned as extremist.
We know of five sentences issued in June against 18 Jehovah's Witnesses.
- The Leninsky District Court of Vladivostok found six believers guilty under Article 282.2 CC. Valentin Osadchuk was issued a six-year suspended sentence under Article 282.2 Part 1, while Nadezhda Anoikina, Nina Purge, Raisa Usanova, Lyubov Galaktionova and Nailia Kogai received two-year suspended sentences under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC (participating in the activities of an extremist organization).
- The Pervomaisky District Court of Kirov issued a guilty verdict under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC and Article 282.3 Part 1 CC (financing of extremist activities) against seven believers. Six of the defendants received suspended sentences: Polish citizen Andrzej Onischuk – six and a half years, Andrei Suvorkov and Evgeny Suvorkov – six years and three months each, Maxim Khalturin – six years and two months; Vladimir Korobeinikov – three years and three months, Vladimir Vasilyev – two and a half years. The case against Yury Geraskov was terminated due to his death in 2020.
- The Tsentralny District Court of Chita sentenced Vladimir Yermolaev, Alexander Putintsev and Igor Mamalimov to six and a half years in a minimum-security penal colony, and Sergei Kirilyuk to a suspended sentence of six years under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC.
- The Vyazemsky District Court of the Khabarovsk Region issued a five-year suspended sentence to 21-year-old Yegor Baranov finding him guilty under Article 282.2 Parts 1.1 and 2 CC (involving others in the activities of an extremist organization and participating in it).
- The Oktyabrsky District Court of Krasnoyarsk sentenced Yevgeny Zinich to six years in a minimum-security penal colony under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC.
Meanwhile, the Porkhovsky District Court of the Pskov Region acquitted Alexei Khabarov, charged under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC in late June.
In addition, the Tomsk Regional Court reduced Andrei Kolesnichenko's sentence issued under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC. In January, the Seversk City Court sentenced him to four years behind bars followed by a restriction of freedom for a year, but the appellate court changed his incarceration term to a suspended sentence.
It became known in June that the Investigation Department of Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the Arkhangelsk Region and Nenets Autonomous Okrug discontinued the criminal case against Jehovah's Witnesses from Severodvinsk Vladimir Teterin, Andrei Maksimovich and Sergei Potylitsyn for lack of corpus delicti in mid-May. In making such a decision, the investigators referred to Resolution No. 11 of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation dated June 28, 2011, according to which it was necessary to establish specific actions and prove the guilty person’s motives when considering extremism-related cases. The investigation indicated that the video recordings of the worship services organized by the believers at the meetings included no “statements containing signs of incitement to hatred or hostility on the basis of attitude towards religion and no propaganda of exclusivity and superiority of Jehovah's Witnesses”; their communications were primarily on the subjects such as “reading and studying the Bible, religious norms, instructions or examples of behavior, and field service.” Thus, the investigation concluded that the believers “were exercising their guaranteed constitutional right to freedom of religion. All three are entitled to rehabilitation.
In early June, the Syktyvkar City Court returned the case of Jehovah's Witnesses Alexander Kruglyakov, Alexander Ketov, Andrei Kharlamov and Sergei Ushakhin, charged under Article 282.2 Part 1, and Lydia Nekrasova, charged under Part 2 of the same article, to the Komi Republic Prosecutor. On the basis of the same Supreme Court decision, the court concluded that the indictment did not reflect the specific unlawful actions of the defendants and failed to provide evidence of their criminal intent and extremist motives.
Meanwhile, law enforcement authorities continued their persecution of believers in different regions. For example, in early June, Vadim Fedorov's residence in Asha (the Chelyabinsk Region), was searched as part of an investigation under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC. The believer was put under travel restrictions. In mid-June, the home of Andrei Bolotov and his wife in Kopeysk of the Chelyabinsk Region was searched in a similar case; their exact status in the case is unknown. At the same time, the residences of five elderly Jehovah's Witnesses were searched in Baley of Zabaikalsky Krai as part of an investigation under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC.