Misuse of Anti-Extremism in July 2022
On July 14, the president signed several laws discussed in our June review. Among them are the amendments to state security legislation, the law expanding the extrajudicial blocking mechanisms and the regulation of media upon request of the Prosecutor General's Office, as well as the law consolidating and systematizing numerous previously adopted norms that regulate the activities of various “foreign agents.” The law creating a databank of extremist materials and the corresponding court decisions as well as a separate register of persons involved in the activities of extremist or terrorist organizations was signed as well.
Another law signed on the same day stipulated administrative liability for violating blocking orders or the “landing” legislation for foreign Internet companies in Russia. The law introduced a number of changes to the Code of Administrative Offenses (CAO). Telecommunication operators now face more severe penalties for repeated failure to block or unblock Internet resources as well as for violating the installation procedure for so called “technical means of countering threats” (TSPU), Roskomnadzor equipment that Russian internet providers are required to install at their facilities in order to allow for user traffic control. Another newly introduced CAO article provides for liability in case of violation of the requirements for passing traffic through the TSPU; the third violation under both articles entails criminal liability. Articles newly included in the CAO impose penalties for violating the established rules on “foreign persons” and Russian citizens who perform online operations on behalf of companies subject to “landing” in Russia. Foreigners who violate the ban on collecting personal data are also liable under the new legislation. The article that penalizes violations of the law on advertising has been amended by adding punishment for dissemination of advertisements by “foreign entities” or on websites of “foreign entities” in violation of Roskomnadzor bans. Hosting providers who fail to provide reliable information about the owner of a resource subject to “landing” now face penalties under the article punishing for failure to submit reports to Roskomnadzor. Article of the CAO on search engines’ responsibility was supplemented with several new parts that punish search engines for failure to inform users that a foreign company has violated Russian law or to exclude links to such companies as well as for repeated violations. All the above-mentioned CAO provisions stipulate large fines that can be as high as millions of rubles for legal entities.
Back in late June, the Constitutional Court of Russia rejected the complaints by Pskov politicians Lev Shlosberg and Nikolai Kuzmin, which questioned the legislative norms that deprive of passive suffrage those “involved” in the activities of extremist and terrorist organizations. Based on this legislation, Shlosberg and Kuzmin were not allowed to run for office. The claimants insisted that the electoral legislation’s norms on “involvement” do not meet the legal certainty requirement, contain regulations that constitute voting rights discrimination, and do not pass the proportionality test that ensures a fair balance between the right’s restriction and reasonable necessity. Furthermore, these norms restrict the right to freedom of speech and dissemination of information; give retroactive effect to the law that worsens a citizen’s situation, and neutralize the constitutional judicial protection guarantees leading to arbitrary enforcement of the legislation. The Constitutional Court, however, stated that the passive suffrage restriction – by analogy with banning those sentenced to imprisonment for committing grave and particularly grave crimes from running for public office – constitutes a special constitutional and legal disqualifying obstacle to holding elected public positions, associated with increased reputational requirements faced by individuals who hold public authority. According to the Constitutional Court, the constitutional prohibition on using laws retroactively does not apply to such restrictions. The Constitutional Court’s opinion also states that the concept of “involvement” used in the law is sufficiently detailed – a passive suffrage ban “can be caused only by the presence of court-established facts that objectively and unambiguously testify to the citizen’s actions specifically related to the goals and (or) forms of activity found to determine the association’s extremist nature.” At the same time, the courts should not be arbitrary and unreasonable in establishing the grounds for the prohibition; in particular, “support through statements” should refer specifically to the goals and forms of activity, due to which the organization was recognized as extremist. As the Constitutional Court pointed out, resolving the specific question of whether the actions of Shlosberg and Kuzmin were correctly qualified as evidence of their “involvement” in an extremist organization does not fall within its mandate.
Sanctions for Discrediting the Actions of the Russian Government Agencies and Armed Forces
According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 3303 protocols were compiled as of July 14 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 materials, graffiti on walls and other objects, and statements made online. In our opinion, the legislation to ban discrediting the actions of the Russian armed forces and government agencies abroad constitutes an unreasonable restriction on the right to freedom of expression intended to suppress criticism of the official political course.
In late July, a criminal case under Article 280.3 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (public actions aimed at discrediting the Russian Armed Forces, committed after having faced administrative responsibility) was initiated against activist Sergei Veselov from Shuya in the Ivanovo Region. Veselov, who was also fined 30 thousand rubles in June under Article 20.3.3 CAO, published a number of anti-war videos on YouTube. In March, he was criminally charged with vandalism under Article 214 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (CC) for placing anti-war graffiti on the city administration building. As of August 1, we know of eight criminal cases of this kind; the verdict has been issued in one of them.
Sanctions for “Rehabilitating Nazism” and Equating the Actions of the USSR and the Third Reich
In the second half of July, the Tyumen Regional Court issued a verdict against 23-year-old Eduard Scherbakov. He was found guilty of publicly disseminating knowingly false information about the use of the Russian Armed Forces (Article 207.3 Part 1 CC) and of disseminating on the Internet the information about Russia’s memorable date that expressed clear disrespect for society (Article 354.1 Part 4 CC). The court sentenced Scherbakov to six months of imprisonment in a settlement colony. The charge under Article 207.3 CC was based on his post of April 2022 that contained certain statements about the Armed Forces’ actions. The prosecution under Article 354.1 CC was based on the fact that “no later than May 6, 2022,” Scherbakov submitted an application with a photo of Adolf Hitler to be publicly displayed on May 9 as part of the Immortal Regiment Online project. We believe that law enforcement agencies qualified Scherbakov's actions under Article 354.1 CC incorrectly. Uploading a photograph of a Nazi criminal on a website, in and of itself, does not constitute dissemination of information about the days of Russia’s military glory, even if it took place on the eve of May 9.
In late July, the Second Western District Military Court, at its visiting session in Smolensk, sentenced local opposition blogger Sergei Komandirov to six and a half years in prison, which is 6 months less than the term requested by the public prosecutor. Komandirov was also fined 30 thousand rubles and deprived of his right to post materials on the Internet for five years. The activist was found guilty under Article 319 CC (insulting a representative of the authorities), Article 205.2 Part 2 CC (public justification of terrorism on the Internet; three counts), Article 354.1 Part 4 CC (dissemination of information expressing clear disrespect for society about the days of military glory and memorable dates of Russia related to the defense of the fatherland), and paragraph “a” of Article 282 Part 2 CC (incitement of hatred or enmity committed with the threat of violence). All the charges were related to Komandirov’s posts on his public page “We Demand Answers” on VKontakte. We view Komandirov’s sentence as partially wrongful and the punishment imposed on him as disproportionate. We consider inappropriate the charge against him under Article 354.1 CC based on his post of May 7, 2021, in which Komandirov criticized the militarization of events dedicated to Victory Day and the fact that they involved children, stating that Putin is responsible for “victory frenzy and political pedophilia.” We found no disrespectful statements about Victory Day per se in the blogger's post, and criticism of a particular manner of celebrating this holiday should not become a reason for criminal prosecution unless accompanied by calls for violence, hatred and discrimination. We are also inclined to consider the charge under Article 282 CC inappropriate; it was brought against Komandirov in connection with his 2019 post about a protester in Likino-Dulyovo, who had been detained along with her minor daughter. Komandirov negatively characterized law enforcement officers and quoted the words of blogger Dmitry Ivanov (kamikadzedead) about the inevitability of the impending bloodshed. However, Komandirov's post contained no explicit calls for violence. The quote cited in the post can be more appropriately characterized as a pessimistic forecast for the country's social and political future. We also believe that law enforcement officers do not constitute a protected social group; on the contrary, as the European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly noted, they should be exceptionally tolerant of criticism unless it includes a real threat of violence. The vague concept of “social group,” in our opinion, should be excluded from the norms of anti-extremist legislation altogether. As for the statements qualified under Article 205.2 CC, one can indeed see these posts as calls for a violent change of power. However, according to the available information, neither Komandirov himself nor his readers have ever taken any steps toward violent methods of struggle – that is, the blogger’s statements presented no significant public danger, and his long incarceration term seems to be manifestly disproportionate.
We found out in late July that a criminal case under Article 354.1 CC was opened against Stavropol resident Yanis Aslanov. He was likely charged under Part 3 of this article (disseminating information expressing clear disrespect for society about the days of Russia's military glory) in its 2014 edition. On February 24, 2021, Aslanov published two posts on VKontakte about the Defender of Fatherland Day. The first was a 1918 anti-Bolshevik propaganda poster about de-Cossackization, with a modern caption stating that February 23 is a “day of sorrow,” and that the Red Army was created from “gangs of murderers, rapists and robbers.” The second post contained an image of a dog decorated with a red star. The image included a poem, which stated that only “slaves and dogs” serve in the draft army, and the crossed-out date “February 23.” Aslanov accompanied this image with his own commentary that “the army breaks a Free Person,” that military service should be voluntary, and that pursuing friendly policies will eliminate any need for the army. We believe that Aslanov has been prosecuted inappropriately. In our opinion, expressing a negative attitude towards celebrations of the days of Russia's military glory, including Defender of the Fatherland Day, should not constitute a reason for a criminal prosecution, unless accompanied by calls for violence, hatred and discrimination.
In the second half of July, two people were punished under Part 1 of the new Article 13.48 CAO (equating the actions of the USSR and Nazi Germany or denying the decisive role of the Soviet people in the defeat of Nazi Germany). As previously mentioned, we believe that Article 13.48 CAO excessively and unreasonably restricts freedom of speech in peaceful historical discussion.
The Prikubansky District Court of Krasnodar fined local resident Vadim Kiselyov one thousand rubles. This is the first fine of this kind recorded by SOVA Center. The sanctions were based on Kiselyov’s messages in the house chat, in which the Krasnodar resident advised his neighbors to read the memoirs of Nikolai Nikulin, a veteran of the Great Patriotic War, and discussed the actions of Soviet soldiers against the civilian population of Germany. We consider the sanctions against Kiselyov inappropriate. He did not justify the crimes of Nazism and did not call for violence, hatred or discrimination. His statement, despite the emotional expressions used therein, is an instance of a peaceful discussion, which, from our point of view, should not be restricted. Moreover, the excerpt of the message reproduced in the police report provides no information on what exactly was interpreted as equating the actions of the USSR and Nazi Germany and/or denying the decisive role of the Soviet people in the defeat of Nazi Germany.
Under the same article, the Tverskoy District Court of Moscow placed activist Kirill Suvorov (an assistant to municipal deputies Ilya Yashin and Elena Kotenochkina, who have been charged under a criminal article on spreading fakes about the Armed Forces) under arrest for 15 days. Earlier, in June, Suvorov was punished under three other administrative articles – in our opinion, inappropriately in all cases. Suvorov’s charges under Article 13.48 Part 1 CAO were based on his Facebook post, which contained a photograph of a "Down with the CPSU” (KPSS) banner with the last two letters replaced with symbols of the Nazi SS units, along with a propaganda leaflet by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army recognized in Russia as an extremist organization. An expert, who examined the publication, concluded that it equated the actions of the USSR, Nazi Germany and the modern Russian Federation, both covertly (by replacing letters in the CPSU abbreviation) and verbally, including “by justifying the activities of the extremist organization Ukranian Insurgent Army.”
In late June, the Leningradsky District Court of Kaliningrad banned the distribution in Russia of the electronic version of Katyn. On the trail of a crime [Katyn'. Po sledam prestupleniya], a book published in 2020 by the Center for Polish-Russian Dialogue and Understanding. The book contains a historical essay on the experience of Polish prisoners of war in POW camps and the Katyn massacre, fragments of historical documents (including POW’s diaries), an essay on the history of Smolensk, and discussions about modern Russia’s historical memory policies, as well as travel recommendations for visiting places associated with the Katyn tragedy. It is written in a measured tone and acquaints the reader with the opinions of historians, officials and public figures of both Poland and Russia. According to the Kaliningrad Regional Prosecutor's office, the statements contained in the book contradict the Nuremberg Tribunal decision (thus falling under Article 354.1 CC) and contain signs of equating the actions of the USSR and Nazi Germany, as well as denying the decisive role of the Soviet people in Germany’s defeat and the importance of the humanitarian mission of the USSR during the liberation of European countries (which corresponds to the composition of Article 13.48 CAO). The court decision stated that information about the USSR as an aggressor state against Poland contradicts the decision of the Nuremberg Tribunal (although the Nuremberg tribunal never reviewed the activities of the USSR) and equates the actions of the USSR and the Third Reich. We believe that the ban on the distribution of this book is unjustified.
Persecution for Displaying Banned Symbols
In July, we learned about several cases under Article 20.3 CAO related to displaying swastikas as part of images intended as a criticism of the special operation in Ukraine. In our opinion, the sanctions in all these cases were inappropriate. We believe that sanctions for displaying Nazi symbols are justified only when the symbols are used to promote Nazism.
Back in mid-June, the Lomonosovsky District Court of Arkhangelsk fined Alexander Shevyrkov one thousand rubles under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO for publishing on VKontakte “images with Nazi symbols and paraphernalia. Specifically, the charges pertained to photographic images of the Wolfsangel (wolf hook), a non-alphabetic symbol consisting of superimposed stylized images of heraldic characters “N” and “I” which is “widespread in Nazi and neo-Nazi symbolism, among others.” Shevyrkov told the court that “being a historian, he posted two images comparing neo-Nazi and Nazi symbols; he did not know about the ban on displaying symbols.” Student Ilya Yekimovsky was fined 1,500 rubles by the Maykop City Court for posting a comment in a VKontakte discussion, which contained an image of two intersecting letters “Z” in a white circle on a red background. The law enforcement interpreted this image as confusingly similar to Nazi symbols. In late July, the Zaeltsovsky District Court of Novosibirsk fined activist Pavel Lukin for his VKontakte posts based on the “signs of a swastika in the NSDAP emblem” and “a Hitler-styled image of Putin with a parting on the left side and a characteristic square mustache.” The Kandalaksha District Court in the Murmansk Region placed Sergei Fateev under arrest for 14 days for “creating and placing” on a building wall “a poster that read “United Russia – a Fascist country Z + V = (the Nazi swastika German cross symbol).”
The Municipal elections in Moscow will take place from September 9 through September 11, 2022. On the eve of the elections, starting in June, acting deputies, district activists and other citizens who declared their intention to run for office have been facing administrative responsibility under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO for demonstrating prohibited symbols. Persons brought to justice under this article lose their passive suffrage rights for one year from the moment the decision on an administrative offense came into force.
In most cases, deputies and activists face administrative charges in connection with the demonstration of the Smart Voting symbols, which are regarded as symbols of the banned Alexei Navalny’s structures. Most often, we are talking about social network posts made in 2021, but some cases involve demonstrating the Smart Voting logo offline and even verbally mentioning Smart Voting. The Alexei Navalny Headquarters, the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) and the Citizens' Rights Defense Fund (FZPG) were recognized as extremist organizations in June 2021; the decision to ban them came into force in August. In our opinion, there were no legal grounds for banning Navalny's organizations as extremist and, accordingly, we consider sanctions imposed for displaying their symbols inappropriate. It is also not entirely clear why any mention of Smart Voting is interpreted as paraphernalia or symbols of Navalny's structures. Fifteen people were punished under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO (eight were fined, four were placed under arrest, and the punishment imposed on the three remaining offenders remains unknown). Eleven of them were punished for symbols associated with Navalny: Head of the Yakimanka Municipal District Andrei Morev, municipal deputies Vitaly Tretyukhin, Nodari Khananashvili, Alexander Zamyatin and Alexandra Andreeva as well as activists and potential municipal elections candidates Yevgeny Lebedev, Marina Litvinovich, Maya Baidakova, Sergei Smirnov, Alexander Trofimov, and Sergei Ross. In addition, reports for similar acts were compiled against six people: Acting Head of the Lomonosovsky Municipal District Administration Olga Sidelnikova, municipal deputies Vyacheslav Borodulin, Olga Prudlik and Vladimir Zalischak, and municipal elections candidates Dmitry Oleshkevich and Iosif Dzhagaev.
Some municipal deputies and activists faced punishment for publicly displaying Nazi symbols in a manner unrelated to Nazi propaganda. On this basis, municipal deputy Vadim Korovin was arrested, and a report on the fact of demonstrating Nazi symbols was compiled against municipal deputy candidate Nikolai Korolyov.
We do not know what symbols formed the basis for the verdicts against the municipal deputies Igor Glek, Mikhail Menshikov and Viktor Barantsev.
Sanctions for “Disrespect for Authority”
In July, we became aware of one case filed under Article 20.1 Part 3 CAO for obscene online statements targeting the country’s authorities. It is worth reminding that, in our opinion, this article is directly aimed at suppressing criticism of the authorities, and allows for inappropriate sanctions. The Pervorechensky District Court of Vladivostok fined activist Gia Kakabadze 40,000 rubles. The fine was imposed based on a photo of Kakabadze's solitary picket posted on the Activatika telegram channel. In the photo, Kakabadze holds a poster with a famous statement by musician Yuri Shevchuk. The religious studies expert, who prepared the opinion for the court, pointed out that Kakabadze's poster contained negative information “about the attitude towards V.V. Putin as a representative (symbol and personification) of state power in the Russian Federation.”
Sanctions for Inciting Hatred
In July, we recorded several cases of application of Article 20.3.1 CAO and Article 282 CC to punish incitement of hatred against groups, which, in our opinion, require no protection from even the harshest criticism unless accompanied by calls for violence.
It became known in mid-July that a criminal case was initiated against Dmitry Antonov, a resident of the Tula Region, under paragraph “a” of Article 282 Part 2 CC (inciting hatred or enmity, as well as humiliation of human dignity, committed with the threat of violence) in connection with two VKontakte posts. In one post, Antonov criticized Vladimir Putin using obscene language. He also called Putin a “murderer” and a “criminal,” saying that the end awaited him and “his henchmen and propagandists,” and that “the Putin regime and its supporters are a global threat that will inevitably be destroyed.” The second post contained a similar text about the fate of the “dictators” and the image depicting Putin as Adolf Hitler. Note that the Supreme Court of Russia, back in 2011, pointed out that criticism in the media of officials (professional politicians), in and of itself, should not be considered an act aimed at humiliating dignity, since the limits of permissible criticism are wider for officials than for private individuals. Antonov provided the screenshots of his posts to journalists, and we found no threats of violence in them.
In early July, the Kuybyshevsky District Court of Omsk fined local activist Nikolai Rodkin 10,000 rubles under Article 20.3.1 CAO (inciting hatred or enmity, as well as humiliation of human dignity). The case was based on a video recorded and distributed on social networks by Rodkin in April, in which he emotionally commented on the brutal police detention of activist Roman King for his participation in the “No to Nazism” picket. Rodkin called the police officers who detained King “******* Nazis,” “pigs” and “trash;” a few days later, he deleted the video because of its excessively harsh language. He claims, however, that he was not talking about all the police officers in general, but only about the individual officers who used unreasonable violence against King. Rodkin believes that he had every right to protest against such violence.
In late July, police in the village of Siversky (Leningrad Region) detained 73-year-old local resident Alexander Pravdin and filed a report under Article 20.3.1 CAO based on Pravdin’s action – he came to the Siversky Railway Station square with a poster “Russians, You Are Not Human” and placed the poster on a large rock. As Pravdin later told the media, he regularly places posters criticizing the actions of the Russian authorities, and “special military operation” in particular, at this location. The content of Pravdin's poster was provocative but directed against political opponents, not based on ethnic or religious prejudices. The case was submitted to the Gatchina City Court, but Pravdin was not taken there, so the judge returned the materials to the police.
In July, “Appeal of the USSR People's Deputy Yu.A. Slepnyov to the Citizens of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics” was added to the Federal List of Extremist Materials. The decision to ban the text was made on April 21 by the Novokuybyshevsk City Court of the Samara Region. Slepnyov was a member of the Novokuybyshevsk City Council in 1990 –1993. His past as a deputy has become one of the tools for legitimizing the “citizens of the USSR” community, known as the “Novokuybyshevsky All-Russian Central Executive Committee.” In the appeal, distributed by this group in October 2020, Slepnyov retroactively announced the start of elections to the “councils of people's deputies” in August 2019 calling on the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the armed forces to facilitate the elections. According to Slepnyov, all persons holding public office, employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs or military personnel who dare to oppose the electoral process should be considered oath-breakers and traitors to the Motherland, subject to trial under Article 64 of the RSFSR Criminal Code (which provided for punishments up to the death penalty). Slepnyov and two of his associates were fined under Article 20.3.1 CAO for disseminating the appeal. According to experts, the text contained statements aimed at inciting hatred or enmity against employees of Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and military personnel of the Russian Federation as well as linguistic and psychological signs of an incitement to forcibly change the foundations of the constitutional order. We noted earlier that we doubt the appropriateness of bringing “citizens of the USSR” to justice under Article 20.3.1 CAO for distributing this appeal. We are also not convinced that the ban against the text is well founded. We did not find direct calls for violence in Slepnyov's appeal. The threat of future violence based on decisions made by a court that could hypothetically be established by some kind of “restored” government of the USSR is hard to take seriously, especially since the Novokuybyshevsky All-Russian Central Executive Committee was never known to be involved in violent actions.
Prosecutions for Justifying Terrorism
In the second half of July, the Second Western District Military Court, at its visiting session in St. Petersburg, granted the motion by the defense of video blogger Yuri Khovansky to dismiss the criminal case under Article 205.2 Part 1 CC (public justification of terrorism) due to the expiry of the limitation period. The case was based on the song about the 2002 terrorist attack that occurred during the performance of the Nord-Ost musical. Khovansky performed the incriminating song as part of the stream of another blogger, Andrei Nifyodov. It began with the line “Nord-Ost – it was ******* great,” and called terrorists Shamil Basayev and Salman Raduyev “real heroes.” Khovansky was in pre-trial detention from June to December 2021, and then the preventive measure was changed to a ban on certain actions. Initially, the investigation believed that Khovansky performed the song “no later than July 3, 2020,” then it stated that the performance took place in 2018. The blogger's defense insisted that the song was performed back in 2012. Khovansky was finally charged under Article 205.2 Part 1 (public justification of terrorism) – apparently, using the version of the law adopted on December 10, 2011. The limitation period of this charge has expired. Our doubts regarding the appropriateness of prosecuting Khovansky under Article 205.2 CC were unrelated to the statute of limitations. Although the song was obviously provocative, in our opinion, it was intended not to provoke terrorist activity but to ridicule the discourse that had developed around this topic – both the incitement by the supporters of militant Islamism and the official tactics of using the threat of terrorism to instill fear in the population. Taking into account the song’s tone, the audience of Khovansky and Nifyodov, as well as the Russian live streamers’ culture of irony, we believe that the public danger of such a performance was extremely small. Relatives of those killed in the terrorist attack on Dubrovka may find such creative output offensive, and a discussion about the ethics and acceptability of such “dark humor” would be a completely natural social reaction. However, the criminal article that covers justification of terrorism does not imply penalties for insults or unethical irony.
Sanctions for “Insulting the Feelings of Believers”
In late July, a magistrate of Court District No. 134 of St. Petersburg found photographer Sergei Kondratiev guilty under Article 148 Part 1 CC (insulting the religious feelings of believers) and fined him 15,000 rubles. The case was based on an eight-second video posted by Kondratiev on Instagram. In the video, he kissed a man against the backdrop of St. Petersburg's Trinity Church. The video was accompanied by the singing of obscene text (“**** your mother, what a beauty!”) stylized after liturgical music. According to the decision, Kondratiev’s offense consisted of using obscene language “against the background of church hymns.” SOVA Center opposed the introduction of the clause on insulting the feelings of believers into Article 148 CC; in our opinion, this vague concept does not and cannot have a clear legal meaning. Kondratiev’s video evidently showed no signs of inciting hatred towards Orthodox believers that could entail liability under Article 20.3.1 CAO, so there were no valid reasons for bringing him to justice.
Persecution against Religious Organizations and Believers
In the second half of July, it was reported that a criminal case under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC (participating in the activities of an extremist organization) was opened against a 32-year-old resident of Izberbash (Republic of Dagestan) suspected of involvement in the banned religious association Nurcular. According to investigators, he joined the association and took part in meetings to study its “ideological sources” in the period from 2015 through April 2017. A similar case opened in Izberbash was reported in January, and the following months continued to bring reports of new cases against residents of Dagestan. Earlier, in 2021, an Izberbash court dismissed a number of cases against alleged Nurcular participants investigated under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC. We consider the ban against Nurcular inappropriate.
In early July, the Southern District Military Court found Crimea resident Ismet Ibragimov guilty of preparing a violent seizure of power (Article 278 CC with Article 30 Part 1 CC) and organizing activities of a terrorist organization (Article 205.5 Part 1 CC). Ibragimov was sentenced to 19 years behind bars with the first five years to be spent in prison and the rest of the term in a maximum-security penal colony. According to investigators, Ibragimov organized the work of the radical Islamic party Hizb ut-Tahrir recognized as a terrorist organization in Russia.
On the same day, the same court delivered a sentence under the same Article 278 with Article 30 Part 1 CC and Article 205.5 Part 2 CC (participating in the activities of a terrorist organization) to Ernest Ibragimov and Oleg Fyodorov from Bakhchisaray. Both were sentenced for involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir to 13 years of imprisonment with the first three and a half years to be served in prison, and the rest of the term in a maximum-security penal colony.
In late July, the First Eastern District Military Court announced that it had sentenced two residents of the Kemerovo Region charged under Article 205.5 Part 2 CC for their participation in the activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir in 2021. The court sentenced Sanatzhon Khaldarov to 13 years of imprisonment with the first four years to be served in prison and the rest of the sentence in a maximum-security penal colony. Mukhamadzhon Niyazov was sentenced to 11 years behind bars, also with the first four years to be served in prison.
We believe that the grounds for banning Hizb ut-Tahrir as a terrorist organization were insufficient since this party was never implicated in terrorism. Accordingly, 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 the party preaches the idea of creating a worldwide Islamic caliphate does not provide sufficient grounds for charging its followers with planning a violent seizure of power in Russia.
In the second half of the month, the same Southern District Military Court found Crimean Tatar activist Server Bariev guilty of advocating terrorism on the Internet (Article 205.2 Part 2 CC) and sentenced him to a fine of 360 thousand rubles with a ban on administering websites on the Internet for a year and a half. According to investigators, Bariev published on VKontakte a material from Al Raya, an Arabic-language newspaper sponsored by Hizb ut-Tahrir. We do not know the content of Bariev’s post. However, in our opinion, publishing the materials of a banned party should not automatically be qualified as propaganda or justification of terrorist activities if the materials contain no calls for violence.
In July, we recorded continued prosecutions against Jehovah's Witnesses on charges of involvement in the activities of local religious organizations banned as extremist. We believe that the decision to ban these organizations had no legal basis and regard it as a manifestation of religious discrimination. It is worth reminding that the ECHR issued a ruling in June on the complaint submitted by Jehovah's Witnesses. The court acknowledged that the ban on Jehovah's Witnesses’ materials and organizations and the persecution against believers violated the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms demanding the dismissal of criminal cases under Article 282.2 CC against Jehovah's Witnesses and the release of imprisoned believers.
In the second half of July, the Snezhinsk City Court of the Chelyabinsk Region found Ilya Olenin guilty under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC (organizing the activities of an extremist organization) and fined him 500 thousand rubles.
In early July, the homes of Kirill Severinchik and Yevgeny Kayryak were searched in Surgut as part of a new criminal case under Article 282.2 CC opened by local law enforcement officers. Yevgeny Kayryak and Kirill's father Artur Severinchik are under house arrest as defendants in a criminal case of involvement in the activities of the banned local Jehovah's Witnesses community, which went to court in September 2021. All three were tortured during the investigation of this case in 2019, but the perpetrators of the abuse were never brought to justice.
We found out in mid-July that a criminal case under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC was opened against four believers from Rybinsk of the Yaroslavl Region, two women and two men. In late July, a case under the same part of the same article was initiated against a 21-year-old female from Gorno-Altaysk and a 43-year-old man from the village of Mayma in the Altai Republic.
Also in mid-July, the Ninth Cassation Court of General Jurisdiction sent the case of Jehovah’s Witness Yevgeny Yegorov for a re-trial. In June 2021, the Birobidzhansky District Court issued a suspended sentence under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC of two and a half years in prison followed by a year of restriction of liberty.
In the second half of July, the Main Directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs for the Novosibirsk Region announced the opening of a criminal case under Article 282.2 Parts 1 and 2 CC (organizing the activities of an extremist organization and participating in it) against four residents of Novosibirsk. Search raids were carried out as part of the investigation in this case, and all the defendants have faced a preventive measure in the form of a ban on certain actions. Later, the information came out that one of the defendants was 81-year-old Irina Klimova. The police claim that the group was involved in fundraising, organized “medical treatment” using the group’s religious practices, and distributed literature recognized as extremist. Local investigators cited the ban against religious group Allya-Ayat in the Samara region issued in 2019. We believe that, although law enforcement agencies could find the activities of the group of Alla-Ayat followers in Samara problematic, there were no grounds for recognizing it as an extremist organization. It is also worth noting that the Alla-Ayat group recognized as extremist was specifically the one based in Samara, and it is not clear how this decision affects the followers of the doctrine in other regions. The Novosibirsk religious group was also banned in 2013 but not recognized as extremist. The same is true about the group of Allya-Ayat followers in Ufa, whose activities were banned in 2015.