The following is our review of the primary and most representative events in the misuse of Russia's anti-extremist legislation in September 2022.
On September 16, two bills were submitted to the State Duma, one expanding the scope of Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (CAO) on the production and mass distribution of extremist materials and the other expanding the definition of extremist materials. The former involves extending Article 20.29 CAO to cover the production and distribution of materials that meet the definition of extremist materials under federal law but are not on the Federal List of Extremist Materials – that is, not banned by a court decision. If the bill is signed into law, the courts will also be able to punish the distribution (production or storage with intent to distribute) of materials that are not on the Federal List, but, according to law enforcement officers and judges, correspond to the broad definition of extremist materials provided in the Law on Countering Extremist Activities (or in other relevant federal laws that may be adopted in the future) – for example, posting portraits of Nazi leaders. Thus, the extent of court discretion when applying Article 20.29 CAO will expand drastically, and lawmakers will have an incentive to further expand the definition of extremist materials. In fact, the initiative is specifically intended to provide additional grounds for sanctions, as confirmed by the second bill from the same package. It proposes adding “cartographic and other images and products that challenge the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation” to the definition of “extremist materials” provided in the framework law. That is, if the draft law is adopted, it will ban the publication of maps that “visibly assign” parts of the Russian Federation’s territory to the territory of other states. In our opinion, discussing the status of certain territories can be limited only when it includes incitement to violent separatism. The proposed restriction constitutes an excessive and unreasonable interference with freedom of expression and freedom to disseminate information.
On September 21, the State Duma adopted in the first reading a bill that clarifies the legal status of Saint George's Ribbon. The bill, submitted to the Duma in April, seeks to give Saint George's Ribbon the status of a symbol of Russia's military glory and stipulate the procedure for its use and liability for its desecration under Article 354.1 Parts 3 and 4 of the Criminal Code (CC), as well as under Article 13.15 Part 4 CAO, which provides penalties for mass media. The Russian government had many comments on the bill, but, despite the government’s concerns, the relevant committee still recommended its adoption in the first reading. It is worth reminding that the current lack of legislation on the status of Saint George's Ribbon does not prevent law enforcement agencies from treating it as a symbol of military glory and opening cases under Article 354.1 CC to punish statements about it. We would also like to reiterate our position that people should not face criminal prosecutions to protect abstractions (such as days of military glory, memorable dates or symbols of military glory) from expressions of criticism, even if extreme. It is no coincidence that the UN Human Rights Committee in General Comment No. 34 on Article 19 (Freedoms of opinion and expression) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights expressed concerns with respect to laws that penalize such actions as disrespect for the flag and state symbols, among others.
Sanctions for Discrediting the Actions of the Russian Armed Forces
The practice of sanctioning citizens for discrediting the use of the Russian armed forces and government agencies abroad continued in September. In our opinion, introducing legal sanctions for such actions (Article 20.3.3 CAO and Article 280.3 CC) constituted an unreasonable restriction of the right to freedom of expression and was specifically intended to suppress criticism of the official political course. Therefore, we view prosecution under these articles for statements that contain no direct calls for violence as inappropriate. People face sanctions for displaying posters, slogans on their clothes, offline and online statements, distribution of printed materials, graffiti on walls, etc. According to the Mediazona portal, as of October 13, the total number of cases under Article 20.3.3 CAO routed to Russian courts for consideration since March 2022 has reached 4644.
The number of new criminal cases under Article 280.3 Part 1 CC (public actions aimed at discrediting the Russian armed forces, committed after having faced administrative responsibility) has been growing as well. We recorded 10 such cases in September.
- Activist Pyotr Borovinskikh, who administered the (now blocked) public page “Kopeysk without Putin's fascism” on VKontakte was declared a suspect under this article in the Chelyabinsk Region. According to investigators, he posted in the online community the information, which characterized the actions of the Russian armed forces as terrorist. Previously, he was also fined under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO for posts made in March. Another case against Borovinskikh and his wife was opened in April under Article 207.3 Part 1 CC (dissemination of deliberately false information about the Russian armed forces), and yet another case – in July under Article 354.1 Part 4 CC (disseminating on the Internet the information expressing clear disrespect for society about Russia’s days of military glory and memorable dates related to the defense of the Fatherland).
- In Novorossiysk, activist Askhabali Alibekov, the author of the “Wild Paratrooper” (Diky desantnik) channel, was placed in pre-trial detention. He is known to have been previously fined twice under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO for posting on the YouTube videos “Putin Must Resign” and “Enough Blood ... Save Russia.”
- Activist Sergei Veselov from Shuya of the Ivanovo Region faces his second criminal case under Article 280.3 Part 1 CC. The first criminal case against him was opened in July for posting anti-war videos on YouTube. During the consideration of his administrative appeal in the Ivanovo Regional Court, Veselov condemned the military special operation in Ukraine, and then posted a video of this speech on YouTube; this served as a basis for opening a new case. Earlier, a criminal case was initiated against Veselov under Article 214 Part 1 CC (vandalism) for painting anti-war graffiti on a city administration building.
- In Novouralsk of the Sverdlovsk Region, a criminal case was opened against local activist Alexander Skryabnev, a businessman and retired military veteran; he has been placed under travel restrictions. The charges were based on Skryabnev's anti-war posts on social networks (in one of them, he wrote that Russia was “moving towards the Third Reich” and criticized the authorities for “announcing a blitzkrieg without counting their resources”) and on a pacifist slogan displayed on his outdoor concession stand.
- Criminal cases under Article 280.3 Part 2 CC, which covers actions that caused property damage, were initiated in Rostov-on-Don, Aksay and Novocherkassk. They were based on damage inflicted on banners with portraits of soldiers serving in the special military operation, which were placed on advertising structures in these cities. On the night of September 19, unknown people poured red paint over the banners.
- Activist Olga Nazarenko, an associate professor at the Ivanovo State Medical Academy, became a suspect under Article 280.3 Part 1 CC in Ivanovo. The criminal prosecution against her was based on leaflets mentioning the events in Bucha and Irpen, and on the Ukrainian flag placed by Nazarenko on her balcony. Previously, she was fined under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO for her solitary picket holding a poster with a quote from Ukrainian poet Lina Kostenko.
- In Petrozavodsk, a criminal case under the same part of the article was initiated against 77-year-old Tatyana Savinkina – a Ministry of Internal Affairs’ pensioner and activist engaged in honoring the memory of victims of Stalin’s purges. Savinkina posted anti-war flyers in the lobby of her building.
- In the village of Russko-Vysotskoye of the Leningrad Region, businessman Dmitry Skurikhin became a defendant. Skurikhin has been charged for his Telegram post and for placing pacifist slogans on the facade of his store in Russko-Vysotskoye. Previously Skurikhin had been fined for posting an anti-war video on Telegram.
- A criminal case against Anatoly Nogovitsyn, the head of the Yabloko party regional branch, was initiated in Yakutia. Nogovitsyn posted a video message on Telegram, in which he spoke out against mobilization and urged his audience not to participate in hostilities. He had previously been fined for reposting a video report from Mykolaiv by journalist Elena Kostyuchenko accompanied by his own written comment.
- In Yaroslavl, eco-activist and lawyer Andrei Akimov became a defendant in a criminal case for publishing certain videos, in which he allegedly called for protest actions, on his YouTube channel.
Sanctions for Displaying Banned Symbols
In September, the Bakhchisaray District Court of Crimea found the guests and organizers of the wedding, which took place on September 10 in the Arpat banquet hall, guilty under administrative charges. At the wedding, the DJ played “Chervona Kalyna,” a Ukrainian folk song, and the guests began to sing along and dance. The incident was personally condemned by the head of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov; the restaurant was subsequently closed, and its owner and the DJ made public apologies. An expert engaged by law enforcement agencies stated that “Chervona Kalyna” was a battle song, that is, an attribute of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), whose activities are recognized as extremist and banned in Russia. In addition, the court ruled that the song’s line “liberate our Ukrainian brothers from Moscow's shackles,” which, according to the expert, was also used by the banned OUN, discredited the use of the armed forces of Russia. Akhtem Gemedzhi, Ernes Kochkorov, Leniye Kochkorova, Elvira Abdullaevа, Lilia Abdullaevа and Lilya Safullaeva faced charges under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO (public display of the symbols of an extremist organization) and Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO. DJ Gemedzhi and the dancer were placed under arrest for 10 days, the owner of the banquet hall – for 15 days, and the groom's mother – for 5 days. The bride's mother, Lilia, was fined 40,000 rubles, and the owner's wife – 50,000. “Chervona Kalina” is a folk song, and the modern version was first published in 1914. It was used as an anthem by the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen during the First World War and the Civil War. Later, the song was repeatedly performed by popular Ukrainian, Russian and other performers. In 2022, “Chervona Kalina” became popular once again as a patriotic song following the performance by Andriy Khlyvnyuk. Several versions of this song are known, and the most popular of them contain no references to “liberation” from “Moscow’s shackles” or other statements that, depending on the context, can be interpreted as inciting hatred. A short video of dancing in the restaurant circulated on social networks did not contain these lines, and the basis, on which the court decided that this version of the song was the OUN anthem, is unclear.
The Belogorsky District Court of the Republic of Crimea sentenced Andrei Belozerov, a Russian language teacher at a local technical school to 13 days under arrest under Article 20.3 Part 1 and Article 20.3.3 CAO. Belozerov was charged for playing in class a Ukrainian music video “Bayraktar,” which refers to the use of a Turkish drone in combat operations against Russian troops. The students complained about Belozerov to the law enforcement, and he was immediately fired from the school. The report of the Ministry of Internal Affairs for Crimea states that the teacher “showed his students a video with a song, confusingly similar to Nazi symbols, which reproduced the actions of an unmanned aerial vehicle used against the armed forces of the Russian Federation.” This report served as a basis for punishing Belozerov under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO. Nazi symbols do not appear in the incriminating video, therefore, we have to assume that the police, and then the court, really considered the song itself “confusingly similar to Nazi symbols.” This is completely inconsistent with the understanding of Nazi symbols in the context of federal laws “On Countering Extremist Activity” and “On Immortalizing the Victory of the Soviet people in the Great Patriotic War of 1941–1945 ” and Article 20.3 CAO. Thus, we believe that Belozerov's actions were qualified under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO incorrectly.
The Petrozavodsk City Court of Karelia fined Sergei Drugov, a local journalist and activist, 1,500 rubles under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO for public display of Nazi symbols. The case was based on his Telegram post of an image depicting two crossed letters Z (symbols of “special military operation”) that formed a shape resembling a swastika. We believe that Article 20.3 CAO appropriately applies only if Nazi symbols are used to promote the corresponding ideology, and Drugov's actions were not aimed at promoting Nazism.
In the second half of September, the Oktyabrsky District Court of Lipetsk fined Dmitry Rozanov a thousand rubles under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO for sharing on his page the humorous video “元首Rap: 江南Style Gangnam style from Hitler,” that has received more than six and a half million views on YouTube. This video, in which the scenes from the 2001 movie The Bunker are edited in such a way that Hitler's words are synchronized with the music of Psy's hit “Gangnam Style;” includes Nazi symbols. Still, the video itself does not promote Nazism, and we have no reason to believe that Rozanov used it for the corresponding propaganda.
In the second half of September, two people were fined – in our opinion, inappropriately – under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO for stickers with neo-pagan symbols on their cars. The Moscow District Court of Ryazan fined Vadim Nikolaev an unknown amount, and the Pervorechensky District Court of Vladivostok fined Olga Shesternina one thousand rubles. Nikolaev decorated his car with a Svarog Square, and Shesternina – with a Kolovrat. Both believed that these signs represented “charms” and, apparently, did not intend to promote the activities of banned nationalist organizations – respectively, the Northern Brotherhood and the Ancient Russian Ynglist Church of the Orthodox Old Believers–Ynglings, who had used such symbols.
Meanwhile, the Soviet District Court of Ivanovo fined Pyotr Blinov one thousand rubles under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO for boldly placing an online advertisement selling some foreign medals accompanied by photographs, one of which contained Nazi symbols. Blinov explained to the court that his failure to paint over a swastika, when selling the medals from his personal collection, was a mistake. In our opinion, Article 20.3 CAO should be used not against antique dealers but against modern manufacturers of items with Nazi and neo-Nazi symbols (badges, clothes, copies of weapons, etc.) and distributors of such products.
Sanctions for Inciting Hatred
It became known in mid-September that Dmitry Talantov, the president of the Udmurtia Bar Association, who was arrested in Izhevsk in late June as a defendant under paragraph “e” of Article 207.3 Part 2 CC (public dissemination of deliberately false information about the use of the armed forces of the Russian Federation motivated by political hatred or enmity) for his Facebook posts, is now also facing, charges under paragraph “b” of Article 282 Part 2 CC (inciting hatred or hostility using one’s official position). Talantov was a defense lawyer for journalist Ivan Safronov convicted under an article on treason. According to the Investigative Committee employees, Talantov, “with prior awareness of the popularity of the Facebook social network and foreseeing socially dangerous consequences in the form of undermining the authority and discrediting the leadership and the armed forces of the Russian Federation, decided to deliberately disseminate false information” and “formed a dislike for the decision of the executive and legislative authorities of the Russian Federation.” We consider the prosecution against Talantov under Article 282 CC inappropriate. It is worth reminding that we advocate excluding the provisions on inciting hatred on the basis of belonging to a particular social group from anti-extremist legislation altogether. The use of the vague term “social group” leads to prosecutions for inciting hatred against members of groups that are not particularly vulnerable and do not require special protection. Charges often include inciting hatred against government officials, although the law provides for other quite effective tools to protect them. Besides, as the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation pointed out, the permissible limits of criticism are wider for professional politicians than for private individuals. As for the charges under Article 207.3 CC, we do not include the use of this article in our monitoring. However, we believe that its very introduction into the Criminal Code was aimed at suppressing the dissemination of information about the actions of the Russian armed forces and public expressions of opinion on this issue that the authorities found objectionable.
At the end of September, coordinator of the Mayakovsky poetry readings Artyom Kamardin, his girlfriend Alexandra Popova, their activist neighbor Alexander Menyukov, and readings participants Yegor Shtovba and Nikolai Daineko were detained in Moscow. Kamardin, Shtovba and Daineko became defendants under paragraph “a” of Article 282 Part 2 CC (actions aimed at inciting hatred or hostility, committed with the threat of violence). The Tverskoy District Court placed them under arrest for two months. The other detainees were named as witnesses in the case. The criminal case was initiated after the “anti-mobilization” readings of September 25. In the course of the readings, Kamardin characterized the Donbas militia as terrorists and read his 2015 poem “Kill me, Militiaman!,” which mentioned children of the militia fighters in a sexual context. After that, Kamardin, along with other reading participants, recited a two-line poem against Novorossiya. Law enforcement agencies have concluded that the statements contained signs of inciting hatred or enmity against volunteer armed groups of the DPR/LPR and called for violence against them and their families. In our opinion, Kamardin's poem can be characterized as provocative, and members of the Donbas militia, their families and supporters could obviously find his words offensive. However, it contains no incitement to violence, and therefore, if the case was specifically based on these statements by Kamardin, the prosecution of the reading participants under Article 282 Part 2 CC is inappropriate. After the searches, Kamardin, Shtovba and Daineko were forced to record videos with apologies, while, Kamardin, Popova and Menyukov were subjected to major violence (medical professionals confirmed the corresponding injuries).
In mid-September, the Sterlitamak City Court of the Republic of Bashkortostan fined Fail Vakhitov 10 thousand rubles under Article 20.3.1 CAO (inciting hatred or enmity). The case was based on Vakhitov’s comment on a social network, in which he suggested that his interlocutors should stop idolizing Vladimir Putin and “overthrow these bloated bureaucrats.” Experts from Bashkir State University examined the comment and concluded that it contained “signs of exerting a psychological impact on Internet users by creating negative verbal images of the ruling elite of the Russian Federation and the President of the Russian Federation.” We believe that the proposal to replace officials should not be interpreted as a serious call for a violent overthrow of power – in fact, Vakhitov faced no such charges – and officials and, in particular, the president, do not need special protection from manifestations of hatred.
In the second half of the month, the Kirovsky District Court of Kemerovo placed local opposition leader Mikhail Alferov under arrest for 12 days under Article 20.3.1 CAO. The case was based on three videos posted by Alferov on his YouTube channel in June and July; one of them was viewed over half a million times. In these videos, the activist spoke critically about law enforcement agencies, judges, and, to a certain extent, representatives of Russia’s executive branch. He also compared modern Russia to Nazi Germany and stated that the law enforcement system served the interests of the mafia. Alferov was charged with inciting hatred towards groups that are not, in our opinion, particularly vulnerable – police officers, court personnel or businessmen in general. It should be noted that the activist was previously prosecuted for inciting hatred against government officials – three times in 2020 and once again in the summer of 2022; he was also prosecuted under Article 282 Part 1 of CC for a similar violation committed after having faced administrative responsibility. In addition, Alferov was sentenced to community service under Article 354.1 Part 3 CC – in our opinion, also without proper grounds.
In the second half of September, police officers in the Leningrad Region compiled a report under Article 20.3.1 CAO against activist Alexander Pravdin for displaying a poster at the central square of the village of Siversky in March 2022. The poster depicted “One-sixth of the Dry Land,” a painting by Vasya Lozhkin. It is a map on which Russia is marked as “Great Beautiful Russia,” and the territories of neighboring states are marked with pejorative ethnonyms or humiliating characterizations of the peoples inhabiting them. Vasya Lozhkin's painting was recognized as extremist in 2016, but this decision was reversed in 2019. From our point of view, this painting is a satire that ridicules jingoism and xenophobia. Other solitary pickets regularly held in the village by Pravdin were also aimed at criticizing the actions of the authorities, and not at promoting hatred. We see no grounds for prosecuting him under Article 20.3.1 CAO.
In late September, the Dzerzhinsky District Court of Volgograd, once again examined the administrative prosecutorial claim and recognized the song Kill the Beggars! by the Russian punk band Pornofilmy as extremist. The song was originally banned on September 23, 2021, and added to the Federal List of Extremist Materials on November 23. The decision was based on expert opinion, which interpreted the song as a call for violence against the poor. In mid-February, the Volgograd Regional Court overturned the ban and sent the case back for a new trial. Kill the Beggars! is a creatively reworked Russian-language version of the song Kill the Poor by the American punk band Dead Kennedys. Its principal message is a sharp denunciation of the rich and those in power for killing the poor. It is absolutely impossible to imagine a situation in which the audience could take the song literally as a direct call to eliminate the poor inhabitants of Russia by dropping a neutron bomb. It is quite obvious that the song is satirical and criticizes the state policy, which the authors consider antisocial, and the calls for violent actions included in the text are intended to enhance the effect of the work. Experts involved in the new trial also recognized the song as belonging to the satirical genre, but the court did not take their arguments into account.
Sanctions for Hooliganism Motivated by Political Hatred
In the second half of the month, the Central District Court of Chelyabinsk sentenced two anarchists, spouses Dmitry Tsibukovsky and Anastasia Safonova, to a year and nine months in a minimum-security penal colony. The court found them guilty of hooliganism committed by a group of persons by prior conspiracy with the use of weapons and motivated by political hatred and enmity (Article 213 Part 2 CC). Earlier, in September 2021, the same court sentenced the spouses to two and a half and two years in a penal colony respectively. The verdict was overturned by the Chelyabinsk Regional Court in November of the same year; the case was sent for a new trial. Tsibukovsky and Safronova were, once again, found guilty of hooliganism committed by a group of persons by prior conspiracy with the use of weapons and motivated by political hatred and enmity for participating in the action on the night of February 14–15, 2018. On that date, the anarchists placed a banner with the inscription “The FSB is the Main Terrorist” on the fence of the Chelyabinsk FSB Office and also threw a flare over the fence; a video recording of the action was published by the People's Self-Defense VKontakte community. We believe that the action did not constitute a gross violation of public order, therefore the charge of hooliganism was unfounded in this case.
In late September, the Vasileostrovsky District Court of St. Petersburg sentenced Igor Maltsev to three years and eight months in a minimum-security penal colony under Article 213 Part 2 CC (hooliganism committed by a group of persons motivated by a political and ideological hatred of military personnel). The case against Maltsev and activist Sofya Semyonova was opened following their performance, in which a camouflage-clad dummy with a bag on its head and the sign “TAKE AWAY” was set on fire on the ice of the Malaya Neva, apparently in protest against the special operation in Ukraine. A video of the performance appeared on social networks in early March; the case was initiated the very next day. Maltsev’s house was searched, and he was placed in a pre-trial detention center. A measure of restraint in the form of a ban on certain activities was imposed on Semyonova, and she subsequently left Russia. We consider the verdict against Maltsev and Semyonova inappropriate. In our opinion, although the activists were guided by political motives, their actions have been qualified under Article 213 CC incorrectly. As far as we can judge, the actions of the video's creators did not violate citizens' work or leisure conditions, the work of any institutions, etc., that is, did not result in a gross violation of public order. The performance should not be regarded as an expression of their disrespect for society – on the contrary, the purpose of the action was to draw public attention to a socio-political issue its organizers viewed as important. It is also worth noting that the manifestation of political hostility, in and of itself, is not criminalized, and in our opinion, this motive should be used only when manifestations of political hostility are associated with violence or xenophobia.
Sanctions for Vandalism
At the end of September, a magistrate of the Oktyabrsky District of Vladimir sentenced Anton Ganyushkin under Article 214 Part 2 CC (vandalism motivated by political, ideological hatred) to eight months of restriction of freedom. The case against Ganyushkin was based on the anti-war graffiti made in March 2022. Ganyushkin compensated the municipal service approximately 20 thousand rubles for the damage caused. We doubt the validity of prosecution for politically motivated vandalism. We believe that in most instances, including Ganyushkin’s case, these actions represent a form of political propaganda. The manifestation of political hostility, in and of itself, is not criminalized, and if such vandalism is not associated with advocating violence and xenophobia, the degree of its social danger is not so great as to always require criminal prosecution. In our opinion, unless the property damage is significant, cases under Article 214 CC should be terminated for insignificance. If a case cannot be dismissed but the damage is still relatively minor, we suggest introducing an article similar to Article 7.17 CAO that penalizes destruction or damage of other people's property or amending Article 7.17 to include vandalism that did not cause major damage.
Sanctions for “Insulting the Feelings of Believers”
In early September, as part of a case, initiated presumably under Article 148 Part 1 of CC (public actions expressing clear disrespect for society and committed in order to offend the religious feelings of believers), search raids took place in St. Petersburg at the homes of six people allegedly associated with the Party of the Dead – an art project created in 2017, whose founding members included artist Maxim Evstropov. In recent years, members of the Party of the Dead have been conducting anonymous performances on current social and political issues covering their faces with skull masks. Since February 2022, the Party of the Dead has been organizing various anti-war actions and reporting on them on its Telegram channel. The homes of the Party activist Kristina Bubentsova and another young woman were searched; both were interrogated and named as witnesses in the case. The residences of Evstropov (who had left the country for Georgia), Dmitry Vilensky and Olga Tsaplya (the heads of the DK Roza art workshops, who were also interrogated) and an unnamed resident of the village of Siversky were searched as well. The prosecution was based on the post dated April 28, 2022, about the Easter celebration held by the Party of the Dead at a cemetery. The post included several photos of activists in black cloaks and masks holding anti-war posters that included references to Christ and the resurrection, and several similar statements, one of them critical of the Patriarch. We consider this criminal case inappropriate. SOVA Center opposed the introduction of Article 148 on insulting the feelings of believers into the Criminal Code, since, in our opinion, this vague concept does not and cannot have a clear legal meaning. The post in question contained no signs of inciting hatred toward Christians that could trigger liability under Article 20.3.1 CAO, Accordingly, there were no grounds for the prosecution against the activists.
Sanctions for “Rehabilitating Nazism” and Equating the Actions of the USSR and the Third Reich
It became known in mid-September that the investigation has been completed in the case under Article 354.1 Part 4 CC (desecrating the symbols of Russian military glory or insulting the memory of the defenders of the Fatherland on the Internet) against 39-year-old local resident Vadim Kotov. A criminal case was opened based on a video made in 2011 and published on Kotov's VKontakte page. According to the report, this video shows Kotov approaching the Frontier of Glory memorial complex in Istra and lighting up a cigarette from the Eternal Flame. We believe that the prosecution against Kotov is inappropriate. Criminal prosecution can be justified only in the case of crimes that pose a significant danger to society. Article 351 Part 4 CC provides for up to five years of imprisonment, which we see as a disproportionate punishment for Kotov's act.
On the same days, the Tverskoy District Court of Moscow placed politician Leonid Gozman under arrest for 15 days under Article 13.48 Part 2 CAO (equating the goals, decisions and actions of the USSR with those of Nazi Germany). In August, Gozman was arrested under Article 13.48 Part 1 CAO. A new report against him was compiled immediately upon his release. The reason was Gozman’s LiveJournal post of May 12, 2013, in which he wrote, commenting on the TV series Death to Spies, that SMERSH was just as much of a criminal structure as the SS. We believe that Article 13.48 CAO excessively and unreasonably restricts freedom of speech in the field of peaceful historical discussion. Gozman did not justify the crimes of Nazism and did not call for violence, hatred or discrimination, so we consider the sanctions against him inappropriate.
Criminal Prosecution against Supporters of Alexei Navalny
It was reported in early September that a criminal case under Article 282.1 Part 1 CC (organizing an extremist community) had been opened against Alexei Vorsin, the ex-head of the Navalny headquarters in Khabarovsk; he left the country. Vorsin spoke about this during a live stream on his YouTube channel. Earlier, he reported that he was put on the International Wanted List. Vorsin has likely become another defendant in the extremist community case against Alexei Navalny and his supporters. We view the prosecution against Navalny and his supporters for creating an extremist community and participation in it as inappropriate; more information on our position can be found here.
Bans against Organizations
In late September, the St. Petersburg Prosecutor's Office filed an administrative claim with the St. Petersburg City Court seeking to recognize the interregional movement Vesna [Spring] as an extremist organization. On the same day, the Prosecutor’s Office decided to suspend Vesna’s activities. According to the prosecutors, Vesna’s activities were aimed at undermining public security and the foundations of the constitutional order of the Russian Federation. We believe that forming public opinion about the need for a change of leadership in Russia is not illegal unless associated with calls for violence. There is no information about Vesna making any calls for violence or about criminal cases initiated under Article 280 CC (public calls for extremist activity) against the movement’s members; the Criminal Code articles, under which the members of the movement were charged, are not related to anti-extremist legislation. Members of Vesna used graffiti to call for political protest, but we doubt that such actions should be qualified as vandalism motivated by political hatred (that is, as an extremist crime). Actions aimed at inciting political or ideological hatred do not, in and of themselves, constitute an offense or a crime under Article 20.3.1 CAO or Article 282 CC. We believe that, unless such statements are associated with violence, they are indistinguishable from legal political struggle. In general, we consider the request of the prosecutor's office inappropriate.
In the second half of the month, it became known that the Kuntsevsky Inter-District Prosecutor’s Office of Moscow issued a warning to Veronika Loginova for running a fashion blog on Instagram. It is worth reminding that the March court decision against Meta, which banned the activity of “selling social networking products of Facebook and Instagram on the territory of the Russian Federation based on their extremist activities,” had no equivalents in the history of Russian jurisprudence. The organization’s activities were recognized as extremist but not the organization itself, its websites or individual materials. At the same time, the court decision stated that the measures of judicial protection stipulated in it “do not limit the actions on the use of Meta software products by individuals and legal entities not participating in activities prohibited by law.” However, according to the Kuntsevsky Inter-District Prosecutor’s Office, “taking actions to attract users to the social networks Facebook and Instagram as well as posting materials there, including advertising, can be considered a form of participation in the activities of an extremist organization and recruitment of an indefinite circle of people to participate in it.” Since Loginova continued posting materials on Instagram but committed no criminal offense under, for example, Article 282.2 Part 1.1 CC (recruiting into an extremist organization) or Article 282.2 Part 2 CC (participation in its activities), she received a warning. We believe that the reference to Article 282.2 CC is not relevant here – Meta is not a banned organization, and only its activities for the dissemination of Facebook and Instagram in Russia are prohibited. Thus, the Kuntsevsky Prosecutor’s Office failed to provide convincing arguments as to how running a fashion blog and attracting an audience is related to activities prohibited by law. Therefore, in our opinion, there were no grounds for issuing a warning in this case.
Persecution against Religious Organizations and Believers
It was reported in September that, back in early August, the Central District Military Court sentenced Ravshan Saliev, a foreign citizen who lived in the Penza Region, to eleven years in a maximum-security penal colony with the first three years to be served in prison under Article 205.5 Part 2 CC (participation in the activities of a terrorist organization) and Article 205.1 Part 1.1 CC (incitement to terrorist activities). He was found guilty of distributing information about the radical Islamic party Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in Russia as a terrorist organization, and encouraging acquaintances to participate in its activities.
In early September, the Southern District Military Court found Yashar Shikhametov, a Crimean Tatar, guilty of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir and sentenced him under Article 205.5 Part 2 CC to eleven years of imprisonment with the first four years to be served in prison.
We believe that there were no sufficient grounds for banning Hizb ut-Tahrir as a terrorist organization, since this party was never implicated in terrorist 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.
In September, prosecutions against Jehovah's Witnesses continued on the charges of involvement in the activities of local religious organizations, which were banned as extremist. We believe that the decision to ban them had no legal grounds and consider it a manifestation of religious discrimination. It is worth reminding that the ECHR ruled on the complaint of Jehovah's Witnesses in June. The ruling recognized that the ban on Jehovah's Witnesses materials and organizations and sanctions against believers violated several articles of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and demanded the end to the criminal cases under Article 282.2 CC against Jehovah's Witnesses and the release of imprisoned believers.
Five verdicts were issued against 11 Jehovah's Witnesses:
- The Vologda City Court sentenced Nikolai Stepanov to four years in a minimum-security penal colony, and Yury Baranov to a suspended sentence of four years under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC (organizing the activities of an extremist organization).
- The Gukovo Town Court in the Rostov Region issued a sentence under Article 282.2 Part 1 against six believers. Vladimir Popov, Alexei Dyadkin, Yevgeny Razumov and Nikita Moiseev received seven years in a minimum-security penal colony each with a five-year ban on organizational activities in public and religious associations and restriction of freedom for a year. Alexei Gorely and Oleg Shidlovsky were sentenced to six and a half years each in a penal colony with the same additional punishment.
- The Partisansk Town Court in Primorsky Krai issued a suspended sentence of two years and three months followed by restriction of liberty for seven months under Article 282.2 Part 2 of CC (participation in the activities of an extremist organization) to 53-year-old Liya Maltseva, who has a medical disability.
- The Oktyabrsky District Court of Murmansk sentenced Vitaly Omelchenko to a fine of 580 thousand rubles under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC.
- The Temryuksky District Court of Krasnodar Krai issued a two-year suspended sentence with restriction of liberty for six months under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC against Vladimir Vidiker.
One sentence was overturned. The court of the Jewish Autonomous Region reconsidered the appeal against the sentence of Natalya Kriger convicted under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC. The case was sent to the Birobidzhansky District Court for a new trial.
In early September, as part of the investigation under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC, the homes of believers were searched in Chelyabinsk. Dmitry Dolzhikov was detained and then placed under arrest.
In mid-September, a 60-year-old local resident and her 28-year-old son were detained in Velsk of the Arkhangelsk Region. After search raids and investigative actions, the detainees were released. The case of previously convicted Yevgeny Yakku was mentioned in the course of the interrogations.
In the Samara Region, a criminal case under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC was initiated against Alexander Chagan; he was placed under travel restrictions.
Search raids took place in the settlements of Nizhnegorsky and Krasnogvardeyskoye in Crimea. Alexander Vinichenko was charged under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC and placed in a pre-trial detention center.