The following is our review of the primary and most representative events in the misuse of Russia's anti-extremist legislation in October 2022.
The Practice of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation
In October, the Russian Constitutional Court published a decision declining to take up a complaint filed by Svetlana Prokopieva against several provisions of the Criminal-Procedural Code (CPC) that allow the court to dismiss the opinion of experts engaged by the defense. Prokopieva was convicted in 2020 under Article 205 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (CC) for publicly justifying terrorism in mass media. We regard this verdict as inappropriate (see here for more details). The conclusions made by experts engaged by the Ministry of Internal Affairs were used as evidence in the case. At the same time, the defense was not allowed to introduce the opinion of experts critical of these conclusions during the preliminary investigation or the trial, owing to their alleged personal interest in the case. The allegation was based on the fact that Prokopieva personally found these experts. Based on such law enforcement practices, which also affected the applicant, she was asking the Constitutional Court, to declare unconstitutional the provisions of Article 61 Part 2 (circumstances, precluding the participation in proceedings in a criminal case), Article 71 Part 2 (recusation of the specialist), Article 75 Part 2 Paragraph 3 (inadmissible proof) and Article 88 Part 2 (rules for the assessment of proof) CPC. However, the Constitutional Court decided that the CPC norms did not violate Prokopieva’s rights also noting that the court had rejected the specialists’ arguments not only due to their alleged personal interest but also because they had exceeded their competence.
Sanctions for Discrediting the Actions of the Russian Armed Forces or Government Agencies or Calling for Sanctions
The practice of punishing citizens for discrediting the use of the Russian armed forces and government agencies abroad continued in October. In our opinion, introducing legal sanctions for such actions (Article 20.3.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (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.
In October, we learned about several new criminal cases initiated under Article 280.3 Part 1 CC (public actions aimed at discrediting the armed forces committed after having faced administrative responsibility).
In early October, homes of members of the Golos movement in various Russian cities and the Moscow office of Golos were searched as part of one such case filed in Ivanovo against election observer Mikhail Gusev. Several additional search raids took place in early November. Earlier, Gusev had been fined 45 thousand rubles under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO (discrediting the army) for his solitary picket holding a sheet of paper with eight stars on it. The court ruled that the stars represented the slogan “No to war” (net voyne). Gusev, as well as many other Golos members, are currently outside Russia.
Ilya Myaskovsky, a teacher and photographer, has become a defendant under Article 280.3 Part 1 CC in Nizhny Novgorod. He is charged with publishing in a VKontakte community posts with information about anti-war actions, graffiti, and laying flowers at the place of journalist Irina Slavina’s self-immolation. As part of the pre-investigation audit in this case, law enforcement officers attempted to inspect the apartments of activists Gleb Kalinychev and Andrei Rudoi, who, along with Myaskovsky, were listed as administrators of the VKontakte group; after this, Rudoi left Russia.
A case under Article 280.3 CC against Albert Mansurov a resident of Naberezhnye Chelny who has also left the country, is based on his VKontakte posts as well. Earlier, in May, Mansurov was fined under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO for his solitary picket holding a poster with the words “Come to an Agreement Already! Enough Cargo-200” and a handshake in the colors of the Russian and Ukrainian flags.
Eco-activist Alexei Semyonov, who also had published anti-war posts on VKontakte, was placed under house arrest in Izhma in the Komi Republic. He had been previously fined under an administrative article for his posting the number of children who died during the fighting in Ukrainian.
In Sochi, the case under Article 280.3 CC was initiated against 71-year-old Vladimir Atamanchuk. The investigation believes that he distributed leaflets declaring that the majority of Sochi residents held pacifist views and the authorities persecuted dissidents. Earlier, Atamanchuk had been fined twice under Article 20.3.3 CAO.
Another case was opened against a resident of Arkhangelsk; the court imposed a ban on certain actions as her measure of restraint. We do not know the circumstances of the case.
In addition, the second case under Article 280.3 CC was initiated against Petrozavodsk activist Tatyana Savinkina. She was charged with posting flyers in the lobby of her apartment building – about young servicemen, children, and the elderly dying in Ukraine.
Finally, Alexei Pinigin became a suspect under the same article in Novosibirsk. The investigation believes that he placed an inscription on a monument. His case was likely opened under Part 2 of Article 280.3 CC, which covers actions that caused damage to property.
At least one sentence under Article 280.3 Part 1 CC was issued in October. The Verkhotursky District Court of the Sverdlovsk Region fined Father Nikandr (Yevgeny Pinchuk), a hieromonk of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia under the omophorion of Metropolitan Agafangel (ROCOR(A)) in the amount of 100,000 rubles. The case was based on his VKontakte post, which characterized the actions of the Russian army as predatory, and stated that the Russian leadership was violating the divine commandments.
Article 20.3.4, which punishes calls for sanctions, has been used much less frequently. One such case was reported in October – a report against Sergei Veselov was filed in Shuya of the Ivanovo Region. The case was based on a YouTube video, in which Veselov, according to the materials of the case, talked about the income derived by the Russian Federation from the sale of oil and gas, and its effect on the military operations in Ukraine. Veselov previously became a defendant in three criminal cases – two under Article 280.3 Part 1 CC, and the third one under Article 214 Part 1 CC (vandalism).
Calls for sanctions obviously indicate their authors’ strong disagreement with the official political course, but they are part of a peaceful discussion on socially important issues. Therefore, we believe that the people, who disseminate such opinions should not be sanctioned unless their statements contain signs of other offenses.
Sanctions for Displaying Banned Symbols
In Crimea, Victoria Amargalieva and Olga Valeeva, a finalist in Mrs. Crimea 2022 beauty pageant, were charged under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO (discrediting use of the armed forces) and Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO (public display of symbols of an extremist organization). One of them, a parent of minor children, was fined 40 thousand rubles, and the other was placed under arrest for 10 days. The friends sang the Ukrainian song “Chervona Kalyna” and posted the corresponding video on Instagram stories. This is the second case of sanctions for performing the song “Chervona Kalyna” in Crimea. In September, the organizers and guests of a wedding in Bakhchisarai were similarly punished. The expert in the case, and then the court, viewed “Chervona Kalyna” as a battle song and an attribute of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), whose activities have been recognized as extremist and banned in Russia.
“Chervona Kalyna” is a folk song that has been repeatedly performed by popular Ukrainian, Russian and other performers for over a hundred years. 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 statements that, depending on the context, can be interpreted as inciting hatred. Judging by the fragment of the performance by Valeeva and Amargalieva circulated on social networks, their version contained no objectionable lines, and the grounds used by the court to decide that this version of the song was an attribute of an extremist organization are unclear.
In Ryazan, the court imposed on Andrei Gorkov a fine under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO because a sticker in the form of a Svarog Square had been found on his car window. The court decided that it was a symbol of the Northern Brotherhood (Severnoe bratstvo), a now little-known ultra-right organization recognized as extremist in 2012. Gorkov himself told the court that he was not aware of the connection, and the court decision contains no arguments in support of the allegation that Gorkov advocated the ideology of the Northern Brotherhood.
In Moscow, a court fined Savva Karpov, a former municipal deputy candidate, two thousand rubles for allegedly distributing flyers with the symbols of the Smart Voting project (Karpov denies the allegations; so did Nikita Arkin who faced similar charges in August). Law enforcement agencies believe that the Smart Voting logo is a symbol of Alexei Navalny’s organizations that were banned in the summer of 2021. In our opinion, there were no legal grounds for recognizing Navalny's organizations as extremist, and, accordingly, we view sanctions for displaying their symbols as inappropriate. It is also not entirely clear on what grounds the Smart Voting logo was viewed as a symbol of Navalny's structures.
Also in Moscow, the court placed Maxim Shepelev, a citizen of Ukraine, under arrest for 13 days under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO. On February 24, he posted on his VKontakte page a collage that included Vladimir Putin speaking on the podium decorated with the Third Reich symbols, and a caption, calling Russia a fascist country. In our opinion, the image published by Shepelev was intended as a criticism of the Russian military operation in Ukraine, not as propaganda of Nazism. Therefore, we consider the sanctions against him inappropriate. We believe that Article 20.3 CAO should be applied only in cases when prohibited symbols are used to promote the relevant ideology.
In St. Petersburg, activist Dmitry Kuzmin spent two days under arrest. He was punished under Article 20.3 Part 1 for his graffiti on a building wall, which included the word “Russia” and a swastika. He was also fined under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO (discrediting the armed forces) for his graffiti with the words “Putin – ZLO.” In our opinion, although the swastika graffiti was intended as provocative, it was political criticism rather than propaganda of Nazism.
Vasily Dikarev, a municipal deputy from the Moscow district of Yakimanka, was fined one thousand rubles under the same article. The charges were based on the fact that Dikarev shared on VKontakte back in 2015 an episode from the movie Solaris by Steven Soderbergh. The avatar of the social media user who initially posted this episode was changed later, in 2017, to a photograph of actor Ralph Fiennes as Amon Göth, wearing a Nazi uniform with a Totenkopf symbol. Far from advocating Nazism, Dikarev, when sharing the Solaris episode, could not possibly have expected that the original post’s author would change the avatar to one containing prohibited symbols.
Collectors S. Artemov and A. Kiselev were fined in Moscow, under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO. The first posted on Avito an advertisement for the sale of the emblem of the 3rd SS Panzer Division Totenkopf and the second posted an ad for the sale of the German medal “For Tank Attack.” In both cases, the court also decided to confiscate the incriminating items. In our opinion, Article 20.3 CAO should be used not to sanction antique dealers but against modern manufacturers of items with Nazi and neo-Nazi symbols (badges, clothes, copy weapons, etc.) and distributors of such products. In addition, we believe that confiscation of merchandise is unwarranted in such cases, since a seller sees antiques as a material asset, not as a propaganda instrument.
Sanctions for Distribution of Banned Materials
In October, we recorded several cases filed under Article 20.29 CAO (mass distribution of extremist materials) for the publication of the video “Let's Remind Crooks and Thieves about their Manifesto-2002.” This video created by Navalny supporters was banned as extremist back in 2013 along with several materials by Russian nationalists. It lists a number of United Russia's unfulfilled campaign promises from the party's draft manifesto of 2002 and calls for voting for any party other than United Russia. We view the ban against this video as unfounded and the numerous sanctions for its distribution as unlawful.
In Georgievsk of Stavropol Krai, Yevgeny Burlyaev was fined two thousand rubles. The video has been on his VKontakte page since 2012. A court in Stavropol fined Andrei Lykasov three thousand rubles.
We also learned in October, that, back in August, the Malokarachaevsky District Court of Karachay-Cherkessia fined Asiyat Baichorova one thousand rubles under the same article for storing extremist materials with the intent of mass distribution. Three copies of the Fortress of a Muslim, a book with several different editions included on the Federal List of Extremist Materials, were confiscated from her residence. This is already the third case we recorded in 2022 of Karachay-Cherkessia residents facing charges for possessing this book. In our opinion, the Fortress of a Muslim, a collection of daily prayers popular among Muslims, contains no aggressive rhetoric and has been banned inappropriately.
Sanctions for Inciting Hatred
In October, we recorded a number of cases, in which people faced administrative responsibility under Article 20.3.1 CAO (inciting hatred or enmity, as well as humiliation on the basis of belonging to a social group) for critical statements about police officers and officials. Neither of these, in our opinion, forms a vulnerable social group in need of special protection from manifestations of hatred. Police officers, as the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has pointed out, must be exceptionally tolerant of criticism, unless it involves a real threat of violence. As the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation pointed out, criticism of officials by the media should not, in and of itself be viewed as a humiliation of dignity, since the limits of permissible criticism are wider for public officials than for private individuals (and, in our opinion, this argument is applicable more widely than just to mass media). Let us also add that SOVA Center generally advocates for excluding the vague concept of “social group” from the anti-extremist legislation.
Back on September 1, Alexei Lapukhin was fined 10,000 rubles in Krasnoyarsk for leaving a comment under the post “A detainee died in a Krasnoyarsk police precinct” in the Our City Krasnoyarsk Vkontakte community. The court decided that his statement was aimed at inciting hatred against the police. We do not know the exact content of the comment, but we can assume that it emotionally characterized the actions of the police officers. If Lapukhin did not call for violence, the sanctions against him were inappropriate.
In October, a court in Chelyabinsk fined Igor Pirogov 15,000 rubles for repeatedly posting statements about police officers on VKontakte. The court decision says nothing about calls for violence in these statements, so we are inclined to consider the sanctions against Pirogov inappropriate, despite the fact that, judging by the content of his social network page, he espouses xenophobic views.
In our opinion, Vyacheslav Goncharov – the leader of Guns Down, a punk collective in Tyumen – was also punished inappropriately. The court fined him 20 thousand rubles based on the song “Cop” released by the group, which criticized the activities of the police in a rude form. The song’s lyrics contain no incitement to inflict violence against police officers or otherwise interfere with the activities of law enforcement agencies.
Barnaul resident Roman Shklover was placed under arrest for 10 days after posting a video on YouTube, which experts found to contain insulting statements about police officers and civil servants. This video contained no calls for violence.
In Korsakov of the Sakhalin Region, back in September, the court fined blogger Denis Ovsyannikov, the author of the “One minute drone” channel, 40,000 rubles under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 and Article 20.3.1 CAO. The case was based on two Instagram posts. The first contained a link to the material published by Meduza. The second included an image of Vladimir Putin and was offensive, according to the opinion of local Russian language teachers involved in the case as linguistics experts. Unfortunately, we don’t know the posts’ content. However, unless they contain calls for violence, the persecution of the blogger should be considered inappropriate.
In early October, a court in Khakassia fined Maxim Chuprov, “a citizen of the USSR,” 10,000 rubles. He read on his YouTube channel the “state missives” of the “citizens of the USSR” community, with its center in Novokuibyshevsk, recognized as an extremist organization in the summer of 2022. One of these “letters” instructed the Russian state structures to self-destruct, and the other was devoted to the renaming of the community from the Union of Soviet Socialist Districts into the State Union of Soviet Radiant Clans. The experts found Chuprov's speeches to contain statements aimed at creating a hostile attitude against employees of state structures and humiliating their dignity. We had no opportunity to examine the video recordings of the speeches, however, the “state missives” include no calls for violence against officials, and the group as a whole was never known to be involved in violence.
We also found out in October that the same fine was imposed on Vadim Sheludchenko from Sayanogorsk, Khakassia back in May 2022. Sheludchenko had left a comment on the Internet that contained signs of inciting hatred toward medical professionals. We do not know the literal content of the comment, but unless it contained calls for violence this case should also be classified as inappropriate.
Sanctions for Hooliganism Motivated by Political Hatred
The trial of Anastasia Ponkina charged under paragraph “b” of Article 213 Part 1 CC (hooliganism committed based on ideological hostility) ended in Izhevsk. The court issued a suspended sentence of two years having excluded the motive of political hostility. The case was initiated in connection with the protest action held on January 23, 2021. The investigation claimed that Ponkina first published on the Internet calls to come to a rally held without a permit, and then, during the protest, appealed to the attendees to “show who is in charge here,” and led them off the sidewalk and onto the roadway. The indictment noted that this action created a threat of obstructing the normal movement of pedestrians and prevented the movement of four trolleybuses causing damage in the amount of 4,367 rubles.
We are inclined to consider this verdict inappropriate. In our opinion, leading people onto a roadway during a rally, in and of itself, cannot be qualified as hooliganism motivated by ideological hatred. Hooliganism is defined in the Criminal Code as a gross violation of public order, expressing clear disrespect for society. However, the act of leading people onto the roadway accompanied by calls to “show who is in charge here,” should not be interpreted as an expression of clear disrespect for society, since it cannot be characterized as setting oneself against others and violating generally accepted norms of behavior, but rather as expressing one’s political position. We also doubt that creating a “threat to obstruct” the movement of pedestrians and obstructing the movement of four trolleybuses should be considered a gross violation of public order.
Sanctions for “Desecration” and “Defilement” of Various Objects
We have doubts about sanctions imposed for vandalism motivated by political hatred (Article 214 Part 2 CC). In our opinion, in most cases, such actions represent a form of political criticism. 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.
Several verdicts in such cases were issued in October. A magistrate Court in St. Petersburg sentenced Nikolai Vorotnev to a year of restriction of freedom finding him guilty under Article 214 Part 2 CC (vandalism motivated by political hatred). The court decided that Vorotnev, together with an unidentified accomplice, motivated by hatred “for the actions of the Russian Federation’s state authorities in conducting the special military operation,” painted the shield covers of two World War II howitzers located near the artillery museum in the colors of the Ukrainian flag.
A magistrate court in Kemerovo sentenced Anastasia Skryleva to a year of restriction of freedom on a similar charge. She was found guilty of pouring paint over the banners that decorated the city on Victory Day to express her disagreement with the special military operation in Ukraine.
In Rostov-on-Don, Mikhail Selitsky was sentenced to two years of restriction of freedom and outpatient psychiatric treatment. According to the investigation’s version, upheld by the court, Selitsky and several other people in March 2021 placed graffiti, including the inscription “Putin is a thief,” on building walls. A similar charge was brought against Kirill Skripin, also a Rostov resident.
A court in Tula imposed two years of restriction of freedom on local resident Dmitry Kozyrev, who wrote “War is a requiem for common sense” on the foundation of the Spasskaya Tower in the Tula Kremlin in March 2022.
The case of Andrei Kizelvater was brought to court in Mozhaysk of the Moscow Region. According to the investigation, he poured yellow and blue paint over a banner displaying the letter Z in the colors of the St. George ribbon. The prosecutors request coercive medical measures against Kizelvater in the form of psychiatric hospital treatment.
A new case in this category was opened in October. Activist Vladislav Kraval was detained in Ukhta (Komi Republic). He is charged with knowingly falsely reporting a terrorist act against social infrastructure facilities (Article 207 Part 2 CC) and vandalism motivated by political enmity and hatred (Article 214 Part 2 CC). According to some sources, the latter charge is related to an anti-war slogan with a crossed-out letter Z. The place where this slogan appeared was not specified.
Desecration of Burial Grounds
In St. Petersburg, a criminal case was initiated against Irina Tsybaneva under paragraph “b” of Article 244 Part 2 CC (outrages upon bodies of the deceased and their burial places, committed on the grounds of political, ideological, racial, national or religious hatred or enmity). The court placed her under house arrest in October and changed the measure of restraint to a ban on certain activities in November. Tsybaneva left a note on the grave of Vladimir Putin's parents at the Serafimovskoye Cemetery, in which she wished their son, “who have caused so much pain and trouble,” dead. We believe that Tsybaneva's actions were qualified incorrectly. The target of the crime under Article 244 CC is the burial place (monument, grave, area around it). In this case, not only was the burial place not damaged, but Tsybaneva's action itself was clearly not aimed at its desecration. Strictly speaking, the action targeted not the burial place but the political figure of the president and was intended as political criticism. Based on this, we doubt that placing on a grave a note, which only indirectly refers to the people buried in it, can be considered a desecration of the grave. But even if we agree with this interpretation, such “outrage” is not significant enough to merit criminal prosecution under Article 244 CC.
Desecration of State Symbols
In early October, a criminal case was opened against a resident of Vladikavkaz under Article 329 CC (outrages upon the national emblem of the Russian Federation, or the state flag of the Russian Federation). The suspect allegedly published on his page on the social network posts “containing materials, including illustrated ones, which showed signs of desecration of the official state symbols of the Russian Federation.” We believe that desecration of state symbols could entail liability, including criminal liability. However, we doubt if such charges are justified in cases that involve no direct physical impact on the flag but merely sharing images, especially if they are not accompanied by calls for violence. It is worth reminding that criminal prosecution is justified only when crimes committed pose a significant danger to society. Meanwhile, an administrative charge for disrespect for state symbols on the Internet is available under Article 20.1 Parts 3–5 CAO. It is worth adding that the UN Human Rights Committee, in General Comment #34 on Article 19 (freedoms of opinion and expression) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, expressed its concerns regarding laws that penalize such actions as disrespect for the flag and state symbols, among others.
Desecration of Symbols of Russia’s Military Glory
In Aleksin of the Tula Region, charges under Article 354.1 Part 3 CC (public desecration of the symbol of military glory of Russia) were brought against Andrei Zdor from Krasny Luch (the Lugansk Region). The case was based on the fact that he burned the insulation off an electric cable in the Eternal Flame and later sold the cable wire for scrap metal.
A similar case was opened in Feodosia, after a local resident climbed onto the pedestal of the Eternal Flame and, while consuming alcoholic beverages, decided to set fire to the flowers laid at the monument. The investigation argued that his actions desecrated the symbol of Russia's military glory and insulted the memory of the defenders of the Fatherland.
Here again, we would like to reiterate that criminal prosecution is justified only for crimes that pose a significant danger to society. Article 354.1 Part 3 CC provides for penalties of up to three years in prison, which we see as disproportionate to the acts described above. In addition, the list of symbols of military glory, whose desecration is punishable under this article, has not yet been defined by Russian law. In the cases described above, no damage to the monuments was reported, and, even if we agree to understand “desecration” of monuments as something other than direct damage, it is already punishable under Article 214 Part 1 CC (vandalism), which provides for less severe sanctions. As for insulting the memory of non-specified “defenders of the Fatherland,” we believe that criminal prosecution for acts defined in such abstract categories fails to meet the international legal human rights standards.
Suppressing Historical Debate
The court sentenced activist Ruslan Akhmetshin from Arkhangelsk to two and a half years in a settlement colony under Part 2 paragraph “c” and Part 4 of Article 354.1 CC (dissemination of deliberately false information about the activities of the USSR during the Second World War and dissemination of information about Russia’s memorable date expressing clear disrespect for society and committed on the Internet). The case was based on comments and posts made by Akhmetshin on his own VKontakte page and in the Severodvinsk Life community in May 2021. In these posts, Akhmetshin called the Victory Parade “a vulgar carnival,” and also wrote about the relations between the USSR and Nazi Germany prior to June 1941. According to the prosecution, these comments contained “a deliberately false statement about the USSR's involvement in the outbreak of World War II,” as well as an insult to the participants in the “Immortal Regiment” action and the very memory of Russia’s days of military glory and memorable dates. In our opinion, no criticism of the Victory Day festivities, no variant interpretations or even deliberate distortion of historical facts should ever become grounds for criminal prosecution unless accompanied by calls for violence, hatred and discrimination. Akhmetshin's comments contained no such calls.
Persecution against Religious Organizations
In October, the Central District Military Court in Yekaterinburg sentenced Farit Sharifullin to 18 years in a maximum-security penal colony. He was found guilty of organizing the activities of a terrorist organization (Article 205.5 Part 1 CC), financing terrorist activities (Article 205.1 Part 1 CC) and forgery or use of falsified documents committed for the purpose of concealing another crime (Article 327 Part 4 CC). According to the prosecution, in the period from September 2015 to February 2020, Sharifullin held “training meetings” in Kazan and participated in meetings of the radical Islamic party Hizb ut-Tahrir recognized as a terrorist organization in Russia. Sharifullin was also charged for collecting contributions for the activities of the party. The charge under the article on the use of forged documents was based on the fact that, when detained, Sharifullin was found to have a fake driver's license.
In addition, it became known that a new criminal case was initiated against human rights activist Bakhrom Khamroev under Article 205.5 Part 1 CC (organizing the activities of a terrorist organization). According to his lawyer, the charge is related to the fact that Khamroev had provided assistance to those accused of terrorism and collected materials from their cases. Earlier, Khamroev had been arrested under Article 205.2 Part 2 CC (public justification or propaganda of terrorism on the Internet) and charged with promoting the activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Bakhrom Khamroev has been defending the rights of migrants from Central Asia and Russian Muslims for many years, in particular those charged in cases related to participation in Hizb ut-Tahrir.
The Hizb ut-Tahrir party is recognized in Russia as a terrorist organization, although its members were 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. Equating human rights activities with organizing the activities of a terrorist organization is, in our opinion, an even graver misuse of the law.
In October, prosecutions against Jehovah's Witnesses continued on the charges of involvement in the activities of local religious organizations 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 decision recognized that the ban on Jehovah's Witnesses materials and organizations and sanctions against believers violated 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.
At least three new criminal cases were opened in October:
- In the Yaroslavsky settlement in Primorsky Krai, Boris Andreev was arrested under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC (organizing the activities of an extremist organization), and Natalya Sharapova and Anatoly Li were arrested under Article 282.2 Part 1.1 CC (involving others in the activities of an extremist organization);
- In Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, a new case was opened under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC, but all those interrogated under it were released on a pledge to appear if summoned;
- Nikolai Voischev was arrested in Maykop under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC.
Courts in various regions issued six verdicts against ten believers in October:
- A Sevastopol court sentenced Yevgeny Zhukov, Vladimir Sakada and Vladimir Maladyka to six years of imprisonment under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC;
- In Khabarovsk Krai, Boris Yagovitov received a five-year suspended sentence under Article 282.2 Part 1.1 and Part 2 CC (participation in the activities of an extremist organization);
- In Krasnoyarsk Krai, Ildar Urazbakhtin received a three-year suspended sentence under Article 282.2 Part 1;
- In Primorsky Krai, Galina Kobeleva received a six-year suspended sentence under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC;
- In the Amur Region, Vladimir Bukin, Valery Slaschyov and Sergei Yuferov were each sentenced to six and a half years of imprisonment under Article 282.2 Parts 1 and 1.1, and Mikhail Burkov – to six years under Part 1;
- In the Jewish Autonomous Region, the court re-tried the case of Svetlana Monis and issued a suspended sentence of two and a half years under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC.
In the same region, the verdicts against Yevgeny Yegorov, Oleg Postnikov and Agnessa Postnikova were annulled. Their cases have been sent back for retrial.
Recognizing Materials as Extremist
The Zamoskvoretsky District Court of Moscow satisfied the prosecutorial claim and recognized the song “The Last Bell” by rapper Oxxxymiron (Miron Fedorov) and its videos published on the Internet as extremist materials. Experts engaged by the prosecutor's office to examine the song found it to contain “signs of a public justification of violent acts and an ideology of violence.” A prosecutor also stated in court that the track contained signs of a public justification of terrorism and propaganda of terrorist ideas.
Fedorov’s song “The Last Bell” describes a boy's fantasy about murdering his classmates for offending him. Several unofficial music videos for this song have been posted online. Probably, the ban pertains to several copies of the video collage edited from the Estonian film “Class” (2007). A version of this video was already blocked extrajudicially in 2018.
We have doubts about the decision to ban this song as extremist material, as well as the general inclination to include school shootings (and the related discussion) in the sphere of anti-extremist and anti-terrorist regulation. Earlier we wrote that we view the recognition of the Columbine subculture as a terrorist organization as unreasonable and dangerous, since such a ban complicates preventive work with at-risk students.
The fact that The Last Bell was recognized as extremist gives grounds for imposing sanctions on Fedorov's admirers (including minors) under Article 20.29 CAO. The song's lyrics could potentially fuel the aggressive emotions of a certain segment of the rapper’s teenage audience, but its ban is unlikely to be a significant step in preventing tragedies; on the contrary, it will give this part of the audience another reason to perceive the song as a real call to violence, cause irritation and create another basis for provocative teenage behavior. In general, we are inclined to believe that making discussions of the problem of school shootings illegal prevents a useful conversation on this socially important issue.
Bans against Organizations
In October, the Russian Ministry of Justice added Meta Platforms Inc. to the list of organizations, on which the court has made a final decision to liquidate or ban activities on the grounds provided for by the federal law “On Countering Extremist Activity.” On the same day, the corporation was included on the national part of the Rosfinmonitoring List of Extremists and Terrorists.
The entry on the List of Extremist Organizations of the Ministry of Justice appears as follows: “The American transnational holding company Meta Platforms Inc. for distribution of products – the Facebook and Instagram social networks.” Thus, while the court's decision banned the “activities for distribution” of Facebook and Instagram, the entry on the Ministry of Justice list could also be interpreted as banning Meta altogether as a “company for distribution of products”.
The court's decision to ban Meta's activities stipulates that it does not restrict the actions of Facebook and Instagram users who do not participate in activities prohibited by law. After the corporation was included in the Rosfinmonitoring list, Senator Andrei Klishas hastened to assure the public that “the legal situation does not change in any way” for ordinary users. Meanwhile, in September and October, prosecutors issued at least two warnings to active Instagram users about the impermissibility of extremist activity, in which they pointed to various CAO and CC anti-extremist norms. As such, the legal implications of the Meta ban for users are still unclear.