Misuse of Anti-Extremism in November 2022

Настоящий материал (информация) произведен и (или) распространен иностранным агентом РОО Центр «Сова» либо касается деятельности иностранного агента РОО Центр «Сова».

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

Lawmaking

On November 11, Russia’s Ministry of Justice published a draft procedure for creating a unified information register of persons involved in the activity of extremist or terrorist organizations. The law providing for the creation of such a register was signed in July to codify the norms introduced in 2021, which restrict the passive voting rights of persons involved in the activities of such organizations. As planned by the Ministry of Justice, within 10 working days after the relevant information is received by the agency, the following information appears in the register: the last name, first name and patronymic, details of the Ministry of Justice order on inclusion in the registry, date of birth, address of residence or stay, passport details, tax identification number, individual insurance account number, and, finally, the organization’s name and the person’s “status” in it (“director,” “participant,” etc.). The register will not be publicly accessible, and the Ministry of Justice will provide the information only to election commissions (within a time period not exceeding 10 working days from the date of request) and to the persons included in the register upon their request.

On November 29, the federal regulation proposals portal published draft documents by the Prosecutor General's Office related to fighting extremism and to blocking and termination protocols for mass media. Among other proposals, we would like to point out the draft amendments to the 2018 order on overseeing the enforcement of anti-extremist legislation. They take control over the anti-extremist activity of prosecutor's offices of subjects of the Federation away from Prosecutor General's Office directorates for federal districts, leaving it with the Directorate for Federal Security, Interethnic Relations, and Counteracting Extremism and Terrorism. Under the proposal, the Prosecutor General's Office Directorate for Supervising Investigation of Particularly Important Cases and directorates for federal districts would have to forward to the Directorate for Counteracting Extremism not only the information about initiated criminal cases but also the trial records with copies of court decisions. Similar amendments are suggested for the order on anti-terrorist information control. New types of illegal information are being added to the instructions issued by the Prosecutor General's Office for handling information subject to extrajudicial blocking, such as inaccurate information that contains data about the use of the armed forces of the Russian Federation or aimed at discrediting the use of the Russian armed forces and government agencies abroad. The procedure for blocking such information is generally similar to the procedure previously established for other types of illegal information handled by the Prosecutor General's Office Directorate for Counteracting Extremism. The Prosecutor General's Office attained the authority to block that information under the same law of summer 2022 that also gave it the right to suspend or, in the case of repeated violations, terminate registrations and broadcasting licenses of Russian media outlets for disseminating illegal content. The same law stipulates that the Prosecutor General's Office will be able to ban foreign media outlets as a response to other countries closing down Russian media outlets. The Directorate for Counteracting Extremism will also consider requests for such bans submitted by various agencies and coordinate their actions with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In addition, the Directorate will decide whether the owners of the information resources should be recognized as persons involved in violations of fundamental human rights and freedoms, including freedom of the media. This decision is based on the law adopted in 2020 and stipulating “sanctions” against online platforms that the authorities view as unreasonably restricting the activities of Russian mass media.

On November 22, the Russian Government approved the labeling rules for materials distributed by “foreign agents” or the heads of organizations recognized as “foreign agents,” which came into force on December 1 – simultaneously with the new “foreign agents” law – and are expected to stay in force for six years. According to the government decree, “foreign agents,” when carrying out political activities, gathering information on military-technical activities and disseminating “messages and materials intended for the general public” or when sending materials to public authorities, must accompany them with a special text. One formula is used for materials distributed on behalf of such an organization, another for those disseminated by their founders, managers, members or participants. The textual note must appear before the start of the message but below the headline, if there is one, in a font twice the size of the text, on a contrasting background and with no overlap with other images or materials. In audiovisual productions, notices must last for at least 15 seconds and be shown at the start of the broadcast and after every interruption. When displayed, the image must be positioned in the center of the screen and cover at least 20% of its area. The audio message must not overlap with other audio material, nor must it be accelerated or reduced in volume. These requirements also pertain to SOVA Center.

 

Sanctions for Anti-Government Statements

In mid-November, the Kirovsky District Court of Omsk found local resident Natalia Krivova guilty under Article 280 Part 2 (public calls for extremist activities) of the Criminal Code (CC) and issued a suspended sentence of eight months followed by a one-year probation period and a one-year ban on administering websites on the Internet. The case was based on Krivova’s comment in an online Omsk community made in December 2019 under the publication about the public transportation fare increase. Krivova expressed her displeasure with the news by a comment that suggested “going with pitchforks against City Hall” and “pitchfork [Omsk Mayor at the time Oksana] Fadina and others.” We are inclined to believe that Krivova's statement reflected her emotional reaction to the news of the impending increase in public transportation costs and should not be interpreted as a call for actual violent action. Since in this case, the likelihood of the threat being carried out was negligible, the public danger of the statement was also insignificant, and therefore the case didn’t merit criminal prosecution.

Back in early October, the same court fined Krivova 10 thousand rubles under Article 20.3.1 (inciting hatred or enmity) of the Code of Administrative Offences (CAO). The court found that her unspecified comment on a VKontakte public forum about the president of Russia contained signs of inciting hatred against “representatives of the social group “government bodies” on the grounds of their professional affiliation and geographical region of service.” We believe that the Russian President does not represent a social group in need of special protection from hate speech (moreover, SOVA advocates the removal of the ill-defined term “social group” from anti-extremist legislation). It is worth reminding that, as early as 2011, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation pointed out that criticism of public officials in the media should not be viewed as an act humiliating their dignity, since the scope of permissible criticism is wider for government officials than for private individuals. In our opinion, this argument applies not only to media publications but also to statements by individuals. Therefore, if Krivova's comment contained no calls for violence (the court ruling contains no indication of that), we consider the sanction under Article 20.3.1 CAO inappropriate.

In early November, the Zasviyazhsky District Court of Ulyanovsk heard three cases under Article 20.3.1 CAO opened against local resident Roman Shilov the day before. They were based on Shilov’s comments on VKontakte left in December 2021 – January 2022. The court agreed with the expert opinion that Shilov's statements contained a negative assessment of a group of persons grouped on the basis of their status as “police officers.” The court decision specifies the punishment of 30, 35 and 40 hours of community service respectively for each episode. We consider the sanctions against Shilov inappropriate. In our opinion, police officers should not be viewed as a vulnerable social group in need of special protection from hate speech. As the European Court of Human Rights repeatedly noted, law enforcement officers should be exceptionally tolerant of criticism unless they face a real threat of violence.

In mid-November Frunzensky District Court of Vladivostok fined English teacher Xenia Melenchuk 10 thousand rubles under Article 20.3.1 CAO. The charges were based on the fact that, in April 2022, Melenchuk shared an article from holod.media under the headline “The Russian Military Men Like to Rape in Public” dedicated to the work of Ukrainian psychologists with victims of sexualized violence. In June 2022, the original resource renamed the material and withdrew its first half after it turned out that some of the information disseminated by Alexandra Kvitko (psychologist and daughter of former Ukrainian ombudsman Lyudmila Denisova) could not be confirmed. The court took into account the expert opinion, according to which the text included signs of humiliation of dignity of the Russian military and incitement of hostility towards them. We believe that the military does not form a vulnerable social group in need of special protection from manifestations of hatred. Given the fact that the holod.media material contained no calls to violence and discussed a topical issue of public importance, we believe that the fact of sharing it provides no grounds for a sanction under Article 20.3.1 CAO, regardless of the extent of its credibility.

On the same days, the Dzerzhinsky District Court in Perm fined ex-lawmaker Konstantin Okunev 150 thousand rubles under Article 20.1 Part 4 CAO (repeated distribution on the Internet of the information that expresses disrespect to society, state or government agencies in an indecent manner). The case was based on his VKontakte post that contained a “negative assessment of the personal qualities of the current President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, and his personality in general.” According to experts and the court, the post showed a “disparaging and derogatory attitude toward Putin, defining him as an unscrupulous person. We would like to remind that, in our opinion, sanctions against the opposition and activists under Parts 3-5 of Article 20.1 CAO are aimed at suppressing criticism of the authorities.

 

Prosecutions for Discrediting the Actions of the Russian Armed Forces or Government Agencies

We believe that criminal sanctions for discrediting the actions of the Russian armed forces and state agencies abroad constitute an unreasonable restriction of the right to freedom of expression and are 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.

We found out in November that the Kanavinsky District Court of Nizhny Novgorod sentenced local activist and Yabloko party member Andrei Sorochkin to a fine of 200 thousand rubles under Article 280.3 Part 1 (public actions aimed at discrediting the armed forces committed after having faced administrative responsibility) in the second half of September. The sentence has entered into force. The verdict states that Sorochkin was driving around Nizhny Novgorod in a car with an anti-war poster attached to the rear window. He attached another poster with an anti-war statement, in the colors of the Ukrainian flag, to his cabinet at work. Previously, Sorochkin had been repeatedly fined under administrative Article 20.3.3 CAO for discrediting the armed forces.

In mid-November, we learned about the initiation of a criminal case under Article 280.3 Part 1 CC against a resident of Verkhnemamonsky District of the Voronezh Region. Presumably, the defendant is Yevgeny Tronev, who was fined in April under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO for his VKontakte post. The criminal charge is related to the messages he sent via a public chat.

In late November, Anna Chagina was detained in Tomsk and released under the ban on certain activities. The charges against her under Article 280.3 Part 1 CC were based on the records and comments posted on Chagina's VKontakte page in May–June of this year. Earlier, in March, Chagina was fined under Article 20.3.3 CAO.

It was reported on the same day that a resident of Balakhta in Krasnoyarsk Krai, became a suspect under Article 280.3 Part 1 CC for posting in VKontakte news groups unspecified materials about the actions of the Russian armed forces. Apparently, the suspect in question is Georgy Zykov, who reported in October that law enforcement officers had visited his apartment and seized his equipment and weapons.

 

Prosecutions for Vandalism

In mid-November, the Oktyabrsky District Court of Belgorod found Vasily Devyatov guilty under Article 214 Part 2 CC (vandalism motivated by political hatred) and sentenced him to two years of restriction of freedom for several anti-war slogans he wrote on a public transport stop. We have doubts about the validity of imposing sanctions 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 we believe that this motive is appropriate as an aggravating circumstance only in the articles on crimes that pose significant public danger, specifically in the articles on the use of violence.

A few days later, a magistrate of the Court District No 147 of Pushkinsky District in St. Petersburg sentenced Yegor Kazanets, a citizen of Ukraine, to a fine of 30 thousand rubles under the same article finding him guilty of vandalism motivated by ethnic hatred. The case was based on the graffiti “Glory to Ukraine!” left by Kazanets on an apartment building façade on Izborskaya Street in the evening of May 10 in a state of intoxication. He was arrested as early as May 16 and only released after his sentence was pronounced. Kazanets compensated the material damage to the building’s owner in the amount of 1800 rubles. The court found the ethnic hatred motive in his actions on the grounds that the slogan “Glory to Ukraine!” was used “as a greeting by the nationalist military formations in Ukraine conducting military actions against the Soviet army in 1917–1920.” This slogan was indeed used by 20th-century Ukrainian nationalists, but it has been ubiquitous in Ukraine in recent years and, since 2018, has been an official salute in the army and police. We believe that its use, in and of itself, may indicate a positive attitude towards Ukraine and Ukrainians, but it does not necessarily indicate the presence of the ethnic hatred motive in a person's actions; the presence of such a motive requires proof.

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 “Rehabilitating Nazism”

In mid-November, the St. Petersburg City Court issued a suspended sentence of six months against Artyom Antipov under Article 354.1 Part 4 CC (distribution of information about the days of military glory; desecration of symbols of military glory expressing clear disrespect for society committed on the Internet). In early May 2021, Antipov published comments in several St. Petersburg VKontakte communities under posts that congratulated veterans of the Great Patriotic War and commemorated Victory Day. The comments included an obscene image with a St. George ribbon and a caption. Antipov’s actions are morally reprehensible but the image he posted had no signs of propaganda of Nazism or incitement to violence, hatred or discrimination, so this act poses no significant public danger and does not merit criminal prosecution. In general, it is not clear why people should face criminal prosecution for the sake of protecting abstract objects, such as days of military glory, memorial dates or symbols of military glory (never actually listed in Russian legislation). We should also keep in mind that General Comment No. 34 to Article 19 (freedom of opinion and expression) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the UN Human Rights Committee expresses its concern about laws on such acts as disrespect for the flag and symbols.

In the second half of November, the Moscow City Court sentenced Mikhail Nalimov, coordinator of the organizing committee “For Lenin’s Removal” under the same Article 354.1 Part 4 CC. The court sentenced him to three years of imprisonment but replaced it under Article 53.1 CC with community service for the same period with 10% of his salary withheld by the state. In addition, the court banned Nalimov from administering websites for five years.

The case was based on Nalimov's VKontakte posts. According to the investigation, in early May 2021, the activist posted on a social network several images with Victory Day symbols, specifically red ribbons and St. George ribbons, to which he added satanic pentagrams. Nalimov espouses conservative monarchical views and Orthodox fundamentalism; he believes that the power in the Russian Federation is in the hands of Satanists, and the Victory symbols are associated with Satanic cults. In our opinion, Nalimov’s posts were provocative and inspired by conspiracy theories (including those of a xenophobic nature), but we do not believe that he deserved criminal prosecution. In our opinion, neither criticism of the way Victory Day is celebrated, nor alternative interpretations or even intentional distortions of historical facts and cultural traditions should become grounds for a criminal prosecution, unless they are accompanied by calls for violence, hatred and discrimination. Nalimov's posts obviously contained no such calls.

In late November, a magistrate in Nizhnevartovsk returned to the police an administrative case against local resident Alexander Korolyov under Article 13.48 Part 1 CAO (equating the actions of the USSR and Nazi Germany during World War II or denying the decisive role of the Soviet people in the defeat of Nazi Germany); the judge cited the need for a linguistic expert examination. The Nizhnevartovsk City Court already considered the same case in August, but also returned it. Meanwhile, Korolyov was fined one thousand rubles under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO (public display of Nazi symbols) for the same material posted on May 4, 2017. According to Korolyov, he was charged for sharing on VKontakte an image comparing the regimes of Hitler and Stalin. In our view, Article 13.48 CAO excessively and groundlessly restricts the freedom of speech in the context of peaceful historical discussion. We, therefore, consider charges under this article for statements that contain no direct incitement to violence inappropriate. Korolyov's post apparently contained no such appeals. We believe that the fine under Article 20.3 CAO was also imposed on Korolev inappropriately, because, in our opinion, only the incidents when Nazi symbols are used to promote Nazism merit sanctions, while Korolyov, on the contrary, criticized Nazism along with Stalinism.

 

Sanctions for Displaying Banned Symbols

In late October, the Central District Court of Simferopol placed Andrei Belozerov, a former teacher at Belogorsk Technological College, under arrest for 14 days. He was punished under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO (public display of symbols of extremist organization) and Article 19.3 CAO (disobeying a lawful order of a police officer). The charges were based on the Ukrainian song “Chervona Kalyna,” which he posted on his VKontakte page. “Chervona Kalyna” is a folk song known in its modern form since 1914. It was used as an anthem by the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen and then, for over a hundred years, repeatedly performed by popular Ukrainian, Russian and other performers. The law enforcement now views “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. Several versions of this song are known, and the most popular of them contain no statements that can be interpreted as incitement of hatred or evidence of propaganda of the OUN’s activities. If the recording shared by Belozerov contained one of the most popular versions of the text, we believe that there were no grounds for sanctioning him for sharing it.

We would like to remind that Belozerov was fired from the technical school in September and spent 13 days under arrest under Article 20.3 CAO for playing the Ukrainian music video “Bayraktar” in class. Law enforcement classified the song as prohibited paraphernalia, also on unclear grounds.


Sanctions for Distribution of Extremist Materials

In early November, law enforcement officers in Yekaterinburg searched the home of local resident Mikhail Yerokhin and compiled a report against him under Article 20.29 CAO (storage of extremist materials for the purpose of mass distribution). The next day the court put him under arrest for seven days as a punishment under these charges. Yerokhin's arrest was triggered by the article “Molotov Cocktail against the President’s Image,” included on the Federal List of Extremist Materials. It was published in one of the 2011 issues of Avtonom, an anarchist magazine two copies of which were found at Yerokhin's home by officers of the Interior Ministry and the FSB. We do not know on what grounds the court has decided that Yerokhin was storing the magazine issue for the purpose of mass distribution. Possession of certain materials cannot, in and of itself, be a reason for sanctions under Article 20.29 CAO.

In mid-November, the Dzerzhinsky District Court of Volgograd fined Kamal Kurbanov, father of a large family, three thousand rubles according to article 20.29 CAO. The FSB officers came to the property under Kurbanov’s supervision, which, according to the agency’s information, housed a religious school, and found seven adults and 16 underage children on the premises. Three prohibited books were seized from the house: two copies of Muhtasar Ilmihal. A Concise Manual of Basic Islamic Teachings and one copy of The Islamic Doctrine by Ahmet Saim Kilavuz. We believe that both books were recognized as extremist without proper grounds, since we were unable to find any incendiary appeals in them. Therefore, we consider the sanctions against Kurbanov inappropriate.

In November, we received information on 14 previously unknown cases under Article 20.29 CAO for distribution of the video “Let's Remind Crooks and Thieves about their Manifesto-2002” on social networks. Between March and the end of November, five people were fined one thousand rubles in Altai Krai, one in the Altai Republic, and one in Tula; eight more were fined the same amount by the Yoshkar-Ola Municipal Court in Mari El. This video, widely circulated on social networks 11 years ago, was declared extremist by the Kirov District Court in Novosibirsk in 2013 along with several materials by Russian nationalists. The video merely 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 sanctions for its distribution as unlawful.

 

Prosecutions against Alexei Navalny's Supporters

In late November, it was reported that former coordinators of Navalny's Kemerovo and Irkutsk headquarters Stanislav Kalinichenko and Sergei Bespalov were put on the wanted list as suspects under Article 282.1 Part 1 (creating an extremist community). Both were also put on the Rosfinmonitoring's List of Extremists and Terrorists and arrested in absentia on December 1.

As we reported earlier, the structures of Alexei Navalny and his supporters – the Alexei Navalny Headquarters, the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) and the Citizens' Rights Defense Fund (FZPG) – were recognized as extremist organizations in June 2021 (in our opinion, without proper legal grounds). Later, a case was opened under the charges of creating an extremist community of Navalny's supporters and participation in it (Article 282.1). In October 2021, it was combined with the cases of money laundering (paragraph b of Article 174 Part 4 CC), creating a non-profit organization whose activities involved inciting citizens to commit unlawful acts (Article 239 Part 2 CC) and financing extremism (Article 282.3 Part 1 CC) into a single proceeding.

 

Sanctions for Involvement in the “Columbine Movement”

Earlier this month, it became known that a criminal case under Article 205.1 Part 1.1 CC (recruitment into a terrorist organization) and Article 205.5 Part 1 CC (organizing a terrorist organization) was opened in Krasnoyarsk Krai against a 17-year-old secondary school student from Kryvyi Rih (Ukraine). According to the investigation, the Ukrainian student maintained the Telegram channel “White Rose” (Belaya roza), where he published materials about “Columbine” banned in Russia as a terrorist organization. In May, this student allegedly recruited a teenager from Minusinsk (Krasnoyarsk Krai), who also started “advocating the ideas of school shooting on the Internet.” In autumn 2021 and spring 2022, “White Rose” was already mentioned as a channel or a username in reports about prevented shootings in Kazan and Sochi. The username was allegedly used by Yaroslav Ovsyuk, a secondary school student from Kryvyi Rih. The student detained in Kazan insisted that the person calling himself “White Rose” actively contacted him.

“Columbine” is a stable term used in Russia to refer to mass murders in educational institutions. The term comes from the name of the American school where two students, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, shot 13 people and killed themselves in 1999. SOVA Center believes that the ban on Columbine in Russia as a terrorist organization has no legal basis, since there is no reason to believe that supporters of school killings form a single organization. It is also worth noting that the actions of such shooters usually have no political component. The federal law “On Counteracting Terrorism” defines terrorism specifically as “the ideology of violence and the practice of influencing decision-making by public authorities” that “involves terrorizing the population and/or other forms of illegal violence,” while the actions of school shooters seemingly involve no attempts to influence the authorities. In addition, we believe this ban is dangerous because it complicates preventive work with students at risk and suggests mass criminal prosecution against subscribers of thematic communities on social networks.

 

Persecution against Religious Organizations and Believers

Hizb ut-Tahrir

It was reported in November that the Central District Military Court issued a verdict in mid-September against four residents of Kazan accused of involvement in the radical Islamic party Hizb ut-Tahrir recognized as a terrorist organization in Russia. Vyacheslav Vankov was sentenced to 18 years in prison under Article 205.5 Parts 1 and 2 CC (organizing a terrorist organization and participating in it) and Article 205.1 Part 1.1 (financing terrorism). Rayil Abdrakhmanov was sentenced to 17 years in prison on similar charges. Lenar Mukhammadeev was sentenced to 12 years in prison under Article 205.5 Part 2 CC and Article 205.1 Part 1 CC (aiding terrorist activities). Ilsur Galeyev was sentenced to 11 years under Article 205.5 Part 2 CC. They all must serve the first four years of their sentences in prison, and the remaining term in a maximum-security penal colony.

In late November, the Southern District Military Court sentenced Marlen Mustafayev, a Crimean Tatar activist from Belogorsk, under Article 205.5 Part 1 CC and Article 278 with Article 30 Part 1 CC (preparation for the violent seizure of power) to 17 years in prison with the first three years to be served in prison and the rest in a maximum-security penal colony. He also received an additional punishment in the form of restriction of freedom for one and a half years.

We believe that there were no sufficient grounds for banning Hizb ut-Tahrir as a terrorist organization, since this party has never been 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 our opinion, the fact that Hizb ut-Tahrir preaches the idea of establishing a worldwide Islamic caliphate does not, in and of itself, provide grounds for charging its followers with planning a violent seizure of power in Russia.

Tablighi Jamaat

In mid-November, the Volgograd Regional Court reviewed the prosecutorial appeal against the sentence issued to five local residents under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC (participating in the activities of an extremist organization) for their participation in the religious association Tablighi Jamaat banned in Russia. Earlier, in September, the Sovetsky District Court of Volgograd issued a two-year suspended sentence to all the defendants in the case. The appellate court reviewed the case and toughened the sentence for three of the defendants, Amanat Lukpanov, Batr Urazov and Gilman Nitaliev, replacing the suspended term with real imprisonment in a minimum-security colony. The verdict for the two remaining defendants, Aslan Vakuev and Alexander Kolesnikov, did not change. All five were additionally sentenced to 10 months of restriction of freedom. In our opinion, Tablighi Jamaat was banned in Russia in 2009 without proper grounds. The association was engaged in the propaganda of fundamentalist Islam but not implicated in any calls for violence, and therefore we consider the persecution against its followers inappropriate.

Jehovah's Witnesses

In November, 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 Jehovah's Witnesses’ complaint 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. We are aware 17 Jehovah’s Witnesses sentenced in November.

  • The Rubtsovsk City Court of Altai Krai sentenced Andrei Danielian to six years of imprisonment to be served in a minimum-security penal colony under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC (organizing the activities of an extremist organization);
  • The Nikolsky District Court of Penza region issued a two-year suspended sentence to Victor Shayapov under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC (participating in the activities of an extremist organization);
  • The Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky City Court issued a verdict in the case of Dmitry Semyonov and Nadezhda Semyonova; each of them received a four-year suspended sentence under Article 282.2 Part 1.1 CC (involvement of others in the activities of an extremist organization);
  • The Oktyabrsky District Court of Novosibirsk sentenced Alexander Seryodkin under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC to six years of imprisonment in a penal colony with loss of the right to act as an organizer in public and religious organizations for five years and restriction of freedom for a year.
  • The Zheleznodorozhny District Court of Krasnoyarsk sentenced Igor Gusev to a fine of 600 thousand rubles under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC;
  • The Asha Town Court in the Chelyabinsk Region issued a suspended sentence of six years under Article 282.2 Part 1 of CC to Andrei Perminov, a person with Group 1 disability.
  • The Kirovsky District Court of Makhachkala sentenced Jehovah's Witnesses Arsen Abdullaev, Marat Abdulgalimov and Anton Dergalyov to six and a half years of probation under Article 282.2 Part 1 and Article 282.3 Part 1 (financing extremist activities), and Maria Karpova to six years of probation under Article 282.2 Part 1;
  • The Ussuriysky District Court of Primorsky Krai issued a six-year suspended sentence against Sergei Korolchuk, Anton Chermnykh and Dmitry Tischenko under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC followed by a year of restriction of freedom for each offender;
  • The Georgiyevsk City Court in the Stavropol Region sentenced Victor Zimovsky to six years and two months behind bars under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC and Article 282.3 Part 1 (financing extremist activities). In the same case, Anatoly Gezik was sentenced to four years and two months of compulsory labour, and his wife Irina Gezik received a suspended sentence of the same length – both under Article 282.2 Part 1.1 and Article 156 CC (improper fulfillment of parental responsibilities for raising a minor). The verdicts for all defendants also included a year of restriction of freedom after serving the primary sentence. It is worth noting that the spouses were charged for encouraging their underage children to participate in community activities; in addition, they allegedly kicked their 15-year-old daughter out of the house, forbade their 13-year-old daughter from seeking medical care and used physical force against her. In our opinion, if the Gezik family was indeed violent towards the minors, the case should have been investigated under Article 156 CC without prosecution under Article 282.2 CC, which we consider inappropriate. As far as we know, the religious views of Jehovah's Witnesses do not advocate violence against minors.

In November the Vologda Regional Court reviewed an appeal against the sentence of Nikolai Stepanov and Yury Baranov previously convicted under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC. In September, the Vologda City Court sentenced Stepanov to four years in a minimum-security penal colony, while Baranov received a suspended sentence of the same length. On appeal, Stepanov's verdict was replaced with a suspended one, and Baranov's sentence remained unchanged.

In early November, the Pskov Regional Court overturned the acquittal under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC against Alexei Khabarov and sent the case for review by a different first-instance court. This is the third time this case goes to a district court. The first time, in September 2021, Khabarov received a suspended sentence, but the regional court returned the case for a new hearing. Next, in June 2022, the district court acquitted the defendant. The state prosecutor seeks a three-and-a-half-year term in a minimum-security penal colony followed by restriction of freedom for six months.

In November, law enforcement also initiated new cases against Jehovah's Witnesses under Article 282.2 CC. Two believers in Ivanovo were charged in the case. Meanwhile, Viktor Chernov was placed under house arrest as a suspected organizer of activities of the religious community in Tavrichanka (a settlement in Primorsky Krai); his case was separated from that of Oleg Lonshakov, who left for Belarus, and whose extradition to Russia was denied.


Prosecution for “Insulting the Feelings of Believers”

In mid-November, a magistrate of Judicial District No 199 of St. Petersburg’s Tsentralny District issued a verdict in the case of Andrei Kurdov. The court found him guilty of insulting the religious feelings of believers (Article 148 Part 1 CC) and sentenced him to a fine of 80 thousand rubles. In 2021, Kurdov (17-year-old at that time) and his 15-year-old friend (under the age of criminal responsibility) took a photo of themselves, naked from the waist down, against the background of the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood and posted it on a social network. The investigation found that the teenagers were motivated by hooliganism, but their criminal intent was to “commit public actions expressing disrespect to society and committed to insult the feelings of believers using mockery against the background of a building of religious importance. We believe that Kurdov was wrongly convicted. 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.