Misuse of Anti-Extremism in May 2023

The following is our review of the primary and most representative events in the misuse of Russia's anti-extremist legislation in May 2023.

Lawmaking

On May 24, the State Duma adopted in the second and third readings a bill expanding the scope of Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (CAO) (production and mass distribution of extremist materials) to include the production and distribution of materials that are classified as extremist by federal laws but not included in the Federal List of Extremist Materials, that is, not prohibited by court decisions. Once the law is signed, courts will also be able to punish the distribution (production or storage for the purpose of distribution) of materials that are not on the list, but that, in the opinion of law enforcement officers and judges, meet the definition provided in the law on countering extremist activity (or other relevant federal laws that may be adopted later).

Thus, the margin of discretion of the court when applying Article. 20.29 CAO will expand dramatically. Lawmakers will also have an additional incentive to expand the definition of extremist materials. In fact, the initiative is aimed specifically at multiplying the grounds for sanctions.

The same package also includes a draft law adopted so far only in the first reading back in December 2022, which proposes adding “cartographic and other images and products that challenge the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation,” i.e. show parts of the Russian Federation’s territory as “visually assigned” to the territory of other states, to the definition of “extremist materials” in the framework law. On May 22, the government proposed finalizing the bill. The new wording, already approved by the government, reads as follows: “cartographic materials, other materials, images, products, in which, at the time of their creation, information about the state border of the Russian Federation is deliberately distorted in order to challenge the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.” Thus, it is assumed that only maps, whose authors and publishers deliberately distorted the borders of Russia officially enshrined in Russian legislation at the time of publication, will be banned. We consider this legislative initiative to be superfluous – from our point of view, the discussion of the status of specific territories may be limited only when it involves calls for violent separatism.

Sanctions for Statements against the Authorities

Inciting Hatred against the Authorities and Their Supporters

On May 10, the Tverskoy District Court of Moscow sentenced poet Nikolai Daineko, a defendant in the “anti-mobilization” Mayakovsky readings case, to four years in a minimum-security penal colony under paragraph “c” of Article 282 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (CC) for inciting hatred by an organized group and Article 280.4 Part 3 CC for inciting anti-state activities, also as part of an organized group. Since Daineko entered into a pre-trial agreement with the investigation, his case went to court earlier than the cases of the other two defendants. Three participants in the event – Artyom Kamardin, Yevgeny Shtovba, and Nikolai Daineko – faced prosecution following the readings held on September 25 at Mayakovsky Square in Moscow, which were deemed “anti-mobilization” by those involved. During the readings, Kamardin labeled the Donbas militias as terrorists and recited two poems. One of these poems contained the line, “Kill me, militiaman!” repeated by both Shtovba and Daineko.” Law enforcement agencies decided that the poems contained signs of inciting hatred or enmity against volunteer armed groups of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics and the calls for the use of violence against them and their families. In our opinion, Kamardin's statements were provocative and members of the Donbas militias, their families and supporters could have perceived them as insulting, but we did not find them to contain any calls for violence. The charge under the recently introduced Article 280.4 was based on the fact law enforcement agencies found statements about the need to “resist” the partial mobilization in the post on the Mayakovsky Readings Telegram channel announcing the event. Kamardin, Shtovba, and Daineko did not call for the commission of crimes; instead, they simply advocated for not reporting to the military registration and enlistment office after receiving a draft notice, which constitutes an administrative offense. Accordingly, we view their prosecution under a criminal article as inappropriate.

In May, we learned that, back in the second half of April, the Leninsky District Court of Kemerovo fined a local resident Andrei Sadykov 10 thousand rubles under Article 20.3.1 CAO for inciting hatred or enmity and humiliating human dignity. This article is applied in the event of the first such violation in 12 months in the absence of aggravating circumstances. The case was based on comments posted in the “Dissident” and “Time Projection” groups on VKontakte under the posts that compared the fight against corruption in China with that in Russia and discussed the unfair distribution of income in Russia. Sadykov referred to his compatriots as “Rusnya” (a derogatory term for “Russians”), reproached them for their passivity, and expressed, in a crude manner, that they deserved the quality of life they had. Experts concluded that by doing so, he characterized the inhabitants of Russia as unworthy of living in modern civilization, thereby inciting hatred toward them. We believe that there were insufficient grounds for punishing Sadykov under Article 20.3.1 CAO. While he used a pejorative ethnonym and employed coarse language, his comments were primarily intended to criticize the public position and lifestyle of a specific segment of his compatriots, rather than to incite ethnic hatred. In our opinion, such polemics, albeit delivered in an abrasive manner, do not warrant sanctions.

In late April, the Tsentralny District Court of Novokuznetsk fined Igor Mikov 10 thousand rubles under the same article for the comments he left in September 2022 on the “Typical Belovo” public page on VKontakte. According to experts, Mikov's comments involved a negative assessment of a specific group of individuals based on their Russian ethnicity or citizenship. In one of his remarks, Mikov urged supporters of the “special military operation” in Ukraine to “wake up,” stating that they had become “worse than the Nazis.” In other comments, posted under an article about credit holidays for mobilized individuals, he asserted that the authorities manipulate the patriotic sentiments of the population, pushing them “to slaughter,” and that those being mobilized “go to pay off their debts” while protecting “only those who put them in debt in the first place.” We believe that such social criticism should not be restricted. However, Mikov's other publications may have deserved legal action against him. He employed a xenophobic insult against one of his opponents and even threatened to tie him to a post and flog him with a whip. Furthermore, in general, he clearly espouses right-wing radical views and disseminates xenophobic propaganda on his VKontakte page.

In early May, Sergei Kurylenko was placed under arrest for seven days by the Norilsk City Court of Krasnoyarsk Krai under Article 20.3.1 CAO. The arrest was made due to Kurylenko's Facebook posts, which allegedly contained derogatory statements about specific social groups, including military personnel involved in the “special military operation,” their mothers, and Russian citizens. Kurylenko claimed that he made these posts to support his relatives in Ukraine and mentioned his intention to leave Norilsk, having quit his job and sold his apartment, with plans to relocate to a foreign country and potentially Ukraine. The prosecutor's representative requested Kurylenko's arrest based on his statement about the planned move, and the request was granted. The exact wording of the statements attributed to Kurylenko is unknown to us. However, we believe that neither Russian citizens as a whole nor military personnel should be regarded as vulnerable social groups requiring special protection from expressions of hatred. Considering mothers of military personnel as a vulnerable group seems unwarranted as well (we also propose eliminating the ambiguous concept of “social group” from anti-extremist legislation altogether). Based on the text of the court ruling, we assume that Kurylenko's statements contained no calls for violence, and therefore he was sanctioned inappropriately.

The same applies to Dmitry Pavlenko, who was fined 10 thousand rubles by the Magadan City Court in late April under the same article. This was due to his comment, which included an obscene word, posted under the Instagram post of the regional portal “Ves'ma” [Very] with the headline “Magadan residents complained about uncleared snow-covered roads to the Deputy Prosecutor General of Russia. A lawsuit against the mayor's office has already been initiated.” The comment stated: “Magadan people – are [expletive] crazy, just imagine how many productive things could have been accomplished instead of writing complaints.” The court categorized Pavlenko's actions as an attempt to degrade the dignity of Magadan residents as a social group. However, we believe that he simply expressed strong criticism of the behavior of certain individuals in a rather crude manner.

Distribution of Extremist Materials

In mid-May, the Lensky District Court of Yakutia fined local resident Ivan Poleshchuk two thousand rubles under Article 20.29 CAO (mass distribution of extremist materials). He was punished for sharing on VKontakte the film ‎Assassination of Russia recognized as extremist in 2017. The film directed by Jean-Charles Deniau and Charles Gazelle was created in 2002 based on the book Blowing Up Russia: Terror from Within by Alexander Litvinenko and Yuri Felshtinsky, which was also banned. According to the film, the FSB was involved in organizing the 1999 explosions of residential buildings in Russia. Most likely, when deciding on the ban, the court relied on the provision of the law “On Countering Extremist Activity” that classifies as extremist activities public deliberately false accusations of such activities (and terrorism, in particular) levied against government officials. At the same time, the court would have to prove that the assumptions of the authors of the film are “deliberately false,” that is, that the authors had no reason to believe in them – and proving such an assertion is problematic.

We also believe that this clause does not belong in the law on extremist activity – any crime allegations brought by one person against another can be tried in a civil court under the libel charge. The criminalization of public accusations against high-ranking officials seems selective and excessive. Since we consider the ban against the film inappropriate, in our opinion the sanction for its distribution is arbitrary as well.

“Disrespect for Authority”

In early May, we learned about one case of filed under Article 20.1 Part 3 CAO (dissemination on the Internet of information expressing disrespect for society, the state or government agencies in indecent form). We believe that this norm is redundant and clearly aimed at suppressing criticism of the authorities, which are sufficiently protected by other legislative mechanisms.

The Anzhero-Sudzhensk City Court of the Kemerovo Region fined trade union activist Oleg Tyryshkin 30 thousand rubles. The case revolved around Tyryshkin's comments made on VKontakte, which, as stated in the court ruling, “contained derogatory remarks towards the President of the Russian Federation” and employed “profanity, insults, as well as negative and neutral language with a negative undertone.”

Discrediting the Use of the Armed Forces or Government Agencies

We view as inappropriate the charges under Article 20.3.3 CAO for discrediting the use of the Russian armed forces and the activities of government agencies abroad as well as under the criminal Article 280.3 CC for repeatedly discrediting these entities, unless the relevant statements are accompanied by direct calls for violence.

According to the Mediazona portal, in the second half of May, the total number of cases received by Russian courts under Article 20.3.3 CAO since its introduction reached 6839 and continues to grow. As before, people face sanctions for their offline and online statements, for picketing or displaying posters, for slogans on their clothes, for graffiti on various buildings, for distribution of printed campaign materials, for singing Ukrainian songs, and so on.

In May, we became aware of five sentences under Article 280.3 Part 1 CC (repeatedly discrediting the use of the Russian armed forces).

  • In late May, the Federal Security Service for North Ossetia reported on the sentence issued by the Industrialny District Court of Vladikavkaz against a 32-year-old local resident for posting information discrediting the army on Instagram and VKontakte and for calling “to deter the use of the RF Armed Forces in the SVO.” The court sentenced her to a fine of 100 thousand rubles and mandatory outpatient psychiatric treatment. Evidently, the offender in question is Teona Kelekhsaeva sentenced on March 23. The same court had previously fined her under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO for posting a video on Instagram.
  • On May 11, the 2nd Western District Military Court found Nikita Tushkanov, a former history teacher from Komi, guilty under Article 280.3 Part 1 and Article 205.2 CC Part 2 (propaganda or justification of terrorism on the Internet) and sentenced him to five and a half years in a minimum-security penal colony with a three-year ban on website administration. The case was based on his VKontakte post about the explosion on the Crimean Bridge and on a comment under it (while not ready to classify the charge under Article 205.2 CC as inappropriate, we question the proportionality of the punishment – see here for more details on the general trends in the use of this article).
  • On May 12, the Kholmogorsky District Court of the Arkhangelsk Region sentenced activist Yelena Kalinina, who had previously taken part in protesting the construction of a landfill at Shies station, to a fine of 130 thousand rubles. The case was based on two publications on VKontakte: a post about those killed in Ukraine and a video, in which a woman from the Kharkiv Region was telling about the death of her son as a result of the military operation in Ukraine. Previously, Kalinina was fined twice under Article 20.3.3 CAO for posts with photographs of the destroyed city of Mariupol.
  • On May 19, the Oktyabrsky District Court of Yekaterinburg imposed a fine of 260 thousand rubles on Yevgeny Roizman. The penalties were issued in response to a live stream where Roizman expressed negative views regarding the “special operation;” the recorded stream was subsequently uploaded to YouTube. Prior to this incident, Roizman had been fined on three separate occasions under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO. The first fine was for a video in which he stated that many people did not support the special military operation. The second fine was for a tweet containing explicit language that mentioned the symbols Z and V, associated with the “special operation,” as well as the abbreviation DNR. Lastly, Roizman was fined for sharing a Telegram link to this tweet.
  • On May 22, the Tsentralny District Court of Chita sentenced Ivan Losev to a fine of 120 thousand rubles with the confiscation of a smartphone for posting on Instagram a certain “photographic image with a caption” that discredited the activities of the Russian military. He pleaded guilty, and the case was considered under a special procedure. Earlier, Losev had been fined three times under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO for an Instagram story criticizing the mobilization and for videos of his interviews with the TV Rain (Dozhd) and the BBC.

In addition, on May 31, the Novocherkassk City Court in the Rostov Region fined medical doctor Ivan Churinov 800 thousand rubles under Article 280.3 Part 2 CC (public discreditation of the armed forces resulting in property damage) for damaging three banners with portraits of the military men – two in Novocherkassk and the third near the village of Shchepkin on the M-4 Don Federal Highway. The case against Anton Bykov, who has left Russia and is being considered an accomplice to Churinov by the investigation, has been made into separate proceedings.

Another sentence under this part of the article, in conjunction with other charges, was issued against Alexei Arbuzenko, a Tolyatti resident (see below).

In May, we also recorded ten new cases initiated under Article 280.3 CC.

  • In mid-May, it was reported that a case was initiated in the second half of February against Sergei Kalalb, a construction worker from the village of Okhotsk in Khabarovsk Krai. It was based on a TikTok video of a woman speaking against the war, reposted by Kalalb in his WhatsApp group chat. Previously, Kalalb had been fined 30 thousand rubles under Article 20.3.3 CAO for discrediting the use of the Armed Forces in his messages within the same chat. Kalalb's son lost his life in military service during the fighting in Ukraine in the spring of 2022.
  • Similarly, in mid-May, it was reported that a criminal case had been opened against Krasnodar opposition activist Alipat Sultanbegova on April 21. On February 24, Sultanbegova laid flowers at the bust of Taras Shevchenko in Krasnodar and placed signs next to it, labeling the day the special military operation began as "the day of shame." She expressed her deepest regrets to Ukraine and listed the cities in Ukraine, including those on the territories annexed to Russia, that had suffered from the attacks during the hostilities. Upon learning of the criminal prosecution, Sultanbegova left Russia. Earlier, in March 2022, she was fined under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO due to her Twitter avatar featuring an anti-war slogan. Additionally, another existing report against her under the same article may have been related to her post containing a drawing by Masha Moskalyova.
  • In the second half of May, Oleg Borisenko – a former serviceman from Tambov, a participant in hostilities in Chechnya, Syria and Ukraine and the founder of “Russian,” a military-patriotic club in Tambov – announced in an anti-war video message published by the Tverdy Znak Tambov media that a criminal case under Article 280.3 Part 1 CC for the repeated discrediting of the use of armed forces had been opened against him few months before that and that he was currently under house arrest. The exact grounds for the criminal prosecution against him are unknown. In May 2022, Borisenko was fined under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO for an anti-war sticker and a crossed-out letter Z on his car’s windshield.
  • On May 3, the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk City Court began considering a criminal case initiated under Article 280.3 Part 1 CC against Mikhail Yanov. Since our only information about the case comes from a card on the court's website, we do not know what prompted the criminal prosecution. Earlier, Yanov had been fined under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO in connection with an unspecified social network post.
  • On May 8, there was a report of two criminal cases opened against Mikhail Feldman, a journalist from Kaliningrad, for his own posts on VKontakte and for sharing other users’ posts. Previously, he had been fined under Article 20.3.3 CAO in connection with attending an anti-war rally in March 2022. Feldman had three prior convictions on criminal charges.
  • On May 10, a criminal case was launched in Ivanovo against Dmitry Silin for his comment on the "IvanovoNEWS | Bars" Telegram channel. The comment was made in response to news about memorial plaques being placed on a school wall to honor fallen servicemen. Silin's comment expressed the opinion that the names of "murderers" should not be displayed in schools. Prior to this incident, Silin had been fined under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO for placing anti-war graffiti on a house wall. Silin has since left Russia.
  • On May 13, it was reported that a case was opened against Islam Mambetov, an accountant and resident of Zalukokoazhe in Kabardino-Balkaria, based on several posts he made on Instagram. Reportedly, Mambetov quoted "anti-Russian statements by Laima Vaikule," wrote about "the collapse of the evil empire governed by the security services and the communists," and referred to Russia as a "bastard state." Previously, Mambetov had been fined under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO, also for an Instagram publication.
  • On May 16, searches were carried out in Kazan in a case initiated under Article 280.3 Part 1 CC against Pavel Chumakov – a local resident previously fined under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO for his comments criticizing the actions of the Russian armed forces, as well as President Vladimir Putin personally and his supporters. The specific reason for the criminal prosecution is unknown. Chumakov has been placed under house arrest. Meanwhile, activists and a journalist, whose homes were searched, said that they did not know Chumakov. Previously, the women’s homes were searched in connection with the case on the justification of terrorism based on a video called “Paint and a Booth for the Russian Ambassador to Poland,” published on YouTube.
  • On May 18, it was reported that a criminal case had been initiated against an activist from Kotlas, Vladimir Kotov, based on unspecified VKontakte posts. Earlier, the city court had fined him under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO for his comments characterizing the actions of the Russian armed forces in Ukraine as “violent, predatory, and fascist.”
  • On May 22, the FSB Department for the Ivanovo Region announced the initiation of a case against a local resident born in 1981. The case was based on several VKontakte posts made by the suspect in the fall of 2022. According to the Department, he had faced administrative responsibility under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO on more than one occasion.

“Fakes about the Army” Motivated by Hatred

We disagree with the use of the motive of political hatred in libel cases, including in cases of spreading false information about the Russian army. The manifestation of political or ideological hatred, in and of itself, is not criminalized, and we believe that it is appropriate to classify this motive as an aggravating circumstance only in articles on crimes that pose a serious public danger, namely, in articles on the use of violence. We believe that the motive of political hatred in cases of military “fakes” is invoked inappropriately – people who publish information about military operations in Ukraine that differs from the official position most often ideologically and politically disagree with the course of the authorities, that is, in most of these cases it is a form of peaceful political criticism, which should not be limited. Therefore, we consider prosecution under paragraph “e” of Article 207.3 Part 2 CC (disseminating knowingly false information about the use of the Russian armed forces motivated by political hatred) inappropriate, unless the incriminating statements contain incitement to violence.

We know of one such verdict issued in the period under review. On May 26, the Kovrov City Court of the Vladimir Region sentenced Ivan Kavinov to three years in a maximum-security penal colony. According to the investigation, whose position was upheld by the court, he posted on a Telegram channel with over three thousand subscribers “deliberately false information about the course of the special military operation” in July 2022 “motivated by hatred and enmity against the military personnel of the Russian Federation.” The posts in question were seven reposts from other Telegram channels that accused Russian servicemen of torturing, raping and kidnapping civilians as well as destroying warehouses with humanitarian aid.

Vandalism

We doubt the validity of imposing sanctions for vandalism motivated by political hatred (Article 214 Part 2 CC), since, in most cases, these actions represent a form of political propaganda. As we said above, we believe that the motive of political hatred is only appropriate as an aggravating circumstance in the articles related to the use of violence. Additionally, in our opinion, unless the property damage is significant, vandalism cases should be terminated for insignificance. In significant cases where the material damage was 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. Termination of the case with the appointment of a judicial fine also seems to us a reasonable compromise.

Last month, we became aware of three sentences issued under Article 214 Part 2 CC.

  • On May 3, a magistrate of Court District No. 29 in Kasimovsky District of the Ryazan Region sentenced journalist of Ostorozhno Media Sergei Yerzhenkov and activist Sergei Skorev to eight months of restriction of freedom. The criminal case against Yerzhenkov and Skorev was initiated in April 2022. According to investigators, they left graffiti “Putin [expletive], go away” on the monument to Lenin in Kasimov. The case was dismissed twice with the imposition of a court fine, but the prosecutor sought a criminal record for Yerzhenkov and Skorev, arguing that “social justice was not restored and the nature and timing of the crimes, committed during the special military operation, were not taken into account.”
  • On May 11, the Avtozavodsky District Court of Tolyatti sentenced Alexei Arbuzenko to six years in a minimal-security penal colony under Article 214 Part 2, Article 280.3 Part 2 and Article 150 Part 4 CC (involvement of a minor in a criminal group or in the commission of a crime motivated by political, ideological, racial, national or religious hatred). As previously reported, his 15-year-old son was also charged, probably under Article 214 Part 2 CC, since he has not reached the age of criminal responsibility under Article 280.3 CC, but we have no information about the punishment imposed on him. Arbuzenko and his son were accused of throwing paint on banners depicting Russian military personnel “motivated by hooliganism” and of writing certain “cynical slogans” on them.
  • On May 31, the Southern District Military Court sentenced Igor Paskar, a resident of Volgograd, to eight and a half years behind bars under Article 205 Part 1 CC (terrorist attack) and Article 214 Part 2 CC (vandalism motivated by political hatred) with the first three years of the sentence to be served in prison and the rest in a maximum-security penal colony. In June 2022, Pascar threw a Molotov cocktail through the door of the Krasnodar FSB Directorate setting fire to the doormat. He did not try to escape from the scene of the crime but instead painted his face in the colors of the Ukrainian flag and waited for the arrest. Later, Pascar told the investigation that, on June 12, with intent to carry out an anti-war action on Russia’s Day, he threw a Molotov cocktail at a banner decorated with the letter Z and the slogan “We Do Not Abandon Our Own” located near the Motherland Monument in the center of Krasnodar, but the action went unnoticed; this episode served as the grounds for the vandalism charges, which we consider inappropriate. We generally believe that the court-issued sentence against Pascar is disproportionate to his actions.

On May 17, it became known that the police in Yaroslavl opened a criminal case under Article 214 Part 2 CC against a local resident, who was detained. According to investigators, on May 9, she poured paint over a banner decorated with the letter Z on the building of the Center for Patriotic Education not far from the local Red Square. In a conversation with the police, the woman said that she had acted “out of personal concern.”

On May 11, the Primorsky District Court of St. Petersburg issued a two-year suspended sentence followed by a two-year probationary period to retiree Irina Tsybaneva, having found her guilty of desecrating burial places with the motive of political hatred (paragraph “b” of Article 244 Part 2 CC). On October 6, 2022, Tsybaneva left a note on the grave of Vladimir Putin's parents at the Serafimovskoye Cemetery, in which she wished their son, “who has caused so much pain and trouble,” dead. Tsybaneva admitted that she wrote a note but pointed out that she never touched the burial place or damaged it in any way, but only left a rolled-up note next to it, not expecting that someone would notice it. The retiree also stressed that she was not guided by the motive of hatred. We consider this sentence inappropriate. 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. The action targeted not the burial place but the political figure of the president and was intended as political criticism. Based on this, placing on a grave a note, which only indirectly refers to the people buried in it, cannot be considered a desecration of the grave. Even even if we agree with this interpretation, the action was not significant enough to merit criminal prosecution.

On May 17, it became known that the police opened a criminal case under paragraph “b” of Article 213 Part 1 CC (hooliganism motivated by political hatred or enmity) against Konstantin Kochanov, a resident of Moscow. The next day, the Basmanny District Court of the capital sent him to a pre-trial detention center. The criminal prosecution was related to graffiti – on the night of May 9, Kochanov painted at least three red crosses on the pavement near houses on Bolshoy Kozlovsky Lane and Nizhnyaya Krasnoselskaya Street. Later, photographs of the graffiti were posted on Ukrainian Telegram channels as allegedly special marks to be used for a drone attack on the capital. On May 16, Kochanov was detained. According to law enforcement officers, Kochanov’s actions expressed “his disagreement with the ongoing special military operation of Russia in Ukraine,” and he “performed public actions that created a credible threat to the state security and a threat of harm to the life and health of citizens.” We believe that Kochanov's actions were qualified under Article 213 CC incorrectly. Obviously, the signs he painted had no practical meaning. As far as we can judge, his act did not violate the public right to work and leisure, the work of institutions, etc., that is, it did not lead to a gross violation of public order. There is no reason to regard Kochanov’s actions as an expression of disrespect for society. If Kochanov painted crosses on buildings and structures, his act could probably be qualified under Article 214 CC (vandalism), but in this case, there are no grounds for charging him under this article.

Involvement in Banned Oppositional Organizations

On May 17, the Second Court of Appeal of General Jurisdiction upheld the decision to recognize the Vesna interregional movement as an extremist organization issued by the St. Petersburg City Court on December 6, 2022. We see no convincing evidence that the movement participants significantly violated the anti-extremist legal norms, therefore we consider the ban against Vesna inappropriate (see here for additional information). It should be noted that from the moment the decision on the ban is approved, any continuation of the movement’s activities can be prosecuted under Article 282.2 CC.

It became known in mid-May that on April 12, the Pereslavsky District Court of the Yaroslavl Region placed Sergei Abramov, a Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the chief researcher of the Ailamazyan Program Systems Institute, under house arrest for two months on charges of financing extremism (Article 282.3 Part 1 CC). According to media reports, the charge is related to the money transfer he had made to the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) recognized as extremist. Since we view the ban against the FBK as inappropriate, we also classify the charges of financing its activities as inappropriate. Abramov headed the Institute of Software Systems of the Russian Academy of Sciences in the village of Veskovo (Pereslavl-Zalessky urban district) from 2003 to 2022. In 2006, he was awarded the Government Prize in the field of science and technology for the supercomputer development under the SKIF program of the United State of Russia and Belarus.

Sanctions for Displaying Banned Symbols

In May, it became known that on April 14, the Leninsky District Court of Krasnodar fined Yelizaveta Afanasyeva two thousand rubles under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO (propaganda or demonstration of prohibited paraphernalia or symbols). The court ruling says that Afanasyeva had spray-painted the slogan “Glory to Ukraine!” in red on the tiles of a public sidewalk. On May 3, the Central District Court of Sochi arrested Dmitry Neymyshev for 10 days under the same article for “repeatedly and publicly shouting out the slogan ‘Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the Heroes!’” It is worth reminding that Article 20.3 CAO penalizes displaying the symbols or attributes of banned organizations but not publishing their slogans. Moreover, the slogan “Glory to Ukraine,” which came into use in the early 20th century, cannot be viewed solely as the motto of Ukrainian nationalist organizations banned in Russia. In recent years it has been ubiquitous in Ukraine and, since 2018, it has become an official greeting in the Ukrainian army and police.

In May, trade union activist Oleg Tyryshkin reported that he had been fined two thousand rubles on April 24. The case was initiated based on his VKontakte post, which, according to Tyryshkin, featured an image of Vladimir Putin wearing a Nazi uniform. From our perspective, legal action should only be taken when Nazi symbols are used to promote the corresponding ideology. It is evident that Tyryshkin employed this symbolism as a form of political criticism rather than promoting Nazism.

On May 10, Yevgeny Babintsev, a candidate for Yabloko party membership, was placed under a 10-day arrest by the Tsentralny District Court of Chelyabinsk due to his solitary picket where he held a poster demanding the release of Alexei Navalny. It has been reported that the court considered the English spelling of Navalny's surname on the poster as a symbol of a banned organization. We believe that the prohibition against Navalny's organizations is unjustified, and consequently, we also view sanctions imposed for displaying their symbols as inappropriate. Furthermore, it remains unclear on what grounds the court concluded that the politician's surname itself constitutes the symbol of his organization.

In May, we learned about several cases of sanctions imposed under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO for demonstrating objects in the colors of the white-blue-white flag, which the authorities consider the symbol of the Freedom of Russia Legion recognized as terrorist. The incriminating objects include balloons placed on cars and road equipment, white-blue-white flags and stickers, and so on. However, Russian emigrants started using the white-blue-white flag in late February 2022 before the creation of the banned Freedom of Russia Legion, and it is still used without implying any connection with this organization. We have no grounds to assert that those, who faced the sanctions, in fact, advocated the activities of the Freedom of Russia Legion. In addition, it is quite possible that some of them did not deliberately demonstrate the white-blue-white flag but were victims of provocations.

  • On May 20, the Zelenogradsky District Court placed M. Kovalenok under arrest for 15 days. Police officers found two white-blue-white stickers on an asphalt paver he owned. Kovalenok stated that the stickers were in the colors of the Russian flag but were affixed about 10 years ago, and the sunlight has discolored the red stripe. The court did not believe this explanation, noting that Kovalenok purchased the paver only in August 2020, and the stickers were clearly different from the Russian flag.
  • On May 24, the Zelenogradsky District Court fined English teacher Olga Logvinova and retiree Nina Pashutina two thousand rubles. On the morning of May 23, an operative of the Ministry of Internal Affairs discovered that the red stripe of the Russian flag on the license plates of Logvinova's car was covered with white paint. Frightened by the pressure from police officers who arrived at the scene, she locked herself in the car and started calling her husband; the security forces, in turn, broke a window of her car. In connection with this incident, she was also fined 2,500 rubles under Article 19.3 Part 1 CAO for disobeying a lawful order of a police officer. As Logvinova told the court, she did not paint over the red stripe; she suggested that the flag became discolored or faded in the sun. Logvinova's husband, who arrived at the scene, stated that he supported the special military operation and sent humanitarian aid to military personnel. He also drew the attention of the police officers to the fact that the license plate of the neighboring car also lacked a red stripe. Thus, he suggested that someone had covered the stripes to commit a provocation. The court, however, did not accept this argument and saw the fact that Logvinova took her car with prohibited symbols to a public place and parked it, as evidence of a deliberate display of such symbols. Retiree Nina Pashutina and her companion were approached by a traffic police officer, who asked them to be witnesses in the Logvinova case but then found out that the red stripe of the Russian flag on their car number was also missing. Pashutina stated that she did not cover up the stripe and suggested that it had faded, while her companion explained that she supported the actions of the Russian government and was not a member of banned organizations. However, the court did not consider their arguments.
  • On June 7, the Presnensky District Court of Moscow fined driver Denis Moskalenko two thousand rubles for a white-blue-white flag on the license plates of his car.

Protecting Historical Memory and Traditional Values, “Enforcing Tolerance”

Sanctions for “Justifying Terrorism”

On May 4, the creators of the play Finist the Brave Falcon were detained in Moscow. After interrogations, director Yevgenia Berkovich and the play’s author Svetlana Petriychuk (who is also a screenwriter and a theater teacher) were charged under Article 205.2 Part 2 CC (public calls for terrorist activities, public justification of terrorism or propaganda of terrorism on the Internet). The next day, the Zamoskvoretsky District Court placed them under arrest, and the Moscow City Court later approved this measure of restraint. The case was based on the video of the Finist the Brave Falcon reading at the Lyubimovka Young Drama Festival, published online in 2019. The corresponding performance was staged by the SOSO Daughters Theater project in 2021.

The play tells the story of women who were recruited into militant Islamic organizations recognized as terrorist. The authors raise the question of what exactly allows recruiters – often also women, who conduct correspondence, including love letters, posing as men – to successfully deceive their correspondents, convincing them to get married online and then reunite with their virtual spouses in Syria. Perhaps, what makes women susceptible to the propaganda is their desire to escape from the routine and authoritarian atmosphere in their family and society, on which they superimpose their romantic dreams and mythologized ideas about the magical world and a fairy-tale groom. Thus, rejecting the traditional way of life women fall victim to deception, because they remain captive to the same traditional notions. The play can be considered somewhat of a documentary as it draws inspiration from various sources, including court decisions under Article 208 of the Criminal Code (regarding participation in illegal armed groups) and messages from peaceful Islamic educational websites. It weaves together these documentary textual elements with fragments from Russian folk tales and scenes from well-known Walt Disney cartoons.

The prosecution is based on an expert opinion compiled by religious scholar Roman Silantyev, a notorious fighter against “sects” and “non-traditional Islam,” and his colleagues at the Moscow State Linguistic University. The head of the Human Rights Center of the World Russian People's Council, Silantyev invented his own field of science, “destructology,” which he now applies to a wide range of social phenomena including various banned associations. According to the expert opinion, the play contains “signs of destructive ideologies,” namely the ideologies of ISIS, jihadism and caliphism, as well as “signs of the destructive subculture of Russian neophyte wives of terrorists and extremists.” In addition, the experts found in the materials of the performance signs of the “ideology of radical feminism”. However, upon reviewing the video recording of the reading of Finist the Brave Falcon, we found no indications of propaganda or endorsement of the ideology of ISIS or militant Islamism. On the contrary, the play clearly aims to combat the ideologies and actions of terrorists. While the authors may hold feminist beliefs, the play itself does not exhibit radical manifestations, such as aggressive statements about men. And of course, feminist beliefs cannot be used as a basis for charges of justifying terrorism.

The question arises why the performance that received the national Golden Mask award in 2022 and had a successful three-year theater run suddenly attracted such keen interest and clearly unfounded law enforcement claims. The fact that the defendants have been subject to the most severe measure of restraint should also be noted. It is highly probable that the repressive actions are related to the public activities of the director – Yevgenia Berkovich is a well-known blogger and a poet – an author of a series of anti-war poems.

Sanctions for “Rehabilitating Nazism”

Law enforcement agencies continue the practice of criminal prosecution under Parts 3 and 4 of Article 354.1 CC for “desecration of the symbols of Russia's military glory,” i.e. for showing some form of disrespect toward various monuments or the St. George ribbon. Such behavior may deserve condemnation, but criminal prosecution can be justified only in the case of acts that pose a significant danger to society. As for monuments, even if we interpret the term desecration as encompassing more than direct damage, such an act should be qualified not under Article 354.1 CC but under Article 214 CC (vandalism). It is also worth noting that the list of symbols of military glory, whose desecration is punishable under this article, has not yet been defined by Russian law – only the St. George Ribbon has this status. We should also keep in mind that in 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 that punish such acts as disrespect for the flag and symbols. 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.

In May, we learned about new criminal cases opened against five people under Parts 3 and 4 of Article 354.1 CC

On May 10, we recorded a criminal case in Serpukhov of the Moscow Region based on the incident that took place on May 7, when an unnamed man used the local Eternal Flame to light a cigarette.

On May 11, in Neftekumsk of the Stavropol Krai, a case under Article 354.1 Part 4 CC (desecration of the symbols of Russia’s military glory committed by a group of persons) was opened against two residents of Dagestan, 28-year-old Islam and 31-year-old Karim. They are charged with desecrating the Eternal Flame on the Alley of Glory in a Neftekumsk park on the morning of May 5. Islam put his foot on the pedestal of the Eternal Flame bowl, and Karim urinated on the fire. These actions were noticed by a local resident, who contacted the police. The court took both into custody.

Two criminal cases were related to the desecration of the St. George ribbon.

It was reported on May 16 that a case under Article 354.1 Part 3 CC was initiated in Pavlovo of the Nizhny Novgorod Region. On May 10, a teenager (a son of a federal judge) walked down the street with a St. George ribbon attached to his clothes. According to him, an unknown individual approached him and inquired, "Do you support this?" The stranger attempted to forcefully remove the ribbon from the teenager's clothing, while simultaneously shouting, "Glory to Ukraine; Glory to America; Russia will rot." The following day, on May 11, the same person encountered the schoolboy again, this time catching hold of him, tearing off the ribbon, and callously discarding it on the ground. According to the teenager's account to the media, the assailant subjected him to around ten blows to the face and uttered a xenophobic insult. For the reasons indicated above, we consider the application of Article 354.1 Part 3 CC inappropriate, although the actions of the attacker certainly deserve punishment. In this case, the charges could have involved such norms as Article 20.1 Part 1 CAO (disorderly conduct) or Article 116 CC (battery motivated by hatred) in case of inflicting bodily harm.

A few days earlier, on May 11, a criminal case under Article 354.1 Part 2 was initiated against a resident of the village of Netinka in the Bryansk Region. Alexander Koshechko, while in a public place, tore a St. George ribbon off the clothes of a fellow villager and trampled it into the mud. The prosecutor's office opened the case based on this crime two months after the incident. It seems that in this case, bringing the offender to administrative responsibility for disorderly conduct would have been sufficient.

Another case on “rehabilitation of Nazism” was opened based on a social network comment and reported by the Investigative Committee Directorate in the Orenburg Region on May 22. Andrei Kolesnikov, a resident of the village of Yaman in Ileksky District became a defendant under paragraph “c” of Article. 354.1 Part 2 CC (dissemination on the Internet of deliberately false information about the activities of the USSR during the Second World War).

According to investigators, on September 19, 2021, he published a comment on Odnoklassniki, which contained deliberately false information about the activities of the USSR during the war years, and denied the decisive role of the USSR in the victory over Nazi Germany. Kolesnikov shared the text by another resident of the Orenburg Region, who claimed that the USSR “invented” the Great Patriotic War in order to “hide its crimes,” but, in fact, it entered World War II on the side of Germany in 1939, participated in the division of Poland, supplied various goods to Germany and trained German soldiers. Only after Hitler's attack in 1941, the post claimed, the Soviet Union started “whining out loud,” then the United States and Great Britain joined in to help, and, as a result,” Hitler was “killed by the entire global community.” The author also criticized the “victory frenzy” and stated that “Russia has never defeated fascism;” in his opinion, “it replaced the German Nazism with the Soviet one” and then strengthened “the Russian fascism.” From our point of view, a historical discussion, even containing overly broad or incorrect interpretations of facts and harsh assessments, should not become a reason for criminal prosecution unless accompanied by calls for violence, hatred and discrimination (the post contained no such calls). It should also be noted that, as of 2022, the denial of the decisive role of the USSR in the victory over Germany entails not criminal but administrative liability under Article 13.48 CAO. However, we believe that the administrative article also unduly and unreasonably restricts freedom of speech.

Finally, we would also like to review a resonant case filed under a CAO article in May.

On May 7, the Basmanny District Court of Moscow placed history student and archaeologist Vladimir Panin under arrest for five days under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO for demonstrating Nazi symbols. Panin was detained in a subway car for holding in both hands the book Peter Noyman. Chernyy marsh. Vospominaniya ofitsera SS. 1938–1945 [Peter Noyman. Black march. Memoirs of an SS officer. 1938–1945]. The book featured on its cover a historical photo of a German soldier in a helmet with double Sig runes – the symbols of the Nazi SS troops. The book is likely not a genuine diary of an SS officer, but a work of fiction with a pronounced anti-fascist message. It shows how, under the influence of Nazi propaganda, a young officer first takes part in the crimes of the Nazi troops, then thinks only about saving his own life, and finally, is captured and regrets not having died earlier. The book was published in Russian in 2012 by the Tsentrpoligraf publishers in the series “Behind the Front Line. Memoirs”; it has been sold in bookstores and its distribution was never banned. In our opinion, there were no grounds for charges against Panin. A note to Article 20.3 CAO stipulates that the punishment does not apply to cases, in which banned symbols are used to form a negative attitude towards Nazism and extremism, and there are no signs of propaganda or justification of Nazi ideology. This case perfectly aligns with the description.

Sanctions for “Insulting the Feelings of Believers”

From our point of view, the vague concept of “insulting the religious feelings of believers,” introduced into Article 148 CC, does not and cannot have a clear legal meaning, therefore we oppose prosecution under Parts 1 and 2 of Article 148. In our opinion, charges are only appropriate in cases where a perpetrator incites hatred toward believers, and such actions can be qualified under Article 20.3.1 CAO or Article 282 CC.

In May, it was reported that a court in Abakan (Republic of Khakassia) issued a sentence under Article 148 Part 1 CC against 22-year-old local resident Yevgeny Baturin. He was sentenced to 160 hours of community service. According to the investigation, whose version was upheld by the court, in 2016–2021, Baturin published 23 drawings and photographs on a social network, which distorted and defamed the generally recognized symbols and attributes of Christianity and offended the religious feelings of believers.

It was reported on May 17 that the court in Tula sentenced a 41-year-old local resident to 150 hours of community service under Article 148 Part 1 CC. He was found guilty of editing and posting on YouTube two videos containing information that included insults to the religious feelings of Muslims.

On May 23, the Investigation Directorate for the Kirov Region of the Investigative Committee of Russia announced the initiation of a criminal case under Article 148 Part 1 CC against a local resident who posted “photographic images and statements aimed at insulting the religious feelings of believers” on his social network page.

Persecution against Religious Organizations and Believers

Jehovah's Witnesses

In May, 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, in June 2022, the ECHR ruled on the Jehovah's Witnesses’ complaint stating 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. The ECHR demanded the end to the criminal cases under Article 282.2 CC against Jehovah's Witnesses and the release of imprisoned believers.

We learned about four sentences against five believers issued in May.

  • In late May, it became known that the Krasnoyarsk Krai Regional Court upheld the sentence of Natalia Voropayeva, who, according to the report, was found guilty by the Zheleznodorozhny District Court of Krasnoyarsk under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC (participation in the activities of an extremist organization) and fined 360 thousand rubles on March 24.
  • On May 10, the Nazarovo City Court of Krasnoyarsk Krai issued a seven-year suspended sentence to Ivan Shulyuk followed by a four-year probationary period. He was sentenced under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC for organizing the activities of an extremist organization.
  • On May 15, the Polyarny District Court of the Murmansk Region fined Alexei Yeliseev and Yunona Ilyasova from Snezhnogorsk 450 and 400 thousand rubles, respectively, under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC.
  • On May 26, the Industrial District Court of Barnaul issued a three-year suspended sentence to Pavel Kazadaev followed by a two-year probationary period and six months of restriction of freedom under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC.

On May 24, the Primorsky Krai Regional Court reduced the sentences of Dmitry Malevany, Alexei Trofimov, Olga Panyuta and Olga Opaleva by two months. In February, the Spassky District Court of Primorsky Krai sentenced Malevany and Trofimov to seven and six and a half years in a minimum-security penal colony respectively under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC, Panyuta to four years in a minimum-security colony under Article 282.2 Part 1.1 CC (involvement of others in the activities of an extremist organization), and Opaleva to a five-year suspended sentence under the same article.

In the meantime, new cases were opened in May as well.

  • It was reported on May 11 that the investigating authorities opened a criminal case under Article 282.2 CC in Chuvashia against an unnamed Jehovah's Witnesses follower, who carried out preaching activities.
  • On May 16, the Investigative Committee and the FSB conducted a series of search raids at the homes of Jehovah's Witnesses in Tolyatti. Criminal cases under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC were initiated against Alexander Dolganov (placed under house arrest), Sona Olopova and Yelena Kozhevnikova (both were released under travel restrictions).
  • On May 22, Maxim Zinchenko's house was searched in Feodosia; he was declared a suspect under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC.
  • On May 25, searches were carried out in six houses in Komsomolsk-on-Amur; Rodion Shitov became a suspect under Article 282.2 CC.

Hizb ut-Tahrir

We believe that there were no sufficient grounds for banning Hizb ut-Tahrir as a terrorist organization, since the party was never implicated in terrorist attacks. We view the charges against Hizb ut-Tahrir supporters under the “terrorist” articles of the Criminal Code, 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 creating a worldwide Islamic caliphate, in and of itself, does not provide the grounds for charging its followers with planning a forcible seizure of power in Russia.

  • On May 17, the Southern District Military Court issued a verdict against three Crimean Tatars, defendants in the fourth Bakhchisarai Hizb ut-Tahrir Case. Alexander Sizikov, who is blind, was sentenced to 17 years of imprisonment followed by a year and a half of restriction of freedom, Alim Sufyanov and Seyran Khayredinov were each sentenced to 12 years in prison and a year of restriction of freedom. All three will spend the first four years of their term in prison and the remainder in a maximum-security colony. Sizikov was convicted under the legal norm on organizing the activities of a terrorist organization (Article 205.5 Part 1 CC), Sufyanov and Khairedinov – under the norm on participating in the activities of such an organization (Article 205.5 Part 2 CC). In addition, all the defendants were found guilty of preparing for a forcible seizure of power (Article 278 CC with the use of Article 30 Part 1 CC). 
  • On May 23, the 2nd Western District Military Court sentenced human rights activist Bakhrom Khamroev. The court found him guilty under Article 205.5 Part 2 CC and Article 205.2 Part 2 and sentenced him to 14 years of imprisonment, with the first three years to be served in prison and the remainder in a maximum-security penal colony. The original principal charge against Khamroev was under Article 205.5 Part 1 CC (organizing the activities of a terrorist organization), however, the court changed the qualification of his acts and found him guilty under Part 2 of the same article. Khamroev defended the rights of migrants from Central Asia and Russian Muslims for many years, including those accused of participating in Hizb ut-Tahrir, but he always personally distanced himself from this organization, and no convincing evidence of his involvement in it was presented in court. The investigation tried to present his human rights activities as a party activity, but the court did not accept most of these arguments. As for several Facebook posts by Khamroev written in Uzbek, which became the basis for charges under Article 205.2 Part 2 CC as Hizb ut-Tahrir propaganda, we had no opportunity to get acquainted with their exact text, but they could hardly provide the grounds for punishment associated with deprivation of liberty.
  • On May 24, the Southern District Military Court sentenced Ernes Seitosmanov, a defendant in the third Sevastopol Hizb ut-Tahrir case, to 18 years of imprisonment followed by a year and a half of restriction of freedom. He was found guilty under Article 205.5 Part 1 CC and Article 278 CC with the use of Article 30 Part 1 CC. Seitosmanov will spend the first four years of his term in prison and the rest in a maximum-security penal colony.
  • On May 31, the Southern District Military Court sentenced four Crimean Tatars in the case of the second Sevastopol Hizb ut-Tahrir group. Dzhebbar Bekirov was sentenced to 17 years of incarceration, and Rustem Tairov, Rustem Murasov and Zavur Abdullayev – to 12 years each. They will spend the first four years in prison and the rest of the term in a maximum-security penal colony. Bekirov was found guilty under Article 205.5 Part 1 CC and Article 278 with the use of Article 30 Part 1 CC. After his release from the colony, he will face a year and a half of restriction of freedom. The other defendants were found guilty under Article 205.5 Part 2 CC and Article 278 with the use of Article 30 Part 1 CC. They will face one year of restriction of freedom as their additional punishment.