On July 31 and August 4, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed amendments that tightened legislation on non-profit organizations and introduced administrative and criminal liability for participation in the activities of foreign or international non-governmental non-profit organizations (NGOs) that do not have structural divisions registered in Russia. First, liability for such a violation will follow under the new Article 19.34.2 of the Code of Administrative Offences (CAO). Those punished twice and then caught violating again, and those already convicted under Article 284.1 of the Criminal Code (CC) for involvement in the activities of an organization recognized as undesirable in Russia will be prosecuted under Part 1 of the new Article 330.3. Part 2 of the same article establishes liability for organizers of the work of NGOs without a registered division. The adopted laws stipulate almost the same strict liability for involvement in the activities of any foreign or international NGOs that do not have a branch in Russia as for participation in “undesirable organizations.”
Sanctions for Statements against the Authorities
On August 14, the 2nd Western District Military Court sentenced Prokhor Neizhmakov under Article 205.2 Part 2 CC (propaganda of terrorism on the Internet), sentencing him to three years in prison. The charge was related to messages he sent to the “Vladimir Gang” (Vladimirskaya banda) Telegram chat in November 2022. According to available information, Neizhmakov, a refugee from the war zone in Ukraine, wrote that Russia with its “imperial ambitions” is destroying his country, that due to Vladimir Putin’s policies, he “has no home, education and everything else,” and that Ukraine will negotiate with Russia only after Putin is overthrown, if this is the only charge imputed to Neizhmakov, he is being prosecuted inappropriately. The phrase “we will not negotiate with Putin... overthrow him and then let’s go ahead” is too abstract to be considered a call to terrorism – in fact, it says nothing about the methods of “overthrowing.” According to the note to Article 205.2 CC, propaganda of terrorism means “forming in a person the ideology of terrorism, belief in its attractiveness, or the idea that terrorist activities are acceptable.” Our position regarding the overall increase in prosecution under Article 205.2 CC can be found here.
In late August, another dubious case was opened, this time under Article 205.2 Part 1 CC. Mathematician and anarchist Azat Miftakhov, who was already serving a sentence in the IK-17 penal colony in the Kirov region under Article 213 Part 2 CC (hooliganism), became the suspect, and then the defendant in the case. He had been previously found guilty of involvement in the arson of the regional United Russia party office in Moscow. The new criminal case was opened due to comments made by Miftakhov while watching a television program in the colony about the actions of Mikhail Zhlobitsky, who blew himself up in an FSB building in Arkhangelsk back in 2018. The case includes the testimony of two witnesses who stated that they heard Miftakhov’s words. We believe that justification of terrorism and propaganda of terrorist activities, especially, in a violence-prone environment, is certainly dangerous. However, Article 205.2 CC, similarly to other articles related to speech, presupposes the publicity of these statements as a key element of the crime. If the audience of Miftakhov’s statements consisted of only two companions, his actions could hardly be considered public or pose an increased danger to the public.
Inciting Hatred towards the Authorities and Their Supporters
In August, we learned about a number of sanctions under Article 20.3.1 CAO (inciting hatred or enmity, as well as humiliation of human dignity) for critical statements about law enforcement officers and military personnel not associated with calls for or credible threats of violence. In other cases, the charges were related to statements about the president, public employees, government officials, citizens of the country in general, volunteers, people’s militia, etc. Neither of these, in our opinion, are vulnerable groups that need special protection from incitement to hatred.
We recorded 12 such cases.
- We learned in August that on January 20, the Obluchensky District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region fined Ivan Krasnoslobodtsev, a district assembly deputy, 12 thousand rubles; on February 21, the same court placed him under arrest for 15 days. In both cases, the administrative prosecution was based on his video messages on the “Citizens of Obluchye” (Grazhdane Obluchya) Telegram channel, which contained critical statements about the president of Russia.
- On March 23, the Novoderevenkovsky District Court of the Oryol Region fined M. Rodichev 15 thousand rubles for publishing a video on VKontakte that criticized the police.
- On April 7, the Yadrinsky District Court of Chuvashia fined Alexander Filippov, a member of the local territorial election commission, 10 thousand rubles for a comment he left on VKontakte in 2022. Filippov compared state employees, who vote as ordered from above, with sheep from Kidnapping, Caucasian Style movie. The court viewed this statement as humiliating their honor and dignity.
- On June 28, the Belovsky City Court of the Kemerovo Region fined retiree Vera Bobrovskaya ten thousand rubles. She posted on a social network a video from a Ukrainian YouTube channel that contained an interview of a certain “foreign agent” by a Russian-language Israeli TV channel. The court decided that by publishing the video the retiree incited hatred towards “the Russian authorities and the army."
- On June 30, the Kirovsky District Court of Kemerovo fined Mikhail Sverkunov ten thousand rubles for publishing, back in 2020, a VKontakte comment that contained a negative assessment of representatives of law enforcement agencies and people’s militias.
- On June 30, the Leninsky District Court of Kemerovo fined Alexei Shchepanov five thousand rubles for his comment on Telegram about the volunteers who taught “Lessons of Courage” in schools. The court recognized the volunteers as a social group whose dignity was humiliated.
- On July 14, the Kuibyshevsky District Court of Omsk fined Nikolai Bykov ten thousand rubles for a comment he left in the “Rhymes and Punch” (Rifmy i punchi) community on VKontakte for his post about police brutality during the detention of a Nizhny Tagil resident.
- On July 31, the Birobidzhan District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region fined Yuri Lut ten thousand rubles for the video “Be Done before the Elections in the Russian Federation: Putin and his Pack Want to End the War by 2024” posted on Odnoklassniki. The video allegedly contained statements aimed at inciting hatred toward military personnel and Russian president Vladimir Putin.
- On August 10, the Primorsky District Court of St. Petersburg fined publicist Alexander Nevzorov twenty thousand rubles for video recordings published back in March 2022: an interview with Radio Liberty’s Belarus Service and a broadcast of the “Nevzorov’s Little Wednesdays” (Malen’kiye nevzorovskiye sredy) program posted on the publicist’s channel. Experts found the videos to contain signs of humiliation of dignity targeting the social groups “citizens of the Russian Federation, citizens of the Republic of Belarus, military personnel of the Russian Federation, representatives of government bodies, representatives of performing arts, Cossacks, and clergy.”
- On August 10, the Yoshkar-Ola City Court of Mari El fined journalist Alexei Seryogin five thousand rubles for his offensive comment about law enforcement officers. The journalist left the comment under a post on his Telegram channel that talked about activist Sergei Mamaev detained by police for his photo standing on the city’s Lenin Square and wearing a “FREE NAVALNY” T-shirt.
- On August 23, the Kolpinsky District Court of St. Petersburg fined Igor Shukalo ten thousand rubles for eight VKontakte posts criticizing Vladimir Putin and the special operation in Ukraine.
- On August 30, the Zavolzhsky District Court of Ulyanovsk fined Dmitry Araslanov ten thousand rubles for a comment in the Ulyanovsk Online group on VKontakte. The Ulyanovsk resident called local officials sheep, and the court decided that his comment contained “a negative assessment of a group of people united on the basis of belonging to the social group “officials of the Ulyanovsk regional government.”
In mid-August, it also became known that the Kuntsevo District Court of Moscow was reviewing the case of Alexander Klimenko charged under Article 282 Part 1 CC (repeated incitement of hatred or enmity, as well as humiliation of human dignity). The case was based on Klimenko’s statements made in August 2022, while drinking beer in his building’s courtyard. In a conversation with a neighbor, the Moscow resident spoke insultingly about Russians, calling them “demons” and “slaves” for engaging in the special military operation. The incident was filmed by Klimenko’s neighbor, and she reported him to the police. Previously, Klimenko had already been fined under Article 20.3.1 CAO for his words of support for Ukraine and his rude statements addressed to supporters of Vladimir Putin. Therefore, a criminal case was opened based on the neighbor’s report. We believe that there were no sufficient grounds to prosecute Klimenko. His statements did not contain calls for violence or discrimination against Russians; most likely, they should be interpreted as criticism of the political position of some Russians. Klimenko later emphasized that the conversation was about “Russian people,” adding that he was Russian too. However, even if we perceive Klimenko’s statements as directed against ethnic Russians, in our opinion, they posed no public danger, and the investigation could have refused to initiate a criminal case due to the insignificance of the act.
In addition, on August 18, the Tsentralny District Court of Kemerovo placed local activist Mikhail Alferov under house arrest. He was charged under three Criminal Code articles: under Article 282 Part 1 CC, Article 318 CC (use of violence against a government official), and Article 298.1 Part 1 CC (defamation of a judge). We do not know the specific grounds for the charges against Alferov under Article 282 Part 1 CC, but he had been repeatedly punished under Article 20.3.1 CAO in connection with his criticism of police officers, judges and businessmen. We consider all these sanctions against Alferov inappropriate.
In August, the article “He Will Not Stop until He Is Stopped” by Irina Grebnyova, banned on June 10, 2022, was added to the Federal List of Extremist Materials. It was published on March 2 of the same year in the Arsenyevskie Vesti newspaper (Primorsky Regional Court approved the decision to ban the article on October 12, 2022, and the Ninth Cassation Court of General Jurisdiction – on January 25, 2023). In banning the article, the court agreed with an expert, who found in the text signs of humiliation of the group of people “Chechens participating in a special operation of Russian troops on the territory of Ukraine,” identified on the basis of origin and attitude toward religion, and also stated that a negative assessment of this group could be viewed as “an indirect call for hostile actions.” We believe that the court had no grounds for banning the article. The article criticizes the decision of the Russian leadership to conduct the special military operation and discusses the consequences of this decision. In particular, the material mentions fighters from Chechnya participating in the special military operation. The author rudely characterizes them as “Kadyrov’s thugs,” claiming that they are failing at the front, despite all the prayers. However, we are talking specifically about the military personnel of certain units, and not about the Chechens or Muslims in general. There are no calls for violence against these servicemen in the text, and doubting their success can hardly be regarded as an indirect call for hostile actions or an attempt to form in the reader’s mind distorted ideas about the Chechens.
Discrediting the Use of the Armed Forces or Government Agencies
We view sanctions for discrediting the use of Russian armed forces and the activities of government agencies abroad both under administrative Article 20.3.3 CAO and under the corresponding criminal Article 280.3 CC as inappropriate unless the incriminating statements are accompanied by direct calls for violence.
According to the Mediazona portal, as of the second half of August, the total number of cases under Article 20.3.3 CAO received by Russian courts since its introduction has reached 7683. The number of defendants in criminal cases initiated under Article 280.3 CC, according to the OVD-Info project, has reached 120.
In August, we became aware of ten sentences under Article 280.3 Part 1 CC for repeatedly discrediting the use of Russian armed forces.
- On April 26, the Srednekansky District Court of the Magadan Region fined Zinovy Ilkiv 100 thousand rubles; the decision was upheld by the Magadan Regional Court on June 14. Ilkiv faced sanctions for sharing a video on Odnoklassniki that criticized the actions of the Russian armed forces.
- On July 21, the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk City Court issued a verdict against Ukrainian citizen Alexander Vdovichenko. We do not know what punishment he was given. Reportedly, the criminal prosecution was based on statements made by Vdovichenko in a private conversation. Moreover, at the time the case was opened in December 2022, he was already in jail on charges of attempted murder.
- On July 21, the Obluchensky District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region sentenced Viktor Rodionov to a fine of 120 thousand rubles for posting on the “Citizens of Obluchye” (Grazhdane Obluchya) WhatsApp group a video that discussed looting perpetrated by Russian troops.
- On July 25, the Zolsky District Court of Kabardino-Balkaria fined Islam Mambetov, an accountant from the settlement of Zalukokoazhe, 100 thousand rubles. The sentence came into force on August 10. According to the court, Mambetov was brought to justice for his Instagram posts, in which he reproduced “anti-Russian statements by Laima Vaikule,” wrote about the “collapse of the evil empire of security officers and communists” and called Russia a “bastard state.”
- On August 1, the Gorno-Altaisk City Court issued a verdict against Ai-Tana Tugudina. The court sentenced her to eight months of imprisonment but replaced the punishment with compulsory labor for the same period. Tugudina faced charges for her comments under the post “Security forces exposed a resident of Gorny Altai who wanted to help the Ukrainian intelligence services” on the “Altai: main news (tos solundar)” Telegram channel. Tugudina argued that Russian soldiers were dying not because of the woman discussed in the post, but because Russia had started the hostilities. She also called her opponents fascists.
- On August 3, the Lomonosovsky District Court of the Leningrad Region sentenced local businessman Dmitry Skurikhin to one and a half years in a minimum-security penal colony for publishing two photographs on Telegram: on the first one, Skurikhin stood next to a banner that called for the end to the special military operation, and the second showed him standing on his knees holding a poster “Forgive Us, Ukraine!”
- On August 3, the Lobnensky City Court of the Moscow Region fined 75-year-old activist Anatoly Roshchin 100 thousand rubles for three posts on VKontakte.
- On August 7, the Sovetsky District Court of Tomsk sentenced Anna Chagina to a fine of 100 thousand rubles for her anti-war posts and comments posted on VKontakte in May-June 2022.
- On August 9, the Iglinsky Interdistrict Court of Bashkortostan fined 75-year-old Zainulla Gadzhiev 100 thousand rubles for a comment in the “Bashkiria Online “ community on VKontakte.
- On August 29, the Buzuluksky District Court of the Orenburg Region issued a verdict against Mikhail Kolokolnikov from the settlement of Krasnogvardeets. He was fined 130 thousand rubles for sharing several videos on Odnoklassniki including those by Ukrainian publicist and political strategist Taras Berezovets. One of the stories covered the explosion on the Crimean Bridge.
Four new cases initiated under Article 280.3 Part 1 CC were reported in August.
- A resident of Baksan (Kabardino-Balkaria) – probably Khusen Gukov – was placed under travel restrictions in connection with such a case.
- Daniil Seryogin from the village of Partizansky, in the Simferopolsky District of Crimea, was placed in pre-trial detention. The charges in his case stem from his Facebook posts. In May, Seryogin was fined 50 thousand rubles under Article 20.1 Part 3 CAO (“disrespect for authority”) and Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO (see below for more information on this charge).
- Pavel Stepanov from Kazan was placed in pre-trial detention for publishing the video “Sovereign Pavel Alexandrovich Stepanov, the Spirit of Truth of All Rus'!”
- The court placed Yelena Abramova from St. Petersburg, who is facing prosecution for her anti-war solitary picket, under a ban on certain actions. The investigation into the case took only a few days to complete.
“Fakes about the Army” Motivated by Hatred
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.
In August, courts issued seven such verdicts against eight defendants.
- On August 4, the Yoshkar-Ola City Court sentenced Pavel Pekpayev to five and a half years in a minimum-security penal colony.
- On August 7, the Basmanny District Court of Moscow issued a verdict in absentia under paragraph “c” (with artificial creation of accusing evidence) and paragraph “e” of Article 207.3 Part 2 CC against writer Dmitry Glukhovsky, who does not reside in Russia. He was sentenced to eight years of imprisonment with a four-year ban on administering Internet websites. According to the investigation, whose line of reasoning was upheld by the court, Glukhovsky posted on his social network pages videos and texts with information that the Russian armed forces were engaged in “deliberate shelling and bombing of residential buildings, schools and hospitals, mass murder of civilians and rape of minor Ukrainian schoolgirls,” and edited video recordings “artificially creating the accusing evidence.”
- On August 11, the Mytishchi City Court of the Moscow Region sentenced local environmental activist Alexander Bakhtin to six years in a minimum-security penal colony. In addition, he was banned from administering Internet resources for three years and was referred for mandatory outpatient psychiatric treatment. The case was based on three VKontakte posts published in the spring of 2022. In his posts, Bakhtin criticized Vladimir Putin and the Russian army for the special military operation in Ukraine and wrote about the tragic events in the city of Bucha.
- On August 24, the Basmanny District Court of Moscow sentenced politician and blogger Maxim Katz in absentia to eight years in a minimum-security penal colony with a four-year ban on administering websites. The case against Katz was based on a video published on his YouTube channel on April 3, 2022 and dedicated to the events in Bucha.
- On August 29, the Basmanny District Court of Moscow sentenced in absentia Ruslan Leviev (Karpuk), the founder of the Conflict Intelligence Team project, and journalist Michael Nacke to 11 years in a minimum-security penal colony and a ban on administering Internet resources for five years. They were found guilty under paragraphs. “b” (by a group of persons), “c” and “d” of Article 207.3 Part 2 CC. Three videos formed the basis for criminal prosecution. In the first one, posted on Michael Nacke’s channel on March 5, 2022, the defendants discussed the results of the ninth day of the special military operation in Ukraine. The second video is Nacke’s stream on the “Popular Politics” YouTube channel dated March 16, 2022, and the third is a similar stream by Leviev dated March 9 of the same year.
- On August 30, the Kirovsky District Court of St. Petersburg sentenced Olga Smirnova to six years in a minimum-security penal colony with a three-year ban on activities related to posting information on the Internet. The state prosecutor asked for seven years in a penal colony. Smirnova was taken into custody on May 7, 2022. The charge was related to seven posts she made in the “Democratic St. Petersburg – Peaceful Resistance” VKontakte group in March 2022. They were dedicated to the destruction in Ukrainian cities, victims in Zaporizhzhia, Kharkiv, Kyiv and Izyum, the fire at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, damage to the Babi Yar Holocaust memorial, and deaths of Mariupol residents.
- On August 31, the Kalininsky District Court of St. Petersburg sentenced former priest Ioann Kurmoyarov to three years in prison in a minimum-security penal colony with a two-year deprivation of the right to engage in activities related to posting publications on the Internet. He was found guilty under paragraphs “d” (for financial gain) and “e” of Article 207.3 Part 2 CC. The charges related to the video “Who will be in hell and who will be in heaven?”, published on the priest’s VKontakte page in March 2022.
Vandalism Motivated by Hatred
At the end of August, Alexander Tyurenko was arrested in Bakhchisarai, Crimea, for urinating on a monument with the symbols Z and V, while intoxicated, filming his actions and posting the video on the Internet. Tyurenko was accused of vandalism motivated by hatred (Article 214 Part 2 CC): the investigation believes that he committed this act “on the basis of social enmity towards military personnel participating in a special military operation in Ukraine.”
We believe that the charges against him specifically under Article 214 Part 2 CC are inappropriate – as we wrote above, military personnel can hardly be considered a vulnerable social group that requires special protection from manifestations of hatred. It is worth reiterating that in General Comment No. 34 to Article 19 (Freedoms of Opinion and Expression) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the UN Human Rights Committee states that “laws should not provide for more severe penalties solely on the basis of the identity of the person that may have been impugned.” We also believe that unless the property damage is significant, vandalism cases should be terminated for insignificance. Obviously, Tyurenko’s actions did not cause significant material damage to the monument.
August, we learned that on April 26, the Nizhnevartovsk City Court of the
Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug fined Ilfer Safargaliev 70 thousand rubles under Article
20.3.2 Part 2 CAO (public calls for separatism on the Internet). On June 1, the
Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug court rejected his appeal, and the resolution
entered into legal force. The case was based on a comment left in September
2022 on the Mash public page on
VKontakte under a post about the end of the mobilization draft in Crimea.
Safargaliev proposed giving Crimea, Donbas, Kherson and other territories to
Ukraine. From our
point of view, sanctions are appropriate only in case of published calls for
violent separatism, while peaceful discussions about the territorial status of
certain regions should not be limited. There were no calls for violence in Safargaliev’s
On August 23, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Kalmykia recognized the Congress of the Oirat-Kalmyk People as an extremist organization. The exact reasons for this decision are still unknown, but we consider claims, previously made against the organization and its members, inappropriate.
Thus, on June 2, the Elista City Court recognized the declaration “On State Independence of the Republic of Kalmykia,” adopted by the Congress in 2022, as extremist material. The declaration contained criticism of the policies of the Russian authorities and an unambiguous call for Kalmykia to gain independence, interpreted by the prosecutor's office and the court as a call to violate the territorial integrity of Russia. The document says nothing about methods of achieving independence, that is, contains no calls for violent separatism.
The leaders and activists of the Congress also faced sanctions in 2022 under Article 207.3 CC and Article 20.3.3 CAO in connection with their anti-war position. Additionally, in July 2023, two of them – Vladimir Dovdanov and Batyr Boromangnaev – were fined 70 thousand rubles each under Article 20.3.2 Part 2 CAO.
Countering Organized Anti-Government Activities
On August 4, the Moscow City Court announced a verdict against politician Alexei Navalny and the former technical director of the Navalny LIVE YouTube channel, Daniel Kholodny. This is another verdict in a series of cases against the “extremist community” of Navalny’s supporters.
Navalny was sentenced to 19 years in a maximum-security penal colony, a fine of 500 thousand rubles, three years of restriction of freedom and a ban on posting on the Internet for ten years. He was found guilty under Article 282.1 Part 1 CC (creation of an extremist community) and Article 282.3 Part 1 CC (financing extremist activities), Article 151.2 Part 2 CC (involvement of minors in illegal activities), Article 239 Part 2 CC (creation of a non-profit organization whose activities involve inducing citizens to commit unlawful deeds), Article 354.1 Part 3 CC (public desecration of symbols of Russian military glory) and Parts 1 and 2 of Article 280 CC (calls for extremism, including on the Internet). At the same time, Navalny was released from liability under Article 239 Part 2 CC, Article 354.1 Part 3 CC, Article 151.2 Part 2 CC and Article 280 Part 1 CC due to the expiry of the limitation period.
The court found Kholodny guilty under Article 282.3 Part 1 and Article 282.1 Part 2 CC (participating in the activities of an extremist community) and sentenced him to eight years in a minimum-security penal colony with a four-year ban on posting materials on the Internet.
In our opinion, the reasoning used by the Investigative Committee to substantiate the charges brought against Navalny and his supporters is far from convincing. According to the Investigative Committee, the activists created an “extremist community” aiming to “discredit government bodies and their policies, destabilize the situation in the regions, and create the protest sentiment among the population.” However, according to the note to Article 282.1 CC, an “extremist community” is a community created for the purpose of preparing or committing crimes of an extremist nature, that is, motivated by “political, ideological, racial, national or religious hatred or enmity, or hatred or enmity toward any social groups.” The aims that the investigation attributed to Navalny and his supporters do not correspond to this definition. The same applies to the vague wording “forming public opinion on the need for a violent regime change” – only publishing calls for a violent regime change constitutes an extremist crime. The aim such as “organizing and conducting protest actions that develop into mass riots,” is also insufficiently clear – if the intent was to organize a peaceful protest, the action cannot be classified as a criminal activity.
Per available information, the case against Navalny under Article 280 Part 1 CC was initiated based on statements by Rustem Mulyukov, a member of the Navalny Headquarters in Ufa. The charges under Part 2 of the same article were based on tweets by FBK operator Pavel Zelensky that were strongly critical of the authorities, and charges under Article 354.1 CC – on the collage with “The Motherland Calls” monument covered in brilliant green posted by activist Alexei Volkov from Volgograd. It is impossible to understand exactly how Navalny is personally connected with the indicated actions of his supporters.
Three sentences under Article 282.3 Part 1 CC (financing of extremism) issued in connection with transfers of funds to the banned FBK were reported in August.
- On December 26, 2022, the Koptevsky District Court of Moscow fined Sergei Shiryaev 500 thousand rubles.
- On January 24, 2023, the Magadan City Court imposed a similar punishment on local resident Alexei Konovalov.
- On August 8, the Temryuksky District Court of Krasnodar Krai sentenced hacker Andrei Kovalenko finding him guilty under Article 273 Part 2 CC (creation, use and distribution of malicious computer programs by a group), Article 187 Part 1 (illegal circulation of payment documents) and Article 282.3 Part 1 CC. The court sentenced him to five years in prison with a fine of 200 thousand rubles and a two-year ban on activities related to the administration of websites.
Displaying Banned Symbols
We view sanctions under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO (public display of Nazi symbols or symbols of a banned organization) for using the symbols of Navalny’s organizations as inappropriate. Moreover, it is unclear on what grounds law enforcement agencies classify slogans in support of Navalny as symbols of these organizations. In August, we became aware of five such cases. In June, a court in Krasnodar fined Danila Zinner and Pavel Myrzin one thousand rubles for their solitary pickets with posters demanding the release of Navalny. In Krasnoyarsk, Sergei Uskov was fined 1,800 rubles for a similar action. In late August, Sergei Mamaev was fined in Yoshkar-Ola for his photo wearing a T-shirt with a slogan in support of Navalny. Petrozavodsk blogger Alexei Trunov was fined one thousand rubles for distributing a video on VKontakte that included the Navalny Headquarters logo.
Several cases under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO were opened for displaying the white-blue-white flag, popular among the opposition. Nizhnevartovsk residents Zukhriddin Zuraev, Andrei Uzyuma, Alexei Grishin, Yuri Gorbunov and St. Petersburg resident Vladimir Verkhoturov were fined, in the amounts ranging from one to two thousand rubles, for white-blue-white flags on their license plates in June-August. A white-blue-white ribbon (possibly a sun-faded flag of Russia) was found on the rearview mirror inside the car of Tyumen resident Tatyana Valter. In Nizhnevartovsk, the court also fined Nikolai Kourov one thousand rubles for posting a white-blue-white flag on VKontakte (see below for more information on the case against him under Article 20.3.1 CAO).
In several cases, Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO was also applied for dissemination of the tryzub (trident) symbol or the slogan “Glory to Ukraine,” which the courts regard as symbols of banned Ukrainian organizations. Thus, on May 5, the above-mentioned Daniil Seryogin was placed under arrest for 15 days for publishing a Ukrainian slogan, which the court recognized as an attribute of the banned Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). On August 30, the Feodosia City Court arrested Sergei Melnik for seven days for posting a trident on Instagram. The court deemed the trident to be a symbol of the Volunteer Movement of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), which is recognized as an extremist organization in Russia. However, based on the screenshot of Melnik's post featuring the trident, shared on social networks, it was the exact same version used in Ukraine's coat of arms. The next day, the Kerch City Court sentenced Abibula Dzhapparov to the same length of time under arrest. Agreeing with the expert opinion in the case, the court recognized the images posted by the defendant on Odnoklassniki – several images with the trident and a photo of a young woman with the flag of Ukraine and the slogan “Glory to Ukraine” – as attributes of the OUN (although, in fact, the historical OUN is not prohibited in Russia).
On August 25, the Magadan City Court, based on two reports, sentenced retiree Tamara Kryukova to three days of administrative arrest. One incident involved Kryukova’s comment “Wow! Glory to Ukraine and its valiant Armed Forces!” made on VKontakte, and the other one pertained to her use of the signature “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to ZSU!” to accompany a video. In both cases, the court decided that the slogan was a symbol of the UPA.
Based on two other reports, Kryukova was fined one thousand rubles for reposting illustrations that contained Nazi symbols. The first post was dedicated to comparing Putin and Hitler and was accompanied by an image of a helmet with a Z symbol on top of an SS helmet and a sunflower growing from it. The second post contained photographs from old Russian Marches with Nazi symbols on display, and the text criticizing the allegations that the Ukrainian authorities pursued Nazi policies. In our opinion, those, who use Nazi symbols to promote Nazism, deserve punishment. However, the posts on Kryukova’s page used Nazi symbols as a means of political polemics and expressed a negative attitude towards Nazism – so the court could have dismissed the cases by applying the relevant Note to Article 20.3 CAO.
Notably, on August 28 the Magadan City Court reviewed two more reports under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO filed against Kryukova and placed her under arrest until September 5. It is not yet clear what publications triggered this punishment. Two more reports against Kryukova under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO were received by the court, but not yet considered. A criminal case was also opened against the retiree under Article 205.2 Part 2 CC in connection with three publications on VKontakte, and the court imposed on her a preventive measure in the form of house arrest.
The case of Oleg Seliverstov, who was fined one thousand rubles by the Votkinsk District Court of Udmurtia on June 2, is also related to the use of Nazi symbols as a means of political criticism. He posted two images on VKontakte that included a double-headed eagle with a swastika. The first image contained the caption “the Vlasov Award” and was accompanied by text criticizing the symbols of modern Russia, the second one mentioned the characteristics of fascist states, as listed by political scientist Lawrence Britt, and argued that, based on them, Russia was a fascist
Another case involves the display of the Svarog Square – a symbol popular among Slavic neo-pagans and previously used by the Northern Brotherhood, a nationalist organization, which was declared extremist in 2012. On June 16, the Korenovsky District Court of Krasnodar Krai fined Vladimir Baklanov two thousand rubles for a sticker with this symbol on his car. The court ruling contained no assertions that Baklanov, in fact, promoted the ideology of the “Northern Brotherhood” or generally knew about the existence of such an organization.
Protecting Historical Memory and Traditional Values
“Rehabilitating Nazism”: Equating Nazi Germany and the USSR
At least two cases under paragraph “c” of Article 354.1 Part 2 CC (denial or approval of crimes established by the verdict of the Nuremberg Tribunal, as well as the dissemination of deliberately false information about the activities of the USSR during the Second World War, committed on the Internet) were opened in August, in our opinion, inappropriately.
The first case is that of Mikhail Zharikov, who had previously been arrested under Article 207.3 CC. He is charged with rehabilitating Nazism for his VKontakte post on the role of the Russian Liberation Army (ROA) in the liberation of Prague in 1945. Zharikov wrote, among other things, that the city was liberated from the Nazi invaders by the ROA and the Czechoslovak resistance, and not by the Soviet army, and that Soviet soldiers, after arriving in the city, “started pointedly eliminating the liberators of Prague.”
The second case was opened against libertarian Mikhail Svetov because of the song “Ah, Bandera – the Ukrainian Apostle!” by Ukrainian musician Orest Lyutyi, which Svetov performed in 2021. According to investigators, this song glorifies Bandera, “who is featured in the materials of the Nuremberg Tribunal as a collaborator with Nazi organizations convicted by the International Military Tribunal, and who committed war crimes under Article 6 of the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal.” The song also allegedly contained phrases indicating approval of “the genocide of a people on an ethnic basis, including the Russian-speaking people.” However, Bandera was not convicted at the Nuremberg Tribunal; his name was only mentioned during the trial – in particular, in the testimony of one of the Abwehr leaders, Erwin Stolze. However, the Abwehr itself was not recognized as a criminal organization. In addition, Orest Lyutyi’s song does not deny any facts established by the tribunal and does not justify Nazi crimes. The author of the song does indeed praise Bandera’s fight against the “Muscovites,” albeit satirically. Svetov’s performance of this song is even more satirical – it is no coincidence that it was posted on a channel where Russian libertarians exchange humorous content. Over the two years this voice message was posted on the channel, it did not encourage its Russian-speaking audience to self-destruct or take any action whatsoever. Thus, it did not pose any public danger.
Law enforcement agencies continue the practice of imposing sanctions under Article 354.1 Parts 3 and 4 CC for “desecration of symbols of Russia’s military glory,” that is, for showing, in various forms, disrespect towards monuments.
One such sentence was issued in August. On August 4, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Mordovia sentenced Nikita R., a 17-year-old resident of the Moscow Region, to a year of restriction of freedom under Article 354.1 Part 4 CC (desecration of symbols of Russia’s military glory, insult to the memory of defenders of the Fatherland, committed by a group of persons by prior conspiracy). On July 31, 2022, in the Mordovian village of Zubova Polyana, accompanied by two friends who had not reached the age of criminal responsibility, he posed for the camera with his pants down next to the Eternal Flame and the monument to those killed in the Great Patriotic War, in the presence of passers-by, and then posted a photo as his VKontakte story.
We recorded several additional cases in this category. In Zelenodolsk (Republic of Tatarstan) the case under Article 354.1 Part 3 CC (public desecration of the symbol of Russia’s military glory, insult to the memory of defenders of the Fatherland) was opened against a 52-year-old Zelenodolsk resident. According to investigators, in late August, while drunk, he started using the Eternal flame to burn the wire insulation in order to later sell the wires as scrap metal. He chose to continue this process even after being warned by the security guard.
In Petrozavodsk, the case of a 16-year-old teenager, who extinguished the Eternal Flame in October 2022, has already been brought to court. He is also charged with attempted drug trafficking and hooliganism. The defendant and his friend shot at a person with air guns.
Another sentence under Article 354.1 Part 4 CC was handed down on August 22 to Mikhail Ulyanov from Cheboksary by the Supreme Court of Chuvashia. He was sentenced to eight months in a settlement colony with a three-year loss of the right to use the Internet for posting online “the information about the days of military glory that expressed clear disrespect for society.” The case was based on Ulyanov’s post on a video hosting service, in which he “humiliated and insulted participants of the Immortal Regiment project,” and made unspecified statements about Victory Day. We believe that criticism of certain ways of celebrating Victory Day unless it is associated with Nazi propaganda, should not entail sanctions, even if expressed in an unsuitable form.
We also know of an administrative case under Article 13.48 Part 1 CAO (publicly equating the actions of the USSR and Nazi Germany during the Second World War; denial of the decisive role of the Soviet people in the defeat of Nazi Germany and the humanitarian mission of the USSR in the liberation of European countries). In our opinion, this article excessively and unreasonably restricts 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. On August 15, the Tverskoy District Court of Moscow fined blogger and bodybuilder Alexander Shpak under this article. The case was based on a video with footage of parades in Nazi Germany and Victory Day celebrations in Russia. The video included Shpak’s comments on the footage, in particular: “This is horrible! You say, ‘We are for peace,’ while giving children weapons and dressing them in military uniforms!” Shpak, who has left Russia and actively criticizes the Russian authorities, was also fined under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO.
Distribution of Extremist Materials
On August 4, the Gornomariysky District Court of Mari El fined Fyodor Yershov one thousand rubles under Article 20.29 CAO (mass distribution of extremist materials) for posting “miXXXtape I,” a collection of tracks by rapper Oxxxymiron (Miron Fyodorov), in the “Music” section on his VKontakte page. The tracks included “The Last Bell” recognized as extremist material in late 2022. We have doubts about this decision as well as the authorities’ general tendency to include school shootings (and the related discussion) in the sphere of anti-extremist and anti-terrorist regulation. Works like “The Last Bell” could potentially fuel the aggressive emotions of a certain segment of the rapper’s teenage audience, but its ban is unlikely to be a significant step in preventing tragedies; on the contrary, It will provide another reason for this segment of his audience to perceive the song as a real call to violence and turn to it more often as part of their provocative behavior.
In Prokopyevsk of the Kemerovo Region, the court fined Vasily Kuratov one thousand rubles under Article 20.29 CAO (distribution of extremist materials) for posting on a social network the song “Kill the Cosmonauts” by the band Ensemble of Christ the Savior and the Crude Mother Earth. The song’s lyrics were recognized as extremist material in 2017. We believe that the song “Kill the Cosmonauts” was banned inappropriately – it is obviously satirical and intended to ridicule obscurantism and primitive religiosity. Its calls to punish cosmonauts for “climbing to the sky” cannot be taken seriously.
Incitement to Religious or Ethnic Hatred
It was reported in August that, on June 28, the Nizhnevartovsk City Court of the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug fined Nikolai Kourov five thousand rubles under Article 20.3.1 CAO (he was also fined for the white-blue-white flag – see above). The case was based on his comments on VKontakte. In one of them, Kourov said that the information posted about the schedule of Christmas church services was useless and expressed doubts that healthy people ever went to church. In another one, he ironically called for building more churches to “atone for sins,” and then, responding to another user, added that for a monetary reward priests would atone for anyone’s sins. We believe that Kourov should not have been charged under Article 20.3.1 CAO. His comments did not contain calls for violence or discrimination based on religious affiliation, or statements that would degrade the dignity of Orthodox Christians in general or pose any public danger.
On August 4, the Novoaltaysk Town Court of Altai Krai fined Semyon Vasilyev five thousand rubles under the same article for leaving a comment in the “Barnaul Incident” (Incident Barnaul) group on VKontakte. According to the court ruling, the comment characterized Russians as morally corrupt society members. At the same time, the post itself related to the theft of a watermelon from a market stall by local residents. Apparently, Vasilyev’s commentary contained no calls for violence or discrimination against Russians – he only criticized the actions and lifestyle of some of his compatriots. We believe that Vasilyev’s statements were not aimed at inciting ethnic hatred, and such polemics, even if abrasive, should not become a basis for legal sanctions.
On August 15, the Vakhitovsky District Court of Kazan placed the head of the Society of Russian Culture, Mikhail Scheglov, under arrest for 12 days under the same article. The case was based on the video “Residents Opposed a Turkish School in Orthodox Sviyazhsk,” published on the “Regions for Russia’s Unity” (Regiony za yedinstvo Rossii) YouTube channel on June 11, 2023. The expert examination found the video to contain signs of incitement to hatred and enmity based on nationality and attitude toward religion. We view the charges against Scheglov under Article 20.3.1 CAO as inappropriate. The video was dedicated to the village of Sviyazhsk in Tatarstan and rumors that Turkish entrepreneurs wanted to buy out a local school or invest money in it. The author and local residents he interviewed expressed their concerns about this development arguing that they considered Sviyazhsk to be “Orthodox territory” and that the school could potentially be followed by a mosque, and Sviyazhsk would lose its identity. However, the video contained no calls for violence against Muslims or Turks or insults against them.
“Insulting the Feelings of Believers”
In early August, the investigation was completed in the case under Article 148 Part 1 CC (public actions committed in order to insult the religious feelings of believers) initiated against a university student from Sevastopol. According to investigators, he posted statements that offended the feelings of believers in a public messenger group conversation.
Persecution against Religious Organizations and Believers
On August 24, the Nevsky District Court of St. Petersburg issued a guilty verdict in the case of members of the local Church of Scientology, which was initiated back in 2017. The court sentenced the head of the church, Ivan Matsitsky, to six and a half years of imprisonment with a two-year ban on activities in civic associations and religious organizations but took into account the time he had spent in custody and under house arrest and released him in the courtroom. Galina Shurinova, Anastasia Terentyeva, Sakhib Aliyev and Konstantsia Yesaulkova were sentenced to fines ranging from 1.3 million to 600 thousand rubles.
All the defendants were found guilty under paragraph “c” of Article 282 Part 2 CC (incitement of hatred or enmity by an organized group), Matsitsky, Shurinov, Terentyev and Aliev were also found guilty under Article 282.1 Part 1 CC, and Yesaulkova – under Article 282.1 Part 2 CC. They were also charged with illegal entrepreneurship, but the limitation period for prosecution on these charges has expired; only Aliyev was also convicted of money laundering on a particularly large scale.
As an FSB investigator stated shortly after the opening of the case, the agency believed that Scientologists had created an extremist community intending to humiliate the dignity of some followers of the doctrine categorized as the social group “sources of trouble” (obviously, we are talking about the category “potential trouble source” used by Scientologists). In their regard, Matsitsky issued and signed “ethics orders,” one of which banned the offending community members from participating in auditing (the spiritual practice of communicating with a Scientology consultant). Another order prohibited them from studying certain aspects of Ron Hubbard’s philosophy. The investigation also alleged that the defendants distributed extremist literature and promoted the idea of the exclusivity of their religion.
We are inclined to believe that the sanctions against Scientologists for extremism are inappropriate. Belief in one's exclusivity is typical for all religions, and the persecution of Scientologists and the banning of their literature on this basis are unjustified. We doubt the validity of the investigators’ decision to separate certain adherents of Scientology subjected to psychological pressure into a social group protected by anti-extremist legislation. Based on Hubbard's concept, Scientologists are indeed not supposed to allow certain people to audit and study and are recommended to ignore such people altogether. However, most religions impose certain restrictions on access to church life and rituals, and the advice to ignore someone cannot be viewed as a call aimed at inciting hatred or humiliation of dignity.
Sanctions against Jehovah's Witnesses continued in August on the charges of involvement in the activities of local religious organizations that were recognized as extremist and banned.
We are aware of nine convictions issued in August against 22 believers.
- On August 1, the Khabarovsky District Court found Lyubov Ovchinnikova and Lyubov Kocherova from the village of Knyaze-Volkonsky in Khabarovsk Krai guilty under Part 1.1 (involvement of others in the activities of an extremist organization) and Article 282.2 Part 2 CC (participation in the activities of an extremist organization) and issued a six-year suspended sentence;
- On August 3, in the same region, the Bikin Town Court fined Sergei Kazakov 500 thousand rubles under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC (organizing the activities of an extremist organization) and Olga Mirgorodskaya – 300 thousand rubles under Part 2 of the same article;
- On August 3, the Dzerzhinsky District Court of Yaroslavl imposed a suspended sentence of six and a half years on Pyotr Filiznov and Andrei Vyushin under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC and a suspended sentence of two and a half years on Alexander Kuznetsov and Maria Kuznetsova under Part 2 of the same article;
- On August 15, the Tayga Town Court in the Kemerovo Region sentenced Jehovah's Witnesses Yuri Usanov and Maxim Morozov to three years in a minimum-security penal colony under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC, but took into account the time the believers had spent under arrest and released them in the courtroom;
- On August 18, the Solikamsk Town Court of Perm Krai fined Vladimir Poltoradnev over 600 thousand rubles, Vladimir Timoshkin – over 500 thousand rubles, and Alexander Sobyanin – over 450 thousand under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC.
- On August 22, the Oktyabrsky District Court of Novosibirsk issued a four-year suspended sentence to Tatyana Oleinik under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC;
- On August 23, the Birobidzhansky District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region sentenced Oleg Postnikov and Agnessa Postnikova under Parts 1.1 and 2 of Article 282.2 CC to five and a half and four and a half years of imprisonment, respectively;
- On August 28, the Promyshlenny District Court of Orenburg issued a suspended sentence of two years and eight months to Vladimir Kochnev under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC; Vladislav Kolbantsev received a suspended sentence of three and a half years, Pavel Lekontsev – a three-year suspended sentence, and Sergei Logunov and Nikolai Zhugin received suspended sentences of two and a half years each;
- On August 28, the Urupsky District Court of Karachay-Cherkessia issued a suspended sentence of four and a half years to Irina Perefilyeva under Part 1.1 and Part 2 of Article 282.2 CC.
One acquittal also occurred in August. It was announced by the Yugorsky District Court of the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug on August 7. The court was considering the case of Ivan Sorokin and Andrei Zhukov charged under Part 1.1 and Part 2 of Article 282.2 CC.
On August 9, the Karpinsky City Court in the Sverdlovsk Region returned to the prosecutor the second criminal case against local Jehovah's Witnesses: Alexander Pryanikov and his wife Anastasia, Venera Dulova and her daughter Daria, Svetlana Zalyaeva and her husband Ruslan (who is not a Jehovah's Witness). All defendants in the case face charges under Article 282.2 Part 1.1 CC, the two married couples – also under Part 2 of the same article, and Svetlana Zalyaeva, Ruslan Zalyaev and Alexander Pryanikov – also under Article 150 Part 4 CC (involvement of minors in criminal activity). Let us note that Dulov, Dulova and Pryanikov also face charges under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC in another case opened back in 2018; Two guilty verdicts and one acquittal were already issued in this case. The acquittal was later overturned, and the case was subsequently returned to the prosecutor.
The guilty verdict to Dmitry Barmakin from Vladivostok was overturned by the Primorye Regional Court decision of August 8. In 2021, Barmakin was fully acquitted under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC, then the verdict was overturned, and after the re-trial, the court sentenced Barmakin to eight years of imprisonment. Now his case, which has been dragging on since 2018, will be considered by the court of first instance for the third time.
In one case, the appellate court increased the severity of a sentence. In May, the Industrialny District Court of Barnaul issued a three-year suspended sentence to Pavel Kazadayev under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC, but on August 18, the Altai Regional Court decided that the offender’s reformation would not be achieved without actually serving his sentence.
Law enforcement agencies also opened new cases against Jehovah's Witnesses. At least ten believers became defendants in August.
- In early August, the case under Article 282.3 Part 1 CC was initiated against a believer who was already a defendant in a case under Article 282.2 CC – likely Yuriy Byche;
- in Dzhankoy, Crimea, Yuri Ursu was placed under house arrest under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC;
- In another criminal case under Article 282.2 CC in Simferopol, Dmitry Zakharevich and another believer were placed under house arrest, and Ekaterina Melniychuk – under travel restrictions;
- In the Kursk Region, the court sent Dmitry Chausov to a pre-trial detention center and placed Nikolai Kupriyansky and Oksana Chausova under house arrest. Kupriyansky has been charged under Article 282.2 Part 1, and Chausov and Chausova – under Part 2 of the same article;
- In Kovrov of the Vladimir Region, the court chose a preventive measure in the form of house arrest for Alexander Popov, Mikhail Sveshnikov, and another believer charged under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC;
- In the Sakhalin Region, a new criminal case was initiated under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC, but no one has been detained as a suspect or charged under it so far.
A new case under Article 205.5 CC (organizing the activities of a terrorist organization) was opened in Crimea. On August 24, in the Bakhchisaray District, activists of the Crimean Solidarity movement Ruslan Asanov, Ametkhan Umerov, Remzi Nimetulaev, Seydamet Mustafaev, Eduard Yakubov and Abdulmedzhit Seitumerov were detained in connection with this case. According to the FSB, they are involved in the activities of the radical Islamic party Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is recognized as a terrorist organization in Russia.