On September 22, bills were introduced to the State Duma to amend a number of articles in the Code of Administrative Offenses (CAO) and the Criminal Code (CC) – the norms on discrediting the use of the army (Article 20.3.3 CAO and Article 280.3 CC), dissemination of knowingly false information about the use of armed forces (Article 207.3 CC) and assistance in implementing decisions of international organizations that involve criminal prosecution against Russian officials and military personnel (Article 284.3). The authors of the amendments propose to expand the scope of these articles to include volunteer formations performing tasks assigned to the National Guard of Russia. The amendments were introduced along with a number of other bills that would allow the National Guard of Russia (Rosgvardiya) to create its own volunteer formations upon the president’s decision.
On September 28, a bill was adopted in the first reading that would expand the scope of Article 280 CC, which currently covers public calls for extremist activity, to also include justification and propaganda of extremism. During a discussion in the Committee on State Building and Legislation, United Russia deputy Irina Pankina noted the critical review of the amendments by the Russian government and stated that the bill was subject to revision. Anzhelika Glazkova, a Deputy representing the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), voiced her concern over the proposed “vague wording” which, she argued, could potentially lead to abuses by law enforcement. She also expressed her indignation with the current anti-extremist legislation, as it allows for the punishment of communists for disseminating Sartre's statements about anti-communists, while, in her opinion, offensive public statements about communists go unpunished. One of the bill’s co-authors, Dmitry Vyatkin (United Russia), responded that a more precise wording was not only unattainable but also undesirable, because “the enemies are very crafty, and they skillfully take advantage of the situation continuously inventing new ways to circumvent specifically prescribed prohibitions.” The discussion at the plenary session was even more heated. Oleg Mikhailov (CPRF) asked whether “mentioning in a positive context such events in Russia’s history as the Decembrist uprising, the February Revolution, the 1991 State Emergency Committee coup attempt or the shelling of the White House in 1993, as well as works of art such as “The Internationale” would constitute a crime. He was supported by his fellow party members Oleg Smolin and Nikolai Kolomeytsev. Anatoly Wasserman from A Just Russia – For Truth party (Spravedlivaya Rossiya – Za pravdu, SRZP) also joined in criticizing the bill. As a result, the CPRF voted against it, and the majority of deputies from the SRZP abstained, while New People (Novyye lyudi) and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia did not take part in the vote. In the first reading, the bill was supported by 278 deputies exceeding the required minimum of 226 votes.
In September, there was also a public discussion of a draft government resolution that would give Roskomnadzor the authority to make decisions on blocking materials with “information on ways and methods of ensuring access” to blocked resources. A draft Roskomnadzor order on the criteria for evaluating such materials was also published. These legal norms were prepared in connection with the law, signed in late July, which made the above-described materials subject to extrajudicial blocking via the Unified Register of Banned Sites.
Sanctions for Anti-Government Statements And Activities
On September 6, a criminal case was opened in Vologda under Article 205.2 Part 2 CC (public calls for terrorism or justification of terrorism on the Internet) against electrical/gas welder Igor Schenkov. The case was based on a post by another blogger known only as Professor Putishenko. Schenkov shared the post in April on his Telegram channels Vologodsky Govorun (under 300 subscribers) and Obozerskaya Online (under 100 subscribers). The post was dedicated to the adoption of the law on electronic delivery of military draft notices. The author called for “millions to take to the streets” to “remove” the government, namely “Putin and his gang.” We see no basis for qualifying Schenkov’s actions under Article 205.2 CC – the post contained no calls for terrorist activities. The proposal to take to the streets to protest is not, in and of itself, illegal; the call to “remove” the government does not necessarily imply violent methods of changing it. Our general position regarding the increase in prosecution under Article 205.2 CC can be found here.
Inciting Hatred towards the Authorities and Their Supporters
In September, we learned about several cases of prosecution under Article 20.3.1 CAO (incitement of hatred or enmity as well as humiliation of human dignity) for critical statements about the Russian citizens in connection with their political position, including on the issue of the special military operation in Ukraine. We believe that Russian citizens as a whole – unlike ethnic Russians – should not be considered a vulnerable group in need of special protection from acts of hatred. In fact, this speech is political criticism that should not be limited unless it contains incendiary appeals.
We recorded three such cases.
- Back on May 15, the Norilsk City Court of Krasnoyarsk Krai fined driver Sergei Pritvorov 19 thousand rubles for leaving comments with “derogatory statements addressed to the citizens of the Russian Federation as a social group” under three YouTube videos.
- On May 18, the Novgorodsky District Court of the Novgorod Region fined Andrei Kostin 10 thousand rubles for sharing on VKontakte, back in January, a video message from Maxim Pokrovsky, the leader of the rock band “Nogu Svelo!” The musician expressed his condolences for those killed during the shelling of the Ukrainian city of Dnipro and then stated that “the Russians, or rather those who perpetrated and supported all this,” have found their way into history books – they will be studied as an example of “21st-century fascism” since they “became one of the most striking examples of barbarism in all of human history.” The court decided that these statements incited hatred towards ethnic Russians, although in essence they were directed against political opponents – the special military operation participants and supporters.
- On September 9, the Chernyshevsky District Court of Zabaykalsky Krai placed Yulia Pechko, a citizen of Kazakhstan, under arrest for seven days. Back in October 2022, she posted on Instagram “a video of an interview with a young woman, who had a sign on her forehead interpreted as a male genital organ.” The court decided that this video contained signs of humiliation of the dignity of “a group of persons identified on the basis of nationality (all citizens of Russia).”
It is also worth noting that, on September 19, the Leninsky District Court of Krasnoyarsk fined Denis Pikaikin 10 thousand rubles under Article 20.3.1 CAO for his critical comments on VKontakte about representatives of government bodies and law enforcement agencies. Law enforcement officials must be especially tolerant of criticism, so we classify the sanctions against Pikaikin as inappropriate unless his comments incited violence or contained threats against specific police officers.
In mid-September, a criminal case was opened in the Arkhangelsk Region against Veniamin Kotkin, a “citizen of the USSR” from Mezen. He became a suspect under Article 282 Part 1 CC (inciting hatred or hostility on the basis of belonging to a social group) and Article 282.2 Part 2 CC (participating in the activities of an extremist organization). According to investigators, he was a member of the banned “People's Council of Citizens of the RSFSR of the USSR of the Arkhangelsk Region.” The charge under Article 282 CC relates to Kotkin’s comments about law enforcement officers posted on social networks. Earlier, in December 2022, the retiree was fined 10 thousand rubles under Article 20.3.1 CAO for critical comments about border guards, police officers, FSB officers, prosecutors, and employees of the Mezensky Separate Division of Ministry of Natural Resources and Timber Industry of the Arkhangelsk Region and the Mezensky Forestry State Public Institution. Apparently, the comments contained no calls for violence.
A fine for “disrespect for official state symbols of the Russian Federation” on the Internet (Article 20.1 Part 3 CAO) was also reported in September. On June 8, the Kuibyshevsky District Court of Irkutsk fined Olga Karchuganova 15 thousand rubles, and on August 2, the regional court upheld this decision. The case was based on the VKontakte post of an image depicting a Russian flag visible through a swastika-decorated Nazi flag. We believe that sanctions under Article 20.1 Part 3 CAO are clearly aimed at suppressing criticism of the authorities, who are already sufficiently protected by other legal provisions.
Discrediting the Use of the Armed Forces or Government Agencies
According to the Mediazona portal, as of October 10, the total number of cases under Article 20.3.3 CAO received by Russian courts since its introduction has reached 8055. The number of defendants in criminal cases initiated under Article 280.3 CC, according to the OVD-Info project, has exceeded 120 in September. Our calculations indicate that 45 of them have already been sentenced by the courts.
In September, we became aware of four sentences under Article 280.3 Part 1 CC for repeatedly discrediting the use of Russian armed forces.
- On August 30, the Nalchik City Court issued a one-year suspended sentence to Batyr Zhaboev. In May 2023, Zhaboev posted a video on Instagram in which he stated that the Russian military was involved in the deaths of civilians during the fighting in Chechnya and Ukraine. The video’s author also characterized the actions of the armed forces as “fascist and predatory.”
- On September 26, the Leninsky District Court of Orsk fined Maxim Gavrilin 120 thousand rubles. In January 2023, Gavrilin posted unspecified videos criticizing the Russian armed forces on his Telegram channel.
- On the same day, the Biysky District Court of Altai Krai imposed a fine of 100 thousand rubles on Vladislav Avtomanov for his July 2022 post on Odnoklassniki.
- On September 28, the Tselinny District Court of the Kurgan Region found Alexei Filyugin guilty under Article 280.3 Part 1 CC and Article 207.3 Part 1 CC (public dissemination of deliberately false information about the use of the armed forces) and sentenced him to compulsory labor for one and a half years with a 20% wage deduction. The case was based on Filyugin's posts on social networks in March-April 2023.
In addition, in September, appellate courts replaced two earlier sentences with more lenient verdicts. Yevgeny Tronev from the Voronezh Region, convicted in May 2023, had his suspended sentence replaced with a fine of 100 thousand rubles. In the case of Nikita Tushkanov from Komi, convicted under Article 205.2 Part 2 CC and Article 280.3 Part 1 CC, the punishment of two years of imprisonment for discrediting the army was also replaced by a fine of 150 thousand rubles. His total term of imprisonment was reduced by six months, down to five years.
Two new cases under Article 280.3 Part 1 CC were reported in September. On September 14, information appeared about such a case opened against Yevgeny Savin – a former soccer player and the head of the ‘KraSava’ YouTube channel and a soccer club of the same name. The charges were based on the statements made by Savin (who has left Russia) in his interview with Ksenia Sobchak. On September 27, we were informed about a case filed in the Arkhangelsk Region against Radik Adnobaev, a former deputy of the Kargopol City Duma and an activist in the Shies environmental protest. He faces a ban on certain actions as a preventive measure. According to investigators, from October 2022 to February 2023, the activist posted seven VKontakte publications “aimed at discrediting the work of government bodies of the Russian Federation that perform their duties outside of Russia.”
“Fakes about the Army” Motivated by Hatred
In September, the courts completed their consideration of four cases that involved charges of disseminating knowingly false information about the use of the Russian army based on political hatred (under paragraph “e” of Article 207.3 Part 2 CC).
- On September 15, the Basmanny District Court of Moscow sentenced Ukrainian TV presenter Maria Yefrosinina in absentia, to seven years of imprisonment for her Instagram posts made in the spring of 2022.
- On September 21, the Balashovsky District Court of the Saratov Region referred Oleg Nepein for compulsory treatment in a psychiatric hospital. Nepein – a deputy of the Khopersky municipality of the Balashovsky District, a neo-pagan, a “citizen of the USSR” and the head of the “Balashov community” – went on trial for eight comments he posted on the “Saratov-Engels” Telegram channel in 2022. He wrote about the losses suffered by the Russian troops, accused them of looting, talked about the shelling of Donetsk and Luhansk, the destruction of Melitopol, and the Mariupol Drama Theater, as well as the events in Bucha.
- On September 22, the Central District Military Court found Kirov resident Richard Rose guilty of disseminating fakes about the army due to a video by blogger Sasha Sotnik about the events in Bucha which Rose shared adding his own commentary. He was sentenced to eight years of imprisonment in a minimum-security penal colony under paragraph “e” of Article 207.3 Part 2 CC and Article 205.2 Part 2 CC (Rose was tried under Article 205.2 CC for posting a speech by Ukrainian musician Svyatoslav Vakarchuk also accompanied with his own commentary about killing Vladimir Putin).
Vandalism Motivated by Hatred
We doubt the appropriateness of sanctions for politically motivated vandalism.
In September, law enforcement agencies opened at least two criminal cases for vandalism motivated by political hatred. On September 1, the home of street artist Filipp Kozlov (Philippenzo) was searched in Moscow. The case was based on his work “Izrossilovanie” [a wordplay based on the words “rape” and “Russia] – a graffiti under the Elektrozavodsky Bridge on the Yauza embankment depicting this caption and the Russian coat of arms. In our opinion, this graffiti contains no signs of inciting any kind of hatred.
On September 27, it was reported that a case under Article 214 Part 2 CC had been initiated against Gleb Malkov. According to the Sevastopol Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, he spray-painted “symbols of Ukrainian nationalists” on infrastructure objects in the village of Kacha and then took photographs of his graffiti for distribution on social networks. Previously, Malkov faced charges under Article 329 CC (defiling the state flag of the Russian Federation) for kicking with his foot an installation that included the Russian flag; he was also fined 40 thousand rubles under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO for informing the outraged eyewitnesses of his act that he viewed Crimea as belonging to Ukraine and that he kicked the flag because he believed that Russia had attacked his country.
On September 12, the Bakhchisarai District Court of the Republic of Crimea fined Vladislav Leushkin 30 thousand rubles under Article 20.3.2 Part 1 CAO (public calls for violation of the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation). The Crimean resident had tattoos on his forearms: one of them included a trident (an element of Ukraine’s state emblem) and the inscription “Crimea Ukraine” in Ukrainian; the other contained “a semantic translation and an image symbolizing a call to violate the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.” Leushkin admitted guilt and told the court that he covered his tattoo with pigment.
From our point of view, sanctions are appropriate only for published incitement to violent separatism. Peaceful statements about the territorial status of certain regions should not be limited. In all likelihood, Leushkin’s tattoos did not contain calls for violence.
Countering Organized Anti-Government Activities
In September, we learned of the charges brought against defendants in the criminal case of the Spring (Vesna) opposition movement opened in June 2023. Yan Ksenzhepolsky, Yevgeny Zateev, Valentin Khoroshenin, Anna Arkhipova, Pavel Sinelnikov and Vasily Neustroev were detained and taken into custody in connection with this case; Bogdan Litvin, Andrei Lozitsky, Alexander Kashevarov, Gleb Kondratyev, Timofey Martynenko, Anna Nazarova, Vladislav Sorvenkov, Mikhail Tukh, Lev Gyammer, Vladimir Arzhanov, Kira Pushkareva, Yekaterina Bushkova, Maria Lakhina, Yekaterina Goncharova and Makar Dyakonov are on the wanted list.
All of them face charges under Article 282.1 Part 1 CC (creating an extremist community), as well as, in various combinations, under Part 2 of the same article (participating in an extremist community), paragraphs “b” and “e” of Article 207.3 Part 2 CC (distribution of “fakes about the army” by a group of people motivated by political hatred), Article 280.4 Part 3 CC (public calls for activities directed against the security of the state, committed by an organized group, motivated by political hatred towards the social group “representatives of state power of the Russian Federation”), and Article 354.1 Part 4 CC (disseminating information expressing obvious disrespect for society about days of military glory and Russia’s memorable dates, committed by a group of people). In addition, Neustroev faces charges under Article 239 Part 2 CC (creation of a non-profit organization whose activities involve inducing citizens to commit unlawful deeds) for calling for mass protests and Article 212 Part 1.1 CC (incitement to organize mass riots) for a message proposing to use violence against law enforcement officers following the example of Euromaidan.
We consider the charges against the activists under Article 282.1 CC inappropriate. They are based on the text of the Vesna manifesto, which contains no calls for extremism or any other illegal activity. In addition, the defendants in the case are charged with committing non-violent crimes (Articles 207.3 and 280.4 CC) motivated by political hatred. However, as we mentioned above, their actions are, in fact, indistinguishable from a peaceful expression of a political position. The investigation also believes that the Vesna members called for a violent change of power, but it is not clear what statements formed the basis for these claims.
The charges under Article 280.4 CC are related to Vesna’s calls for military personnel to refuse to participate in hostilities or surrender, which was distributed in September 2022. However, in November of the same year, the movement already disavowed the calls to surrender.
The Vesna movement participants are being charged under Article 354.1, Part 4 of the Criminal Code for posts on Telegram and VKontakte that contained criticism of the state-sanctioned methods of celebrating Victory Day.
On September 6, searches were carried out in different regions in criminal cases initiated under Article 282.3 Part 1 CC (financing extremist activities) in connection with the financing of the banned Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK). Soon after the searches, Gleb Kalinychev was taken into custody in Nizhny Novgorod, Ilya Startsev was taken into custody in Moscow, and on September 27, a court in Tyumen also arrested Omsk resident Ilya Kovrik. The Rosfinmonitoring list of suspects or defendants in the cases related to extremist crimes also came to include Alexei Kamkin from Irkutsk, Vyacheslav Gertsberg from Syktyvkar, and Andrei Bokarev from Voronezh. Krasnoyarsk resident Andrei Novokreschyonykh was reportedly detained.
Displaying Banned Symbols
In September, we learned that on May 10, the Tsentralny District Court of Chelyabinsk arrested Yevgeny Kutikov for 10 days under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO (public display of Nazi symbols or symbols of a banned organization). The case was based on his solitary picket in support of Navalny. A photo of Kutikov from the picket was posted online; it shows the picketer holding a “# FREE NAVALNY” poster. According to employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the court, the poster contained the symbols of the FBK and the Navalny headquarters. We view sanctions for displaying the symbols of Navalny’s team as inappropriate. Moreover, it is unclear on what grounds law enforcement agencies classify slogans in his support as belonging to the same category.
For the first time, we recorded sanctions under Article 20.3 CAO for displaying Instagram symbols. The Kogalym City Court of the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug (KhMAO) fined Anastasia Klochkova from the Golden Rays tanning studio 1,100 rubles on April 26 and self-employed Azat Akhmetvaliev, the owner of the Bali beauty salon, 1000 rubles on May 18. Both establishments used the Instagram logo on their front doors, business cards, brochures and online.
It is worth reminding that in March 2022, the Tverskoy District Court of Moscow banned the activities of Meta Inc. “related to the sale of products, social networks Facebook and Instagram, on the territory of the Russian Federation on the grounds of their extremist activities.” At the same time, the court noted that this decision should in no way limit ordinary users of social networks who are not involved in illegal activities. The wording of the court decision prohibited the specific activities of the corporation and not the corporation itself or the social networks per se; however, in October 2022 the Ministry of Justice included the entire Meta Inc. on its List of Banned Organizations as a “product distribution company.”
Three reported cases under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO were associated with the demonstration of the white-blue-white flag. On August 19, the Tsentralny District Court of Tyumen fined Andrei Karnaukhov one thousand rubles, and on September 11, the Nizhnevartovsk City Court of the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug imposed a similar fine on Igor Zhukovsky. The license plates of their cars displayed white-blue-white flags instead of the Russian Federation flags. On September 23, the Naberezhnye Chelny City Court of Tatarstan fined Rustam Serkebaev one thousand rubles for posting an image with a white-blue-white flag on VKontakte.
On September 13, a criminal case under Article 282.4 Part 1 CC (repeated display of prohibited symbols) was opened based on a VKontakte post of a white-blue-white flag. The suspect, Tambov activist Andrei Polyakov, has left Russia. In 2022, Polyakov was fined under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO for public display of Nazi symbols. In our opinion this punishment was inappropriate – Polyakov posted a photo of Hitler on a social network not to promote Nazism but to criticize the Russian authorities. He was also fined 250 thousand rubles under Article 354.1 Part 1 CC (public dissemination of deliberately false information about the activities of the USSR during the Second World War); once again, we view this verdict as inappropriate.
Three additional cases under Article 20.3 CAO are associated with the use of Nazi symbols as a means of political criticism. On September 13, the Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky City Court fined Maria Shevelyova one and a half thousand rubles. On February 19, 2023, Shevelyova posted on Instagram a video with two men in Nazi uniform accompanied by a quote from Alexander Lukashenko uttered during his meeting with Putin. On September 28, the Kuzminsky District Court of Moscow placed D. Fyodorov under arrest for eight days. In 2021, he posted on VKontakte an image of Putin wearing the Wehrmacht uniform against the background of the Russian coat of arms and the swastika; inside the swastika, there was a photograph of Hitler and the words “Sieg Heil” and “21st-century fascism.”
On August 28, the Magadan City Court considered two reports compiled under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO against Tamara Kryukova (we previously reported on four other claims filed against her under this article). The activist was sentenced to five days of arrest for posting an image of a double-headed eagle with a swastika on its chest holding a Kalashnikov assault rifle and a bomb in its paws.
Kryukova’s second arrest, for seven days, was imposed by the court for a video “Nagiyev Put His Heart Into This Role; I Wonder if He Knew That There Would Be a War With Ukraine in a Few Years?”, with the superimposed slogans “The occupier does not understand why he is fighting” and “Glory to Ukraine” (with a yellow and blue flag).
On August 31, the Yalta City Court placed Pavel Fruktin under arrest for 10 days for shouting the slogan “Glory to Ukraine!” from his balcony. He was also fined 40 thousand rubles under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO and one thousand rubles under Article 20.1 Part 1 CAO for obscene language in a public place.
On September 8, the Oktyabrsky District Court of Novorossiysk arrested Igor Kocherov for 15 days for his VKontakte post containing the same slogan.
On September 22, the Pervomaisky District Court of Krasnodar fined three people – Alina Korneva, Lyubov Lazareva and Svetlana Seleznyova – in the amount of two thousand rubles each. On July 11, they submitted written appeals to the Ministry of Internal Affairs for 2023, which included Kolovrat images. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the court, this symbol is confusingly similar to Nazi symbols. However, the Kolovrat is a popular Slavic neo-pagan symbol widely used in different variations, which differs significantly from the Nazi swastika. The court rulings on their cases contained no indications that the residents of Krasnodar had engaged in propaganda of Nazism. We also believe that the demonstration of the Kolovrat in this case was not public, since only a limited number of people were able to see the symbol.
Protecting Historical Memory and Traditional Values
“Rehabilitating Nazism:” Equating Nazi Germany and the USSR
On September 26, 2023, the Ivanovo Regional Court fined architect Sergei Volkov two million rubles. The jury found him guilty of distributing deliberately false information on the Internet about the activities of the USSR during the Second World War (Paragraph “c” of Article 354.1 Part 2 CC). The case against Volkov was based on a fragment of an online discussion published on his Telegram channel “Slavic-Pagan Culture Today” in 2021. The post stated that during the Great Patriotic War, German troops did not close a complete ring around Leningrad, so the Soviet authorities still had the opportunity to send food there, but “Stalin abandoned the city as useless and almost captured.” The author added that the charges related to the siege of Leningrad against the defendants at the Nuremberg trial were dropped (note that the siege of Leningrad is not specifically mentioned in the verdict of the Nuremberg Tribunal). Volkov also stated that until 1941, “Stalin and Hitler were tight allies,” and National Socialism during that period was “quite strongly celebrated in the USSR.” Finally, the author argued that Stalin was personally guilty of starting the war “no less than Hitler,” since he “fueled this mess without expecting that it would turn against him.”
In our opinion, unusual interpretations, ignorance, incorrect presentation and even deliberate distortion of historical facts should not trigger criminal prosecution, unless they contain propaganda of hatred, violence and discrimination. We see no such propaganda in Volkov’s post – he criticized the Soviet leadership but did not justify or praise the actions of the Nazis. Therefore, we are inclined to consider the prosecution of the Ivanovo citizen under Article 354.1 CC inappropriate, although it must be noted that other posts within the “Slavic-Pagan Culture Today” channel exhibited a distinctly far-right orientation, which might understandably pique the interest of law enforcement agencies. Let us also note that the court delivered its verdict after the second trial by jury. The first jury was dismissed before the verdict was announced – as the defense suspected, because their verdict was ‘not guilty’.
Law enforcement agencies continue the practice of imposing sanctions under Article 354.1 Part 3 CC for “desecrating the symbols of Russia’s military glory” and “insulting the memory of the defenders of the Fatherland,” that is, for showing various forms of disrespect towards monuments.
On September 26, the Supreme Court of the Komi Republic sentenced Ukhta resident Vladislav Vertinsky to three years in a penal colony under paragraph “b” of Article 243.4 Part 2 CC (damage to a memorial structure perpetuating the memory of those killed during the Great Patriotic War) and Article 354.1 Part 3 CC. On May 8, 2022, Vertinsky applied a “hard-to-remove inscription” to the Eternal Flame memorial. According to local residents, he wrote the words “putler karut” (spelling preserved). We not only doubt the validity of bringing Vertinsky to justice under the articles CC that stipulate such a severe punishment but also cannot help but note that the double qualification of his actions was clearly redundant.
The Supreme Court of Mari El, in turn, on September 28 sentenced under Article 354.1 Part 3 CC Denis Davydov from Yoshkar-Ola to three years in a maximum-security penal colony. On March 14, 2023, he came to the Central Park of Culture and Recreation of Yoshkar-Ola and desecrated the Eternal Flame by “stomping” on the pedestal of the memorial complex. Davydov had several prior convictions including those for murder, causing harm to health and theft of other people's property.
The courts handed down two additional sentences under Article 354.1 Part 4 CC. On August 22, the Supreme Court of Chuvashia sentenced Cheboksary resident Mikhail Ulyanov to eight months in a settlement colony for “distributing information about the days of Russia’s military glory that expressed obvious disrespect for society.” The case was based on Ulyanov’s post on a video-hosting site, in which he “humiliated and insulted participants in the Immortal Regiment action” and made unspecified disrespectful statements about Victory Day.
On September 6, the Stavropol Regional Court sentenced Sergei Pestryakov to three years of imprisonment under the same article for “publicly insulting the memory of defenders of the Fatherland or humiliating the honor and dignity of a veteran of the Great Patriotic War on the Internet.” The case was based on Pestryakov’s post on a social network left in May 2021. We are not familiar with the post’s content, but we think that, if veterans found it insulting, they or their relatives could file a lawsuit to protect their honor and dignity. Initiating a criminal case was excessive. Let us recall 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 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.” Previously, Pestryakov had been sentenced to two years in prison under Article 205.2 Part 2 CC, so a three-year sentence was imposed on him based on the totality of his verdicts.
Distribution of Extremist Materials
On September 19, the Mogochinsky District Court of Zabaykalsky Krai fined Semyon Chernikov one thousand rubles under Article 20.29 CAO (mass distribution of extremist materials). “The Last Bell” track by rapper Oxxxymiron, recognized as extremist material in late 2022, was discovered on his VKontakte page. We view the decision to ban this track as questionable and sanctions for its distribution as inappropriate.
On September 21, the Tsentralny District Court of Novokuznetsk fined Denis Mamchits one and a half thousand rubles under Article 20.29 CAO (mass 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.
Incitement to Religious or Ethnic Hatred
On September 4, the Pervomaisky District Court of Izhevsk fined Dmitry Ageev ten thousand rubles under Article 20.3.1 CAO. Dmitry Ageev, who has diabetes, could not get vaccinated during the COVID-19 pandemic due to medical contraindications and, as a result, faced a number of restrictions imposed on the unvaccinated. Having read a message in the “Typical Izhevsk” VKontakte community about the Russian Orthodox Church supporting the government measures to combat the pandemic, Ageev left a comment, in which he called the Russian Orthodox Church a sect, claimed that its “damaged” ministers were “subservient” to the government, and characterized faith in God as “nonsense.” The court agreed with the expert opinion, which stated that the comment “contains a negative assessment of a group of persons identified on a mixed classification basis – on the basis of attitude toward race, nationality, language, origin and on the basis of attitude toward the “Russian Orthodox” religion. The comment was also found to contain “a negative assessment of religion in general (belief in God without specifying a religious denomination).” Ageev admitted his guilt but explained that “he was talking not about believers but about the specific legal entity, the Russian Orthodox Church.” In our opinion, Ageev’s remark was indeed not directed against believers in general, and hostile statements about any religion or a religious organization that do not call for violence or discrimination against its adherents do not form sufficient grounds for legal sanctions.
“Insulting the Feelings of Believers”
In September, the court issued a verdict under Article 148 Part 1 CC (public actions committed to insult the religious feelings of believers) to a resident of the Kirov Region, whose name was not reported. He was sentenced to a fine, the amount of which was also not disclosed. The case against the Kirov resident was based on his posts with unspecified “photo images and statements” on a social network.
We also learned that a court in the same region is considering the case of Oleg Fyodorov, the head of a religious association known as Kirov (Vyatka) Slavic Faith Community “Ancestral Heritage in Vyatka” (Kirovskaya (Vyatskaya) obschina Slavyanskoy Very “Rodovoye Naslediye na Vyatke”). According to investigators, between September 22, 2020, and March 8, 2021, he shared photographs with his own comments as well as text files on VKontakte. The investigation alleges that these posts promoted an attitude of "inferiority" towards the Christian religion, distinct from the "Slavic Faith," and thereby insulted the religious sentiments of believers as a social group (Christians, clergy, and priests).
The case is currently undergoing a retrial process. In 2022, the court initially returned it to the prosecutor, but the appellate instance subsequently reassigned it to another court district for consideration on the merits. It's worth noting that the statute of limitations for sanctions under Article 148 Part 1 CC is set to expire in two years. It is likely that Fyodorov has chosen not to seek a dismissal of his case on these non-exonerating grounds and is instead pursuing an acquittal.
On August 8, a magistrate court in Moscow declared trash-blogger Stanislav Bazarov (Stasik Kudryavy), who was facing charges under Article 148 Part 1 CC, mentally incompetent and referred him for compulsory treatment. The decision came into force on September 9. The case was based on a video, in which the blogger, while in his apartment, urinated on an Orthodox icon calling his urine holy water. Bazarov was also charged under Article 242 Part 3 CC (illegal production and trafficking of pornographic materials or objects); however, these charges were apparently dropped. We believe that there was no need for criminal prosecution against Bazarov. The appropriate legal provision for such cases is Article 5.26 Part 2 CAO (deliberate public desecration of objects of religious veneration), under which the offender may be subject to a significant fine or community service.
Persecution against Religious Organizations and Believers
In September, we learned that on March 30, the Zvenigovsky District Court of Mari El fined Rafail Safin, the chairman of a local religious organization of Muslims in the village of Mochalische, two thousand rubles under Article 20.29 CAO. Banned books by the Turkish theologian Said Nursi were found to be publicly accessible in his mosque.
Sanctions against Jehovah's Witnesses continued in September on the charges of involvement in the activities of local religious organizations that were recognized as extremist and banned.
We are aware of six sentences issued in September against 10 believers.
- On September 5, the Nizhnekamsk City Court of the Republic of Tatarstan found Denis Filatov, Stanislav Klyuchnikov and Dmitry Yarchak guilty under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC (organizing the activities of an extremist organization) and sentenced them to six years of imprisonment each.
- On September 13, the Belogorsk City Court of the Amur Region sentenced Vladimir Balabkin under the same article to four years of imprisonment.
- On September 14, the Maykop City Court sentenced Nikolai Voischev to three years of imprisonment under the same article. Taking into account the time spent in pre-trial detention, he has about a year and a half left in a penal colony.
- On September 15, the Kovrov City Court of the Vladimir Region sentenced Alexei Kupriyanov to a year of imprisonment under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC. In this case, the term is considered to have been served due to the time that Kupriyanov had spent in pre-trial detention and under house arrest.
- On September 21, the Zeya City Court of the Amur Region issued the following verdicts on similar charges: a three-year suspended sentence to Margarita Moiseenko, a two-year suspended sentence to Galina Yatsik, and a suspended sentence of two and a half years to Elena Yatsyk.
- On September 28, the Tsentralny District Court of Prokopyevsk in the Kemerovo Region sentenced Yuri Chernykh on a similar charge. He received three years of compulsory labor with 15% of his earnings withheld.
In mid-September, Rustam Seidkuliev was deported from Russia to Turkmenistan. He had been convicted under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC and was released from the colony in April 2023. He was deprived of Russian citizenship on the initiative of the FSB Directorate for the Saratov Region.
In September, law enforcement agencies opened at least two new criminal cases against Jehovah's Witnesses. A believer, whose name has not been reported, was arrested in Cherkessk under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC. In Moscow, Alexander Serebryakov was taken into custody; he faces charges under Article 282.3 Part 1 CC. In 2022, Serebryakov received a six-year suspended sentence under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC.