On November 27, Vladimir Putin signed two laws that expanded the jurisdiction over terrorist cases. The first law amends the Criminal-Procedural Code (CPC), while the second one amends the federal law “On the Territorial Jurisdiction of District (Fleet) Military Courts.” Now all district military courts have jurisdiction over crimes under the following Articles of the Criminal Code (CC): 205, 205.1, 205.2, 205.3, 205.4, 205.5, 206 Part 4, 211, and 361; as well as Articles 277, 278, 279 and 360 CC if their commission is associated with terrorist activity. The courts also have jurisdiction over any other crimes committed for the purpose of propaganda, justification or support of terrorism (Article 63 Part 1 Paragraph “p” CC).After 2015, terrorism cases were heard only by the Moscow District Military Court and the North Caucasus District Military Court (now known as the 2nd Western and Southern Courts, respectively). The Privolzhsky District Military Court (now the judicial presence of the Central District Military Court in Samara) was added in the summer of 2016. The Far Eastern (Dalnevostochny, now the 1st Eastern) Court joined the group in the summer of 2017. Such a system resulted in huge travel expenses. In addition, in recent years, the workload of judges has increased significantly.
On November 30, the Supreme Court of Russia satisfied the claim submitted by the Ministry of Justice and recognized the “international public LGBT movement” as an extremist organization. The case was tried behind closed doors. On November 17, the Ministry of Justice reported that the movement’s activities exhibit “various signs and manifestations of extremist orientation, including incitement of social and religious discord,” but did not publicly specify which ones.On November 28, Russian human rights activists asked the Supreme Court to reject the claim for a number of reasons. First, there is no “international public LGBT movement”; instead, there is only a group of people sharing common attributes, which does not form a single structure or organized association. Second, recognizing the LGBT movement as extremist is a discriminatory measure that will further restrict LGBT people from having a public discussion of their problems and asserting their rights. Third, such a decision violates the right to freedom of assembly and association, freedom of thought and speech, and freedom of belief, as well as the prohibition on establishing a mandatory ideology. Fourth, trying a case without a defendant behind closed doors contradicts the principle of publicity in legal proceedings."
We also believe that the LGBT movement has no unified structure and therefore cannot be recognized as a single organization. We would like to note that the work of LGBT activists, with rare exceptions, is not aimed at inciting religious discord. The values and activities of the LGBT community may conflict with the internal guidelines of a particular denomination, but the peaceful expression of views that contradict the doctrine of a particular religion cannot be prohibited in a secular state. It is unclear what “social discord” was alleged in the Justice Ministry's never-published legal claim. If the claim was directed against the peaceful expression of a position on socially important issues, then a democratic society should not prohibit such activity.
We are concerned that the ban may result in the persecution of activists, human rights defenders, journalists, and potentially individuals openly expressing their views on LGBT issues. In practice, LGBT activism may be equated with the continuation of activities deemed extremist and subject to punishment under Article 282.2 CC (entailing prison terms of up to 10 years for organizers and up to six years for ordinary participants). Participation in any collective events related to this subject becomes perilous. Displaying symbols of the LGBT movement could initially incur punishment under Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (CAO) and subsequently under Article 282.4 CC (up to four years of imprisonment). Furthermore, if amendments to Article 280 CC are adopted to include “justification and propaganda of extremism” in its wording, any approving statements regarding the LGBT movement could be punishable under this article.
Sanctions for Anti-Government Speech And Activities
It was reported on November 1 that a criminal case under Article 205.2 CC (public justification of terrorism on the Internet) had been opened in Moscow against Anna Loiko, an editor with [the] online media outlet SOTA. By the end of the month the journalist, who is currently outside Russia, had been arrested in absentia. The prosecution against Loiko was based on her article “The FSB Performs Dua: Who Are the Hizbies and Why Do They Go to Prison,” published in January 2021. The article described the persecution against supporters of the Islamic party Hizb ut-Tahrir recognized as a terrorist organization in Russia. As stated in the text, Russian human rights activists believe that the activities of this party should not be considered terrorist and classify those convicted under terrorist articles in connection with their involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir as political prisoners. According to the investigation’s version, Loiko, in her article, spoke in defense of offenders convicted in the cases related to Hizb ut-Tahrir, and therefore justified terrorist activities. However, the note to Article 205.2 CC defines public justification of terrorism as “a public statement recognizing the ideology and practice of terrorism as correct, in need of support and imitation.” We found no such statements in the journalist's article.
On November 20, the 2nd Western District Military Court registered the case filed under Article 205.2 Part 2 CC against German Yevdokimov from Belgorod kept in pre-trial detention since April 2023. The Belgorod resident left a comment on VKontakte under the news item about the oil depot explosion, which took place in the city on April 1, 2022, as a result of an air strike by the Armed Forces of Ukraine. A video of the explosion was attached to the post. In his comment, Yevdokimov, among other things, called Ukrainian military personnel “good-lookers,” noting that “Ukrainians find it unthinkable to bomb civilians,” and added that if the Russian army “were even 25 percent as good as the U.S. army, bombing our oil depot would be impossible.” In our opinion, charges against Yevdokimov under Article 205.2 CC are inappropriate, because he spoke positively about the professionalism of Ukrainian military personnel but did not characterize the explosion itself as a positive event.
On November 24, the Basmanny District Court of Moscow arrested Andy Stone, a spokesperson of U.S. tech giant Meta, in absentia on the charges of promoting terrorist activities using his official position (Article 205.1 Part 2 CC). In March 2022, the Tverskoy District Court of Moscow recognized Meta's activities as extremist, “as pertains to placement, distribution and failure to take measures to block materials containing calls for violent extremist actions against citizens of the Russian Federation and for changing the foundations of the constitutional order.” At the same time, the court banned Meta's activities related to the “distribution of its products, Facebook and Instagram, on the territory of the Russian Federation on the grounds of their extremist activities.” Although the court's decision only banned the specific activities of the company, not the company or its social networks per se, in October 2022, the Ministry of Justice added Meta Inc. to the list of extremist organizations as a “products sales company.” The criminal proceedings initiated under Articles 280 CC (calls to extremism) and 205.1 CC in connection with Meta's activities had been reported even before the company ban. We have no information about the specific charges against Andy Stone, but if the claim pertains only to establishing certain content moderation rules on social networks, we believe that it should not serve as a basis for criminal prosecution.
Calls for Extremist Activities
On November 13, it was revealed that a criminal case under Article 280 Part 1 CC (public calls to extremist activity) had been initiated in Perm against a 17-year-old teenager. On that day, he was apprehended while at college, and a search was conducted at his residence, resulting in the confiscation of equipment. According to the investigation, on the eve of the Russian March on November 3, the teenager placed a poster on the pedestal of the “Grieving Mother” monument, adorned with mourning wreaths, bearing the words, “In 22 years of Putin's rule, the number of Russians in Russia has decreased by 10 million. Down with the Tsar – Save Russia.” The poster in question also included two Telegram links, including the one to the far-right channel Natzdem, which actively covered the “Day of Rage” campaign that took place on November 4. The campaign included not only oppositional slogans but also some slogans that were xenophobic and anti-migrant. Still we believe that the slogan on the poster did not warrant criminal prosecution for incitement to extremist activity – the removal of a leader from office can be accomplished by peaceful and legal means.
Inciting Hatred towards the Authorities and Their Supporters. Insulting the Authorities
In November, we learned about four cases filed under Article 20.3.1 CAO (incitement to hatred or enmity, as well as humiliation of human dignity) for critical statements against government officials, representatives of law enforcement agencies and Russian citizens, which involved no calls to violence.
On November 16 the Savelovsky district court of Moscow fined animal rights activist Yury Koretskikh 10 thousand rubles. The case was built upon an unnamed video clip containing a negative assessment of the military, which was posted on his VKontakte page. Before this, Koretskikh had been subjected to a 10-day arrest for organizing a public event without permission, and 11 reports were filed against him under Article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (CAO) for violating freedom of religion due to his posts on social networks (see below).
On November 16, the Kashirsky district court of the Voronezh Region placed local resident Alexander Skugorov under arrest for 10 days for his insulting comment about Russians posted on VKontakte. Skugorov characterized them as “punching bags” and accused them of cowardice. We believe that the comment was directed not at ethnic Russians specifically, but rather at Russians in general. The likely purpose of the comment was to criticize the political passivity of his fellow citizens rather than to incite ethnic hatred. Skugorov was also fined under Article 20.1 Part 4 CAO (see below).
On November 16, the Tsentralny District Court of Krasnoyarsk fined journalist Dmitry Polushin 20 thousand rubles for a video published on the KrasNews YouTube channel in September. The video began with an “obscene introduction,” in which Polushin cited a number of harsh and, in his opinion, popular characterizations of the United Russia Party. One of the characterizations was both obscene and homophobic. Simultaneously, Polushin clarified that he did not endorse “rabid insults” and considered it unjust to employ such characterizations for those who “declared war on the LGBT.” The court found that the video incited hatred against a social group “United Russia party members.”
On November 22, the Rudnichny District Court of Kemerovo fined Viktor Vetriak 10 thousand rubles. Two years ago, he left a social network comment with a negative assessment of law enforcement officers.
In addition, we recorded seven cases filed in November under Article 20.1 Part 3 CAO (disorderly conduct or “petty hooliganism”) for disrespectful online statements about the authorities.
On November 9, the Belgorod District Court of the Belgorod Region fined activist Vitaly Palukhin 30 thousand rubles. The case was based on Palukhin's videos posted on the Belgorod Segodnya Telegram channel, in which he criticized the policy of President Putin in an indecent form. Palukhin and his defense counsel claim that the videos were originally published only on the student's personal channel, and then someone shared them globally. Palukhin was also fined under Article 20.3.3 CAO (discrediting the army).
On November 16, the Vilegodsky District Court of the Arkhangelsk Region fined Ruslan Gubkin a resident of Ilyinsko-Podomsky, 15 thousand rubles for his VKontakte post containing profanity directed against Putin. Gubkin was also fined under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO. Earlier he was arrested under Article 20.3.1 CAO for publishing a provocative obscene poem and under Article 20.1 Part 1 CAO for disorderly conduct. After serving his administrative arrests, he was taken into custody under paragraph “c” of Part 2 Article 280.4 СС (public calls to carry out activities against the security of the state) for inciting the arson of a military recruitment office via Telegram.
On November 16, the Tsentralny District Court of Sochi issued a fine of 40 thousand rubles to local activist Anna Kolmagortseva. A video with disrespectful information about the authorities, including the president, appeared on her public Telegram channel in April (according to the activist, it was posted by another user). The video’s author, military retiree Roman Kharitonov, was fined for several similar videos later in December.
On November 23, the Leninsky District Court of the Republic of Crimea fined Olga Dibrova 80,000 rubles for her use of obscene language directed at President Putin when the electricity was turned off, as expressed during a live broadcast on a YouTube channel. In 2022, Dibrova had also been penalized for uttering obscenities directed at Putin during a live broadcast on Odnoklassniki.
On November 24, the Kashirsky District Court of the Voronezh Region fined local resident Alexander Skugorov 100 thousand rubles under Article 20.1 Part 4 CAO. The case was based on two comments Skugorov made about Vladimir Putin on VKontakte. In one comment he wished for the president “to die.” Previously, Skugorov was fined under Article 20.1 Part 3 CAO and arrested under Article 20.3.1 CAO (see above).
On November 24, the Dinskoy District Court of Krasnodar region fined Anatoly Lileikin for a post, in which the retiree criticized Putin and called for his resignation. In 2019, he was penalized under the same article because of a publication in which he labeled the president as a state criminal, a thief and an impostor, accusing him of having seized power by rigging elections.
On November 28, the Kirovsky District Court of Crimea fined local resident Mikhail Vyrvas under Article 20.1 Part 3 CAO in the amount of 45 thousand rubles for two images posted in Odnoklassniki featuring Putin along with insulting statements about him. Vyrvas was also punished under Article 20.3.3 CAO and Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO (public display of prohibited symbols, see below).
Calls for Separatism
On November 15, the Leninsky District Court of Krasnodar fined Sergei Arkhanidi 70 thousand rubles under Article 20.3.2 Part 2 CAO (public calls for actions aimed at violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation, committed on the Internet). The case was based on the comment left by Arkhanidi on the “Protocol. Krasnodar” Telegram channel under a post with a proposal of Kuban Governor Veniamin Kondratiev. The Governor proposed to use transportation corridors through the “new Russian territories” so that tourists' cars could pass through to Crimea. Arkhanidi ironically endorsed the proposal in his comment, adding that those “who are smart enough” to go to Crimea will get “the extreme experience of traveling through the occupied territories.” We believe that Arkhanidi was fined inappropriately. In our opinion, the law can restrict calls to violent separatism but not peaceful discussions about the status of a particular territory. Moreover, Arkhanidi's comment contained no calls to violate the integrity of the country.
Discrediting the Use of the Armed Forces or Government Agencies
According to the Mediazona portal, as of November 17, the total number of cases under Article 20.3.3 CAO filed in Russian courts since its introduction has reached 8,288. The number of defendants in criminal cases initiated under Article 280.3 CC, according to the OVD-Info project, has exceeded 135 in October. Our calculations indicate that 57 of them have already been sentenced by the end of November.
In November, we became aware of six sentences under Article 280.3 Part 1 CC.
On November 2, the Feodosia City Court of Crimea sentenced Oleg Valeev to one and a half years in a settlement colony with loss of the right to administer websites and post appeals on the Internet for three years. Valeev was found guilty of having “ridiculed the current equipment” of the Russian army in the group chat “Heil Satan” on VKontakte. He also negatively commented on the participation of the armed forces in the special military operation in Ukraine and on Russia's political course in general. Earlier, in December 2022, he was fined under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO for his Telegram posts criticizing the special military operation.
On November 3, the Kotlas City Court of the Arkhangelsk Region sentenced Vladimir Kotov, an ex-activist of the environmental protest in Shiyes, to a fine of 130 thousand rubles. Earlier, in June 2022, the same court fined him under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO for his comments, which characterized the actions of the Russian armed forces in Ukraine as “violent, invasive, fascist.”
On November 8, the Liskinsky District Court of the Voronezh Region sentenced Ruslan Bolgov to 10 months of compulsory labor for three posts on his social network page that called for obstructing the special military operation in Ukraine. Earlier, in December 2022, the same court fined him under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO for posting on VKontakte a certain video with comments expressing a negative attitude towards Russia's armed actions in Ukraine, and for a post that characterized the actions of the Russian Armed Forces as “criminal acts, following criminal orders, destruction of civilian infrastructure and murder of civilians.”
On November 13, Elista City Court sentenced 72-year-old Valery Badmaev, editor-in-chief of the Sovremennaya Kalmykiya newspaper, to a fine of 150,000 rubles with a two-year ban on publishing the newspaper, maintaining a YouTube channel and publishing texts or videos on the Internet. According to the journalist's relative, he was charged for reposting a video with a story about the actions of the Russian army, narrated by a man, who introduced himself as a member of the Azov regiment (recognized as a terrorist organization in Russia). We are not familiar with the video in question, but unless it contains direct calls for violence, we view the case against Badmaev as inappropriate.
On November 15, the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk City Court fined local resident Mikhail Yanov 120 thousand rubles. He was also sentenced to a two-year ban on the administration of Internet resources. He faces punishment for posting a video with information discrediting the Russian armed forces and state authorities on an online messenger in June 2022.
On November 27, the Norilsk City Court sentenced the lead singer of the punk collective Drunkface Vladislav Nikolaev (Vladislav Roskoshny) to a fine of 400 thousand rubles with confiscation of his iPhone. Earlier, in June 2022, Nikolaev was detained while on vacation in Volgograd because of a peace sign sticker and obscene anti-war slogan on the window of his personal car. On the same day, the Krasnooktyabrsky District Court of Volgograd sentenced him under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 and Article 20.1 Part 1 CAO to one day of administrative arrest. Nikolayev was charged with repeated discrediting of the armed forces in connection with posting the Instagram video that described his own detention by the police (according to the investigation, he “in a sarcastic manner, talked about his personal culpability in the special military operation problems, as well as provided information about the actions of the Russian army on the territory of Ukraine.”) He also posted as a collage “containing statements undermining the dignity, authority and trust in the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.”
Last month we learned about three new cases brought under Article 280.3 Part 1 CC.
On November 7, a criminal case was opened against 56-year-old activist Svetlana Marina from Kirov. Earlier, the Leninsky District Court of Kirov fined her twice under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO. She was fined in May for sharing a post about the action in memory of Boris Nemtsov, held on February 25, on the “Free Kirov” Telegram chat. The post quoted an anti-war statement published on the eve of the action, that is, on the anniversary of the start of full-scale armed hostilities in Ukraine. Next, Marina was fined in July for a comment left in April on a public Telegram channel. She was outraged that a photo of Vladlen Tatarsky, a deceased participant in the armed hostilities in Donbas, had been installed at the Eternal Flame monument and characterized the installation of a photo of the “bandit and murderer” “at the monument to the war victims as a “disgrace.” The regional court, having reviewed Marina's complaint on August 29, only reduced the amount of her fine. On the same day, the activist recorded and posted a video declaring that she stayed true to her opinion, confirming her previous words about Tatarsky and labeling those who had posted his picture at the Eternal Flame “complete jerks.” The video served as a reason to initiate a criminal case against her. It must be noted that Marina was not talking about the actions of the Russian army or volunteers in general, but about the actions of Tatarsky personally. As for the harsh words directed at Tatarsky, if Tatarsky's relatives regarded them as an insult or slander, they could have filed a civil suit against the activist to protect his honor and dignity.
On November 27, we learned about the initiation of criminal proceedings against Denis Kamalyagin, editor-in-chief of the media outlet Pskovskaya Guberniya, who is outside Russia. The specific basis for the criminal prosecution is not known. Earlier, in October 2022, the Pskov City Court fined Kamalyagin under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO for the journalist's post on his personal Telegram channel. He wrote that Russia's armed actions in Ukraine were taking place “in an online format,” which allowed everyone except Russian residents to form an opinion about what was happening.
On November 28, we received information about criminal proceedings opened in the Ivanovo Region against Vadim Kalashov, the writer for the TV series Kupchino. The case was based on his posts in a social network community dedicated to his own work. Previously, the writer repeatedly faced administrative responsibility under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO for his anti-war posts on his personal VKontakte page, but he managed to successfully appeal some of the fines.
In addition, on November 14, the Komsomolsky District Court of Khabarovsk Krai received a case against Piruz Peikrishvili, a resident of Komsomolsk-on-Amur, on which we had no prior information. We do not know the basis for this criminal prosecution. In May, the same court fined Peikrishvili under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO because of a video “with content that produces a negative attitude toward the special operation conducted by the armed forces of the Russian Federation.” At the court hearing, the defendant explained that the video expressed his opinion and stated that he considered himself a “citizen of the USSR” and not of Russia.
On October 31, the Kominternovsky District Court of Voronezh returned the criminal case of Alexander Shanin to the prosecutor because of violations in the indictment. The investigation believes that in late May, while at the central bus station in Voronezh, Shanin “publicly expressed his negative attitude and disseminated various information, including a negative assessment of the actions of the Russian Armed Forces and their commanders conducting the special military operation on the territory of Ukraine.
“Fakes about the Army” Motivated by Hatred
In November, the courts completed their consideration of the following 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 November 3, the Basmanny District Court of Moscow sentenced ex-publisher of Mediazona Pyotr Verzilov, a former Pussy Riot member. He was sentenced in absentia to eight and a half years in a minimum-security penal colony with a four-year ban on posting information on the Internet for his two tweets and two Instagram posts about the events in Bucha.
On November 7, the Sovetsky District Court of Nizhny Novgorod issued a verdict against Irina Sedelnikova, a former teacher of the Nizhny Novgorod Institute of Management (a branch of RANEPA). The court issued a three-year suspended sentence under paragraph “a” (using her official position) and paragraph “e” of Article 207.3 Part 2 CC with a ban on teaching. The case was based on Sedelnikova’s statements in support of Ukraine made while teaching a class for remote students in September 2022.
On November 10, the Sovetsky District Court of Ulan-Ude sentenced Alexandra Garmazhapova, in absentia, to seven years in a minimum-security colony with a three-year loss of the right to administer Internet resources. Garmazhapova is a journalist and a co-founder of the Free Buryatia Foundation [Fond Svobodnaya Buryatiya], which was recognized as an undesirable organization. The case was based on her interview released in July 2022, in which Garmazhapova told the Ukrainian project Groshi about 17 servicemen, who were “locked up in a commandant's office” on the territory of the LNR. The court found that her actions were motivated by political hatred towards the Russian state authorities in general, including the president of the Russian Federation, as well as by ethnic hatred towards representatives of Russian ethnicity. The ethnic hatred motive in the indictment was linked to Garmazhapova's statements asserting that the disproportionate deployment of Buryats and Tuvinians in the special military operations in Ukraine resulted from the imperial "Russian World" policy. We see no manifestations of ethnic hatred in this line of reasoning.
On November 13 Krasnoyarsk Regional Court sentenced Igor Orlovsky to seven and a half years of imprisonment in a minimum-security colony under paragraph “e” of Article 207.3 Part 2 in combination with (see below) paragraph “c” of Article 354.1 Part 2 CC (dissemination of knowingly false information about the activities of the USSR during World War II). The verdict took into account the prior three-year prison term, to which Orlovsky had previously been sentenced under Article 280 Part 2 and Article 205.2 Part 2 CC (public calls to terrorism on the Internet).
On November 14, the Military Court of Appeal upheld the sentence issued by the 1st Eastern District Military Court to Vladimir Mitrofanov on May 5. Mitrofanov was found guilty under paragraph “e” of Article 207.3 Part 2 CC, Article 205.2 Part 2 CC and Article 228 Part 2 CC (possession of drugs on a large scale). The court sentenced a native of Altai Krai to seven years in a minimum-security colony. The case under Article 207.3 CC was based on his comments about the hostilities in Ukraine. According to the investigation and the court, the comments were motivated by “hatred and enmity towards the current state authorities of the Russian Federation, including the President.” Article 205.2 was incriminated to Mitrofanov in connection with a comment interpreted by the investigation as “an approval and justification of the need to burn down” the State Duma and officials.
On November 16, the Vasileostrovsky District Court of St. Petersburg sentenced artist Alexandra Skochilenko to seven years in a minimum-security colony for her anti-war action: Skochilenko replaced price tags in the Perekrestok food market with stickers displaying information about the number of casualties in Ukraine and calls to stop hostilities. The court concluded that she acted to disseminate a negative assessment of the “special military operation.”
On November 16, the Basmanny District Court of Moscow sentenced politician Vladimir Milov, in absentia, to eight years in a minimum-security colony and a four-year ban on the administration of Internet resources. The case against the opposition activist was based on the stream “Putin's Crimes,” held on the Navalny LIVE channel in March 2022, which contained an account of the consequences of the special operation in Ukraine.
On November 24, the Basmanny District Court of Moscow sentenced Maria Kartasheva, who resides in Canada, in absentia, to eight years in a minimum-security colony with a four-year ban on posting on the Internet. The criminal case was initiated after a post on Kartasheva's Telegram channel about the events in Bucha. The court ruled that Kartasheva was motivated by her dislike for the Russian president.
On November 27, the Urzhumsky District Court of the Kirov region sentenced local resident Andrei Etkeev to five years of minimum-security colony for his posts on Odnoklassniki, in particular, about the actions of the Russian armed forces in Bucha.
Displaying Banned Symbols
In November, we recorded six instances of sanctions for displaying Nazi symbols under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO that we consider inappropriate.
On September 26, the Nurlatsky District Court of the Republic of Tatarstan fined priest Eduard Tomilov two thousand rubles. Tomilov's VKontakte page was found to display an image of Joseph Goebbels with a swastika armband and a quote, attributed to Goebbels, that “the Banderites are insane maniacs or, in other words, brutalized cattle,” and the Nazis needed them only to destroy the “unruly Slavs,” after which they too were to be exterminated, “since beasts have no place among men.” This image, in our opinion, did not promote Nazism. On the contrary, depending on the context, it could be interpreted as a critical statement either about the collaborators of World War II or about contemporary Ukrainian nationalists. Tomilov was the rector of the Church of Saints Apostles Peter and Paul in the village of Starye Chelny. In 2017, he was banned from ministry for schismatic activities and violating church canons. He belongs to the “non-mentioners” (Orthodox who do not mention Patriarch Kirill in the liturgy). In 2018 and 2019, the prosecutor's office issued warnings to Tomilov about the impermissibility of carrying out extremist activities.
On October 5, the Kerch City Court of Crimea placed Vladislav Kislyakov under arrest for 10 days for posting an image on VKontakte with the slogan in Ukrainian “We defeated Nazism – we will defeat Ruscism! Remember 1939–1945” and a swastika. Apparently, it was an image distributed by the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance, in which one man throws a swastika into a trash can, and another one throws the letter Z. Thus, the swastika was used in the context of commemorating the victory over Nazism in World War II and as a means of criticizing the actions of the Russian authorities.
On November 2, the Novocheboksarsk City Court in the Republic of Chuvashia fined Oleg Zhizhaikin one thousand rubles. The case was based on four images with swastikas posted on VKontakte. One of them was a photo of the 1936 Munich Olympics medal with the caption “The USSR did not take part in the Olympics of the Nazis. The IOC not only supported and held [the games] but also approved the design of the 1936 Olympic medal. Nowadays, they would also find this course of action satisfactory.” The second image depicted a Ukrainian nationalist with a Nazi symbol tattoo; the third was a map of Nazi Germany in comparison with a map of the European Union. The final image was that of Joseph Ratzinger – the future Pope Benedict XVI – in a Hitler Youth uniform. Zhizhaykin told the court that he “does not support National Socialist views and posted the photos to be used in an article about the double standards of the Western ideology.” Indeed, his posts used Nazi symbols to criticize Nazism or his political opponents.
On November 3, the Bogoroditsky Inter-District Court of the Tula Region fined local resident Alexei Chislov one and a half thousand rubles. The case was based on an image posted on VKontakte 10 years ago – the coats of arms of the United States and Nazi Germany and the caption “The paths are different, but the goal is the same – my homeland’s destruction.” As Chislov explained, he meant that the U.S. policy, like the policy of Nazi Germany, was harmful to Russia.
On November 8, the Chistopol City Court of the Republic of Tatarstan fined local activist Igor Maloletkov two thousand rubles for a post on VKontakte. The post contained the following text, “Many Soviet and post-Soviet entities believe that the USSR has always opposed Hitler's Germany. This shows the deepest ignorance. It was not always this way. There was much more in common between the two fascisms, red and brown. These photos are a vivid proof.” The post was accompanied by four photographs showing military and civilian leaders of the USSR and Nazi Germany together. Nazi paraphernalia was visible in the photos. Maloletkov and his defense counsel insisted in court that the photos were historical and that the accompanying commentary condemned Nazism. Indeed, Maloletkov used the photographs to illustrate his point about the similarities between the Soviet and Nazi regimes, which he clearly views negatively.
On November 28, the Stary Oskol City Court of the Belgorod Region fined Yegor Smirnov two thousand rubles for his post of September 10, which contained two photos of chalked inscriptions on a roller-ski track. One of them contained a statement about Putin; the other one criticized the ruling party and condemned fascism (the word was replaced by a swastika). The post contained the words “Something is afoot with the roller-ski track...” Smirnov claimed that he posted the photos in order to draw the attention of the city administration to the need to clean up the area, that the chalked symbol did not resemble a Nazi swastika, and that he did not support Nazi views and, on the contrary, condemned Nazism.
In addition, in November it became known that, back on September 11, the Volzhsky District Court of Saratov sentenced Dmitry Lyalyaev, a local poet, singer-songwriter, and an Afghanistan war veteran to two years of imprisonment to be served in a settlement colony and a two-year ban on administering websites under Article 282.4 Part 1 CC (repeated display of Nazi symbols) in conjunction with Article 280 Part 2 CC. Earlier, Lyalyaev repeatedly faced administrative punishment for his VKontakte posts. In particular, in October 2022, he was fined twice under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO for posting collages with photos of Vladimir Putin, one of which depicted him with a Hitler mustache and a swastika-decorated flag on the background and another one included “thieves' stars,” which are considered to be symbols of the AUE (Prisoners Criminal Unity, Arestantskoe Ugolovnoe Yedinstvo) movement. If Lyalyaev was prosecuted under Article 282.4 CC for posts that used swastikas as a means of political criticism, we classify this charge as inappropriate. We have no information identifying the specific posts “containing calls for extremist activity, including against representatives of state authorities,” which formed the grounds for prosecution under Article 280 Part 2 CC. On November 20, the court issued another verdict against Lyalyaev – under Article 207.3 Part 1 CC for spreading fakes about the army. The final punishment was two years and two months in a settlement colony.
On November 9, it became known that a criminal case under Article 282.4 Part 1 CC was brought against the leader of the Kamchatka branch of the Yabloko party, Vladimir Yefimov – a retiree from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. The case was based on Yefimov's Facebook post criticizing the singer SHAMAN, whom he compared to young Nazis from the Hitler Youth. The politician accompanied his remarks with a fragment from Bob Fosse's anti-fascist movie Cabaret, which contained, as the investigation pointed out, “Nazi symbols in the form of swastikas, the coat of arms of the Third Reich and the Nazi party greeting.” Earlier, in 2022, Yefimov was punished twice under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO for posting Nazi symbols on social networks. According to him, those posts were also not intended as propaganda of Nazism. Another similar report was returned to the police by the court. In March 2023 Yefimov was sentenced to a fine under Article 280.3 Part 1 CC.
Another five cases under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO were related to the Ukrainian slogan and coat of arms.
On November 1, the Tsentralny District Court of Novokuznetsk fined local resident Arina Ivanova one and a half thousand rubles. According to the court, she had posted on her Telegram page a phrase that “is used as a slogan by Ukrainian nationalists” (evidently “Glory to Ukraine!”)
On November 3, the Industrial District Court of Smolensk fined local resident Babken Khachatryan two thousand rubles for a video he had posted on his VKontakte page. It contained a slogan that the court interpreted as an attribute of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army recognized as extremist – apparently, also the slogan “Glory to Ukraine!”
On November 28, the Kirovsky District Court in Crimea placed Mikhail Vyrvas (see above) under arrest for 13 days. The case was based on two images posted on Odnoklassniki. Both contained the above-mentioned slogan. On the first image, it was combined with a trident, and on the second – with a wish of death to “the enemies.” The ruling in the Vyrvas case does not stipulate that he had used the slogan in the context of propaganda of banned nationalist organizations – apparently, he posted it only to express support for Ukraine in general and was fined for it under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO.
On November 2, the Feodosia City Court of the Republic of Crimea arrested Lilia Mantserova for two days and imposed a fine on her under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO. Her case was based on videos published on VKontakte. The videos were of songs by modern Ukrainian bands “Bez obmezhen – Geroyam (UA)” and “Antitila – Fortetsia Bakhmut / Official video.” Law enforcement officers found them to contain a depiction of a trident.
On November 9, the Bakhchysarai District Court of the Republic of Crimea placed local resident Anton Myts under arrest for 12 days and fined him 40 thousand rubles under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO. The claims were based on his pro-Ukrainian Instagram posts made in March 2022. One of them contained an image of a yellow and blue dove with its wings shaped like a stylized trident.
One case of sanctions under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO recorded in November pertained to the display of a white-blue-white flag. On November 8, the Sinarsky District Court of Kamensk-Uralsky in the Sverdlovsk Region fined Lidia Bortsova one thousand rubles after finding this flag on the license plates of her car. Bortsova explained in court that she had not placed this symbol on her car and did not know what it meant.
In addition, on November 5, it was reported that a new case under Article 282.4 Part 1 CC was initiated against Chuvash opposition activist Semyon Kochkin, who is already a defendant under Article 280.3 CC Part 1 and is currently outside Russia. According to the investigation, in July and August 2023, Kochkin posted images with a white-blue-white flag on his Telegram channel “Angry Chuvashia.” As Kochkin himself noted, he condemned the activities of the Freedom of Russia Legion, in his channel as early as March 2023, and the white-blue-white flag, as a symbol used by the opposition, first appeared on his channel in July to illustrate the information about Cheboksary residents who faced sanctions for a graffiti depicting the Russian flag in these colors. Thus, there is no reason to believe that Kochkin was promoting the activities of the Legion.
Distribution of Extremist Materials
Two people were fined under Article 20.29 CAO (mass distribution of extremist materials) for distributing on VKontakte a video by Alexei Navalny's supporters “Let's Remind Crooks and Thieves about their Manifesto-2002.” On November 10, the Tsentralny District Court of Barnaul imposed a fine of one thousand rubles on Filipp Rakevich, and on November 20, the Rodnikovsky District Court of the Ivanovo Region fined Mikhail Chastukhin twice that amount.
On November 16, the Sovetsky District Court of Samara fined Anatoly Katuntsev one thousand rubles under Article 20.29 CAO for posting a video “Banned Film ‘Assasination of Russia’ HQ” under a post in the VKontakte community “Typical Samara Togliatti.”
On November 3, it became known that the election commission in Novosibirsk banned Yekaterina Tereshchenko and Mikhail Ryazantsev, members of the “Novosibirsk 2020” coalition, from registering as candidates for the city council. According to the election commission, prior court rulings confirmed their involvement in the activities of extremist organizations. Ryazantsev’s “involvement” was expressed in the fact that, according to the letter from the Ministry of Justice, he took part in protest actions organized by the Novosibirsk Navalny Headquarters on January 31, 2021, and “provided information support” to the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) on the Internet in July–August of the same year. A similar letter from the Ministry of Justice regarding Tereshchenko's candidacy states that, on September 24, 2022, she took part in a protest organized by the banned movement Vesna. In our opinion, the norms introduced into the legislation in 2021, which prohibit individuals “involved” in the activities of extremist organizations from running for office, excessively restrict the freedom of association.
Protecting Historical Memory and Traditional Values
Law enforcement agencies continue the practice of filing charges under Article 354.1 Parts 3 and 4 CC for “desecrating symbols of military glory of Russia” and “insulting the memory of the defenders of the Fatherland,” i.e., in particular, for showing disrespect to monuments and symbols of military glory of Russia.
In November, we learned of two such convictions.
On October 10, the Kirov Regional Court issued a verdict against Vladimir Ashikhmin, a resident of the regional capital, under Article 207.3 Part 1 CC and Article 354.1 Part 4 CC (desecrating symbols of Russia’s military glory, committed on the Internet). He received a suspended sentence of one and a half years with a two-year ban on the administration of websites based on his posts on his personal VKontakte page. He was convicted under Article 207.3 CC for posts about the number of civilians killed in Ukraine and about the fighting in Kherson and the Zaporizhzhya Region. He was also found guilty under Article 354.1 CC for posting an image with medals that resembled state awards to participants of the Great Patriotic War and were inscribed “For the genocide of the Ukrainian people on 24.02.2022,” “For torture,” “For looting,” and “For the revival of fascism.” Ashikhmin pleaded guilty, so the court considered the case under a special procedure. In our opinion, Ashikhmin posted images of medals to peacefully express his political position and his opinion on the actions of the Russian authorities and army. His posts contained no elements of Nazi propaganda or incitement to violence, hatred or discrimination.
On November 28, the Kurgan Regional Court sentenced Khalid Paigir, a citizen of Afghanistan, to a fine of two million rubles under Article 354.1 Part 3 CC. On the night of March 1, he was drinking alcoholic beverages near the Victory Obelisk erected in memory of Kurgan residents who died during the Great Patriotic War. He rearranged wreaths and used the Eternal Flame to light a cigarette.
Five new cases were opened.
On November 15, we found out about the initiation of criminal proceedings in Kazan against opposition activist Zulfiya Sitdikova under Article 354.1 Part 3 CC. She also faces charges in another case under Article 280.3 Part 1 CC. The criminal prosecution against Sitdikova was based on two posters. The first one, seized from her in Uritsky Park, depicted the words “May 9,” with the letter “m” replaced by “w” (turning “9 МАЯ” into “9 WAЯ»). According to the investigation, Sitdikova placed the second poster that read “No to War” at the Eternal Flame in Victory Park in April. From the experts' point of view, the first poster has signs of “negative assessment of the activities of the armed forces of the USSR (Red Army) during the Great Patriotic War,” “negative assessment of the days of military glory and memorable dates related to the defense of Russia (the holiday of May 9),” “devaluation of the day of military glory and the memorable date,” and “humiliation of the honor and dignity of veterans of the Great Patriotic War and insulting the memory of the members of the Red Army who died during the war.” The second poster showed “signs of denial of the fact that the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (as well as the Red Army) were used to protect the interests of the Russian Federation (USSR) and its citizens, to maintain peace and security.” We believe that opinions regarding Victory Day, in and of themselves, should not become a reason for criminal prosecution unless accompanied by calls for violence, hatred and discrimination. The incriminating poster contained no such appeals; on the contrary, it can be more appropriately characterized as pacifist. Moreover, it did not feature any statements about the defenders of the Fatherland.
On November 18, a criminal case was opened against Moscow resident Artur Bovtunov under Article 354.1 Part 3 CC and Paragraph “b” of Article 243.4 Part 2 CC (damage to memorial structures or objects commemorating those who died defending the Fatherland or its interests during the Great Patriotic War). He was placed in pre-trial detention. According to the investigation, earlier that day, “being in a state of alcoholic intoxication on Victory Square,” he “publicly scattered wreaths at the foot of the Eternal Flame in the Poklonnaya Gora memorial complex” and “poured an unspecified liquid on the Eternal Flame in an attempt to extinguish it.” We consider the double qualification of Bovtunov's actions under Article 243.4 and Article 354.1 CC redundant. If the Eternal Flame is included on the list of symbols of military glory, then the damage to the memorial, which includes this symbol, is obviously a special case of its desecration.
It was reported on November 24 that two criminal cases under Article 354.1 Part 4 CC and one under Article 148 CC Part 1 (see below) were initiated in the Samara Region against the singer Eduard Sharlot for his Instagram videos. The Forty Times Forty (Sorok Sorokov) Movement and Yekaterina Mizulina, director of Safe Internet League, had been calling for criminal prosecution against the singer. The first case under Article 354.1 of the Criminal Code was opened based on a video that shows Sharlot tearing into pieces a huge paper letter “Z” in the colors of St. George’s ribbon. The second case under the same article, according to some reports, is related to a parody video that showed Sharlot, clad in a wreath and underwear decorated with laurel leaves, singing about the fall of the ruble to the tune of the song “Victory Day” (apparently, the investigation groundlessly considers the song a symbol of military glory). Sharlot was abroad until November 22. Then he arrived in St. Petersburg and was immediately arrested for 13 days for disorderly conduct under Article 20.1 Part 1 CAO. Reports were also compiled against him under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO and Article 19.16 CAO (deliberate destruction of a citizen's identity document) since one of the videos shows the singer burning his Russian passport. Mizulina published a video with his public apology, and already in early December, he was placed in pre-trial detention.
On November 25, it was reported that a criminal case under Article 354.1 Part 3 CC was opened in Novosibirsk against a 21-year-old resident of the Republic of Tyva. He is in pre-trial detention. According to the investigation, on the night of November 23, the defendant, “being in a state of alcoholic intoxication in a public place, namely at the Monument of Glory dedicated to the heroism of Siberians during the Great Patriotic War,” publicly desecrated the symbol of military glory of Russia and insulted the memory of the defenders of the Fatherland.”
On November 29, we found out that criminal proceedings under Article 354.1 Part 3 CC were initiated against a 26-year-old native of Kyrgyzstan residing in Nizhnevartovsk. According to the investigation, on the evening of November 25, the defendant drifted his car in Victory Park near the monument to the local soldiers who died during the Great Patriotic War and thus showed “obvious disrespect with the purpose of desecrating the symbols of military glory of Russia and insulting the memory of the defenders of the Fatherland.” He was detained and faced administrative responsibility, in particular, under Article 18.8 Part 1.1 CAO (violation by a foreign citizen of the Regime for Staying in the Russian Federation). The court imposed a fine and ordered his deportation from the country.
On November 16, the Judicial Board of the Supreme Court overturned the appellate ruling on the sentence of Mikhail Nalimov, coordinator of the organizing committee “For Lenin's Removal,” found guilty under Article 354.1 Part 4 CC. The case was routed to the First Court of Appeal of General Jurisdiction for review due to “significant violations of the criminal legal procedure.” Expert Danila Mikheev conducted a psychological and linguistic examination of the case, but the case file contained no documents confirming his expertise in forensic psychology. In November 2022, the court sentenced Nalimov to three years of imprisonment but replaced this punishment with three years of compulsory labor with the deduction of 10% of his salary by the state. He also faces a five-year ban on administering websites. In early May 2021, the activist posted on a social network several images with Victory Day symbols, specifically red ribbons and St. George ribbons, to which he added satanic pentagrams. Nalimov espouses conservative monarchical views and Orthodox fundamentalism; he believes that the power in the Russian Federation is in the hands of Satanists, and the Victory symbols are associated with Satanic cults. In our opinion, Nalimov’s posts were provocative and inspired by conspiracy theories (including those of a xenophobic nature), but we do not believe that he deserved criminal prosecution.
Several additional cases involving sanctions for the “rehabilitation of Nazism” warrant individual review.
On November 13, as mentioned above, the Krasnoyarsk Regional Court found Igor Orlovsky guilty under paragraph “c” of Article 354.1 Part 2 CC (disseminating knowingly false information about the activities of the USSR during the Second World War) and under paragraph “e” of Article 207.3 Part 2 CC. The punishment under the first charge constituted two years in a minimum-security penal colony out of the total of seven and a half years specified in his verdict, taking into account his prior verdict under two other articles. The case was based on his long comment on VKontakte, in which Orlovsky wrote that World War II was unleashed with Stalin's participation and he was “as much of an aggressor as Hitler.” Experts found the comment to contain false information about the causes of the war and the activities of the USSR and contradicted the verdict of the Nuremberg Tribunal.
On November 2, we received the news that the criminal case against Dmitry Kuznetsov was transferred to court. Kuznetsov is a resident of Bobrovsky District of the Voronezh Region and an online Christian preacher, who has recently changed his name and now appears in the case as Christlover Godly Vegan. He faces the charges of rehabilitating Nazism under paragraph “c” of Article 354.1 Part 4 CC and insulting the feelings of believers under Article 148 Part 1 CC (see below). The case is based on a YouTube video posted by Vegan. According to the investigation, the video “contains expressions of a contemptuous and negative attitude toward the actions of the Red Army leadership, commanders and soldiers during World War II, namely the dissemination of knowingly false information about the activities of the USSR during World War II and veterans of the Great Patriotic War, as well as the insult to the memory of the defenders of the Fatherland, and the humiliation of their honor and dignity.” We do not know which of the numerous videos posted by Vegan on his YouTube channels are being described in the above paragraph, but, judging by the content of his multiple media channels, he is a consistent opponent of Nazism or any violent ideology in general.
On November 11, it was reported that in the Kaliningrad Region, a charge under Article 354.1 Part 4 CC was finally brought against Sven Nordin, an activist from Mamonovo and a fan of Scandinavia (he changed his name and surname, naming himself after a famous Norwegian actor). Nordin moved to the Kaliningrad Region from Novokuznetsk. He identifies as a “Nordist,” meaning a German nationalist and an admirer of Scandinavia. Additionally, he aligns with racist views and positions himself as a fighter against Zionism, sects, “feminine hegemony,” and “zoo-extremism.” He has declared his intention to renounce Russian citizenship and become stateless.
The criminal case against Nordin was initiated in August 2022. The court chose a preventive measure in the form of a ban on certain actions. The case was based on Nordin’s two-year-old post in one of his VKontakte groups, in which he compared Nikita Karatsupa, a well-known trainer of service dogs who had fought in the Great Patriotic War, to serial killer Andrei Chikatilo. During his decades of service in the Border Guard Forces, Karatsupa took part in the apprehension, including liquidation, of hundreds of Soviet border violators, particularly Soviet citizens attempting to leave the country. We believe that Nordin's criminal prosecution is inappropriate, even though his post contains insulting and anti-Semitic statements (with no aggressive appeals). The vague wording of the Russian norms on the rehabilitation of Nazism has enabled the state to open criminal cases for expressing an opinion on certain historical episodes and figures. Under international law, this fact constitutes an excessive restriction of freedom of expression. In our opinion, even in the absence of such norms, the issues of protecting the honor and dignity of veterans, as well as other persons, can be resolved within the civil law framework.
“Insulting the Feelings of Believers”
In November, we learned of two verdicts under Article 148 Part 1 CC (public actions expressing obvious disrespect for society and committed with the aim of offending the religious feelings of believers).
On November 10, the Primorsky District Court of St. Petersburg sentenced Intigam Aliev under Article 148 Part 1 CC and Article 318 Part 1 CC (use of violence against a representative of the authorities) to a fine of 250 thousand rubles, reduced to 150 thousand rubles after taking into account the time already spent in custody. In late March, while traveling through the city by car, Aliev stopped at a crosswalk, approached another driver, and, during their conversation, made negative statements about “Russians” and “Christians,” labeling them “fascists” due to the armed actions in Ukraine. The conversation was recorded on video, and the second driver posted the recording on the Internet. Subsequently, police officers attempted to detain Aliev, but he resisted using force and managed to flee. They successfully apprehended him only when he attempted to leave the region. We find the prosecution of Aliev under Article 148 Part 1 СС inappropriate, as this article pertains to public actions, and the conversation between the two drivers can hardly be characterized as such. If the other driver found this conversation offensive, he could have approached the police with a request to hold Aliev accountable under Article 5.61 CAO for insult.
On the same day, November 10, the Zasviyazhsky District Court of Ulyanovsk issued a verdict against Sayd Abdelrazek, the native of Egypt, under Article 148 Part 1 CC and paragraph “b” of Article 213 Part 1 CC (hooliganism motivated by religious hatred or enmity). He was sentenced to one and a half years in a settlement colony. Taking into account the time spent in pre-trial detention, Abdelrazek’s final sentence will amount to ten months of imprisonment. He was also fined 150 thousand rubles. Abdelrazek was punished for his actions on the night of July 1, when he, while on the bridge over the Sviyaga river, “committed public actions to offend the religious feelings of believers” – trampled on the Quran, poured alcohol on it, and then threw it into the river. He filmed all this and later published a video on the Internet, where he accompanied his actions with statements that the Quran was a “dirty book” that needed to be “thrown underfoot” and “trampled with old boots.” In our opinion, the vague concept of “insulting the religious feelings of believers,” added to Article 148 CC, has no clear legal meaning. The already legislation provides for administrative responsibility under Article 5.26 Part 2 CAO (deliberate public desecration of religious or devotional literature) to punish actions similar to those committed by Abdelrazek. The grounds on which Abdelrazek faced responsibility under Article 213 CC are also unclear. He recorded his video at night and, apparently, his act did not violate the public right to work and leisure, the work of institutions, etc., that is, did not lead to a gross violation of public order.
Law enforcement agencies have opened at least three new criminal cases related to insulting the feelings of believers.
We recorded on November 2 that a criminal case had been opened in Volgodonsk of the Rostov Region after a local blogger published a video that showed him tied to a cross. Journalist and blogger Yuri Kravtsov (Yurets Kravets) recorded this video in one of Volgodonsk's restaurants, which staged a performance for Halloween. It was supposed to involve figures in white robes with knives in their hands (reminiscent of characters from the movie Silent Hill) walking around a large wooden cross. According to Kravets, he decided to “test the pulley” and asked to be tied to the cross; then the cross was lifted into the air. After the footage of the incident became public, the blogger apologized to anyone who may have been hurt by his behavior. Kravtsov was not acting in a temple, did not use objects intended for religious rites, and obviously did not aim to incite hatred against believers, so we believe that criminal prosecution in connection with this incident is inappropriate.
The case of singer Eduard Sharlot (see above) also involved an episode related to the publication of a video, in which the singer nails to a tree his military ID card, a photo of Patriarch Kirill and a crucifix made of twigs. Even if we consider the nailing of the crucifix made of twigs to a tree as damaging to “signs and emblems relating to the world outlook symbols,” the offense should be covered under Article 5.26 Part 2 CAO.
On November 30, we were informed of a criminal case under investigation in the Tambov Region based on a video by local blogger Olesya Pavlova. In August, she held a closed “dirty Mafia” tournament (a popular psychological team game in an obscene format) in her own backyard. A few days before the tournament, an announcement was posted in the VKontakte community dedicated to the game, which featured Pavlova's companion, Movses Avetisyan, as “holy father Movses” offering to perform sacraments at a discount “with the promo code 'Jesus came back from the dead and so did I'.” Before the start of the game, Pavlova was brought to the team's gathering place in a coffin, from which she emerged in a garment resembling a nun's habit uttering the words “Christ is risen” and profanities. A video of the action was later published on Instagram. In October, the “Russian Community” and the Forty Times Forty (Sorok Sorokov) movement demanded legal action against the tournament organizers. In our opinion, the organizers’ actions can be characterized as provocative, but they posed no public danger and did not merit a law enforcement response.
We should also return to the above-mentioned case of Christolyub Bozhiy Vegan (Christlover Godly Vegan), the Christian Internet preacher facing charges in the Voronezh Region. He was charged under Article 148 Part 1 CC because, according to the investigation, in July and December 2022 he “posted on a video hosting site two video files that contained signs of a negative attitude towards Islam and its religious literature 'Quran'.” We do not know which videos are being incriminated for Vegan, as he has posted numerous materials on his social network pages and his personal website, presenting his own arguments about the Quran and Islam, including the analysis of specific Surahs. However, he espouses a general idea that the Quran is full of aggressive statements about non-believers, and that these statements are dangerous for modern society and encourage Muslims to violent actions, including terrorism. In some cases, he says that Islam should not be considered a religion of peace, and Muslims, when they become the majority, “will kill all non-believers.” We believe that if certain statements incite hatred towards followers of any religion, such actions should be qualified not under Article 148 Part 1 CC, but under Article 20.3.1 CAO. It is possible that Vegan's videos, which attracted the attention of law enforcement agencies, contain statements inciting hatred towards Muslims.
We also wrote above about the fact that on November 15, officers of the Centre for Combating Extremism in Moscow filed 11 reports under Article 5.26 CAO (likely Part 2) against animal rights activist Yuri Koretskikh. All these reports were subsequently consolidated by the court into a single proceeding. The case was based on Koretskikh's old VKontakte posts, including those dating back to 2013, covering subjects such as the baptism of Russia, Lent, and Easter eggs. While we are uncertain about the specific posts that triggered the charges, Koretsky's VKontakte page indeed contains a number of images and posts criticizing Christianity and the consumption of meat by Christians, featuring images of crosses and other Christian symbols and paraphernalia. In our opinion, posting such collages and memes online should not, in and of itself, be interpreted as desecration of objects of religious veneration, as it involves no active actions with religious paraphernalia. Additionally, it's noteworthy that the legislation never provides a clear definition of the concept of “desecration.”
Persecution against Religious Organizations and Believers
Sanctions against Jehovah's Witnesses continued in November on the charges of involvement in the activities of local religious organizations that were recognized as extremist and banned.
We are aware of five sentences issued in September against twelve believers.
- On November 7, the Kalininsky District Court of Chelyabinsk sentenced Yevgeny Bushev to seven years of imprisonment under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC (organizing the activities of an extremist organization).
On November 7, the Pozharsky District Court of Primorsky Krai issued a suspended sentence of two and a half years to Valery Vyaznikov from Chegdomyn settlement of Khabarovsk Krai under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC (participating in the activities of an extremist organization).
On November 15, the Kuznetsky District Court of Novokuznetsk issued a four-year suspended sentence to Tatyana Sushilnikova under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC.
On November 20, the Proletarsky District Court of Tula found four believers guilty and issued a suspended sentence of six and a half years to Gurami Labadze and Yevgeny Godunov under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC. Angela Putivskaya and Yulia Popkova received a suspended sentence of two and a half years under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC.
On November 23, the Balakovsky District Court of the Saratov Region issued a verdict against five believers. The court imposed a six-year suspended sentence on Alexei Bogatov and Vladimir Mavrin under Article 282.2 Part 1 СС. Sergey Tyurin, Yevgeny Fomashin and Andrei Murych were sentenced to a fine of 300 thousand rubles under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC.
It should also be noted that on November 20, the court of Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Okrug overturned the acquittal of Ivan Sorokin and Andrei Zhukov, issued on August 7, 2023, by the Yugorsk District Court, and sent the case for a re-trial. During the oral argument in the district court, the prosecutor asked for nine years of imprisonment in a minimum-security colony for Sorokin and eight and a half years in a penal colony for Zhukov under Article 282.2 Part 1 CC and Article 282.2 Part 1.1 CC, but the court acquitted them. It should be noted that the ruling of the Plenary Meeting of the Supreme Court of Russia, dated October 28, 2021, indicated that the involvement of others in the activities of an organization or community, committed by the organizer (leader), is covered by Article 282.2 Part 1 CC and does not require additional qualification under Article 282.2 Part 1.1 CC.
Two newly opened cases of prosecution against Jehovah's Witnesses were reported in November with four believers facing criminal charges.
On October 12 in Korsakov of the Sakhalin Region, a criminal case under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC was initiated against Olga Kalinnikova and Larisa Potapova; they were released under travel restrictions.
On November 16, search raids in Jehovah's Witnesses homes took place in Saratov. Two believers – Alexei Vasiliev and Alexei Efremov – were placed under house arrest as suspects under Article 282.2 Part 2 CC.