Inappropriate Enforcement of Anti-Extremist Legislation in Russia in a First Half of 2010
Creation of Regulatory Acts
Ban on Materials Becomes the Principal Repressive Mechanism : Federal List and the Issue of Information Access : Federal List and Restrictions on Freedom of Conscience
Other Inappropriate Penalties : Persecution of Political Opposition and Public Activists : Anti-Extremist Persecution of the Media : Absurd Applications of Anti-Extremist Legislation
This is the first report by the SOVA center on this subject that does not cover the entire year. The subject of “inappropriate anti-extremism” was previously a part of our quarterly reports. However, in 2010 the report structure has changed: we have published a half-year report on radical nationalism and related issues, while devoting the present report specifically to issues related to the excessive use of anti-extremist measures. Therefore, here we review events and trends dating from January through June of 2010. The events of July through early September are referenced as necessary to reflect the development of the observed trends.In its analysis of “inappropriate anti-extremism” this report is based on the same assumptions as our 2009 annual report. 
In 2010, inappropriate enforcement of anti-extremist legislation developed along the lines frequently discussed in our past reports. Those were: limiting freedom of conscience, persecution of community activists and political opposition, pressure on the media, and the imitation of anti-extremist activity by persecuting the behavior, which, while formally meeting the definition of "extremist activity", present no public danger.
During the first half of the year, legally ambiguous and never-clarified legislation wording showed the greatest potential for abuse, namely the concept of "social group" and the issue of non-violent separatism.
Federal List of Extremist Materials became the principal instrument of inappropriate anti-extremist persecution in 2010. Moreover, individuals and organizations suffered not only from evidently improper bans (as was the case with representatives of several religious groups), but also from the poor quality of the list itself, which makes a significant portion of banned materials impossible to identify.
In addition, other instruments of anti-extremist persecution – from the confiscation of the entire print runs of opposition publications "for examination purposes" to warnings issued to publications and for actions critical of the government - are also used, albeit on a smaller scale than appeals to the Federal List of Extremist Materials. Such a practice borders on the absurd, and, in itself, constitutes a powerful factor in discrediting the entire body of anti-extremist legislation as well as specific well-founded "anti-extremist" cases. Public disorientation regarding the reasonable application of laws against extremism is the result.
CREATION OF REGULATORY ACTS
The first half of 2010 brought forth a few bills related to the subject of anti-extremism in one way or the other.
The bill extending the powers of the FSB submitted by the government in April 2010 produced the most intense debate. The bill included changes to the Code of Administrative Offences of the Russian Federation and to the law “On FSB”.
The first draft of the bill left no doubt that the intimidation of political opposition was virtually its sole purpose, since its proposed sanctions were obviously not directed at those practicing terrorism or racist violence. The law’s sponsors granted FSB the right to give warning to individuals regarding the “unacceptability of actions, causing reasons or creating conditions for committing crimes for which, according to the laws of Russian Federation, the investigation is within the purview of federal security agencies, in the absence of the basis for criminal charges”. They suggested publishing the warnings in the mass media, and then levying fines or administrative arrests on those ignoring such warnings. These measures were perceived as overt intimidation. The draft included no provisions for questioning the appropriateness of FSB’s actions.
The project has been changed by its second reading. The right to appeal the warnings in the courtroom was added, while the ability to publish warnings in media outlets to the court was removed. Ignoring preventive warnings was no longer subject to administrative penalties for failure to comply with FSB officers’ orders. However, even in its altered version the FSB mandate extension presents the threat of an undue increase in the pressure on citizens, organizations, and the media. Moreover, a warning from an operative and investigative body such as the FSB violates the logic of existing legislation, in which supervisory functions belong only to the prosecutor's office.. Nevertheless, the bill went through all stages of consideration and became a law on July 29, 2010.
The “anti-extremist” legislative initiative of Moscow City Council – the bill “On making changes to the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, and selected legislation of the Russian Federation” – became subject of a relatively wide public discussion. The document once again called for tougher hate crime penalties, for removing racist violence cases from the purview of jury trials, and for the introduction of administrative responsibility of the media outlets for mentions of ethnicity in the course of their coverage of criminal activity. Various versions of similar initiatives frequently emerged in recent years. In particular, the issue of banning mentions of ethnicity in crime chronicles, almost at the last moment appeared in the final text of the bill sponsored by the Moscow City Council in 2007, but was later buried in the State Duma. The discussion around this issue repeated the discussion, raised three years ago: a restriction of this sort is easy to sidestep, while at the same time it leads to restrictions on free speech and to concealment of important information (i.e. racist attacks) from the public. As for tougher hate crime penalties, and removing these crimes from the purview of jury trials, these ideas (similar to most initiatives of this kind) are based on the erroneous concepts of the Criminal Code’s lack of stringency (in fact the courts are simply not using the repressive potential of the existing Criminal Code to its full extent), and of the purportedly outstanding racism of the jury (never confirmed by the analysis of law enforcement practice).
All attempts to challenge the removal of crimes related to terrorist activity from the purview of the jury trial (as ruled by the Constitutional Court in April 2010) and to obtain a clarification of the legal concept of “social group”, where the ambiguity led to an increase in unjustified anti-extremist prosecutions, have failed.Roman Zamuraev, one of the defendants in such a case, accused of inciting hatred to “social groups” of “people who did not join…the so-called Army of People’s Will” (Armiya Voli Naroda) and of “representatives of governmental bodies” requested a legal clarification of a “social group” concept from the Constitutional Court, but was refused on formalities, with an additional statement that “the court does not see any ambiguity in the wording of Criminal Code article 282. While Zamuraev’s lawsuit may have been filed incorrectly, it is impossible to agree with the Constitutional Court’s position in substance..
The 15 July 2010 resolution of the plenary meeting of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation regarding judicial practice related to the Russian Federation Statute on the Mass Media demonstrated an important positive step toward limiting the inappropriate enforcement of anti-extremist legislation. It finally resolved in favor of the media all the contentious issues, which had threatened media outlets with unfounded anti-extremist prosecution.
-Liability for the quotation of xenophobic statements;
-Liability for the publication of satirical, humorous and non-realistic materials that engages an extremist topic;-Liability for the comments of television audiences (including those in the news ticker), statements made by live broadcast participants, and comments on the internet forums of media outlets. .
In light of this document, the Federal Supervision Agency for Information Technologies and Communications (Roskomnadzor) promptly issued an order, regulating the procedure of issuing anti-extremist warnings to media outlets for statements made on their forums. The order applies to all registered mass media outlets that have websites or online versions.
Upon discovery of internet forum statements he considers extremist the Roskomnadzor officer communicates the information to the relevant media outlet, asking to remove or edit an offensive commentary. The document is sent in two copies – via e-mail with read confirmation and via fax, as listed in the registration papers for a given media outlet and on its website. The timing of the communication is recorded according to record-management guidelines.
The site has 24 hours to comply with the Roskomnadzor’s request, after which the agency issues an official warning.
The deadline for correcting cited problems constitutes the order’s main deficiency: in the context of the ruling the start time is not the moment the communication is received (moreover, received not just by the media outlet, but by a staff member responsible for the decision-making, such as chief editor, his deputy and such) but the moment it was sent out. In this situation twenty four hours seem to be an extremely tight and, quite possibly, unrealistic timeframe, especially if we take into consideration the fact, that many editing rooms are not open on a daily basis, while a website operates around the clock.
Refinement of this set of instructions and extending the controversial deadline would protect the agency from the accusation that it attempts to exert inappropriate pressure on the media.
BAN ON MATERIALS BECOMES THE PRINCIPAL REPRESSIVE MECHANISMWe have referred to the problems of expansion and poor quality of the Federal List of Extremist Materials, and the subsequent absence of ban enforcement mechanisms on numerous previous occasions. .
In the first half of 2010 the Federal list was turning into one of the principal instruments of the inappropriate anti-extremist repressions. A major subset of such repressions directly involved citing of the Federal list by law enforcement agencies. However, its size became so large and quality so low, that the Ministry of Justice (which, just to recall, serves merely as a technical registrar of the court’s decisions) showed itself unable to register incoming materials accurately. Its register reflects some court decisions twice (at this time there are two such duplicates in the register) in addition to listing the mutually duplicating decisions by various courts.
Federal List and the Issue of Information Access
It is important to identify two problems unrelated to the appropriateness of the bans on specific materials.The first problem is the quality of the bibliographic description of listed materials. The addition of several items, altogether containing over 300 (!) materials under the titles “13ng.jpg; 14s.jpg; 15ng.jpg; 13760081zi8.jpg” etc. became the most recent example of such poor-quality updates..
The examples of the repressive activities of law enforcement agencies related to their inability to identify materials from the List are far from numerous, but they do exist.
In particular, in the notorious decision of 16 July 2010 by the Komsomolsk-na-Amure on closing access to most prominent internet resources because of some “extremist” materials found there, the YouTube portal was declared off-limits because of a certain video clip “Russia for Russians”. The Komsomolsk-na-Amure Prosecutor’s Office concluded that the very same video clip had been banned by one of the Samara courts back in November 2009, and demanded that access to the clip be closed. As of today at least two clips with the name “Russia for Russians” can be found on the YouTube portal. One of them is a Neo-Nazi commercial, the other is an Anglophone report from the Voice of America on the problem of ultra-right violence in Russia. One more clip, content unknown, with its address featured on the Prosecutor’s Office claim, has been removed. We do not know how the Prosecutor’s Office managed to prove in court that the latter video clip was the one from the Samara Court decision (the evidence was either never discussed, or not reflected in the court ruling). However, even if we believe the Prosecutor’s Office, and even if it were possible to hold the YouTube administration responsible for enforcing the Samara court decision (possible but not very easy), how would the YouTube administration identify the clip in question, when the Federal List only has the following information “488. Video Clip «Russia for Russians», uploaded on internet website (decision of Samara District Court of the city of Samara of 19 November 2009, and judgment by Samara District Court of the city of Samara of 19 November 2009)”?
The second problem is the continued absence of an enforcement mechanism for the ban on the distribution of “extremist” materials.Let us turn once again to the same Komsomolsk-na-Amure court decision. The Prosecutor’s Office demanded blocking four specific web pages, where its officers found extremist materials (the above-mentioned video clip and three instances of Mein Kampf publication). This request originated from the fact, that all these publications were hosted abroad, so the Prosecutor’s Office was unable to achieve its removal (most likely it simply made no attempts to do so). We cannot judge whether compliance with the request by the Prosecutor’s Office to block access to four specific pages was technically possible. In any case, the court chose not to focus on the details, and simply demanded that access to all four resources in their entirety be blocked, thereby causing a scandal, since the ruling affected key internet portals. In fact, under the pretext of preventing the distribution of a few extremist materials, the court closed access to a wealth of non-extremist materials..
The infamous 58th volume of encyclopedia from Terra publishers, which featured an article about Chechen Republic deemed extremist by Grozny Court in April 2010, suffered the same fate. After the court decision went into effect bailiffs started withdrawing the book from sale, as well as from libraries (which is, in itself, illegal), evidently with the purpose of destroying the entire print run. Thus not only the article, comprising 0.3% of the volume, but all the other texts in the volume were banned de-facto.
Similar, albeit less notorious cases, when the ban of one fragment led to the de facto removal of the complete entity (book, website, newspaper) are no longer exceptional.
The problem of preservation and access to extremist materials for research purposes, i.e. in the libraries, remains unresolved. Back in 2009 we pointed out direct contradictions between anti-extremist legislation and the set of laws that govern library operation (first and foremost the profile law “On Librarianship”). According to the latter, librarians have no right to deny requests for materials, or to conceal the existence of materials in their collections. Libraries and depositories have to accept mandatory copies of the publications in accordance with their core mission, and, if these materials are deemed extremist, under no circumstances can they be removed from the collection (in the early 1990s, when librarianship laws were being developed, this clause was obviously motivated by the still-vivid memories of the politically-motivated removals, and of the resulting loss of a great number of historical sources).
This problem has been acknowledged by all the agencies involved, however we witnessed no attempts to resolve it (the spring of 2010 brought a failed attempt to achieve temporary resolution by an inter-agency order, regulating a series of contentious issues). De-facto at this time libraries are solving the problem of preservation and access to materials deemed extremist at their own risk by developing relevant institutional instructions.. This position engenders our particular respect, since anti-extremist warnings to libraries have been and remain an unlimited resource for improving the prosecution’s anti-extremist statistics i.e. for the imitation of the anti-extremist activity.
The prosecutors have two essential charges for the libraries: the presence of extremist materials in their collection, and the absence of a Federal List of Extremist Materials in their collection, or even the absence of its most recent version (meanwhile the list is updated three times a month, and its paper copy is currently about 50 pages long). Due to the lack of transparency in Prosecutor’s Offices’ reports, we traditionally don’t have the total number for anti-extremist warnings to libraries. However, there is no doubt that hundreds of such warnings are issued: Just for 2010 we received information about the series of warnings issued in Orenburg, Kirov, Nizhny Novgorod, Voronezh, Novosibirsk and Volgograd regions, in Altai, North Ossetia, Tyva, and Tatarstan Republics, in Krasnodar and Altai krays.
An equally inexhaustible source for improving anti-extremist statistics comes from issuing similar warnings to educational institutions (secondary schools in particular) regarding their computer filters not fully blocking the materials recognized as extremist.
The situation with internet filters has two specific aspects in addition to the above-mentioned problem of identifying the material recognized as extremist.
First, until mid-2009 the Ministry of Justice routinely employed (as well as in selected cases after that date) a rather strange practice: when banning internet materials (websites), they would enter an altered version of its URL into the Federal List. Whether it was an initiative of the Ministry of Justice officials in order to prevent readers from “checking what’s there” by simply following the links, or whether the URL was altered in the court resolutions is unknown. However, regardless of the purpose, these altered incorrect URLs cannot be used in the internet filters.
Next, back in March 2008 the Federal Education Agency (Rosobrazovanie) supplied all Russian schools with licensed software packages, which included a program of content filtration of internet access (intended, among other things, to block “extremist” and pornographic sites). It soon became evident that the program is not up to the task, and subsequently schools all over the country began to receive anti-extremist warnings. Local officials and school leadership, clearly unable to rectify the situation without extra spending, and possibly unable to resolve it in general, are saddled with this undeserved administrative liability. However, it looks like no work on improving the filters is taking place on the federal level. As a result, in only the first half of 2010 we received information about the series of warnings in Murmansk, Orenburg, Kirov, Ivanovo, Arkhangelsk, Moscow, Leningrad and Sverdlovsk regions, and the Republics of Kalmykia and Karachay-Cherkessia, the Kamchatka Krai. The total number of "school" warnings is also counted in the hundreds if not thousands.
Federal List and Restrictions on Freedom of Conscience
While restrictions on the right to access information are mostly caused by technical deficiencies both of the banning mechanism and of the Federal List as such, it should be remembered that an unjustified and inappropriate ban on materials, after they are added to the Federal List, becomes a reason for real repression.
Primarily it concerns materials produced by religious groups.
Persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses
The ongoing persecution campaign against Jehovah’s Witnesses remains the most large-scale and all-encompassing of such cases in the first half of 2010. The campaign gained new energy in December 2009, after a decision about recognizing one of Jehovah’s Witnesses organizations as extremist (the one in Taganrog) went into effect. In 2010 we recorded dozens of attacks on individual members, as well as acts of vandalism against their property, various administrative penalties against their organizations and against individual followers. The persecution are supported and often provoked by the defamation campaign unleashed in the media.
The “anti-extremist” component represents a serious element of this campaign.
In April 2010, after a large series of the organization’s religious texts were deemed extremist, Roskomnadzor annulled their permission to distribute magazines “Awake!” and “Watchtower,” administered centrally via the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In a revealing move in December 2009, the Supreme Court of Russia refused to join the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses as an interested party in the proceedings, connected to the ban on their literature, on a patently absurd basis that the interests of the Administrative Center were not affected by the court decision to ban the texts.
As was expected, the ban on basic Jehovah’s Witness literature spurred an entire host of anti-extremist persecution practices connected to the literature’s distribution.
First, public prosecutors continue to issue warnings to local Jehovah’s Witnesses’ religious organizations. In 2010 prosecutors’ warnings for collective reading, storage and distribution of prohibited texts were issued in Tula and Lipetsk regions and in the Jewish autonomous region (where the Prosecutor’s Office threatened to suspend the organization’s activities).
Next, we can expect much wider prosecution of individual followers on the basis of Article 20.29 of Code of Administrative Offences of the Russian Federation (“Mass distribution of extremist materials”). In 2010 at least two such episodes were recorded: one in the Krasnodar Kray, the other in Tatarstan (one more case in the Yaroslavl region was dropped for lack of offense). There are also reasons to believe that this practice is more widespread. (According to the data collected by the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses as of September 2010 there were 116 administrative trials, including 32 cases based on the Code of Administrative Offences Article 20.29. In most cases Witnesses are able to refute administrative allegations, since only 19 Jehovah’s Witnesses were found administratively liable).
The third developing practice is legal prosecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses under Article 282 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. None of the cases have made it to the court. They usually end at the preliminary investigation stage, which, however, lasts for many months (for example, in March 2010 in the Sverdlovsk region a criminal case against Yu. Ananyin, opened in June 2008, was finally closed). In the first half of 2010 criminal cases against Jehovah’s Witnesses under Article 828 were initiated in Tambov, Omsk and Chelyabinsk regions. In Belgorod, law enforcement officials tried to file criminal charges against one of the Witnesses S. Ishchenko starting in November 2009, and only after the fifth (!) rejection from the Prosecutor General in the summer of 2010, they fined S. Ishchenko for his lack of a “missionary identification document” and “for harassment in order to impose his religious convictions” (at the time of this writing the administrative penalties are being contested in court).
The cases where law enforcement officers simply detain the believers are impossible to track – just over the course of the spring of 2010 over 150 such detentions were reported, and they usually include searches, insults, forced fingerprinting etc. At least 20 of these detentions cited “fight against extremism” as their primary motive, and close to 90% of the cases had to do with increased attention by law enforcement personnel, directed specifically at Jehovah’s Witnesses publications.
Persecution of L. Ron Hubbard’s Followers
In 2010 the campaign of anti-extremist persecution targeted Scientologists – the followers of L. Ron Hubbard (here is a reminder that Scientology organizations had prior problems in Russia, but never connected to the accusation of extremism). It is symptomatic that the campaign started with bans on their materials.26 March 2010 the City Court of Surgut (Khanty-Mansi Autonomous District) deemed extremist 28 titles of Scientology books and other materials. The court decision lists no reasons for the charge of extremism: the court completely relied on expert opinion, and we cannot evaluate the quality of expertise, since the opinion was never published. However, it is symptomatic that the official press release of the City Court of Surgut states that the experts “presented their conclusions that distribution of the materials under expertise is not acceptable, since they undermine traditional spiritual foundations of citizens’ life in the Russian Federation” (boldface is mine – G. K.)..
It took one court meeting to ban 28 items comprising several cartons worth of paper – therefore it is obvious, that the court made no attempt to analyze the appropriateness of charges filed by the prosecution. The defendant’s side was never notified about the trial, and hence had no opportunity to speak..
Unfortunately we have no information as to whether the court verdict ever went into effect. Most likely not, since in April the Scientology’s Surgut representatives already filed their first appeals. The Ministry of Justice officially stated (even in writing) that the decision never went into effect. At the same time Moscow Scientology representatives along with Bridge Publication, the copyright owner of the banned materials, initially not informed about the trial, also fought for their right to appeal (and probably for their acknowledgement by the involved parties). As a result, on 13 July 2010 the verdict of the City Court of Surgut was overturned by the appellate court. However, by coincidence, precisely on 13 July all 28 publications were added to the Federal List. It is unclear whether the officials in the Ministry of Justice had any justification for including these materials in the List, while the decision on the case, according to their own statement, never went into effect.
At this time the case recognizing these materials as extremist is still ongoing (the case was only returned to the court in August, and the new court date has not yet been scheduled), however the materials have not been removed from the Federal List, and the criminal prosecutions against Scientologists have already started (in particular, we know that a criminal case was filed under Article 282 against Dianetics Center in the Moscow suburb of Schyolkovo).
Other Religious Groups
The situation with adding Scientology materials to the Federal List is largely identical to the situation with Falun Dafa materials in 2009 (it is worth noting that this organization was also able to challenge the court decision, but nevertheless its materials are still on the List).In late 2009 – early 2010, while the Prosecutor’s Office tried to challenge its court loss, the Falun Dafa followers attempted a court case to force the Ministry of Justice to remove their materials from the list, but failed. The Tver district court in Moscow in December 2009, and then the Moscow City Court in February 2010 accepted the Ministry’s argument that not withdrawing the materials from the List was justified because, supposedly, the withdrawal decision can only happen after the last trial ends and its verdict goes into effect. However, this rationale appears not only disingenuous but contradicting the existing practice of the Ministry itself: the Ministry removed from the list the anti-Krishna leaflet of United Russia’s Young Guard (Molodaya Gvardiya Edinoi Rossii, MGER), although the court ruling had not yet come into force. .
In the first half of 2010 the persecution of “non-traditional” Muslim group continued as well – in August the criminal case under Article 282 against the follower of Nurcular in Nizhniy Novgorod ended in a suspended sentence. He was accused not of participating in an extremist organization (Article 828.2 of the Criminal Code) but explicitly of the distribution and popularization of books and ideas of Said Nursi (we consider ban on Nursi’s books and on Nurcular to be inappropriate.
OTHER INAPPROPRIATE PENALTIES
In 2010 the inappropriate uses of the instruments of anti-extremist legislation, other than the Federal List of Extremist Materials, fell into one of three categories listed below:
- Anti-extremist pressure on freedom of conscience;
- Anti-extremist pressure on political opposition and public activists;
- Anti-extremist pressure on media.
In addition to all the instances listed above, the first category needs to mention the multi-year court trial over the organizers of “Prohibited Art-2006” Yuri Samodurov and Andrey Erofeev, which came to a resolution in the lower court. On 12 July 2010 Moscow's Tagansky District Court fined the defendants 200 and 150 thousand rubles respectively, finding them guilty of inciting religious hatred, committed with the use of official position. In fact, Yuri Samodurov and A. Erofeev were convicted of blasphemy (the court decision stated that, as a consequence of the organizers’ actions, even those believers who have never seen the exhibition, "underwent a psycho-traumatic impact" and "experienced moral suffering").
The expansion of the persecution campaign against followers of Tablighi Jamaat, an Islamist organization, banned without sufficient reasons, is also worth noting. The cases under Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code (“Participation in an organized group deemed extremist by the court”) were filed in Buryatia and Chita. In Chita, in August 2010, the supporter of the organization was convicted, albeit received a suspended sentence. In Samara, the supporter of the organization was issued an anti-extremist warning.
Persecution of Political Opposition and Public Activists
In the first half of 2010 the “anti-extremist” pressure on political opposition and public activists fell into one of the following three categories:
-Consequences of inappropriate recognition of National Bolshevik Party (Natsional-bol’shevistskaia partiia, NBP) as an extremist organization;
-Persecution using unclear legal provisions within anti-extremist legislation, particularly lack of definition regarding the norms of Russia’s territorial integrity;
-Return to the practice of confiscating the entire print run for the “extremism checks.”
It is worth repeating that the ban of an organization on the basis of extremism implies not only criminal responsibility for any attempt to continue its activities, but also various administrative penalties, such as warnings to the media for mentioning the banned organization’s name without information about its prohibited status, attempts to cut access to internet resources associated with the organization, as well as attempts to recognize its materials as extremist. In recent years consequences of this kind are most visible in reference to NBP (before that Hizb ut-Tahrir was “in the lead”)
In the first half of 2010 the National Bolsheviks received at least two convictions under Article 282.2 (with no additional charges) – the conviction for Vladimir Akimenkov in Moscow and Dmitry Isusov in Arzamas. Both of them were convicted not for any illegal activities conducted on behalf of the banned NBP, but for the mere fact of continuing their National Bolshevik membership.
In June in Ekaterinburg several texts, distributed by National Bolsheviks were recognized as extremist, even though the texts themselves in no way fit the definition of extremist materials, containing instead a harsh criticism of the existing government and appeals to police not to suppress oppositional demonstrations. In some regions the prosecutors closed access to the National Bolshevik websites via court decisions.
As before, the ban on NВP affects not only the National Bolsheviks themselves but also random people and publications. Over the course of 2010 at least one newspaper “Be in the Know”, Rostov-na-Donu) received a warning for mentioning NBP without all the necessary caveats.The warning issued by the Prosecutor’s office of the Rostov Region to Konstantin Baranov, the leader of the regional office of the organization Young Europe (Molodaya Evropa), should be viewed as obvious abuse. It was issued in February 2010 when K. Baranov in his research paper on xenophobia in Rostov Region (not a mass media publication by any stretch) included the information of Rostov National Bolsheviks, taken from open and publicly accessible sources (his report had a print run of 200 copies, its primary target audience was law enforcement officers and the human rights activists interested in counteracting xenophobia in Russia). According to the Rostov prosecutors, merely including the contact information for the banned organization can stimulate young people’s interest, and in the future might lead to the breaking the clause of the law that prohibits the creation and activity of extremist organizations. .
The wording of the law On Counteracting Extremist Activity” still leaves open the question of whether any opinion doubting the territorial integrity of Russia is automatically illegal. The very first article of the law, which defines extremism, starts its list of elements with “ forcible change of the constitutional order or a violation of the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.” The sentence structure permits the interpretation that the word “forcible” also refers to “violation of the territorial integrity.” We tend to think that, regretfully, it does not, since otherwise, according to the rules of Russian language, “forcible” would have had to take a plural form.
Thus, law enforcement officials are unsure, and tend to assume, that any call for a peaceful change of Russian borders constitutes extremism. However, there is no unanimity on this issue.
For example, in April 2010 criminal proceedings were dropped against civic activist Igor Averkiev of Perm, who wrote in his 2009 article "Leave the Caucasus and Become Freer and Stronger,” that it would be better for Russia, as a nation, to grant independence ("let go of") the "recalcitrant” North Caucasian republics, especially Chechnya. After a year of deliberation, the law enforcement authorities of the Perm region have decided that such calls (which were commonplace in public debate in the 1990s, and in the beginning of the second Chechen war) are not extremist.
The law enforcement officials in Karelia reacted quite differently to the leaflets, distributed by one of the region’s inhabitants Vyacheslav Drezner, which called for a referendum on either seceding from Russia or unifying certain Karelian territories with Finland. The leaflets contained no incitements to violent acts, and were motivated by social complaints against the regional and local authorities, unable to provide a decent quality of life for residents of some areas (the problems with heating, water, etc.). However, the court understood the leaflets as a public incitement to extremist activities. In January 2010 the criminal charges were filed, and in August V. Drezner was sentenced to a fine of 100 thousand rubles.
In spring of 2010 the practice of confiscating the entire print run of a periodical for “extremism checks” was resumed (remember, that this practice was widely used during the federal elections, but then gradually tapered off). Throughout 2010 at least three such cases have been reported (two in the first and one in the second part of 2010). Namely the print run of the “Soviet Kuzbass” newspaper was confiscated in May 2010 in Kemerovo, and so was the print run of the report by Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Milov “Putin: the Results” in June in St. Petersburg (on 1 July the report was declared to contain no extremism, however the print run was never returned to the authors’ representatives). In September the print run of the Khimki Truth Lives newspaper was seized.
Anti-Extremist Persecution of the Media
Inappropriate anti-extremist warnings to media outlets in the first half of 2010 continued to follow the trends observed over the previous years.
- Persecutions related to mentioning the NBP (see above)
- Persecutions for statements by the readers on unmoderated internet forums. For example in june the owner of the website http://www.astrakhan.ru/ received a public prosecutor's warning for the readers’ comments regarding the mass brawl that had occurred in the city.
- Persecution for criticizing the government in general. For example, in May the Pskov Province (Pskovskaya Guberniya) newspaper received a warning from Roskomnadzor for its publication “On the peculiarities of the national terror," which contained a sharp criticism of Russian authorities for their failure in preventing attacks such as the bombings in the Moscow subway 29 March 2010.
- Persecutions related to quotations from some intolerant statement, even if they are not in support of the statement, but, on the contrary, express the author’s concern about socially significant issues. Roskomnadzor issued a warning to Novaya Gazeta for its article “Gang, Agency, Party. Who are the <<Legitimate Nationalists>>” examining the problem of ultra-right activities in the legitimate public sphere. Vedomosti received an obviously inappropriate warning for the M. Kucherskaya’s article “Eternal Values. The Failure to Communicate,” in which she, attempted to analyze the motives of the female suicide bombers, while clearly repudiating terrorism.
- Persecutions related to the ambiguity of the concept of a “social group”. We have already mentioned that the Constitutional Court declined to clarify the legal meaning of this term. In the absence of such clarification, the tem “social group” is ever more frequently interpreted as “professional group,” and in practice this clause tends to be increasingly applied in order to suppress the criticism of police brutality. For example articles criticizing the police brought on the charges against the newspapers Evening Tyumen (Vecherniaya Tyumen) (for two ironic texts, reprinted by the newspaper from a local anarchist’s blog) and Evening Ryazan (Vecherniaya Ryazan) (compare to the numerous unsuccessful attempts by Ryazan civic activists to hold the second newspaper responsible for its continued aggressive anti-Semitic publications).
The number of such warnings is small (even smaller for the criminal cases), although greater than we know, since the anti-extremist activities of public prosecution lack transparency, unlike those of Roskomnadzor. Still, this kind of pressure on the media undoubtedly affects the overall situation for the freedom of speech, and limits the possibility of serious and reasoned (not merely propagandist) discussion of such socially significant problems as racism, xenophobia, terrorism, government’s level of competence, police brutality, etc.
The influence of the resolution of the plenary meeting of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, mentioned above and reviewing these contested issues (except the ones on mentioning the banned organizations) is not yet known. In theory it seriously limits the abuse of anti-extremist legislation with respect to the mass media.
On the one hand, even after the publication of the Supreme Court resolution, warnings were issued regarding the internet forum comments (website of Political News Agency (Agentstvo Politicheskih Novostei, APN)), and regarding the publication of the controversial and truly xenophobic material in order to illustrate the demand for its ban, i.e. for giving its readers an opportunity to form their own judgment of the validity of the law enforcement actions (portal MySLO.ru (Moya Sloboda, My Village)), and for the Vedomosti article by M. Kucherskaya, mentioned above.
On the other hand, in September 2010 the editorial staff won the multi-year case on closing the “Rough Draft” Chernovik” newspaper, for publishing the series of problem essays discussion the activity of the North Caucasian separatists and the incompetence and arbitrariness of law enforcement in this area. Perhaps the court's decision in favor of the newspaper was also influenced, by the above-cited decision of the Russian Supreme Court.
Absurd Applications of Anti-Extremist LegislationThe practice of absurd applications of anti-extremist legislation (corresponding to the letter of law, but de-facto persecuting the obviously socially harmless xenophobic manifestations) continues unabated. For example, the undefined context of the ban on displaying the swastika still allows persecution, for example, for the use of the swastika in caricatures. In February in Penza and in Perm in June the criminal cases under Article 20.3 of Code of Administrative Offences (“Public display of Nazi symbols“) were filed against Sergey Padalkin, the activist of the Left Front, and against Sergey Andreyanov, the activist of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (Kommunisticheskaya Partiya Rossiyskoi Federatsii, KPRF). They were charged with displaying on their websites a cartoon, depicting the Russian flag and the abbreviation ZhKX with the last letter in the swastika shape,  although the context clearly indicated that the cartoon was not an instance of Nazi propaganda but the criticism of government policies in the area of housing and utilities (Zhilishchno-Kommunal’noe Khozyaistvo, ZhKX) . In Perm the case was later closed due to the running of the period of limitation.
Banning text containing xenophobic content, but clearly unreadable for the overwhelming majority of those who have access to it, constitutes another patently absurd law enforcement practice. The most obvious example is the ban on the texts produced by Kolograd Society of Bryansk (deemed extremist in January 2010), which constitute a dossier of sorts on Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin. These texts assert the Jewish origins of Putin and Medvedev and their "dark" identity (in a mystical sense). As evidence we would like to quote the following passage: Putin Vladimir Vlidimirovich DOSSIER – EVIDENCE BASE of non-legitimate and criminal actions of the Core (Existing, Spirit) and the Essence (Soul) Lord Sabaoth (Kabaof, "The Lord of Hosts"), currently located in the substance of (the body, subject) Putin Vladimir Vlidimirovich, which together and simultaneously in a sphere in an absolutely legitimate sphere of Russia (of the World of BelSveta), inside of which in the sphere of Metagalaxy Aragorn (also known as Milky Way), in a Mirgrad star system (also known as Solo or Solar system) on the territory of the Planet Da'Ariya (also known as Shan Tidzhiek, Terra, Earth) on the Slavia continent (also known as Gandvana, Tartary, Asia, EuroAsia ) in the country of Russia (also known as Great Russia, the Russian Empire, RSFSR, USSR, Russia) perform functional duties of the Prime Minister - as illegitimate and criminal government of the Russian Federation - the illegitimate and criminal state of Russian Federation calling itself - Russia. Essence was formed in the Dark Sector of the Galaxy" (grammar retained - GK).
In our opinion this text should be in the competence of a psychiatrist, not a law enforcement official, and the ban on such “creative works,” like the swastika persecutions detailed above, are nothing but an imitation of anti-extremist activity.
Moreover, such practice discredits the entire idea of prosecution for racist propaganda, neo-Nazism and xenophobia. Subsequently, it becomes possible to discredit even well-founded cases, or even to attract attention as a “victim of political repressions”. The case in point is the persecution of Mikhail Deev, a National Bolshevik, found guilty under Article 282 (“Incitement of Hatred) and Article 282.2 (“Participation in the organization deemed extremist by the court”) for his extremely xenophobic anti-Chinese leaflets. However, the public opinion is convinced that Deev suffered for his slogan “Down with Absolutism and the Succession to the Throne!” This slogan was indeed recognized as extremist by the court experts (which, of course, raises serious doubts in the overall quality of the expertise), but the materials, carrying this slogan, played no further part in Deev’s case.
Then in July public attention was captured by the story of an allegedly anti-extremist persecution for the comments in the “friendfeed” of the blog belonging to Vladimir Volkov, the Penza activist of the Yabloko youth section and of Defense (Oborona) Party. The story was publicized as an actual case of criminal prosecution, however in fact it was simply an ingenious media-provocation by the blog’s owner. Without any obvious reasons V.Volkov published the text of the court’s expert opinion, which covered all the materials in his blog. The expertise was undertaken in the context of the investigation regarding the fall 2009 arson of Penza office of the United Russia (Edinaya Rossiya) Party. Volkov further stated that he is about to be charged under Article 282 on the basis of this expert opinion. Since most of the xenophobic texts resided in his “friendfeed” the public opinion retained an impression that a “blogger was prosecuted for his “friendfeed”. However, we received no further information about criminal proceedings against V. Volkov or his “friends”.The incidents with the “Down with Absolutism and the Succession to the Throne” slogan, and with “prosecution for friendfeed” clearly demonstrate that the law enforcement practice discredited itself in the public eye to the extent that people became likely to easily believe the most absurd accounts.
 Verkhovsky, Alexander, Inappropriate enforcement of anti-extremist legislation in Russia in 2009// Xenophobia, Freedom of Conscience and Anti-Extremism in Russia in 2009. Moscow: SOVA Center, 2010, pp. 73–78 (http://www.sova-center.ru/en/xenophobia/reports-analyses/2010/04/d18482/#r1).
 Full text of the document: The Constitutional Court of Russia Turned Down Roman Zamuraev’s Request 8 June 2010. (http://www.sova-center.ru/racism-xenophobia/docs/2010/06/d18961/).
 For additional details see Kozhevnikova, Galina, Manifestations of Radical Nationalism and Efforts to Counteract It in Russia during the First Half of 2010. // SOVA Center, 30 July 2010 (http://www.sova-center.ru/en/xenophobia/reports-analyses/2010/07/d19436/#r3_2).
 Kozhevnikova, Galina, Under the Sign of Policital Terror: Radical Nationalism and Efforts to Counteract It in 2009// Xenophobia, Freedom of Conscience and Anti-Extremism in Russia in 2009, pp. 45–49 (http://www.sova-center.ru/en/xenophobia/reports-analyses/2010/03/d18151/#r3_4); Kozhevnikova, Galina, Manifestations of Radical Nationalism and Efforts to Counteract It in Russia during the First Half of 2010. // SOVA Center, 14 July 2010 (http://www.sova-center.ru/en/xenophobia/reports-analyses/2010/07/d19436/#r3_6); Verkhovsky, Alexander. ibid. pp. 92–93 (http://www.sova-center.ru/en/misuse/reports-analyses/2010/04/d18482/#r3).
 We would like to remind once again, that this is not a problem of the Ministry of Justice, which only copies existing court rulings, it is a problem of court document processing.
 This court decision was revoked on 3 September 2010 by Khabarovsk Regional Court. The appellate court ruled that closing access to specific pages, cited in District Prosecutor’s claim, was justified. However, compliance with this decision by appellate court is technically impossible, according to the testimony by the provider’s representative, and the provider will appeal it in the Supreme Court of Russia. See: YouTube is legal again in Khabarovsk // SOVA Center,. 2010. 13 September (http://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/news/persecution/2010/09/d19719/); Opinion of the Provider, as a Defendant at the Youtube Ban Case // ibid. 2010. 14 September (http://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/discussions/2010/09/d19733/).
 Libraries between anti-extremism and professionalism // SOVA Center, 2010. 21 June (http://www.sova-center.ru/racism-xenophobia/discussions/2010/06/d19094/).
 Press-release // Surgut City Court Official Website Khanty-Mansi Autonomous District, 2010. 30 April (http://surggor.hmao.sudrf.ru/modules.php?name=press_dep&op=4&did=2).
 Remarkably, official defendant on the case was L. Ron Habbard himself, despite his death in 1986.
 For more details see Are MGER Leaflets legal? // SOVA Center. 2009. 2 December (updated 25 December) (http://www.sova-center.ru/racism-xenophobia/news/counteraction/2009/12/d17635/).
 In September 2010 we saw a start of the court proceedings, in which K. Baranov challenges the actions of the Prosecutor’s Office.
 In late December of 2009 the newspaper “Arsenievskie Vesti” received an anti-extremist warning for the same cartoon.