Inappropriate Enforcement of Anti-Extremist Legislation in Russia in 2014
CREATION OF REGULATORY ACTS
PRINCIPAL TARGETS OF PERSECUTION : The Internet and Anti-Extremism : Political and Civic Activists : Incidental Victims of Inappropriate Anti-Extremism : Incidental Victims of Inappropriate Anti-Extremism
A BIT OF STATISTICS
Misuse of anti-extremist legislation, which constitutes the subject of this report, falls into two major categories.
The first one can be described as “excessive implementation,” stemming from low quality of the law enforcement training and from the fact that the law enforcement staff is primarily interested in boosting up their reporting statistics, but, most importantly, from poor quality of the anti-extremist legislation that provided increasing opportunities for abuse - for manifestly improper or deliberately disproportionate restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms. This first category has generally remained quite stable, although abuses that are not curbed have a natural tendency to multiply.
The second category came into existence as a result of deliberate development of suppression mechanisms targeting the oppositional or simply independent forms of activity. This category has become much more pronounced starting in mid-2012 on the height of the protest movement. This report focuses on activities of the federal (and some regional) authorities directed against real or imaginary radical opposition, which, de facto, affected not only radicals (in the broadest sense of the word), but also a number of relatively moderate citizens, including people with no connections to political activism. Unfortunately, the repressive component in legislation and law enforcement in our area of interest did not stop its growth after the decline in the oppositional activity.
The events in Ukraine have given this process a new impetus, still difficult to evaluate in its entirety.
First of all, the course on tightening anti-extremist legislation and expanding the “illegal zone” has become more deliberate. As in the past, new crimes and offenses (“historical revisionism,” separatism, and “displaying extremist symbols”) were formulated in such a way that their literal application is either impossible or would lead to mass repressions, but, in practice, these rules are applied very selectively. Meanwhile, neither the Constitutional Court nor the Supreme Court shows any readiness to intervene in this situation from the legal perspective.
Second, the authorities have apparently appointed themselves the impossible task of stopping online distribution of information perceived as dangerous to themselves or the society as a whole. While the information in question could, indeed, be dangerous, the mechanisms, used by the state, have been causing excessive damage to the public interest. The use of “Lugovoy’s Law” (an extra-judicial mechanism for blocking Internet sites) illustrates this problem well.
Third, due to Russia's involvement in the Ukrainian events, a substantial share of inappropriate enforcement of the anti-extremist legislation falls on the statements and actions, which are somehow related to these events. An average “criminality threshold” has dropped again, but this kind of law enforcement failed to reduce the level of aggression in society.
Fourth, the number of inappropriately opened criminal cases based on charges of “inciting hatred” has doubled. Thus, even taking into account the general increase in the number of criminal cases based on various public statements, the share of inappropriate ones among them has clearly increased.
Finally, due to the Ukrainian events, the sphere of “combating extremism” started to overlap with the sphere of protecting Russia’s alleged foreign policy interests, leading to a significant increase in the role of the FSB in fight against extremism.
However, attention of law enforcement agencies was not focused exclusively on Ukraine-related matters. Persecution of religious minorities continued as well. Criminal sentences continued to be imposed for various kinds of intolerant statements, which contained no illegal calls and clearly presented no public danger.
As for positive developments, we could point only to the slowdown in growth of the Federal List of Extremist Materials, which is essentially useless and causes a lot of problems and unnecessary restrictions. As far as we know, the number of charges against the libraries in relation to the List has decreased as well.
However, it should be recognized that numerous problems caused by the existence of the List remain unresolved. This is also true for all other long-standing problems associated with countering extremism. Given the changes in political regime that we are currently observing, the federal government is clearly not ready even to eliminate the most glaring absurdities in wording and practical application of the anti-extremist legislation, leave alone liberalizing it.
Creation of Regulatory Acts
As expected, legislative activity in our area of interest in 2014 had an overarching theme of fighting against various potential threats of radicalism, and subsequent restrictions on freedom of speech. In this report we only cover the most important developments in this trend.
In February, the bill “On Amendments to the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (with regard to increasing liability for extremist action)” was signed into law. The law toughens punishments under the Criminal Code Article 280 (calls for extremist action), Article 282 (incitement to hatred and enmity), 2821 (participation in an extremist association) and Article 2822 (continuation of activities of an organization, banned for extremism). The fines were increased and the terms of forced labor extended under all articles; the upper limits for prison terms were also raised under three of them (except 282). Prior to the commencement of this law, the crimes covered by the Criminal Code Articles 280 part 1, 2821 part 2, and 2822 were considered minor offenses. Now they have been transferred to the category of major and mid-level offenses, with corresponding procedural consequences. The main drawback of the new law is the raising of the upper limit for a prison term – a measure, unwarranted by the practice of anti-extremist law enforcement in Russia. Meanwhile, the increase in fines appears appropriate.
On May 5, 2014 the President signed an anti-terrorism legislation package, proposed in January 2014 by a group of parliamentarians from all four factions. These laws affected far more than just terrorist activities. Below, we outline the innovations related to the issue of counteracting extremism.
The first out of three laws in the package was the law “On Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation (relating to improvements in counteracting terrorism).” Prison terms under the Criminal Code Article 212 (mass public unrest) were increased from 4 - 10 years to 8 - 15 years. The wording of the criminal code article was amended; punishment is now stipulated not only for organizing mass unrest, but also for preparing it, while the list of methods used in mass unrest (“the use of firearms, explosives or explosive devices”) was supplemented by “substances and objects that pose a threat to those in the vicinity,” thus expanding the notion of “unrest” in principle. The article was supplemented by Part 4 which criminalized “the acquisition of knowledge and practical skills in the course of physical and psychological preparation” for organizing mass unrest.
Additions were also introduced to the Criminal Code Articles 2821 and 2822. Now they include potential liability (from one to six years of imprisonment) for “the inducement, recruitment or other involvement of a person” in the activities of an extremist organization. Such broad formulas criminalize activities of people who are not themselves members of extremist organizations or communities, and it is not clear what should be considered “an inducement to participate,” if the inducing person does not participate in the entity himself/herself.
The “Law on Bloggers” from the same “anti-terrorist package” amended the laws on information and communication to increase the state control over the Internet in order to counter extremism. Service providers now must notify Roskomnadzor (Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Telecom, Information Technologies and Mass Communications) about the start of their business activity; they must store data about all user activity for six months after the end of providing service and supply this information to law enforcement authorities in cases, specified by law. They must also comply with the requirements relating to certain equipment and software/hardware that facilitates operational and investigative activities. The law also provided a legal definition of the term “blogger” as an owner of an Internet site or page, not registered as mass media, that is accessed by 3,000 or more users on a daily basis. This definition is unclear in all its parts, and Roskomnadzor has been designated to provide clarifications. These “bloggers” must disclose their own actual names; they share the obligations of the mass media but not the rights, and must be listed in a special register. As of early 2015, the register included only about 500 bloggers.
On the same day, the bill “On the Rehabilitation of Nazism,” proposed by a group of members of parliament headed by Irina Yarovaya (“United Russia”), was also signed into law. A new Article 3541 was added to the criminal code; it sets a hefty fine or up to five years of imprisonment for “denial of facts, established by the verdict of the International Military Tribunal for the trial and punishment of the major war criminals of the European Axis countries, approval of the crimes, specified by the judgment, as well as dissemination of false information on the activities of the Soviet Union during World War II combined with accusations of crimes established by the said judgment, committed in public.” The penalties vary from a fine (up to 300 thousand rubles) to five years in prison. From our perspective, the law will not help to counteract neo-Nazi propaganda, since all the necessary legal tools have already been provided by the Criminal Code Article 282. Meanwhile, due to the new law’s infelicitous and vague language, it can be used to restrict freedom of expression, especially in historical debates.
A law on combating extremism on the Internet and in finance was signed in June and introduced a new Article 2823 (financing of extremist activity) into the Criminal Code. The composition of the article is as follows: “Financing or collection of funds or providing financial services wittingly intended to finance extremist organization, preparation, and commitment of at least one extremist crime or support an extremist community or extremist organization”. Penalties for these offences range from a fine of 300 thousand rubles to imprisonment for up to three years under Part 1 and up to six years under Part 2. Introduction of a new article into the Criminal Code cannot be qualified as inappropriate, but we consider it unwarranted, because providing funds for extremist activities had already been regarded as a form of complicity in extremism.
In its part pertaining to online activities, the law added the words “Information and telecommunications networks, including the “Internet” to the text of the Criminal Code Articles 280 and 282, thus giving the Internet the same status as media outlets. Including this amendment into Article 282 does not effect any actual changes, in Article 280, on the other hand, an online publication moved from Part 1 to a more severe Part 2. In our opinion, equating the Internet to mass media in the sense of Articles 280 and 282 with regard to anti-extremist law enforcement is inappropriate, inasmuch as the information posted online can differ widely in its degree of public exposure and may be intended for a small group of users. We should also note that prosecution for unlawful statements online was practiced quite widely even prior to the adoption of this law.
In the second half of July, the President signed the Law “On Amendments to Article 2801 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation,” which further toughens recently introduced punishment for “public calls for action aimed at violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation” and treats any statements posted on the Internet similarly to statements published via mass media. This article now stipulates penalties ranging from a fine of 100 thousand rubles to five years of imprisonment. We view the entire Criminal Code Article 2801, introduced in 2013, as a negative development, and continue to insist that only violent separatism should entail criminal prosecution. Increasing the severity of the article even further, in our opinion, constitutes an attack on the freedom of speech, particularly in view of the inevitable debates regarding the annexation of Crimea.
In November, the President signed the law expanding application of the Code of Administrative Offences Article 20.3, pertaining to banned symbols (i.e. Nazi symbols). The law establishes legal responsibility for propaganda and public demonstration of attributes or symbols of “organizations, which cooperated with fascist organizations or movements and cooperate with international or foreign organizations and their representatives who deny the verdict of the International Military Tribunal (Nuremberg Tribunal) as well as national, military or occupation tribunals, based on the judgment of the Nuremberg Tribunal”. As clearly stated in the explanatory memorandum to the bill, this formulation refers to the organizations that use “symbols and attributes of the Banderite organization in Ukraine.” From our point of view, the law, adopted solely due to foreign policy reasons, is redundant, while its broad interpretation, which seems highly probable, can lead to various legal oddities and inappropriate prosecution. The legislative body de facto delegated the implementation of this law to the government, which has been charged with compiling a list of relevant organizations. Notably, the list still does not exist.
In December, the government introduced to the State Duma a draft bill proposing fines of up to a million rubles for media outlets that propagate extremist materials, incitements to extremist activities, justification of terrorism, and so on. The draft was approved in the first reading in February 2015.
The constitutional court made a number of important decisions in our area of interest in the course of the year. Unfortunately, all these decisions only strengthen the existing trend toward gradual shrinking of civic freedoms.
In mid-September 2014, it became known that the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation refused to consider an appeal against the law “On Information, Information Technologies and Protection of Information.” The appeal was filed by director of the Association of Internet publishers Vladimir Kharitonov after his website digital-books.ru had been blocked due to having the same IP-address as the website that promoted illegal drugs. Kharitonov claimed that the practice of blocking IP addresses de facto takes away the right to distribute non-prohibited information and constitutes a punishment for the site owners, who committed no infringements against the law. However, the Constitutional Court has stated in its definition that the rights of owners of the websites that happened to be blocked along with the resources that contained banned information, were violated not by including their network address on the register, but by “improper actions (or inaction) of their hosting service provider.” Thus, the Constitutional Court refused to recognize an error in the law and shifted responsibility onto hosting providers.
In late October, the Constitutional Court upheld the ban on any demonstration of Nazi symbols and symbols similar to them to the point of confusion. The determination was issued in response to a complaint filed by Vladimir Murashov, sentenced to an administrative fine for such acts. Murashov argued that, in various cultural traditions, symbols and signs in question have meaning not associated with the ideology of Nazism, and, therefore, the ban on their use and dissemination violates his constitutional rights. The Constitutional Court rejected the complaint, not finding any ambiguity in the ban, despite its glaring obviousness. The determination used the following argument: “In itself, the use of Nazi attributes (symbols), as well as attributes (symbols), similar to Nazi attributes (symbols) to the point of confusion - regardless of their genesis - can cause distress to people whose relatives were killed during the Great Patriotic War, which also entails the right of a legislative body to take measures in accordance with Article 55 (Part 3) of the Constitution of the Russian Federation.” Thus, the Constitutional Court refused to bring any clarity to the issue of interpreting the symbols, and inappropriate prosecution under the Administrative Code Article 20.3 for displaying swastikas and other symbols, regardless of context and objectives of these actions, still continues (see below).
Similarly, the Constitutional Court refused to see any ambiguities in the language and use of the Criminal Code Article 213 (hooliganism), when considering a complaint by Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, member of the Pussy Riot punk band. As Nadezhda Tolokonnikova pointed out, the Criminal Code Article 213 “disproportionately restricts freedom of expression, allows one to declare a public nuisance what, in fact, is a violation of religious norms, and to establish the criminal nature of acts on the basis of them being perceived as unacceptable by the majority of the population.” The Constitutional Court disagreed with Tolokonnikova’s position, stating that “the challenged provisions of criminal law contain no ambiguity that could cause a person to be deprived of the opportunity to realize the wrongfulness of his/her actions and anticipate eventual responsibility for its commission, and which could prevent uniform understanding and application of the rule by the law enforcement authorities, and can not be viewed as constituting a violation of the applicant’s rights.” According to the Constitutional Court judges, in cases when the information is propagated in a manner, based on “gross and demonstrative neglect toward accepted societal notions of acceptable behavior in particular locations, including religious sites, is devoid of any aesthetic and artistic value and is in and of itself offensive,” such activity falls outside the legitimate scope for freedom of expression. As we see it, the history of use of the Criminal Code Article 213 indicates lack of common understanding of this Article (including the interpretation of the hate motive) among various law enforcement agencies. Regretfully, the Constitutional Court failed to notice this problem as it failed to notice defects in the overall composition of Article 213 in its 2007 edition. The issues pertaining to the extent of exhibited disregard for social norms, or the degree of social danger of particular incidents of hooliganism, not to mention aesthetic and artistic aspects of an event, are all debatable.
Principal Targets of Persecution
The Internet and Anti-Extremism
In 2014, blocking of online content, along with preventing meetings and gatherings, became one of the principal forms of government pressure on the Russian society. Not surprisingly, these two forms of pressure were closely linked. Actually, the government has provided a direct link between them in the form of so-called “Lugovoy’s Law,” signed by the President in late 2013. The law allows the Prosecutor General to request extrajudicial blocking of websites that contain “incitement to mass unrest, extremist activities, incitement of ethnic and (or) inter-confessional strife, participation in terrorist activity, participation in mass public events conducted in violation of the established procedure”. From our point of view, the provision of Lugovoy’s Law, which calls for blocking information on activities that have no permits, is inappropriate, because the fact that the event itself has not been permitted gives no grounds to restrict messages about it. A requirement to block information about events, still awaiting a decision on their permit application, is even more inappropriate.
Sites and pages blocked by Lugovoy’s Law are added to a special register on the Roskomnadzor site, created in addition to the existing Unified Register of Banned Websites (covered in our previous report), which, after all, adds materials solely based on court decisions.
According to our sources (only Roskomnadzor has the complete list), the registry of the resources blocked under Lugovoy’s Law contained 156 items by the end of the year, not including mirrors, variant addresses, and sites that were unblocked after they removed the offending content. This “Lugovoy’s Registry” includes resources traditionally covered by such bans as well as sites and pages restricted due to current political demands.
Websites of Islamic militants comprise a third of these restricted resources; there are also about a dozen Islamic resources related to Hizb ut-Tahrir (including its official international and Russian sites), as well as pages with materials critical of Hizb ut-Tahrir for its lack of support for the jihad; also included are about fifteen pages with aggressively anti-Russian Ukrainian texts, and about the same number of pages maintained by Russian nationalists. Some of these pages contain calls for the separation of the Caucasus region, but most of them only display announcements of various meetings and events. In our opinion, if a nationalist event does not involve obviously forbidden slogans, then preventing it or blocking information about it is inappropriate and violates the rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. In cases, where the authorities have reasons to expect violations of the law in the course of an event, they should ensure the presence of law enforcement personnel, capable of preventing illegal actions, rather than prevent dissemination of information about the event itself.
However, the authorities are uneasy about any kind of oppositional actions, and approximately another third of registry is taken by webpages - including blog posts and media announcements - that contain information on such events.
Implementation of Lugovoy’s Law began in late February. In March, on the eve of unpermitted rally near the Zamoskvoretsky District Court in Moscow dedicated to the expected verdict on the Bolotnaya Square case, Roskomnadzor, at the request of the Prosecutor General, added the following popular oppositional resources to the Register of Banned Materials: Grani.ru, Kasparov.ru, Ezhednevny Zhurnal (ej.ru) and the blog of Alexey Navalny (navalny.livejournal.com). According to the prosecutors, these websites contained calls for illegal activities and for participation in public events conducted in violation of the established order. The agency did not inform the owners of websites what specific materials they found problematic, so the owners had to go to court in order to clarify the circumstances of the blocking. In three cases out of four the courts have helped to clarify the grounds for the restrictions; the restrictions were upheld in all four cases.
Thus, in the course of the proceedings in the Moscow City Court, it became known that Navalny’s blog had been blocked because of two entries. The first one was dedicated to the events in Ukraine, and, in the end, urged the readers to come out in support of the defendants in the Bolotnaya Square riots case. The second entry also contained a call to the readers to gather near the court, where the verdict in the Bolotnaya Square case was to be announced.
In the case of Kasparov.ru, it was discovered that the Prosecutor General and Roskomnadzor had issues with an illustration to the article “The Ukrainian State Property to Be Nationalized in Crimea,” published prior to the Crimean referendum. It depicted an armed man and the text “Crimea, wake up, invaders and their henchmen brazenly steal your money and spoil your cities. Don’t be silent, don’t give up.”
When the court was considering restrictions against ej.ru, the representative of the Prosecutor General's Office clarified that illegal information, and, specifically, calls for mass actions without permits, were found in a number of materials related to the Bolotnaya Square case. In addition, the Prosecutor General's Office declared that that it viewed many articles published by this outlet as biased. A quote from an article by Yulia Latynina on clashes with riot police at Bolotnaya Square was provided as an example of illegal information
The agencies were unable to agree on a common version regarding access restrictions on Grani.ru: the Prosecutor General's Office mentioned the calls to participate in unsanctioned actions, while Roskomnadzor invoked the calls for extremist activity. As a result, Grani.ru filed an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights.
The next wave of restrictions at the request of the Prosecutor General took place in early August, when access was blocked to several dozen pages, including pages from Russian and Ukrainian media sites, as well as blogs and social network pages of a number of users. The authorities used this method to prevent sharing of messages on the planned “March for Federalization of Siberia” in Novosibirsk. Editorial boards of a number of major media outlets received Roskomnadzor warnings or notifications demanding that the relevant material be removed from their pages. The first item to be blocked was the article “No More Feeding Moscow” by National Bolshevik Platform activist Mikhail Pulin published on the Novyi Smysl (New Meaning) web resource; the article contained a theoretical substantiation of the need for such an action. Access to the VKontakte event page for the march was restricted as well. Large-scale blocking of all messages relating to the upcoming march followed next.
Roskomnadzor representative Vadim Ampelonsky explained the decision by the fact that the materials on this action contained “information about the preparations for an unpermitted mass event under the slogans encroaching on the territorial integrity of the country.” We view the actions of the Prosecutor General and Roskomnadzor as inappropriate. First, at the time of publication, the permit request had been filed with the Novosibirsk authorities, but no decision was issued. Second, the media did not encourage participation in the action, leaving alone participation in riots; many materials did not even mention the date of the event. Third, the organizers did not come forward with any separatist appeals, but only called for autonomous rights for Siberia within the Russian Federation. However, we do not view attempts to criminalize public discussion on the rights of certain territories, the right to self-determination and even separatist appeals as legitimate. Prohibitive measures can be justified only when applied to calls for violence in support of separatist goals. Note that only one publication was able to challenge the warning - in early 2015, the Central District Court of Novosibirsk acknowledged that the note on federalization published on the portal Sibkray.ru contained no signs of extremism. Most websites removed their materials related to the march. The pages, which kept such materials intact, still remain on the Lugovoy’s Register.
The situation repeated itself in the second half of December, when, upon request from the Prosecutor General's Office, Roskomnadzor blocked dozens of sites and individual pages that contained information about a planned rally in support of Alexey and Oleg Navalny in connection with their sentences in the Yves Rocher case. Some of these resources still remain in the registry.
The Unified Registry of Banned Websites, created in 2012, continues to add resources that contain information “forbidden for distribution in the Russian Federation on the basis of an enforceable court decision recognizing this information as prohibited for distribution.” Originally, this wording denoted online materials recognized as extremist and then blocked. However, in 2014, courts started to make decisions that the sites were to be entered into the register, without recognizing them as extremist, on the grounds that they contained materials similar to the ones already recognized as extremist (usually, de-facto, the same materials).
By the end of 2014, this part of the Registry contained at least 128 items. We believe that about two dozen of these items were added on questionable or simply inappropriate grounds. The most famous and notorious bans of 2014 are the bans against jw.org (Jehovah's Witnesses website) and nurru.com, the site of Said Nursi followers. Many sites were only blocked temporarily. For example, in the fall of 2014, Roskomnadzor blocked the Wayback Machine (archive.org) – an automatic aggregator of content all over the internet since 1996 - and entered it onto the Unified Registry of Banned Websites. The resource was blocked because it provided access to the video “The Clash of Swords,” produced by Islamic State and recognized as extremist. Obviously, restrictions against this extremely useful resource of over 435 billion pages could only be temporary otherwise Russian users would have been the ones punished.
The ban against the Jehovah's Witnesses website revealed a cynical attitude of the authorities toward their own blocking mechanism. Initially, the website was blocked because of the fact that it published texts of the pamphlets, recognized as extremist. In response, the website has installed a server-side filter which does not allow users with Russian IP-address to see these materials – i.e. blocked these materials voluntarily. This gave grounds for annulment of the previous court decisions. However, the Supreme Court was then presented with a note from the FSB that the banned texts could still be found by using an anonymizer program, which allows its user to bypass any blocks. The Supreme Court found this to be a sufficient reason for banning the entire site.
In the course of 2014, we counted about 22 cases of inappropriate sanctions against Internet providers, forced to block inappropriately prohibited resources. This number is about four times smaller than in the preceding year. This drop in prosecutorial activity is, apparently, related to introduction of a centralized registry. We are aware of six cases of inappropriately imposed fines under the Administrative Code Article 6.17 (violation of the laws of the Russian Federation on the protection of children from information harmful to their health and (or) development). The defenders usually are the owners of cafes and Internet clubs held responsible for absence or imperfection of their content filtering systems.
Schools and libraries still face the brunt of these prosecutorial claims more frequently than other institutions. We would like to remind that all their computers must be equipped with content filtering software that blocks access to prohibited information, including extremist materials. If the system of shielding the user from banned information fails to work properly (and perfect filters simply don’t exist), the prosecutor's office issues motions to eliminate violations to directors of educational institutions and libraries, rather than software developers and distributors, and then the “guilty” parties face disciplinary measures.
However, the number of inspections in schools and libraries, and various acts of prosecutorial response based on their results in 2014 comes to only a half of the corresponding number from the preceding year; according to our very conservative estimates, there were 349 cases of sanctions in 2013, compared to 178 cases in 2014.
Political and Civic Activists
The fight against actions in support of Ukraine and against pro-Ukrainian statements online was the top law enforcement priority in the area of combating extremism in 2014. The fact that the FSB has played a significant role in this process suggests that the authorities were afraid of potential network of agents of radical Ukrainian groups (Right Sector (Pravyi sector) is the group most frequently mentioned in this context), or even guerilla groups. But, in practice, we saw that the counter-action primarily targeted citizens, whose radicalism, at its worst, was limited to irresponsible chatter on the Internet.
With regard to unbalanced rhetoric about the Ukrainian events, our position is as follows: we believe that the extreme severity of the crisis inevitably provokes many people into making extreme statements, not typical for them in a different context. In this situation, it is more expedient not to resort to criminal prosecution, even for the most abrasive texts, unless the constituent elements of the offence are presented in extremely clear and unequivocal manner. This consideration should be taken into account primarily with regard to appeals addressed to citizens or the authorities of another country - in this case, usually, Ukraine. Otherwise, actions of the law enforcement agencies only increase the tensions, already running high in the society.
It should be noted that the first steps of the authorities were related not to criminal prosecutions, but to blocking online information. In early March, several providers in various regions of Russia blocked access to YouTube.com for a period of time. Their actions was based on the order to restrict access to the video of an appeal to the Ukrainian people by Valeria Novodvorskaya and Konstantin Borovoy, issued by the Prosecutor General's Office in accordance with Lugovoy’s Law. Novodvorskaya and Borovoy called on Ukraine not to surrender Crimea without armed resistance; such resistance, in their view, could make the West to actively intervene in the conflict, prevent further expansion, and hasten the regime change in Russia. As is it usually the case, when restrictions affect a major internet resource, Roskomnadzor and representatives of the Internet service providers later claimed that that access to the entire portal had been blocked by mistake or due to technical reasons. YouTube gradually became accessible to its users once again, along with the video in question.
Alexander Byvshev, a teacher from Kromy in the Oryol region, became the center of one of the most notorious episodes of prosecution for anti-Russian rhetoric. Byvshev posted two poems - “To Ukrainian Patriots” and “Ukrainian Rebels” on his social network page. Two criminal cases under the Criminal Code Article 282 Part 1 (incitement to racial hatred) were initiated on the basis of their publication. “To Ukrainian Patriots” was recognized in court as extremist. It was written in the wake of the Crimean events, and its content is limited to calling on the Ukrainians to meet “the Moskal gang,” which invaded their land, with armed resistance. From our point of view, the author’s hostility was based not on ethnic origin of a certain group (“Moscal” is a pejorative term for the Russians in Ukrainian), but on the character of the group’s activities. Thus, Byvshev’s alleged actions should not be qualified under Article 282. His poem “Ukrainian Rebels,” dedicated to Stepan Bandera and his UPA associates and written in first person on their behalf, speaks about the readiness of Banderites to protect Ukraine from both the” fascists “and the “Moscals”. Law enforcement agencies viewed this poem, dedicated to historical events, as an allusion to the current events, and, once again, charged the author with inciting ethnic hatred against the Russians. However, an allegory can not serve as a basis for criminal prosecution.
Another notorious case had to do with the so-called “Russophobia Post” – an anonymous text, which, when shared, became the grounds for prosecution against two people in the Altai region. This text, also inspired by the Ukrainian events, was written very abrasively and, indeed, was distinctly anti-Russian (in the ethnic sense). The material contained insults against the Russians, and, most importantly, advocated ethnic discrimination by appealing to the Ukrainian authorities not to grant citizenship to ethnic Russians. However, the question remains unclear whether appeals to the authorities of another country in relation to this county’s internal matters should be considered illegal. Andrey Teslenko, an opposition activist from Barnaul, was charged under the Criminal Code Article 280 (incitement to extremist activities) for reposting this text on VKontakte; he subsequently emigrated to Ukraine. The second activist Anton Podchasov, a candidate for the Assembly of Altai Republic from the RPR-PARNAS party, is facing charges under two Criminal Code articles - 280 and 282.
Konstantin Zharinov from Chelyabinsk was also charged under Article 280, for sharing on his VKontakte page an appeal from Right Sector, addressed “to “Russians and other enslaved peoples,” which called for acts of disobedience, creation of guerrilla groups, and so on. According to Zharinov, he quickly removed the post, but it was noticed by the FSB, which initiated a criminal case. Zharinov views the offending post as his mistake, but also believes that the FSB interest in him has to do with his political science specialization in the history of terrorism, on which he authored several books. The character of his other posts indicates that aggressive rhetoric was not typical for him, and his support for the appeal as such is highly unlikely; it is more likely that Zharinov was simply interested in the very fact of its existence. A request from the law enforcement agencies to remove the shared link (in case it was still on his page) would have been sufficient. The Zharinov case came to court in the fall of 2014, but was sent back for further investigation.
Not only individual writers, but also the entire media outlets, faced serious pressure.
An interview with Ukrainian nationalists published in March led to drastic management changes for news agency Lenta.ru. Roskomnadzor raised objections against the material “We Are Not the Armed Forces” - an interview by reporter Ilya Azar with Andrei Tarasenko, a representative of Ukrainian “Right Sector,” who declared the inevitability of a guerrilla war in the event of an invasion of Russian troops in Ukraine. The material also contained a hyperlink to an interview with Dmitry Yarosh, the current leader of Right Sector, published on the site of Trident (Tryzub), a Ukrainian nationalist organization. Taken in 2008, the interview was dedicated to the Russian-Georgian conflict; Yarosh opposed Russia’s policies and predicted a war with “the Moscow Empire” until its eventual collapse. Roskomnadzor issued a warning to Lenta.ru. After that, Alexander Mamut, the owner of Afisha-Rambler-SUP holding that included Lenta.ru, fired the chief editor Galina Timchenko and demanded Ilya Azar’s dismissal. Most of the editors declared solidarity with their dismissed colleagues and left the news agency. We would like to note that, if the interviewee does not resort to direct incitement or open calls for unlawful actions, imposing sanctions for his statements on a media outlet (even in the form of a warning) is disproportionate and inappropriate. Meanwhile, an interview conducted by Azar contained no such appeals. As for the interview with Yarosh, law enforcement authorities had the right to request that the administration remove the link from the site. There was no apparent reason for replacing the editorial board, and it is not surprising that it was carried out, as usual, without any formal involvement of the authorities.
It took the decision of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Karelia to finally remove the warning about the impermissibility of violating anti-extremist legislation issued to the chief editor of Karelian newspaper TVR-Panorama. The warning was issued in relation to publication (with the permission of the participants) of correspondence among the members of a war-torn family, in which the relatives from Ukraine and Crimea tried to convince their relative from Russia, worried about their well-being, that the situation in their respective regions was different from the picture, painted by the Russian media. There were no signs of extremism in the correspondence; however, the prosecutor's office claimed that this publication could provoke extremist comments (even if it hasn’t so far), and insisted that, since March 18, 2014, when the Crimea officially became part of Russia, “discussing illegality of the Republic of Crimea joining Russia contains signs of extremism.“
Meanwhile, the Echo of Moscow(Ekho Moskvy) Radio Station and website failed in its attempt to challenge the Roskomnadzor warning about the impermissibility of violating the laws on information and combating extremist activity. The warning was issued for the Eyewitness(Svoimi glazami) show with the Los Angeles Times correspondent Sergei Loiko on the subject of military activities in the Donetsk airport, transmitted live on October 29, as well as for a transcript of the same program, published on the Ekho Moskvy website. The show was anchored by Aleksandr Plushchev with guests Timur Olevsky from the Rain (Dozhd) TV channel and the Los Angeles Times correspondent Sergey Loiko. In the warning, Roskomnadzor indicated that the show “contains information justifying the practice of committing war crimes... aimed at the complete or partial elimination of an ethnic or national group,” and demanded the removal of material from the site within ten days, but never explained which statements by the show’s participants were criminal in nature. From our point of view, the show included no such statements. Moreover, the guests of the show emphasized that ethnic origin and linguistic affiliation played no role in determining one’s choice of the side in this conflict. Probably, the authorities were displeased with the position of one of the show‘s guests, who was sympathetic to the Ukrainian side, and the fact that the reporters provided detailed information about the events at the airport.
The movement of Russian troops into Crimea has drawn sharp criticism from activists of the Tatar nationalist movement in Tatarstan concerned about the fate of the Crimean Tatars. Fauziya Bayramova, a Tatar writer, activist, and the leader of Milli Mejlis (the alternative “national parliament”) published on her Facebook page the Statement of Milli Mejlis on the events in the Crimea and Ukraine. It expressed solidarity of Tatar nationalists with the Crimean Tatars’ yearning for independence and disagreement with the policy of the Russian authorities. The statement contained no appeals that could pose any danger in relation to an ethnic group. However, the text, in conjunction with her other text on persecution against peaceful Muslims in Tatarstan, which also contained no signs of extremism, constituted the grounds for charges of inciting ethnic hatred against Bayramova. She received a suspended one-year prison sentence under Article 282; the text was banned.
Another well-known activist Rafis Kashapov, the chairman of the Tatar Public Center, was arrested in Kazan under the same Criminal Code article. He was charged with openly posting four materials on VKontakte. Three texts (the fourth material was a poster with photos of victims of Russian military operations) shared common themes of solidarity with Ukraine and the Crimean Tatars and illegality of Crimea’s annexation, and repudiated the actions of the Russian authorities. The legal expertise found them to contain “signs of psychological information aimed at inciting hate (enmity) against members of the category “They/Aggressor “(“the new unrecognized government of the peninsula,” “Russian punishers,” ”Vladimir Putin,” “Russia” “Russians,” “Russian”), identified on a mixed basis.” We have found no signs of incitement to ethnic hatred or calls for violence in these materials. As for the criticism against the Russian authorities, we would like to remind that, according to the explanation of the Supreme Court with respect to the practice of anti-extremist legislation, it should not be treated as incitement to hatred and prosecuted under Article 282.
Of all the public actions related to the Ukrainian events, the greatest concern among the authorities was reserved for so-called marches for federalization. The idea of these marches came from regional civil society activists in the late summer, prompted by the Russian authorities’ insistence on federalization of Ukraine. Despite the fact that the idea of secession from Russia was never put forward, the authorities concluded that the marches threaten the territorial integrity of the state, refused to issue permits and consistently blocked information about the events in the media and social networks (see above).
A situation in Krasnodar was especially dramatic, with several people making an attempt to hold the March for Federalization of Kuban. Daria Polyudova, an activist of Rot Front and the applicant on the march permit, was arrested on the eve of the event under administrative charge of petty hooliganism, and then remained in detention as a suspect under Part 2 of the Criminal Code Article 2801 (public incitement to action aimed at violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation committed using the Internet) and Article 280 (public incitement to extremist activity) and spent six months in pre-trial detention. Anarchist Vyacheslav Martynov and psychologist Peter Lyubchenkov, who also become suspects in the case, fled to Ukraine. Interestingly, the final version of charges against Polyudova, brought against her in 2015, charges her not for an attempt to hold such a march, but for several social network posts, not directly related to the march (and not meriting criminal prosecution).
In Moscow, a criminal case under two articles - Criminal Code Article 213 Part 2 (hooliganism committed by a group of people motivated by political and ideological hatred or enmity) and Article 214 Part 2 (vandalism committed by a group of persons motivated by political and ideological hatred or enmity) - was initiated in relation to the action of August 20, 2014, when unknown persons placed a Ukrainian flag and painted a star on the spire of a high-rise building on the Kotelnicheskaya Embankment in Moscow the colors of Ukrainian flag. We do not agree with such qualification of the case, since the object of the alleged hatred is completely undefined. As we have mentioned previously, we believe that this action should be viewed as a minor, rather than major, violation of public order - an administrative offense under Article 20.1 of the Administrative Code (petty hooliganism). Subsequently, four Moscow BASE jumpers (fans of jumping from tall buildings with a parachute) were charged and arrested. Later, Ukrainian citizen Pavel Ushevets, a roofer (fan of climbing the roofs) claimed responsibility for the action. He was charged in absentia under the same articles. Moscow roofer Vladimir Podrezov became another defendant, he is in pre-trial detention as well. Despite the fact that eleven forensic examinations, conducted as part of the investigation, failed to confirm any involvement of the four BASE jumpers, and the case has been clearly falling apart, all four of them remain under house arrest. Lawyers for the young people filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights against intentional delay in this case.
A criminal case was opened in Kaliningrad against three activists - Mikhail Feldman, Oleg Savvin and Dmitry Fonaryov - under Part 2 of the Criminal Code Article 213 (hooliganism committed by a group of persons by prior arrangement motivated by political hatred and enmity and motivated by hatred of the social group “officials”). They were accused of hanging a German flag on the garage of the Kaliningrad Regional FSB building in March 2014. The activists explained that they acted in response to what is happening in Crimea and Ukraine. All three were arrested in April. In October, Feldman appealed to the European Court of Human Rights complaining about the violation of his right to liberty and security of person.
Dissatisfied Crimean residents also faced government pressure. The Chief Editor of the Crimean Tatar Avdet newspaper Shevket Kaibullaev received a warning on impermissibility of extremist activity from the Simferopol Prosecutor’s Office. This warning was associated with the words “annexation,” “occupation” and “temporary occupation of the Crimea” used in the newspaper’s materials.
Reza Shevkiev, a Member of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People and the head of the Crimea Charity Fund received a warning about the impermissibility of extremist activity, because the Mejlis building was “displaying the flag of Ukraine for propaganda and public demonstration, which served to incite social and ethnic strife and became propaganda of exclusivity.” The Prosecutor's Office stated that “Article 2801 of the Criminal Code establishes liability for public calls for action aimed at violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.” From our point of view, the presence of the flag definitely reflected the attitude of the Mejlis members to Russian annexation of Crimea, but it is impossible to interpret these actions as propaganda of exclusivity (whose?), or discord (between what ethnic or social groups?); it is equally impossible to qualify this action as a call for violent separatism.
Later, the Crimean Prosecutor General Natalia Poklonskaya personally recited the warning to Refat Chubarov, head of the Mejlis, right at the Chongar checkpoint entrance to Crimea (simultaneously with the decision that prohibited him from entering the Russian Federation for a period of five years). The prosecutorial claims were based on the facts that the Mejlis conducted rallies without permits, announced the beginning of the “procedures to rebuild the national-territorial autonomy” of the Crimean Tatars immediately after the annexation of Crimea to Russia, and chose to “prohibit the Crimean Tatars to participate in the elections on September 14th.” Notably, neither rallies, nor calls for rebuilding autonomy nor calls for boycotting elections constitute signs of extremist activity; they are not even illegal.
The fight against pro-Ukrainian rhetoric still has not completely distracted the police from their usual targets of prosecution on charges of inciting hatred or calls for extremist activities. Note that the overall number of convictions for propaganda (both appropriate and inappropriate) continues to grow from year to year. In 2014, it, once again, significantly exceeded the number of sentences for all other “extremist” crimes combined. In addition to wrongful convictions, which are the focus of this report, there were at least 153 guilty verdicts against 158 offenders (and one man released due to active repentance). For comparison, there were 133 such sentences against 136 people in 2013.
Below are some examples of inappropriate prosecution for propaganda, unrelated to the Ukrainian events. In some cases, the charges under Article 282 were entirely fictitious, in others the nationalist rhetoric was present but not dangerous.
A criminal case under Article 282 Part 1 was opened against environmentalist Valery Brinikh, the chairman of Adygei Republic Division of All-Russia Environmental Protection Association, for publishing on Za Krasnodar (For Krasnodar) website an article about environmental pollution produced by a major pig farm in Adygea. The Prosecutor's Office found that the author of the article was “fueling ethnic hatred and sowing enmity” and “calling for extremist activity.” The text has been recognized as extremist, and challenges against the ban were unsuccessful. However, we found no signs of inciting hatred and no calls for extremist activity in the article. Obviously, the local authorities used Brinikh’s article as an excuse to put pressure on the activist, because the pig farm, discussed in the article, belongs to member of the RF Federation Council Vyacheslav Derev.
Eduard Mochalov, the Editor-in-Chief of the Vziatka (Bribe) newspaper in the Chuvash Republic, was found guilty under the Criminal Code Article 282 Part 1 (incitement of hatred or hostility, and humiliation of human dignity on the basis of nationality) and Article 315 Part 1 (failure to comply with a verdict, judgment or other judicial act) and sentenced to 400 hours of mandatory labor. Besides failure to obey the court (consisting of failing to publish in his newspaper the refutations of information “discrediting honor and dignity of individual officials”), Mochalov was also charged under Article 282 for reprinting Fauziya Bayramova’s article “We are Tatars, not Russians.” Bayramova was charged under the same Article 282 Part 1 for distributing via a social network the Milli Mejlis statement of her own authorship, which called for boycotting the Universiade and actions against persecution of Muslims in Tatarstan (Bayramova was already sentenced in 2014 under the same Article 282 for her other texts – see above.) We found no inflammatory slogans against members of another ethnicity or religion in this text. The statement contained sharp criticism of the authorities and the high clergy of Tatarstan, as well as the Russian security services, whom Bayramova accused of an assassination attempt against Mufti Ildus Faizov and murder of his deputy Waliullah Yakupov, committed in order to justify new persecution of Muslims. None of this qualifies to be considered under Article 282.
Vasily Purdenko, the editor of the blog Svobodnoe Slovo Adygei (Free Speech of Adygea) was sentenced to a fine of 100 thousand rubles under Article 282 Part 1. In our opinion, the article “Being a Russian in Adygea is Possible, but Hopeless” for which Purdenko has been convicted and which was banned for extremism, was clearly written from the nationalist perspective and criticized local authorities for their “anti-Russian” policies, but the material contained no signs of incitement to hatred or enmity towards the Adyghe people and no dangerous incitement deserving of criminal prosecution.
We should also mention a widely discussed story about the ban against an old joke. A joke, known as “A trial. The case about beating up a native of the Caucasus...” has been known in a different version since the 1940s. While it could be perceived as xenophobic, it contains no dangerous incitement to violence, and, in general, can hardly be considered hate speech. Nevertheless, along with other materials, it served as the basis for a criminal case under Part 1 of Article 282. It was banned and added to the Federal List of Extremist Materials.
Several cases on charges of incitement to hatred against a particular social group were opened in 2014, but we don’t know the details in a number of cases. We believe that an extremely vague concept of a social group should be excluded from the anti-extremist criminal code articles in order to prevent imminent abuses.
One such case went to trial in Ingushetia in 2014. Opposition activist Musa Abadiev faced charges under the Criminal Code Article 282 Part 1 based on a blog post, in which he allegedly made “indecorous statements aimed at inciting hatred and enmity towards a particular social group.” The original case was opened under Article 319 (insulting a representative of authority in connection with performance of his duties), then re-qualified as Article 282. The text in question contained somewhat intolerantly formulated criticism of Russian “patriotic” morality, suggestions to the Russian people to convert to Islam, and invectives against Vladimir Putin. Meanwhile, the authorities are not a social group that needs protection in the form of anti-extremist legislation, and criticism of their actions should not be seen as inciting hatred.
The Smolensk Regional Court reconsidered the case of Smolensk City Council member Andrei Yershov, who insulted former juvenile prisoners of Nazi camps and was found guilty of humiliation on grounds of belonging to a particular social group under Part 1 of Article 282. This time, the Regional Court upheld the City Court’s verdict against Yershov but rescinded the fine due to the statute of limitations. However, Yershov will have to pay two plaintiffs in his civil case ten thousand rubles for causing them moral damage. We believe that monetary compensation in this case was more than appropriate, despite the insignificance of the amount. In general, we believe that civil proceedings are much more appropriate than criminal in such cases.
Inappropriate persecution of believers and non-believers just for their statements and actions related to religion continued in 2014. Overall trends of this persecution remained the same, although increased severity of official responses in relation to statements against the Russian Orthodox Church might be worthy of attention.
As usual, the activities of the religious-political party Hizb ut-Tahrir al Islami, banned as terrorist in 2003, were punished most severely. As usual, we remind that we view this decision as inappropriate, since Hizb ut-Tahrir does not practice violence and does not consider it a method in their struggle to build the worldwide caliphate. On the other hand, Hizb ut-Tahrir could, in principle, be appropriately banned for other reasons.
Due to increasing severity of anti-terrorism legislation, the sentences of four Hizb ut-Tahrir followers in Moscow - under the Criminal Code Article 2822, Article 30 Part 1, Article 278 (preparation for the violent seizure of power), and Article 2051 Part 1 (engaging a person in terrorist activities) – was unusually harsh. One of the offenders was sentenced to eleven years in prison, two others – to eight years, and the fourth one was sentenced tor seven years – all this, despite the absence of any evidence of their plotting a coup or other violent actions. Three new criminal cases against Hizb ut-Tahrir members were inappropriately initiated under a new Article 2055 (public calls for terrorist activity or justification of terrorism) against five people in Bashkiria and six more in St. Petersburg; the charge is based only on the fact of their involvement in the party.
Note also the verdict against three Hizb ut-Tahrir followers issued in Tatarstan under Articles 2822 and 282. The offenders were sentenced to imprisonment for terms of three and a half to six and a half years. They were charged with distribution of the leaflets and organizing motor races under the party flags. We are not familiar with the content of the leaflets, but the demonstration of flags with the Shahada “There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is the Messenger of Allah” does not, in itself, constitute grounds for any criminal prosecution, even if the flag in question is a party flag. The severity of punishment in this case related to allegations of continuing the activities of a banned organization, but we view it as clearly excessive.
The Federal List of Extremist Materials added 10 positions containing Hizb ut-Tahrir materials in the course of the year. It is evident that law enforcement agencies recognize these materials as extremist without ever considering them on the merits or determining the extent of their danger, but simply because they are related to a banned organization.
Courts in Khakassia and Altai Republic delivered three verdicts in 2014 in connection with activities of the Tablighi Jamaat movement. This religious movement has been banned in Russia as extremist despite the fact that it engages only in promoting Islamic religious practices, and not known for any incitement to violence.
Serzhan Svatov, the Imam of the Kosh-Agachsky District in Altai, was found guilty of disseminating Tablighi Jamaat ideology among local residents and sentenced under Article 2822 Part 1 to a fine of 100 thousand rubles and a two-year ban on conducting religious activities. The sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court of the Republic of Altai.
Parents of two teenagers from the village of Kosh-Agach faced responsibility under the Administrative Code Article 5.35 Part 1 (failure to carry out, or improper carrying out, by parents or other legal representatives of minors of their obligations regarding maintenance, or upbringing, or training, of minors, as well as the protection of the rights and interests thereof), because their children were studying in a madrassah in Kyrgyzstan, in which, according to the prosecutors, the education is based on Tablighi Jamaat. They were punished with a warning about the
A Sayanogorsk (Khakassia) resident was convicted under Part 2 of the Criminal Code Article 2822 for participating in the activities of a Tablighi Jamaat “cell,” which had been allegedly using his apartment as a meeting place. He also read excerpts from banned Islamic books out loud during these meetings. A Magistrate's Court sentenced him to a fine.
Tatarstan prosecutors issued warnings to the imam khatib of the Sababash village mosque and to six local residents. Warnings were issued in connection with the fact that a group of Tablighi Jamaat support went house to house inviting residents to the sermons.
Five sentences under Article 2822 were issued against the believers who studied the works of Turkish Sufi theologian Said Nursi, whose works, in our opinion, were banned for no valid reason. Remember that Russian law enforcement agencies persecute Muslims who read Nursi's books for their alleged membership in the Nurcular organization, banned in Russia despite the fact that its activity or even existence has never been proven.
The Magistrate's Court in Perm sentenced six Nursi followers to fines ranging from 30 to 100 thousand rubles for continuing the activities of Nurcular religious association; one more person received a suspended sentence of one year imprisonment. The prosecution against the believers was based on the fact that a large quantity of religious literature had been found in their possession. Three Muslims faced the fines ranging from 50 to 100 thousand rubles in two criminal cases in Naberezhnye Chelny; they were accused of organizing home madrassas (for men and for women) in order to study Nursi’s books. A Rostov-on-Don resident was fined 130 thousand rubles - he was also charged with organizing a group for studying the works of the Turkish theologian at home.
A case under Part 1 of Article 2822, against a local resident on charges of organizing distribution of Nursi’s works was closed in Kaliningrad in early 2014 due to the statute of limitations. Meanwhile, four residents of Ulyanovsk were newly charged with organizing home madrassas and promoting Nursi’s books.
Imams Ilkhom Merazhov and Camil Odilov convicted in 2013 in Novosibirsk filed complaints with the Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights against their criminal conviction under Article 2822. The defenders believe that this verdict, based only on the fact that they collectively studied Nursi's books, contradicted a number of articles of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, including the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, the right to express an opinion, and the right to the freedom of assembly and association.
In 2014, the Federal List of Extremist Materials added two items, which contained eight inappropriately banned books by Nursi. In addition, the ban was imposed against nurru.com, the biggest Russian-language site devoted to the legacy of Said Nursi.
In addition to the cases, described above, a number of new criminal cases were inappropriately initiated against Muslims on charges of inciting hatred.
A Vladivostok resident was sentenced to one year and eight months probation under Part 1 of the Criminal Code Article 282 for publishing materials inciting hatred on the social network. We know only one of these materials, the video “Queen of Islam” – a sermon on the duties of Muslim women to wear the hijab and dress appropriately – found by the expertise to contain “contraposition on religious grounds.” Condemnation of Western women, who prefer more revealing clothing, can not be interpreted as incitement to hatred that merits prosecution. Thus, the verdict is at least partially inappropriate.
A resident of Pervouralsk in the Sverdlovsk region was prosecuted under Article 282 Part 1 for using strong language on her social network page when criticizing Muslims who celebrate New Year and comparing this holiday to a pagan ritual. The court proceedings started in late 2014.
A penal colony inmate in Nizhny Tagil (the Sverdlovsk region) was charged under the same article for “speaking on religious subjects in a rude manner” and asserting the superiority of one religion over another, while being in a common room, where prisoners watch television and socialize. In our view, the verdict against the inmate under Article 282 was inappropriate, since his insulting remarks weren’t made in public - he spoke in one room, addressing a small group – while this Criminal Code article covers only public actions. We also would like to reiterate our opinion that asserting the superiority of one religion over another does not comprise a reason for prosecution.
The vast majority of inappropriate convictions (30 out of 46 known verdicts), issued in 2014 under the Administrative Code Article 20.29 for mass dissemination of extremist materials or possession with intent to distribute, were delivered for distribution of religious literature, especially Muslim (29 of 46). Law enforcement agencies especially zealously fought the distribution of books Krepost Musulmanina (The Muslim’s Fortress) and Sady Pravednykh (Gardens of the Righteous) - a collection of prayers for every day, and a XIII century treatise respectively. These cases took place at the time, when the decision to ban these books, issued in 2013 in Orenburg, was already under review - it was abolished by the Orenburg Regional Court in February 2015.
It is worth noting that after the annexation of Crimea, the peninsula’s Muslims found themselves in a difficult situation due to their lack of familiarity with the phenomenon of the Federal List of Extremist Materials. The new Crimean authorities started with extensive searches and seizures of banned literature from Crimean Tatars, but then changed their mind and issued a three-month moratorium (starting in mid-October) on seizing extremist materials, so that the Crimean residents had time to familiarize themselves with the Russian legislation and get rid of the incriminating literature. However, a number of Crimean residents have already been fined under Article 20.29 of the Administrative Code.
In 2014, prosecutors repeatedly issued warnings and cautions addressed to individual Muslims or entire communities. A Muslim religious organization in the Borovsky village in the Tyumen region was eliminated as extremist. The community was destroyed due to the fact that prohibited literature (three books two of which we view as obviously inappropriately banned, and the ban of the third is rather doubtful) was found in the mosque twice - before and after it received a warning about the impermissibility of extremist activity.
The trial of the sixteen Jehovah's Witnesses in Taganrog began in 2013. In 2009, the local community has been banned as an extremist; the case was initiated in 2011 under Parts 1 and 2 of Article 2822 based on the fact of continuation of its activities and also under part 4 of Article 150 (involvement of a minor in a criminal group). The verdict was issued in the summer of 2014 with seven defendants convicted and nine acquitted. Four offenders were given suspended sentences to loss of liberty for up to five and a half years and fines of 100 thousand rubles with exemption from payment due to the statute of limitation, and three more – to fines ranging from 50 to 60 thousand rubles, also with exemption from payment. However, both sides were dissatisfied with the verdict, and, in the end, this decision was reversed by the Rostov Regional Court and returned for a new trial in the Taganrog City Court.
Seven Jehovah's Witnesses were fined in 2014 under the Administrative Code Article 20.29 for distributing banned pamphlets of their religious organization.
Sanctions against the leader of the Jehovah's Witnesses community in Samara, fined for distributing banned brochures, served as the grounds for banning the Samara organization as extremist and for its elimination, since the community previously (in 2013) received a warning about the impermissibility of extremist activity. This decision was issued by the Samara Regional Court in June and confirmed by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation in November.
Jehovah's Witnesses in Ussuriysk (the Primorsky region) and Birobidzhan (the Jewish Autonomous Region) were warned about the impermissibility of extremist activity.
The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation recognized the official site of Jehovah's Witnesses jw.org (see above) as extremist in late 2014.
Four brochures - “What Can People Hope For?,” “How to Develop a Close Relationship with God,” “What Do You Need to Know about God and His Purpose?” and “How to Achieve Happiness in Life?” - were banned in 2014 in Barnaul (the Altai region) and in Kurgan; furthermore, the decision of the Kurgan City Court was upheld by the Regional Court.
While identical in content, both verdicts were reflected in two separate items of the Federal List of Extremist Materials, which, in 2014, added five entries that included nine Jehovah's Witnesses booklets.
Anti-Christian statements by social activists also received their share of law enforcement attention in 2014.
A criminal case under Article 282 was opened in the Krasnodar region against an activist from Armavir, known under his online pseudonym Sergei Sergeyev. He was indeed known to make rude statements against the Russians, the Cossacks and Christians, but his texts contained no calls to illegal activities. Sergei Sergeyev believes that the authorities' attention was, in fact, caused by his social activism: support for the idea of boycotting the Sochi Olympics, standing for the LGBT equality, participation in environmentalist protests on the Black Sea coast, and opposition against local nationalist organizations.
A criminal case under Part 1 of Article 282 began in Izhevsk for publication, on a social network page, of “the image of Jesus Christ (on the cross), against whom a group of people is committing acts of rape” (recognized as an extremist material insulting to the dignity of believers in January 2014) and anti-Christian comments related to it. Unfortunately, we do not know the content of the comments and the degree of their aggressiveness, but it was reported that the picture was accompanied by an inscription with obscenities. We have reservations against prohibiting the image and against initiation of criminal proceedings. We oppose the criminalization of insult to dignity as such. Similarly, we view as inappropriate the criminalization of insults against religious feelings, in particular through images regardless of the extent of their rudeness.
In late 2014, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Karelia decided to eliminate the Youth Human Rights Group of Karelia (Molodezhnaya Pravozashchitnaya Gruppa Karelii, MGP of Karelia) due to the fact that Maksim Yefimov was listed as its founder; Yefimov was included on the Rosfinmonitoring List (list of organizations and individuals involved in terrorist or extremist activities maintained by the Federal Financial Monitoring Service) as a suspect in the case of incitement to religious hatred, opened in 2011. (Yefimov left Russia, and the court in Russia still has not considered his case). According to Article 19 of the Law on Public Associations, the person included on the Rosfinmonitoring List can not serve as a founder of a public association. From our point of view, the case against Yefimov was initiated without adequate justification, since his anti-clerical post, which served as the grounds for prosecution, contained no dangerous calls. However, this is not the only reason why we view the elimination of MGP Karelia as inappropriate. Since Yefimov is only a suspect, his guilt has not been proven, so the option to forcibly disbanding the organization appears to be an anti-constitutional norm that can be challenged in the Constitutional Court.
In Oryol, the case for recognizing as extremist four items on a popular local website orlec.ru has been dropped. The case was initiated by a collective appeal from “the Orthodox community” to the Oryol FSB Department demanding that some materials on the site be “checked for the offense under the Criminal Code Article 282.” The experts, ordered by the FSB, concluded that “the submissions contain hostile and/or derogatory statements directed against individuals that belong to a particular religious group, namely those of the Orthodox faith.” The experts (faculty members of the Oryol State University) ended up citing unrecognized quotes from the Tale of Bygone Years (Povest Vremennykh Let) and a text by Protodeacon Andrey Kuraev as evidence of insulting character of the materials. Another expert opinion, ordered by the court, found no signs of extremism in the orlec.ru materials.
We would like to note separately that no cases that we could qualify as inappropriate were opened under the Criminal Code Article 148 Part 1 (which stipulates the penalties for insulting the feelings of believers) in 2014 or in 2013. The four cases under this article were opened in 2014; all of them involved protecting the feelings of the Orthodox Christians: the arson against churches, desecration of a church, cursing and fights in a church, felling crosses.
However, in early 2015, the authorities became concerned with protecting the feelings of Muslims and made a series of warnings to the media for republication of Charlie Hebdo cartoons, in the wake of the attack against the magazine’s editors. However, when explaining its actions, Roskomnadzor cited the law on combating extremism rather than the Criminal Code Article 148. Perhaps, the fear of possible radical Muslim protests explains this reaction of the authorities
Incidental Victims of Inappropriate Anti-Extremism
As in previous years, people and organizations that are clearly not related to any radical activity still become victims of inappropriate enforcement of anti-extremist legislation.
In 2014, prosecutors continued to impose sanctions against libraries that arise from the contradiction between the law “On Librarianship,” requiring them to provide unfettered reader access to collections, and anti-extremist legislation forbidding mass distribution of prohibited materials, continued to grow in 2013.
As you may remember, prosecutors charge libraries with a variety of offences from presence of banned materials (usually books) in their collections (despite the fact that libraries have no legal ground for de-accessioning these materials) to the text of libraries’ bylaws that fail to mention the ban on the dissemination of extremist materials.
According to our admittedly incomplete data, in the period from mid-2008 through the end of 2010, at least 170 cases of inappropriate sanctions against library administrators (including school libraries) were recorded; there were at least 138 such cases in 2011, at least 300 in 2012, and at least 417 in 2013. We now know of 297 such cases in 2014, and this inspires cautious optimism.
As a rule, the penalties are limited to disciplinary actions; however, occasionally, the library personnel also face administrative sanctions. At least three librarians were fined in 2014 under the Administrative Code Article 20.29 for possession of extremist materials with intent of mass distribution. They were, de facto, punished for performing their professional duties.
For example, in the recently acquired Crimea, the director of the Feodosia central library system faced the fine of two thousand rubles in December under the Administrative Code Article 20.29, because 12 copies of the book “The Genocide of Ukrainians. Series: Holodomor of 1932-1933” by Vasyl Marochko were discovered in the library collection (the book has been banned, in our opinion, inappropriately). The director explained in court, that she learned that this book is forbidden in the Russian Federation (unlike in Ukraine) in September 2014, and the libraries did not have time to remove the books from open access. However, the court agreed with the arguments of the prosecutors and found the librarian guilty of an administrative offense.
Some cases of bringing citizens to responsibility specifically under anti-extremist legislation we can only explain by desire of law enforcement agencies to improve their report statistics in the area of combating extremism. This category includes, among other things, warnings about the impermissibility of violating the law on extremism issued to organizers of mass events and public meetings, regardless of whether participants in these events are prone to extremist outbursts or unlikely to manifest them. For example, a local resident, who publicly opposed the shutdown of the city infectious hospital in Aktarsk (the Saratov region), received a warning about the impermissibility of extremist activity. She “simply invited other moms to come to the meeting with representatives of the media and talk about the situation” via Odnoklassniki social network. She also claimed that her friend, who informed the others about the arrival of mass media, received a similar warning.
In 2014, we recorded seven cases of sanctions for displaying Nazi or extremist symbols that were clearly not intended as dangerous propaganda. Those fined under the Administrative Code Article 20.3 (propaganda and public demonstration of Nazi paraphernalia or symbols) in the past year include activists, who used Nazi symbols as an artistic device to denounce their opponents, antique dealers, and booksellers. In particular, the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk Prosecutor’s Office initiated administrative proceedings against the owner of a bookstore that was selling a historical study Soldaty Vermakhta. The Prosecutor's Office found Nazi symbols on the book’s cover. The cover of the book in question, known in English as Soldaten: On Fighting, Killing, and Dying, The Secret WWII Transcripts of German POWS by German historians Sonke Neitzel and Harald Welzer, indeed includes a small contour image of the Wehrmacht eagle; placement of this image is completely justified by the book’s content. In addition, the swastika in the eagle’s talons is partially covered by the large printed names of the authors. This document-based research volume debunks the myth of the Wehrmacht’s non-involvement in the Nazi crimes committed during the Second World War; thus, it is obviously not intended to promote Nazism.
A Bit of Statistics
According to our data, 21 verdicts to 45 persons were delivered in 2014 for violent hate-motivated crimes; 153 sentence to 158 persons were issued for the real hate propaganda (here, as always, we need to clarify that in some cases we don’t have enough information to evaluate the appropriateness of the verdict, and in a number of cases we can conclude that the statements in question were xenophobic, but the extent of their public danger was clearly insignificant); 4 sentences to six people were delivered for ideologically-motivated vandalism. The number of people, whose verdicts were definitely inappropriate, is much smaller.
We view 5 verdicts to 7 people, handed down in 2014 under Article 282 as inappropriate (in our comparable 2013 report we wrote about 6 verdicts to 6 people). They include the sentences to editor of the “Free Speech Adygea” blog Vasily Purdenko for his nationalist article against Russian oppression in Adygea, to prominent Tatar nationalist Fauziya Bayramova for her articles about the events in the Crimea and Ukraine, to the Editor-in-Chief of the Vziatka (Bribe) newspaper Eduard Mochalov for reprinting Fauziya Bayramova’s article on the importance of maintaining the Tatar national identity, and a partially unlawful verdict to a Vladivostok resident for publishing on social network (among other materials) a harmless video addressed to Muslim women, as well as the verdicts to Hizb ut-Tahrir followers Azat Khasanov, Ildar Shaikhutdinov and Ilmir Imaev from Kazan for their auto-rally with the Shahada flags.
One case, opened in 2013 under Article 282 of the Criminal Code (for publishing on orlec.ru website a xenophobic material, which was promptly removed by the site administrators) was dropped in 2014.
However, about twenty new criminal cases that we consider inappropriate were opened under this Article in 2014, that is, about twice the number recorded for the preceding year.
It has to be noted separately that not a single case that we could qualify as inappropriate was initiated in 2014 or in 2013 under Part 1 of the Criminal Code Article 148, which stipulates punishment for insulting the feelings of believers.
No inappropriate verdicts were delivered in 2014 under the Criminal Code Article 280 (there were 2 such sentences in 2013), but 6 new cases were initiated without appropriate justification. For comparison, only one new case under this article was initiated in 2013.
One criminal case against three persons was opened in Krasnodar under the new Criminal Code Article 2801 (public calls for actions aimed at violating the territorial integrity of Russia) for attempting to hold the March for Federalization of Kuban, not featuring any separatist slogans.
Once again, as in 2013, courts handed down no any unlawful sentences under the Criminal Code Article 2821 and filed no new unjustified court cases utilizing this Article.
Eight inappropriate verdicts were delivered in 2014 under Article 2822 of the Criminal Code, i.e. 2 more than in the preceding year. 22 people were convicted for organizing activity of organizations, recognized as extremist, or participation in them - twice the number recorded in 2013. Two sentences were delivered against seven believers in Perm, two others - against three Muslims in Naberezhnye Chelny, and one more - against a Rostov-on-Don resident, for studying the books of Said Nursi. Two verdicts against two people for organizing Tablighi Jamaat cells were issued by courts of Khakassia and Altai Republic. In addition, nine Jehovah's Witnesses were convicted of continuing the activity of their banned Taganrog community (in late 2014 the Rostov Regional Court returned the case to the Taganrog City Court for retrial). At least 2 new criminal cases were inappropriately opened under this article.
The sentence of four Hizb ut-Tahrir followers from Moscow deserves to be mentioned separately. We consider it inappropriate in its part relating to the composition of the Criminal Code Article 30 Part 1, Article 278 and Article 2051 Part 1. The defendants were sentenced to lengthy prison terms. One similar verdict was also issued in the preceding year.
Three new criminal cases were inappropriately opened in 2014 under anti-terrorist legislation - under new Article 2055 against Hizb ut-Tahrir followers in Bashkortostan and St. Petersburg and under Article 2052 in Barnaul against an activist of the Other Russia party.
No inappropriate sentences were issued in 2014 under the Criminal Code Article 213 (“Hooliganism”) and the Criminal Code Article 214 (“Vandalism”) taking into account the hate motive. For comparison, in 2013, one person was wrongfully convicted under Article 213, and there were no inappropriate convictions under Article 214. A single case, opened under Article 213 in 2013, has been closed. However, at least two new cases were initiated under Article 213 and at least two under Article 214 (one of them under the aggregation of both) including the hate motive, which, we believe, was absent in these cases.
Overall, 14 inappropriate sentences against 26 people were issued under the anti-extremist articles of the Criminal Code in 2014; the sentence against one of them was later repealed. Thus, the statistics is practically identical with our data from 2013 (15 verdicts against 25 persons). At the same time, we know of at least 35 new criminal cases initiated in this period without proper justification (vs. 20 new cases recorded in 2013).
The majority of convicted offenders were sentenced to fines, suspended sentences, or compulsory labor. The Hizb ut-Tahrir supporters convicted in Moscow and Tatarstan were the only ones to receive real and long prison terms.
Before turning to our data on the use of the Administrative Code to combat extremism, please keep in mind that our records here are much less complete than in criminal prosecution cases.
We know of at least 46 wrongful convictions for mass distribution of extremist materials or for possession with intent to distribute, i.e. under the Administrative Code Article 20.29 (vs. at least 37 in 2013). Individuals and organizations, fined under this article, include sellers of Islamic literature, individual Muslims (including imams and even a mufti), Jehovah's Witnesses, civic activists, bloggers, inmates, library staff and Internet service providers. As a rule, these people were not involved in actual mass distribution of banned materials.
Five individuals and legal entities - an owner of the computer club, two cafe owners, directors of a sanatorium and a secondary school – were inappropriately fined under the Administrative Code Article 6.17 (“Violation of legislation to protect of children from information harmful to their health and (or) development”) for poor quality of their content filtering. In 2013, four Internet service providers were fined under the same article.
The sanctions (fines or administrative detention) for public display of Nazi or similar symbols, that is, under the Administrative Code Article 20.3 were inappropriately imposed on 14 individuals and entities, compared to 8 in 2013; this number almost doubled.
The Federal List of Extremist Materials added 381 items in the course of 2014, i.e. significantly fewer than in 2013, when the list increased by 590 points. We view as definitely inappropriate the addition of 8 items containing a variety of Muslim material from works of Said Nursi to medieval treatises, of 5 items containing 13 Jehovah's Witnesses booklets, and of 6 items, containing various religious or, conversely, atheistic materials, as well as an Ingush opposition website and one Ukrainian history book - a total of 21 items (vs. 58 clearly inappropriate additions to the List in 2013). In addition, 10 items represented Hizb ut-Tahrir materials, banned on the basis of their association with the banned party, regardless of their level of public danger. We would like to emphasize that we are not familiar with all materials on the List and cannot rule out the possibility that prohibition against some materials of unknown content was also unjustified.
 Roskomnadzor has, in fact, developed a definition of "user visit" and a rather complicated method for determining the number of visits (number of users) per day. For details, see: Roskomnadzor has developed methodology to identify a “blogger”// SOVA Center. 2014. 10 June (http://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/news/lawmaking/2014/06/d29705/).
 Changes were also introduced into the law “On combating extremist activity” to the articles, describing the role of the various authorities, including the text of Article 13 of the Law, which stipulates procedural deadlines, associated with recognizing materials as extremist.
The consistent position of the Constitutional Court in the assessment of anti-extremist norms was, once again confirmed in March 2015; the Constitutional Court confirmed the ban against the swastika and asserting the verity of only one religion // SOVA Center. 2015. 4 March (http://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/news/lawmaking/2015/03/d31422/).
 We are sure that we never find out about the majority of such inspections. Often, we know about the series of inspections being conducted, but the number of warnings and other acts of prosecutorial response is not always reported. In such cases, we counted the entire series as a single instance.
 Resolution No. 11 of the plenary meeting of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation “Concerning Judicial Practice in Criminal Cases Regarding Crimes of Extremism” // SOVA Center. 2011. 29 June(http://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/docs/2011/06/d21988/).
 Earlier, Vzyatka’s author Ille Ivanov was also prosecuted, his article was banned as an extremist, and the newspaper received the Roskomnadzor warning.
In most cases, we do not classify cases under Article 2822 against Hizb ut-Tahrir supporters as inappropriate. Our position is based in particular on the ECHR decision regarding the activity of Hizb ut-Tahrir, rendered as a supplement to the decision on the complaint by the two convicted members of the organization against the actions of the Russian authorities. The ECHR said that, although neither the doctrine nor the practice of Hizb ut-Tahrir suggests a terrorist party, and it does not directly call for violence, banning it as an extremist organization could be justified, because it allows calls to overthrow the existing political system and establish a dictatorship based on Shari'a; it is characterized by anti-Semitism and radical anti-Israeli propaganda (for that, among other things, Hizb ut-Tahrir has been banned in Germany in 2003), as well as its definitive rejection of democracy and political freedoms and recognizing as legitimate the use of force against countries that the party views as aggressors against the "land of Islam". The objectives of Hizb ut-Tahrir run clearly contrary to the values of the European Convention on Human Rights, including the commitment to the peaceful resolution of international conflicts and the sanctity of human life, recognition of civil and political rights, and democracy. Activities, undertaken for such purposes, are not protected by the European Convention on Human Rights.
 See: The Supreme Court banned Nurcular as an extremist organization // SOVA Center. 2008. 10 April (http://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/news/persecution/2008/04/d13081/).
 A claim for recognizing as extremist 18 books, confiscated from a convicted Naberezhnye Chelny resident, was filed as well; however, the books were destroyed in accordance with the verdict in the criminal case, so the court was unable to review the claim for their ban.
 Unfortunately Krepost Musulmanina remains on the Federal List of Extremist Materials despite the repeal of the Orenburg Court decision - the Ussuriysky District Court of the Primorsky region also recognized it as extremist in June 2014.
 A detailed list of possible charges can be found in our report, A. Verkhovsky, Inappropriate Enforcement of Anti-Extremist Legislation in Russia in 2011 // V. Alperovich, A. Verkhovsky, O. Sibireva, and N. Yudina, Xenophobia, Freedom of Conscience and Anti-Extremism in Russia in 2011 // Moscow: SOVA Center, 2012.
 We are sure that we never find out about the majority of sanctions imposed. Often, we know about the series of inspections, which was conducted and resulted in sanctions, but the number of warnings and other acts of prosecutorial response is not always reported. In such cases, we counted the entire series as a single instance.
 For more details, see our simultaneously published report: V. Alperovich, N. Yudina. Calm before the Storm? Xenophobia and Radical Nationalism and Efforts to Counteract Them in Russia in 2014.
 It should be noted that, when speaking about appropriate and inappropriate court decisions, we view them only on their merits, not considering the issue of possible procedural violations.
 In addition, 11 sentences under Article 2822 of the Criminal Code (often in aggregation with other Criminal Code articles) were issued in 2014 against 23 Hizb ut-Tahrir followers, but we do not include them in our statistics of unlawful judicial decisions, since we view prosecution against members of this party for participation in an extremist organization as acceptable.