Inappropriate Enforcement of Anti-Extremist Legislation in Russia in 2015
CREATION OF REGULATORY ACTS
PRINCIPAL TARGETS OF PERSECUTION
The Internet and Anti-Extremism
The Overall Practice of Blocking: Some Examples of Access Restrictions
Mass Media and Anti-Extremism
Political and Civic Activists
“The Ukrainian Question” : Other Cases of “Separatism” : Misusing Criminalization of Incitement to Hatred : Misuse Related to Bans against Political Groups
Hizb ut-Tahrir : Tablighi Jamaat : Followers of Said Nursi : Other Muslims : Jehovah's Witnesses : Falun Gong : The Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church : Criticism against Religion
INCIDENTAL VICTIMS OF INAPPROPRIATE ANTI-EXTREMISM
A BIT OF STATISTICS
As we have repeatedly stated, the anti-extremist legislation, with its vague wording, makes a perfect instrument for prosecution of political opponents or other groups that stand out from the mainstream. This prosecution can be more or less legally appropriate in terms of compliance with the Russian Constitution and the legislation itself. Primary targets of inappropriate law enforcement practices change periodically depending on the political situation and public sentiments.
Since 2014, the traditional “leader” in this respect – the so-called alternative Islam – has been predictably joined by opponents of the state policy with respect to Ukraine. The same effect, in principle, could be expected in connection with Russia's entry into the war in Syria and the associated threat of terrorism in Russia. This trend has been, indeed, observed to some extent, but, unlike in the case of the Ukrainian events of 2014, never resulted in comparably significant changes to repressive practices toward “alternative Islam.” Rather, we can observe strengthening of an earlier trend – filing disproportionately grave charges and issuing disproportionately harsh sentences.
In 2015, we encountered nothing radically new compared to 2012-2014. Practically no new repressive laws were adopted; apparently, we can talk about another temporary stabilization of this legislative area. Previously adopted laws were more actively used – we recorded the first cases of inappropriate convictions for incitement to separatism and opening of the first inappropriate cases related to insulting the feelings of believers.
In general, we observed an increase in inappropriate or questionable verdicts against various opposition activists, but these are the outcomes of the cases initiated in 2014, while the number of newly opened cases is much smaller. However, such sentences have come to increasingly include real prison terms. The practice of banning extremist materials, as well as restricting online access to extremist content, has been gradually expanding. Increasingly, Roskomnadzor presents media outlets with inappropriate warnings. It can be said that excessive use of anti-extremist legislation, having expanded for a number of years, now got entrenched on its new level.
Law enforcement abuses can and do serve political purposes, but an important factor of “bureaucratic inertia” in law enforcement should not be underestimated as well. This phenomenon was most clearly demonstrated by the practice of blocking Internet resources – with the growing body of accumulated law enforcement experience comes wider use. The same applies to the enforcement of the new norms of the Criminal Code or the Code of Administrative Offences. As for the increasingly harsher penalties, we can assume that law enforcement authorities, and, after them, the courts, view harsh sentences as a necessary measure in upholding their fight against groups and trends, which seem dangerous to them and have failed to respond to a lesser pressure.
The increasing pressure has been directed simultaneously against radical nationalists, Stalinists, the liberal opposition, Muslim activists (from adherents of terrorist groups to completely peaceful ones), patently harmless Jehovah's Witnesses and just random citizens and organizations, which simply happened to get noticed by the agencies responsible for counteracting extremism. Accordingly, the society becomes increasingly convinced that counteraction to extremism is an area of arbitrary enforcement, used as a cover for increasing violation of basic human rights and freedoms.
The highest political, judicial and police authorities, apparently, do not view this situation as problematic, and only continue to express their confidence in the chosen course, thus, once again, negatively affecting the enforcement practice.
As a result, even the cases, in which the anti-extremist law enforcement pursues a justifiable goal using legitimate means, generate no positive response in the society and do not help to prevent actually existing dangerous trends. This is even more applicable to the cases, where either goals or means (or both) of the law enforcement are questionable.
The year of 2015 turned out to be much less productive with regard to updating anti-extremist legislation than the previous few years. Although, of course, quite a few flashy repressive initiatives were proposed, almost none of them exhibited any potential for success. Perhaps, at some point, the people in charge of the real legislative process realized that increase in severity of legislation needs to be halted in order to give the enforcement system a chance to master the changes of the preceding three years.
Notably, the most significant changes of this year pertained not to the criminal law, but to softer instruments. In this respect, we need to discuss, first of all, two legislative norms, one of which is only partly related to our area of interest.
The first one is the law on “undesirable foreign organizations,” that is, the new amendments to the notorious Dima Yakovlev’s Law. On May 23, the president signed the amendment proclaiming that “activities of foreign or international non-governmental organization that represent a threat to the foundations of the constitutional system of the Russian Federation, the country's defense or security of the State may be considered undesirable in the Russian Federation.”
The decision that activities of an organization are undesirable on the territory of the Russian Federation is made by the Prosecutor General's Office with input from the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Justice, but without any input from the court. Cooperation with “undesirable organizations” is an administrative offense, and repeated cooperation, and, especially, heading their work in Russia is a criminal offense. Observers could have assumed that the new amendment pertained to threats that could be classified as terrorist or extremist. In this case, the amendments could have been regarded as an additional instrument of anti-extremist legislation. However, this conclusion begged a reasonable question – why was an extrajudicial procedure provided in this case, if the only way to recognize organizations, including foreign ones, as extremist is through the courts.
Until now, however, the practice of law enforcement have followed another expected scenario – the status of “undesirable” has been applied to Western funds for supporting social activity, which fails to meet the legal definition of extremism even in its broadest interpretation.
Another important innovation of 2015 was administrative responsibility introduced for extremist activities in the mass media – obviously, not instead of criminal responsibility but in addition to it.
On May 2, the following amendments were made to the Administrative Code: Article 13.15 (abuse of freedom of mass media) came to include the new sixth part, which introduces fines for legal entities (publisher, and so on) for the “production and manufacturing of media that contains public incitement to terrorist activity, and (or) materials, publicly justifying terrorism, and (or) other materials calling for extremist activity, or justifying or excusing the need for such an activity.” The fines range from 100 thousand to 1 million rubles with confiscation of the offending object. The wording is similar to Article 2052 (public incitement toterrorist activity or public justification of terrorism) and Article 280 (public incitementtoextremist activity), so it implies punishment for the same act, but for the publishers rather than the authors. A question arises as to whether this provision of the Administrative Code should be used only if a related criminal case has been initiated, or regardless of it.
Exceptions are provided for the offenses covered under the Administrative Code Articles 20.3 (distribution of banned symbols) and 20.29 (distribution of banned materials), since these activities were already covered by previously established penalties. On the other hand, the text of the law stipulates an increase in the amount of a fine under Article 20.29 of the Administrative Code (mass distribution of extremist materials) for legal entities to 100,000 and up to 1 million rubles (previously, they ranged from 50 to 100 thousand rubles).
So far, we only know of one case utilizing the new rules of the Administrative Code (see below), and it is not very indicative. In principle, holding publishers responsible for criminal propaganda offenses published in their media outlets does not constitute a legally inappropriate innovation. However, if a criminal conviction is not required for its use, this new Administrative Code article becomes an independent instrument for punishing the media and, thereby, creates additional opportunities for arbitrary enforcement. It is much easier to bring a person to administrative responsibility than to criminal one – there are fewer instruments of defense, and it becomes possible to ruin a media outlet by fines.
As for penalties for the mass distribution of prohibited materials, it should be taken into account that the length of the Federal List of Extremist Materials, which provides the basis for these verdicts, has already exceeded 3200 items, and, for the most part, it is impossible to understand. Thus, punishing citizens on the basis of the cryptic List is becoming increasingly problematic. A radical increase of fines in such circumstances seems altogether inappropriate.
Article 13.15 of the Administrative Code will be expanded further. The new Code of Administrative Offences, a draft of which was submitted to the Duma in December, is expected to be adopted in 2016. There are only a few changes in its “anti-extremist” articles, in general, and the changes relate to increasing the fines for some offences. However, the draft adds Part 7 to Article 13.15 (Article 22.15 in the new version) to cover “dissemination of information, insulting the memory of the participants, veterans and victims of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945, including committed using mass media and (or) information and telecommunication networks (such as the Internet)” with a proposed fine from 2,000 to 2,500 rubles for citizens, from 4,000 to 5,000 rubles for officials, and from 40,000 to 50,000 rubles for legal entities. The sanctions, as we see, are not very severe, but the wording of the offense, in our opinion, will inevitably lead to ideologically motivated misuse.
The system of anti-extremist Internet restrictions – one of the main innovations of recent years – underwent no significant changes in 2015. However, the fine-tuning of the system continues.
The above-mentioned draft of the new Code of Administrative Offences was augmented with Article 22.30 (non-fulfillment by a service provider, providing access to the Internet information and telecommunications network, an obligation to restrict access to a site on the Internet, the network address of which has been included in the Uniform Registry of domain names, references to pages of Internet sites, and network addresses that enable identification of Internet sites that contain information prohibited for distribution in the Russian Federation). The associated penalty ranges from 5,000 to 7,000 rubles for officials, from 10,000 to 30,000 rubles for individual entrepreneurs, and from 50,000 to 100,000 rubles for legal entities.
A series of scandals related to bans against religious materials led to an unexpected result – in 2015, President Putin proposed a bill (which was, of course, adopted immediately), prohibiting to prohibit the fundamental religious texts. Perhaps, the intentions were good, but as a result, the bill, signed on November 23, amended the Law on Combating Extremist Activity to include Article 3.1 “Specifics of applying legislation of the Russian Federation on combating extremist activity with regard to religious texts” which reads as follows: The Bible, the Koran, the Tanakh, and the Kangyur, their contents, and quotations from them cannot be recognized as extremist materials.”
Although religious leaders have welcomed the amendment, admittedly, it makes no practical sense. The amendment fails to clarify the issues regarding translations and various versions of the Bible, the Koran, the Tanakh and the Kangyur, and whether or in what format can these be subject to a ban, in whole or in part.
Thus, the problem of bans against old religious texts, which, far from being subject to prohibition, should not even be subject to interpretations based on the modern day concepts of extremism and tolerance, still persists.
A significant part of the absurd decisions in this area could have been avoided, had their issuance not been entrusted to the uneducated prosecutors and judges in lower courts. On September 30, a draft bill that proposed to elevate the jurisdiction for the cases related to prohibition of materials to the level of the supreme courts of the Federation was introduced in the Duma. Of course, this step is not a panacea, but it has been discussed for a number of years, and we were hoping for its passage, especially since the bill was submitted by a group of deputies from all factions. But, alas, it still has not been scheduled for consideration even in the first reading.
However, the level of a court does not guarantee a reasonable approach toward historical aspects of a given text. Thus, on February 17, the Constitutional Court confirmed the prohibition against using the swastika in a religious context, where it had a clearly Buddhist origin, and motivated its decision by the fact that “the use of Nazi attributes (symbols) in and of itself... – regardless of their genesis – may cause suffering to people, whose relatives were killed during the Great Patriotic war.”
This – likely temporary – stabilization of the anti-extremist legislation in 2015 was accompanied by adoption of several regulations aimed at restricting the rights of those already identified as “extremists.” We would like to emphasize that we are not criticizing the general practice of restricting the rights of people convicted of serious crimes, including crimes falling under the purview of the anti-extremist legislation, except in cases of inappropriate verdicts. At the very least, such measures have a right to exist. However, once again, we see a disproportionate and expansive interpretation of this idea.
The most significant source of the problems here is the Rosfinmonitoring List (list of organizations and individuals involved in terrorist or extremist activities maintained by the Federal Financial Monitoring Service), which includes not only those convicted of crimes of an extremist nature, but also people suspected of such crimes. The list is used not only for operational supervision, but also to introduce actual restrictions for people, including those whose guilt has not yet been proven (in particular, severely limiting their abilities to use their own bank accounts). On March 30, the list of restrictions for people on the Rosfinmonitoring List was expanded to include a ban on possessing a seafarers' identity document.
On December 4, the government submitted to the Duma a draft bill banning a number of categories of people from founding mass media outlets, including those convicted of crimes against the constitutional order and the state security. This additional restriction – analogous to previously imposed restrictions on establishing public and religious associations – is of no practical sense, in our opinion; if “extremists” want to create an organization or a media outlet, they can arrange for third parties to act as founders, while the “extremists” can subsequently take over the management.
The same draft bill provides Roskomnadzor with a mandate to deny permission to distribute a foreign printed periodical publication or to revoke such a permit, in case a publication fails to comply with the law on misusing mass media or with the anti-extremist legislation. Moreover, the procedure implies assessment of those facts by Roskomnadzor with no input from the publishers, thus creating a serious possibility of abuse.
In 2015, blocking of online content remained a primary form of government pressure against the Russian society. Both selection criteria and blocking mechanisms provide reasons for serious concerns, even if we leave out a more controversial question of whether this regulatory mechanism is generally sound.
The Unified Register of Banned Websites, created in 2012, has continued to grow, adding resources that contain pornographic information or pictures, propaganda of drugs or psychotropic substances, or information that can encourage children to take actions that could be harmful to their health, including incitement to suicide. In addition, an Internet resource can be included in the register due to presence of the information, “forbidden to spread in the Russian Federation on the basis of an enforceable court decision recognizing such information as prohibited for distribution.” We would like to remind that, initially, this formula referred to online materials deemed extremist by the courts and subsequently blocked. However, since 2014, courts started to issue decisions on adding the questionable sites to the Register without actually recognizing them as extremist, on the grounds that they contain materials similar to the ones already recognized as extremist (usually, practically identical).
According to the data available to us (only Roskomnadzor, which is responsible for maintaining the List, has the full information), the Unified Register contained at least 422 resources blocked for “extremism” by the courts as of January 1, 2015 – thus, 283 new ones were added in 2015 (vs. 139 resources added in the preceding year). The specifics on the resources in question can be found in the SOVA Center report on racism and xenophobia in 2015.
We view about a quarter of cases (specifically, 72) as added to the registry inappropriately. Most of them – 47 webpages – contain a variety of Muslim materials; politically oppositional pages account for another 15 instances; 7 cases pertain to nationalist materials and 3 – to religious (not Islamic) pages. In addition, we doubt the appropriateness of the ban against eight web pages with the materials of Hizb ut-Tahrir religious and political party.
Websites and webpages blocked under “Lugovoy’s Law,” which are added to a special register on the Roskomnadzor website, (created in addition to the Unified Register of Prohibited Materials) deserve a separate discussion. The law allows the Prosecutor-General's Office to demand that Roskomnadzor immediately, without a trial, block sites containing “incitement to mass riots, extremist activity, incitement of ethnic and (or) religious strife, participation in terrorist activities, or participation in public mass events held in violation of the established order.”
According to our records (once again, only Roskomnadzor has the complete data), the registry of the resources blocked under Lugovoy’s Law increased by at least 133 points in 2015. It came to include resources traditionally covered by the information bans as well as websites or pages blocked due to the current political situation. More information on the quantity and nature of blocked sites is available in the above-mentioned report on racism and xenophobia in 2015; here, we only note that, in our opinion, about 25 webpages were blocked inappropriately. These problematic cases included pages with announcements of actions in support of Alexey Navalny, Darya Polyudova, the spring Anti-Crisis March, and the truckers’ strike, an instruction from the Consumer Rights Protection Society (Obshchestvo zashchity prav potrebitelia, OZPP), songs by the Ensemble of Christ the Saviour and Mother Earth, the Ukrainian band Duet Named After Putin and others. In addition, we doubt the appropriateness of blocking eight pages with Hizb ut-Tahrir materials. Some of these pages were only blocked temporarily, and users' access to them has since been restored.
The following aspect is also worth noting. Throughout the year, Russian law enforcement agencies consistently banned via courts and blocked under Lugovoy’s Law the Ukrainian resources as well as websites that relocated to Ukraine after the takeover of Crimea and the beginning of the armed conflict. The resources in question include big news portals as well as individual websites and pages. The reasons for restricting access to these resources are often clear – in the course of an armed conflict, the rhetoric quite naturally tends to escalate all the way up to the calls for destruction of the enemy. However, such calls are far from the only thing to attract attention of the Russian authorities on Ukrainian sites. Disseminating information about unpermitted actions, publishing interviews with leaders of Ukrainian organizations, banned in Russia, and other violations of Russian anti-extremism legislation – the norms, which, in our view, unduly restrict freedom of speech – can trigger the restrictions. Theoretically, it would be possible to divide the actions of the Russian law enforcement agencies in relation to Ukrainian resources into appropriate and inappropriate, according to criteria developed by SOVA Center. However, we believe that the anti-extremist legislation is designed for peacetime use only. It is impossible to apply it in the situation of the information war that involves both Russia and Ukraine, represented by their leaders, the media and ordinary citizens, and occasionally resorts to absolutely unacceptable rhetoric. The attempts of the Russian authorities to restrict access to Ukrainian resources are, in fact, part of the information war. Evaluating them in terms of adherence to the peacetime rules makes no sense, in our opinion. However, we are ready to address the issue of bans against Ukrainian websites in the event of a substantive change in the situation.
As an illustration, we would like to discuss a few resonant cases of bans and access restrictions on Internet pages in more detail.
In September, the Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky City Court ruled to recognize local opposition news site Express-Kamchatka On-line as extremist; it was included on the Federal List of Extremist Materials and the Unified Register of Banned Websites. The decision was based on the fact of publication of three prohibited articles by journalist Igor Kravchuk (deceased in 2014) accompanied by a suggestion to copy them, because they could be blocked. These texts have been recognized as extremist in May 2014; the court found them to incite social discord and have a potential to encourage readers to violence. Indeed, Kravchuk’s materials were written in an abrasive style, more typically used on the social networks than in the media (including the use of profanity), and expressed negativity toward the current government, including President Putin, but we found no calls for violence or incitement to social hatred in their content, and, thus, no grounds for the ban. It was even more inappropriate to ban a large website (which ended up having to change its URL) for publishing three texts.
The Consumer Rights Protection Society (Obshchestvo zashchity prav potrebitelia, OZPP) spent several months trying to challenge restrictions against its website, imposed under Lugovoy’s law. The decision to block the site was based on “incitement to extremist activities” found by the Prosecutor General's Office in the document titled “An Instruction for Russian Tourists Going to Crimea for Vacation.” The Prosecutor General's Office was referring to the recommendation, found in the document, to comply with the Ukrainian legislation and obtain permission to visit Crimea from the Border Guard Service of Ukraine, since Crimea remained an occupied territory under international law. According to the authorities, this advice called into question the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Russia. From our point of view, the actions of the Prosecutor General and Roskomnadzor, related to blocking the website, were inappropriate. The Instruction was not calling for extremist activity, and prosecuting an entity for providing information on international law is a clear encroachment on freedom of speech. In August the Zamoskvoretsky District Court dismissed the OZPP’s appeal, and then, in September, the organization appealed to the Moscow City Court. We do not know whether the claim has ever been considered, but Roskomnadzor unblocked the site in the same month, stating that nothing illegal was found on its pages. Notably, the Reminder is no longer posted on the site, and at least six additional web pages with this text were blocked as well.
In the second half of November, at the request of the Prosecutor General, Roskomnadzor blocked work-way.com, the website of the Communist working class movement Rabochy Put [The Worker's Path] under Lugovoy’s Law for posting information about the truckers’ protests along with their location, schedule of the events and names of the organizers; the site also posted calls for participation in the strike. Access to the site has been restored after removal of this information from its pages.
In November, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York (a US-registered parent structure of Jehovah's Witnesses) submitted a complaint to the Russian Constitutional Court against the provisions of the federal laws on extremism and on information, which formed the basis for the prohibition of the official Jehovah's Witnesses’ website by the Tsentralny District Court of Tver in September 2013, confirmed by the Supreme court of the Russian Federation. Among other considerations, Jehovah's Witnesses drew attention to the fact that Russian law allows recognizing the entire site as extremist, even if it features only a few materials deemed extremist. In a case involving Jehovah's Witnesses website, the Supreme Court indicated that “partially” recognizing the site as extremist “leads to a threat of further dissemination” of extremist information through this site – despite the fact that prohibited materials had already been removed by that time. In addition, the legislation does not specify cases, in which the entire sites should be prohibited by a court; cases, in which a court ban should only affect individual pages, and cases, which merit pre-trial restrictions. Jehovah's Witnesses indicated that this legal uncertainty leads to discriminatory treatment, which violates the constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms. The complaint also stated that Russian law does not provide a procedure for taking a website off the Uniform Register of Banned Websites and the Federal List of Extremist Materials, thus leading to violations of freedom of speech. The Constitutional Court rejected the complaint in December. Important law enforcement questions, raised in the complaint, were not considered on the merits and have remained unanswered.
In the course of 2015, we recorded less than 10 cases of inappropriate sanctions against providers, forced to block resources needlessly prohibited “for extremism.” This is about 50% fewer than in 2014. The drop in such prosecutorial acts, apparently, happened due to the introduction of a centralized registry.
At least 17 individuals and legal entities (three times more than in 2014) were fined under Article 6.17 of the Administrative Code (violating legislation of the Russian Federation on the protection of children from information harmful to their health and (or) development) for improper filtering of “extremist” content; they included owners of computer clubs, cafes, a library director and administrators of several schools.
Schools and libraries still often face prosecution. All their computers have to be equipped with content filters in order to restrict access to prohibited information, including extremist materials. If the security system does not work or works insufficiently well (we would like to remind here that ideal content filters simply don’t exist), the prosecutors issue the corresponding motions to directors of educational institutions and libraries (not to software developers or suppliers), and the “guilty” parties subsequently face disciplinary liability.
Number of inspections in schools and libraries and various acts of prosecutorial response based on their results reached 344 in 2015, which is almost twice as much as in 2014 (178) and comes closer to the number of sanctions imposed in 2013.
Activities of the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Communications (Roskomnadzor) related to oversight of the mass media remained opaque in 2015; in 2014, Roskomnadzor ceased to publish on its website the list of warnings for violation of Article 4 of the Law on mass media (including those related to “extremism prevention”) issued to founders and editors-in-chief of media outlets. We have information about 15 “extremism-related” warnings issued to mass media outlets – to the editors of “portal Credo.ru” website; to the founder and editorial board of Znak information agency, to Rosbalt news agency,; to Sib.fm online publication, to Infox.ru portal. and to the newspapers RBC-Daily and Vek, to the websites InterNovosti.Ru, Lenizdat.Ru, www.kurier-media.ru, Grani.ru,, RB.ru, RUNews24.ru, as well as to the news agencies VK Press and Lenoblinform.ru.. We view all these warnings as inappropriate. This situation is analogous to the one described in our report for the preceding year.
If a resource receives two warnings in a single year, Roskomnadzor has a right to seek its shutdown in court. However, the cases of a media outlet being shut down for extremism are rare, and no resources were closed via this mechanism in 2015. The lawsuit to close the Erzyan Mastor (Erzya Country) newspaper has reached the Supreme Court, which denied the Roskomnadzor’s request.
The sentence passed by the Syktyvkar Magistrate Court, finding a publisher of 7x7 online magazine guilty under Article 13.15 Part 6 of the Administrative Code (production or publishing of media, containing incitement to extremist activity) with a fine of 15 thousand rubles, merits a separate discussion. The publisher was punished for an image used to illustrate the material on the repeal of the acquittal of nationalist Alexey (Kolovrat) Kozhemyakin, who had desecrated the Jewish Cultural Center in Syktyvkar. The text was accompanied by a photo of the wall with a swastika graffiti and an insulting inscription, made by Kozhemyakin (the text of which is included in the Federal List of Extremist Materials). In our opinion, the decision of the court is inappropriate. By publishing an illustration to the news item, the editorial board in no way intended to show solidarity with Kozhemyakin or promote his views (on the contrary, it was intended to condemn his views), and certainly never called for any extremist activity. Recall that in the Supreme Court ruling On Judicial Practice Related to the Law of the Russian Federation “On the Mass Media” of June 15, 2010 stated that “a court should take into account not only words and expressions (formulas) used in the article, TV or radio program, but also the context in which they were made.”
The law enforcement trend, which started in the preceding year, continued in 2015. The vast majority of inappropriate verdicts and newly initiated prosecutions under anti-extremist articles 280 (public calls for extremist activities) and 282 (incitement to hatred), as well as under the new Article 2801 (public incitement to violation of territorial integrity of the Russian Federation) was associated with various pro-Ukrainian statements on the Internet.
In general, with respect to unbalanced rhetoric around the Ukrainian events, our position is as follows: we believe that this crisis inevitably provokes many people to make extreme statements, not otherwise characteristic of them. In this situation, it is more expedient not to resort to criminal prosecution even for the most abrasive texts, unless the corpus delicti is present in a very clear and unequivocal manner. Otherwise, the law enforcement actions only increase the already high level of tension in the society.
The most severe sentence, issued to chairman of the Tatar Public Center Rafis Kashapov under Article 2801 Part 2 and Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code, was imposed in September by the Naberezhnye Chelny City Court. Kashapov received three years' imprisonment in a minimum security penal colony. The Supreme Court of Tatarstan, having considered his appeal, limited its response to canceling an additional penalty – a two-year ban on the use of social networks. The crime, incriminated to Kashapov, consisted of posting four materials on VKontakte in public access. Three texts (the fourth material is a poster with photographs of victims of the Russian military operations) shared the same ideas of solidarity with Ukraine and the Crimean Tatars, illegality of the annexation of Crimea and rejection of actions of the Russian authorities. We found no signs of inciting ethnic hatred or calls for violence in these materials. As for the criticism of the Russian authorities, it should be remembered that, according to the clarification provided by the Supreme Court with respect to the enforcement practice of anti-extremist legislation, such criticism should not be construed as incitement to hatred and prosecuted under Article 282. Kashapov appealed the decision of the Russian courts to the European Court of Human Rights.
In December, the Oktyabrsky District Court of Krasnodar sentenced Kuban activist Darya Polyudova to two years of imprisonment in a penal colony (a decision has not yet entered into force, Polyudova currently remains at large under house arrest). The criminal case against Polyudova was opened in August 2014, after an attempt by Krasnodar activists to organize the March for Federalization of Kuban. Polyudova was arrested in September of the same year, held in custody for six months, and released on terms of remaining at her approved address in February 2015. She was charged under Article 2801 Part 2 of the Criminal Code for sharing on VKontakte social network a post, which stated that ethnic Ukrainians of Kuban demanded incorporation into Ukraine; under Article 2801 Part 1 for a photograph with of herself during a one-person protest holding a poster “Not a War with Ukraine, but a Revolution in Russia,” and under Part 2 Article 280 for publishing a call to come out on the streets and overthrow the regime. We believe that the criminal case against Polyudova was partly inappropriate, partly disproportionate or debatable (similarly to the majority of convictions for abstract calls for revolution and “overthrow”) and, subsequently, her verdict was inappropriate.
Alexander Byvshev, a teacher from Kromy of the Oryol Region, was sentenced in July under Part 1 of Article 282 to 300 hours of mandatory labor with a ban on the profession for two years, and confiscation of his laptop for publishing his poem “To Ukrainian Patriots,” which encouraged the Ukrainians to meet the “Moskal gang” that invaded their land with armed resistance. From our point of view, the author’s hostility, expressed in the poem, was caused not by ethnicity of the “gang,” but by its activities, so Byvshev’s incriminating actions cannot be qualified under Article 282. The fact that Byvshev was found guilty of incitement to violence is also controversial, to say the least; he only encouraged the citizens of Ukraine to defend the territory of Ukraine. The ECHR accepted Byvshev’s complaint for consideration.
In July, the Leninsky District Court of Barnaul found activist of RPR-Parnas Anton Podchasov guilty under Article 280 Part 1 and Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code. Podchasov received a suspended sentence of fifteen months' imprisonment with a probation period of one and a half years, during which time he lost the right to engage in activities related to telecommunication networks, including the Internet. Later, the Altay Regional Court reviewed the verdict and increased its severity, banning Podchasov, a member of the precinct electoral commission, from working in electoral commissions for three years. Podchasov was sentenced for sharing the “Russophobia post,” – a text previously published by Andrey Teslenko, an opposition member from Altai, against whom a criminal case had been opened as well, precipitating his move from Russia to Ukraine, where he was granted political asylum. The incriminating text is extremely abrasive; it contains a lot of abuse aimed at ethnic Russians and an appeal to the Ukrainian authorities not to grant them citizenship. A fragment of it, disseminated online, has been recognized as extremist in the Stavropol Region. Nevertheless, we believe that the prosecution for sharing this text is controversial; in particular, it is doubtful that Russia should prosecute incitement to discrimination if it was uttered in Russia, but addressed to the authorities of another country, and proposed discrimination does not pertain to Russian citizens.
In October, the Industrialny District Court of Khabarovsk has sentenced LGBT activist Andrey Marchenko under Part 1 Article 280 of the Criminal Code to a fine of 100 thousand rubles, and then granted him amnesty. Marchenko was found guilty of having published on his Facebook page some statements that “contain calls for violence, including physical destruction, against a social group, defined by the author as residents of Russia, who, in his opinion, support fascism and terror, and have committed a violent takeover of Ukrainian territories.” In our opinion, the verdict against Marchenko under Article 280 is at least partially inappropriate. Calls for the use of violence against groups, which have “committed violent takeover of territories” (of another state) is legitimate per se and stipulated by legislation of all countries as protection of territorial integrity.
Konstantin Zharinov, an activist of the South Ural Civic Movement (Grazhdanskoe dvizhenie yuzhnogo Urala), was found guilty under Article 280 by the Tsentralny District Court of Chelyabinsk in September. He got a suspended sentence of two years' imprisonment with a probation period of two years; he also received an amnesty (later, his sentence was upheld by the Regional Court). Zharinov shared on his VKontakte page an appeal by the Right Sector to “Russians and Other Enslaved Peoples,” which called for actions of disobedience, organizing guerrilla groups, and other forms of resistance against the regime. According to Zharinov, he quickly removed the entry, but it had been online for a sufficient period of time to attract attention of the FSB, which opened a criminal case. The intelligence services’ interest in Zharinov could possibly be explained by the fact that he was a political scientist specializing in terrorism. In our view, the sentence against Zharinov is inappropriate. He didn’t express any solidarity with the Right Sector’s appeal, and his other activity on social networks and blogs has not been characterized by aggressive rhetoric. Taking this into account, the law enforcement authorities could have limited their involvement to a simple request to remove the material (if still on the page); the criminal proceedings were a disproportionate measure.
Opposition activist Sergey Titarenko was sentenced to a fine of 100 thousand rubles under Part 1 of the Criminal Code Article 280 (public calls for extremist activity) in September in Krasnodar. The court found that Titarenko, motivated by hatred of the current political regime and President Vladimir Putin, deliberately shared on his VKontakte page a message by the Kolomoysky Broadcasting group, which contained the text under the caption “No Dictator – No Problem,” with information about a reward allegedly offered for the elimination of Russian president Vladimir Putin. Titarenko shared this text without any comments indicating his own position, so, in this case, the re-post should not have been interpreted as a call to action. In our view, the police could justifiably demand the removal of this incendiary falsehood, but the original author of the post should be the one to merit criminal prosecution. Titarenko refused amnesty.
In July, the Bakhchysarai District Court of the Republic of Crimea declared a local resident Mustafa Yagyaev guilty under Article 282 Part 2 Paragraph “a” of the Criminal Code (incitement of hatred with violence or with threat of its application). Yagyaev was sentenced to two years imprisonment with “loss of right to engage in activities related to sharing and dissemination of any information.” The prosecution against Yagyaev was based on an essentially interpersonal conflict. Yagyaev, a mechanic, while at work, found himself disagreeing with the views of the female employees of the Housing Maintenance and Utilities Board accounting department regarding the consequences of Crimea joining the Russian Federation. Yagyaev began to scream at his colleagues and use derogatory epithets against them; according to the investigation, he also said: “we will return Crimea to Ukraine; there will be a war; we will have to cut and burn, and the Russians will drown in blood in this war, but it is a pity that my Muslim brothers will perish.” (The defendant categorically denied ever making such a statement.) Information about the conflict quickly reached the local Center for Combating Extremism which opened a criminal case. The real reason for the prosecution against Yagyaev was, likely, his activities as an imam, a civic activist and a member of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis during the 1990s. In our opinion, the verdict under Article 282 against Yagyaev was inappropriate. He addressed the three women, who were in the same room. Therefore, even assuming that he actually made a number of radical statements, this incident can’t be qualified under Article 282, which implies statements made in public.
In August, nationalist Andrey Bubeev of Tver was sentenced under Article 282 to 10 months of imprisonment in a penal colony. The prosecution was based on a variety of pro-Ukrainian texts and images he shared via VKontakte social network. As is the case of Byvshev’s poem, we believe that the charge under Article 282 is inappropriate, since hostility, expressed in Bubeev’s posts, was motivated not by ethnic prejudices of the publisher – obviously, a Russian nationalist by ideology – but by the activities of his opponents from among Russian citizens. As for the Russian military and law enforcement officials (one of the charges against Bubeev was inciting hatred towards these groups), from our point of view, they do not belong to the set of vulnerable social groups and are not subject to protection under Article 282.
In June, the Tsentralny District Court of Kaliningrad found three Kaliningrad activists, Mikhail Feldman, Oleg Savvin and Dmitry Fonaryov, who put a German flag on a garage of the Kaliningrad Regional FSB Office in March 2014 to express their support for Ukraine guilty under Article 213 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (hooliganism committed by a group of persons by prior agreement, motivated by political hatred and enmity as well as by hatred against the social group “veterans of the Great Patriotic War”) and sentenced to a real loss of freedom; however, taking into account the time spent in a pre-trial facility, the three activists were released in the courtroom. An attempt to challenge the verdict in the second instance was not successful, and Mikhail Feldman subsequently filed a lawsuit with the ECHR.
In September, the Tagansky District Court of Moscow sentenced roofer Vladimir Podrezov under Article 213 Part 2 and Article 214 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (hooliganism and vandalism motivated by hatred) in the case of the painted star and the Ukrainian flag, raised on the steeple of a high-rise building on Kotelnicheskaya Embankment in Moscow on August 20, 2014. Four base-jumpers, also charged in the case, were acquitted. We would like to remind that Ukrainian roofer Pavel Ushivets have taken responsibility for this action. We disagree with the qualification of this case – regardless of the perpetrator’s identity, it is unclear, who can be a target of hatred, expressed by painting an object the colors of the Ukrainian flag; furthermore, the action should have been classified as a minor (rather than gross) violation of public order and tried as an administrative offense under Article 20.1 of the Administrative Code (petty hooliganism). In mid-December, the Moscow City Court commuted Podrezov’s sentence from imprisonment to restraint of freedom.
Below are some examples from a series of new cases filed in connection with various statements on Ukrainian conflict and annexation of Crimea.
In Crimea, the cases under the charges of calls for separatism were initiated against head of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people Refat Chubarov and owner of the ATP channel and former vice-premier of the Crimean government Lenur Islyamov for their public statements demanding the return of the Crimea to Ukraine. We believe that the persecution of the Crimean residents for their calls to return the peninsula to Ukraine are inappropriate – it is impossible to accuse of separatism people, who were initially opposed to the annexation by another country of the territory where they resided. In addition, the question of the acquisition of Crimea, implemented on the basis of Russian laws, is not so clear from the point of view of international law.
Proceedings in a high-profile case against housewife Yekaterina Vologzheninova, accused under Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code for inciting hatred and hostility against the authorities and “volunteers from Russia fighting on the side of the militias in Eastern Ukraine,” has started in mid-October in Yekaterinburg. The prosecution was based on several posts shared via VKontakte social network. Law enforcement agencies based their charges on the following publications: the poem “The Katsaps” by Anatoly Marushkevich, the images, styled to resemble the Second World War posters, with the statements “Stop the Plague” and “Death to Moscovite Invaders,” and three additional materials (texts, exhibiting varying degrees of radicalism). The principal message of “The Katsaps” is that ethic Russians living in Ukraine will defend it from Russia; the poem accuses the Russian authorities of attacking Ukraine, but contains no aggressive appeals. As for the poster, it was obviously addressed to the Ukrainian citizens, urging them to defend their country from the occupation. In February 2016, Vologzheninova was found guilty, and sentenced to 320 hours of mandatory labor with confiscation of her laptop.
In addition to the issues related to Ukraine, law enforcement agencies continue to react strongly to statements involving “territorial integrity.”
We view as definitely inappropriate the verdict issued in December in the case of Vladimir Zavarkin, a Deputy of the Suojärvi Urban Settlement Council, accused of public incitement to separatism. The Petrozavodsk City Court found the Deputy guilty under Article 2801 Part 1 of the Criminal Code and sentenced him to a fine of 30 thousand rubles. The criminal case was initiated after the deputy addressed the meeting in Petrozavodsk in May 2015, which called for resignation of Head of the Republic of Karelia Alexander Khudilainen. In his emotional speech Zavarkin proposed holding a referendum on the secession of Karelia from Russia in response to the inaction of the authorities. The video of Zavarkin’s address was recognized in court as extremist in early November. These statements hardly qualify as separatist propaganda; moreover, we also generally believe that only calls for violent separatism merit prosecution.
Another noteworthy separatism-related case was initiated in Chelyabinsk in the summer of 2015 against Alexey Moroshkin (online nickname Andrey Breiva) – the founder of the Church of the Chelyabinsk Meteorite and the administrator of the VKontakte group “For Struggling Ukraine! For free Ural! Together Against the Evil!” Moroshkin was charged with 12 instances of posting texts on the group’s page, which called for secession of the Ural region from Russia and for creation of the Siberian Federative Union. We were not able to review all of Moroshkin’s texts, but the ones we have seen did not contain any calls for actual, deliberate activities, which could lead to implementation of such plans. Moroshkin was held in custody for two months and then was released by the court from criminal liability and sent to a psychiatric hospital for compulsory treatment, as a person who does not realize the significance of his actions and presents danger to the society. Given that Moroshkin did not previously suffer from mental disorders and was never under observation by a psychiatrist, we doubt both his diagnosis of “paranoid schizophrenia,” delivered by a forensic psychiatric commission, and the need to isolate him from the society.
Several sentences for inciting hatred of various kind, handed down by the Russian courts in 2015, seem questionable.
Thus, the Leninsky District Court of Cheboksary sentenced RPR-Parnas activist Dmitry Semyonov to a fine of 150 thousand rubles in September, and then pardoned him, canceling the fine and removing a criminal record. Semyonov was accused of disseminating via his VKontakte page a caricature of Dmitry Medvedev in a Caucasian papakha fur hat, accompanied by the words “Death to the Russian Vermin.” We view Semyonov’s sentence as inappropriate. The de-motivator he had shared was fairly widespread on the Internet; apparently, the creator of the image intended to indicate the fact that the Prime Minister’s policies were “anti-Russian.” Apparently, Semyonov interpreted the image in precisely the same way, claiming that the Russian government does not support ethnic Russians in the national republics of the Federation or in the former Soviet republics. In this case, it is unreasonable to believe that the image was inflammatory and actually called for the murder of the Russians. Semyonov tried to appeal the decision, but the Chuvashia Supreme Court upheld his sentence.
In April, we found out about the sentence, issued by the Moscow District Military Court to resident of Staraya Russa Anton Izokaitis. He was sentenced to 2.5 years in a penal colony under Part 1 of the Criminal Code Article 205.2 (public calls to terrorist activity or public justification of terrorism), Part 1 of Article 280 (public calls for extremist activities), and Part 1 of Article 282 (humiliation on the grounds of nationality). Izokaitis was penalized for a squabble at a police station, where he was taken for disorderly conduct during the New Year’s celebration (January 1 2015). When brought to the police station, the detainee began to curse the Russians and ended up justifying terrorist actions of December 2013 in Volgograd. Nevertheless, we view the verdict to Izokaitis as inappropriate. He made these statements inside the police station and addressed a small group, i.e. his actions can’t be considered public. In addition, the date and circumstances of arrest raise suspicions that all these statements should not be qualified as intentional acts described in the relevant Criminal Code articles. In June, when considering his appeal, the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court merely reduced Izokaitis’ prison term to two years.
We would like to point out two new resonant cases opened in 2015 under Article 282.
In early April, the Meshchansky Inter-District Investigative Department of the Central Investigation Department of the Investigative Committee of the RF opened a criminal case for incitement to hatred and humiliation of dignity of veterans of the Great Patriotic War, after a retailer in the Central Children's Store mall on Lubyanka (Tsentralny Detsky Magazin, TDM) was found selling busts and figurines of Nazi Germany soldiers and officers. On the same day, interrogations and searches were conducted in homes and offices of the sales staff of the company, which owned the store implicated in selling the figurines. The figurines of soldiers and military equipment displaying Nazi symbols were removed from this and other stores. As it turned out, the figurines and busts, which became the basis for the criminal case, were collectibles and not intended as children’s toys. From our point of view, the criminal case under Article 282 was initiated inappropriately, since sale of models has no qualifying attributes of a crime covered by this article. In this situation, one would expect administrative prosecution under Article 20.29 of the Administrative Code (propaganda and public demonstration of Nazi paraphernalia or symbols), and even this administrative charge would have rested on shaky grounds, because model aficionados displaying banned symbols typically have no intention to promote Nazi ideas. We believe that the sellers should have removed depictions of Nazi soldiers and officers from their open shop windows, limiting the information on their availability to a text catalog.
Akhmidia Bayramov, the owner of Flamingo cafe in Nizhny Novgorod, faced criminal charges of committing actions aimed at humiliation on grounds of belonging to a social group, committed publicly with violence or threat of violence (Article 282 Part 2 Paragraph “a”) for throwing out of his establishment a developmentally disabled sister of top model and philanthropist Natalia Vodianova in August. The owner of a cafe rudely demanded that Oksana Vodianova and her nurse, who had entered his establishment, leave immediately, arguing that the woman scared off his customers; he then ordered his security guards to throw out Oksana and her mother, who had arrived to help her. In the course of the investigation, the charge was reclassified as Article 282 Part 1. The case was closed in September, at the end of the preliminary hearing, due to the reconciliation of the parties. We classify it as inappropriate, because Article 282 of the Criminal Code assumes public nature of the statements, while the statements of the cafe owner don’t meet this condition. Besides Vodianova, her nanny, the owner (and possibly staff members), there was only one visitor. In addition, in this case, a vague concept of a “social group” seems hardly applicable as a target of humiliation (perhaps, this is another reason to consider adding the list of specific groups in need of protection, including for health reasons, to the wording of Article 282). The incident with Oksana Vodianova, as far as we can tell, would have been most appropriately qualified as discrimination and prosecuted under relevant articles of the Criminal Code (Article 136) or the Code of Administrative Offences (Article 5.62).
A criminal case under Part 1 Article 2822 of the Criminal Code was opened in Moscow in July for organizing the activities of Army of People’s Will (Armia Voli Naroda, AVN), an organization, banned for extremism. Activists of the Initiative Group of the Referendum “For Responsible Power” (Za otvetstvennuyu vlast, IGPR “ZOV”) Yury Mukhin (later transferred from prison to house arrest), Alexander Sokolov, Valery Parfyonov and Kirill Barabash. All four are accused of re-establishing the AVN under a new name, but with the same goals and objectives. Indeed, the IGPR “ZOV”movement has been founded after the ban against the AVN and is guided by a similar ideology. In our opinion, however, the prohibition of AVN – an organization with Stalinist and nationalist tendencies, repeatedly engaged in xenophobic propaganda – was inappropriate, because it was recognized as extremist based solely on the ban of the leaflet: You have elected – You are to judge! (Ty izbral – tebe sudit), which called for amending the Constitution so as to make unpopular officials face legal responsibility. The ban is unfounded, since a call for a referendum on amending the Constitution is not an illegal act, even if the proposed amendment runs contrary to the current Constitution.
Notably, a similar case against local activist Pavel Butko was closed in late December in Nizhny Novgorod. Butko was accused of organizing activities of the AVN, based on the fact that his phone was listed as a contact number on the prohibited organization’s website. Prosecutors suspected him of continuing illegal activities due to the existence of the online group “Nizhny Novgorod Residents for the Right of the People to Judge the Authorities,” despite the fact that the last AVN-related entry on the group’s page was made in February 2011 and informed about its ban. The prosecutor refused to sign the indictment, never sent it to court and returned the case to the investigators to correct the problems. As a result, the case was dismissed due to the statute of limitations.
Unreasonable persecution of believers for various forms of their religious activities within the framework of combatting extremism continued in 2015.
Followers of Hizb ut-Tahrir religious and political party, banned in 2003 as terrorist, are increasingly prosecuted not under Article 2822 (organizing an extremist organization or participation in it), but under new anti-terrorist articles 2051 (involving persons in terrorist activities), 2052 (public incitement to terrorist activity or justification of terrorism), 2055 (organization of activities of a terrorist organization or participation in it) as well as under Article 30 Part 1 of the Criminal Code in conjunction with Article 278 (preparation for the violent takeover of power). We believe that the decision to ban this organization as a terrorist has been inappropriate, since Hizb ut-Tahrir does not practice violence and does not view it as a suitable method of struggle for building the worldwide caliphate. However, we note once again that, in our view, Hizb ut-Tahrir still could be prohibited for other reasons.
Verdicts on charges of collaboration with Hizb ut-Tahrir are becoming increasingly severe; prison sentences, in some cases already exceed ten years. Prosecutors are not even trying to provide the court with evidence of actual preparation of the defendants to carry out acts of terrorism or takeover of power – simply stating their involvement in party activities in the form of distribution of or studying the Hizb ut-Tahrir literature or conducting meetings of like-minded people is sufficient. Courts – and now, since the defendants are usually charged under anti-terrorist articles, frequently these are military courts – willingly satisfy requests of the prosecutor's office despite the low quality of the investigation.
Five sentences on charges of trying to seize power in conjunction with charges under anti-terrorism legislation were issued against the alleged followers of Hizb ut-Tahrir in 2015. 15 people in Ufa, Samara, Chelyabinsk and Dagestan were convicted. Four additional Hizb ut-Tahrir followers were wrongfully convicted under Article 2055 only – in Saint Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Bashkortostan.
Thus, in mid-June, the Moscow District Military Court in Ufa sentenced eight defendants for collaboration with Hizb ut-Tahrir. All of them were found guilty under Article 2822 Part 2 and Article 2055 Parts 1 and 2 of the Criminal Code. The court concluded that Ilgiz Salakhov for four years was heading the Hizb ut-Tahrir cell in the city of Dyurtyuli and Dyurtyulinsky District, whose members worked on involving the congregation of local mosques into the organization, showing them “extremist videos and literature, based on the methods of psychological influence and manipulation.” Ilgiz Salakhov was sentenced to 10 years and 6 months in a maximum security penal colony; Shamil Khusniyarov, Gazim Kutluyarov, and Ruslan Asylov – to 6 years and 4 months; Ilshat Salimov – to 6 years and 6 months; Rustam Galimhanov and Aydar Fayzullin – to 5 years and 2 months; Rustam Gabdullin – to 5 years and 6 months in a minimum security penal colony.
At least two new criminal cases of this kind against supporters of Hizb ut-Tahrir were inappropriately initiated in 2015 – in Chelyabinsk and in Bashkiria.
In Bashkiria, where fight against Hizb ut-Tahrir is particularly persistent, over 20 Muslims were detained in February under Parts 1 and 2 of Article 2055. All of them were arrested and still remain in custody. This group includes Rustem Latypov – the head of the Muslim Problem Research Center, who, as far as we know, has left the party a few years ago, and Linar Vakhitov, the leader of the movement “For the Rights of Muslims” (Za prava musulman).
The Federal List of Extremist Materials added 25 points containing Hizb ut-Tahrir materials in the course of the year. These materials are heterogeneous, many of them clearly inappropriately banned, the other ones could be problematic, but law enforcement agencies recognize them as extremist, several at once – simply by association with the banned organization, without considering them on the merits or determining the degree of danger for each of them.
Only one sentence was issued in 2015 for participation in the activities of Tablighi Jamaat movement (recognized as extremist). In July, in Novokuznetsk of the Kemerovo Region, Kyrgyz citizen Jenishbek Cholponbaev was sentenced to a year imprisonment under Part 2 of Article 2822. He was accused of studying banned literature, participation in the meetings of like-minded people and propaganda of the Tablighi Jamaat values. This religious movement was banned in Russia as extremist despite the fact that it is engaged exclusively with promotion of the Islamic religious practices and has never been known to incite violence. With respect to this verdict, it should also be noted that the organization is not prohibited in Kyrgyzstan and is very popular there.
In November, a Novosibirsk court dismissed due to statute of limitations the case, opened in 2013, against 16 people accused of participation in the activities of Tablighi Jamaat. All of them were charged with disseminating the movement’s ideas, recruiting supporters and participating in meetings, organized by Tablighi Jamaat. To our knowledge, no new cases against followers of this movement were initiated in 2015.
Four sentences under Article 2822 of the Criminal Code were issued against Muslims, studying works of Turkish Sufi theologian Said Nursi, which are, in our opinion, unreasonably prohibited in Russia. Russian law enforcement agencies prosecute the believers, found in possession of Nursi's books, for membership in Nurcular, a supposedly united organization, banned in Russia despite the fact that its activities and even its very existence has never been proven.
In February, the Leninsky District Court of Ulyanovsk convicted three believers, who studied the legacy of Nursi. Bagir Kazikhanov was sentenced under Article 2822 Part 1 of the Criminal Code to 3 years and 6 months' imprisonment He was charged with organizing home madrassas in Ulyanovsk, and “in the period from January 2012 to April 2014 under the guise of Islam study groups, holding clandestine meetings, during which he called for actions aimed at creating a global Islamic state (Caliphate);”in addition, he maintained contacts with Nurcular followers in other regions. Alexander Melentiev and Stepan Kudryashov received suspended sentences of 1 year and 8 months and a 2 year sentence respectively for allegedly recruiting new members of the cell (including collection of monetary donations) and promoting books by Said Nursi. In particular, according to the prosecutors, the three offenders “formed groups with a positive attitude toward death, combined with willingness to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the teaching and violation of the territorial integrity of the state.”
Three sentences were handed down in Krasnoyarsk, two of them against women accused of organizing a “women’s unit” of Nurcular. One of them, Tatiana Guzenko, was sentenced in July to a fine of 100 thousand rubles under Article 2822 Part 1 of the Criminal Code for having allegedly organized meetings to study the forbidden books of Nursi. It should be noted that the judicial proceedings against Elena Gerasimova, a figurant of the same case as Guzenko, were dropped in August due to the statute of limitations. Another woman, whose name has not been reported, was accused of participation in similar meetings and providing material assistance for conducting them; she was fined 10 thousand rubles in August under the same part of the same Criminal Code article. Two other Krasnoyarsk residents were sentenced to fines in December for studying Nursi's books. Andrey Dedkov had to pay 150 thousand rubles under Part 1 of Article 2822; he was charged with organizing delivery and distribution of banned literature in the city and creating a network of locations for conducting classes on religion, as well as involving other Krasnoyarsk residents in this activity. Alexey Kuzmenko faced a fine of 100 thousand rubles under Part 2 of Article 2822 for participating in religious classes in 2011-2014, during which he read and commented on Nursi's books and gave them to attendees.
A new criminal case under Part 1 of Article 2822 was opened in Novosibirsk against Imam Kamil Odilov and two other believers (under Part 2 of the same article). Odilov was arrested in December. We would like to remind that Odilov, together with Imam Ilkhom Merazhov convicted along with him in 2013 under Article 2822 (who, once again, attracted attention of the law enforcement; however, he is currently in Turkey and inaccessible to Russian law enforcement agencies), filed an appeal against their conviction with the Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights in 2014, arguing that this court decision, based exclusively on the fact of the collective study of Nursi's books, was at odds with 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 freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and associations.
The Federal List of Extremist Materials added three entries, containing 17 wrongfully banned books by Nursi and an internet page with his works, in 2015.
In addition to the above-listed cases, several inappropriate convictions against Muslims on charges of inciting hatred were issued in 2015.
In May, Resident of Pervouralsk (the Sverdlovsk Region) Elvira Sultanakhmetova was sentenced to 120 hours of mandatory labor under Article 282 Part 1 (actions aimed at inciting hatred and enmity, as well as humiliation of dignity of a person or a group of persons on the grounds of religion, committed publicly). Sultanakhmetova was brought to responsibility because, when responding to an online survey “Can a Muslim celebrate the New Year?” she spoke out against the celebration, citing the Koran. She urged Muslims refrain not only from celebrating the New Year, but also from wearing the St. George ribbon or painting Easter eggs, as the “vile pagans” did. Sultanakhmetova compared wishing someone “Happy New Year!” with murder or adultery, and declared dances around the Christmas tree to be the legacy of a bloody pagan ritual. We view Sultanakhmetova’s verdict as inappropriate, because her post contained no dangerous incitement against the infidels, while the question of whether those celebrating the New Year, Easter and the Victory Day should be considered “pagans” and “polytheists” does not belong to the sphere of secular law.
Ismail Avazov, an inmate of a penal colony in Nizhny Tagil (the Sverdlovsk Region) had his prison term increased by 1 year 7 months in March, when he was found guilty under the same Criminal Code article. He was convicted for “speaking on religious matters in a rude manner” in the recreation room. In our view, his conviction was not properly substantiated, since his remarks, no matter how rude or offensive weren’t made in public. The suspect spoke in a room and was addressing a small group, while this article pertains only to public actions. In addition, propaganda of superiority of one religion over others should not be the grounds for criminal prosecution.
One case against a Muslim, accused of inciting religious hatred, was closed in 2015 – Imam of the Rostov Cathedral Mosque Nail Bikmaev was acquitted due to absence of the event of a crime. He had been accused of making harsh statements about Jews and Christians, in the course of his sermon, when commenting on the Koran. The Prosecutor’s Office issued an apology to Bikmaev.
However, we found out about three new cases under Article 282 inappropriately initiated against Muslims in 2015. The court proceedings have begun in the case of Shamil Magomedov. He was charged under Articles 280 and 282 for sharing, via a file-sharing network, the text of The Book of Monotheism, abanned XVIII century treatise by Muhammad ibn Sulayman al-Tamimi. In Langepas (the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug – Yugra), a court took up a criminal case under Part 1 of Article 282 against a local resident, who was a teacher of Arabic. He was accused of holding religious meetings, disguised as Arabic language classes, which included reading of banned literature and “sermons on the exceptionality of Islam over other religions, with intent of inciting ethnic enmity and hatred.” We have no information regarding the content of the incriminating sermons, but would like to note that it is quite natural for believers to regard their religion as the only true one and assert its superiority over the other ones; only calls for illegal actions against followers of other religions merit prosecution. We have no information about the outcomes in either case. In Pervouralsk of the Sverdlovsk Region a case on incitement to religious hatred was opened against Mufti Fatykh Garifullin, the editor-in-chief of the local Istina (The Truth) newspaper. The prosecution of the Mufti was based on a material published in the newspaper in August 2013 – a reprint from Nash Mir (Our World) resource of Kazakhstan of twenty Koranic verses about fighting the infidels. The Istina newspaper has been suspended by the editorial board. Recall, we view law enforcement attempts to approach ancient religious literature from the standpoint of modern legislation on extremism as absurd.
In 2015, at least 13 convictions under Article 20.29 of the Administrative Code were issued for mass distribution of inappropriately banned Islamic religious works or storing them with intent to distribute.
The controversy around the decision of the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk City Court of August 12, 2015 became one of the most high-profile events of the year related to the use of anti-extremist legislation. The court recognized as extremist the book Molba (du'aa) k bogu, ee naznachenie i mesto v Islame (Prayer (du'aa) to God: its purpose and place in Islam), which consists of brief explanations of the Koranic verses, given both in Arabic and in Russian translation. The Court agreed with the expert opinion that the Koranic texts, given in the book, and the comments on them contained propaganda of superiority of Islam over other religions.
The ban drew the attention of believers and had a resonance, which surpassed even the scandal over the ban of the Koran in Elmir Kuliev’s translation, which took place a year earlier. Chechnya leader Ramzan Kadyrov hastened to ride this wave of indignation; he started with undisguised threats against the law enforcement authorities of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and then filed an appeal against the court's decision. At the same time, the Council of Muftis of Russia was preparing a complaint of their own. The Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk Prosecutor's Office, apparently realizing the consequences of their mistake, hurried to challenge the court's decision, stating that their charges referred only for the comments, and not to the original verses. However, the text of their original claim clearly shows that this assertion does not correspond to reality. In early November, the Sakhalin Regional Court overturned the notorious decision of the district court. The controversy resulted in the adoption of the law prohibiting to recognize the fundamental religious texts as extremist, which we discussed in the corresponding chapter above.
The new law had a decisive influence on the decision of the Pervouralsk City Court of the Sverdlovsk Region, which, in December, refused to recognize as extremist refused to recognize as extremist the books Izbrannye Khadisy (Selected Hadith) by Sheikh Muhammad Yusuf Kandhlawi (a collection of Hadith, ancient stories about words and deeds of Prophet Mohammed) and Bogovdokhnovenna li Doktrina Troitsy (Is the Trinity Doctrine Divinely inspired?) by M. A. C. Cave. The court rejected the prosecutorial claim that the books contained information aimed at propaganda of exclusivity and superiority of Islam over other religions.
In November 2015, the retrial of sixteen Jehovah's ended in Taganrog. The local community was banned as an extremist in 2009, and the case regarding the continuation of its activities under Parts 1 and 2 of Article 2822 was opened in 2011; the charges also included Article 150 Part 4 of the Criminal Code (involving minors in a criminal group). The charges against Jehovah’s Witnesses stated that, being “fully aware” of the ban against the Taganrog community and “motivated by extremist urges,” they resumed and continued its activities, namely conducted prayer meetings and studied religious texts. The verdict was issued in 2014; seven defendants were convicted, and nine were acquitted. Four convicted offenders received suspended sentences, they got up to five and a half years of imprisonment and a fine of 100 thousand rubles, with exemption from the payment due to the statute of limitations; three others faced the 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 overturned by the Regional Court and returned for a new trial in the Taganrog City Court. Under the new sentence, all sixteen believers were found guilty. Four members of the Taganrog community were convicted for organizing continuation of its activities and involving minors in them and received suspended sentences, ranging from 5 years and 3 months to 5 years and 6 months, with a 5-year probationary period, and a fine of 100 thousand rubles (they were released from paying it due to the statute of limitations). Twelve more people have been sentenced to fines, ranging from 20 to 70 thousand rubles as members of the banned community, and were also released from paying due to the statute of limitations.
Nine decisions to impose administrative fines were issued in 2015 under Article 20.29 of the Administrative Code against Jehovah's Witnesses for distributing religious pamphlets of a banned organization or storing them with intent to distribute. Two believers were sentenced to administrative arrest; one of the two verdicts was annulled.
The Jehovah's Witnesses community in Abinsk of the Krasnodar Region was liquidated as an extremist organization; the ban was confirmed by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. A claim for liquidation was filed against the community in Cherkessk (Karachay-Cherkessia), and the communities of Belgorod and Stary Oskol (the Belgorod Region).
At least five Jehovah's Witnesses communities received warnings about the impermissibility of extremist activity in 2015, including the communities in Cherkessk, Tikhoretsk (the Krasnodar Region), Chapaevsk (the Samara Region), Shakhty (the Rostov Region) and Arkhangelsk.
In 2015, five booklets of Jehovah's Witnesses were banned: Keep Yourselves in God’s Love and Let the Spirit of God, and Not the Spirit of the World Influence You were banned in Kurgan; The Son “Wants to Uncover” the Father and Was Life Created? were banned in Belgorod, and Time for the True Obedience to God – in Saint Petersburg.
The Federal List of Extremist Materials added a total of five relevant entries in 2015, which included thirteen brochures and the official website of Jehovah's Witnesses.
The incidents of Jehovah's Witnesses books being confiscated at the Russian-Finnish border, during an attempt to bring into Russia a number of books, including the Bible both in the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Synodal translations. As a result, the prosecutor's office filed a claim against Jehovah's Witnesses demanding the ban of the seized literature, while Jehovah's Witnesses filed a claim against the Vyborg customs regarding the illegality of the confiscation.
The followers of the Chinese spiritual practice Falun Gong, which has nothing to do with extremism, also faced inappropriate persecution in 2015.
For the first time, a criminal case has been open against a Falun Gong practitioner. Shamil Gareev from Izhevsk was charged under Article 282 with publishing Falun Dafa on his website falundafa.udm.ru in 2012. The experts concluded that the content of the book was identical to the content of Zhuan Falun, a banned book by Li Hongzhi, and stated that it contained propaganda of superiority of ideas and views of Li Hongzhi and other “negative and hostile statements about Orthodox Christianity.”However, in April, the proceedings in Gareev’s case were discontinued due to the statute of limitations. In November, the prosecutor had to withdraw a claim demanding recognition of Falun Dafa as extremist on the basis of it being identical to banned Zhuan Falun, because he could not provide the imprint for a book he was seeking to prohibit.
The website of Russian followers of Falun Gong, ru.falundafa.org, was added to the Unified Register of Banned Websites and blocked by the court decision in September for publishing Zhuan Falun.
In October, a retiree from Chernigovka village in the Primorsky Region was fined a thousand rubles under Article 20.29 of the Administrative Code, because she was found in possession of several copies of Zhuan Falun, and two citizens testified that she had presented them with such books. We would like to remind that the Russian judiciary has ruled that Zhuan Falun advocated the superiority of the adherents of Falun Gong ideology over other people. In our opinion, the book contains no evidence of incitement to religious hatred.
A number of materials related to the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church (ROAC), some of which were published on the Credo.ru online portal, were banned in Vladimir in October. The Federal List of Extremist Materials came to include Item No. 3209, which included the texts penned by ROAC Archbishop Andrew Maklakov, on the subject of the conflict between the Moscow Patriarchy (ROC) and the ROAC. In particular, they discussed the dispute over the relics of St. Euthymius and St. Euphrosyne of Suzdal, the pressure against representatives of the ROAC by the Russian authorities, refutation of the information about financial ties between the ROAC and the US authorities, condemnation of actions by the Yanukovych administration against supporters of the Maidan, which included clergy. The court ruling mentioned that the prohibition was based, among other things, on the fact that one of the texts contained appeals to the US authorities to exert their influence on Russia in relation to respecting the rights of the believers – but there is nothing illegal in such appeals. In addition, the court decision stated that the materials in question exhibited signs of incitement to religious hatred and enmity, but those charges were based only on the fact that the ROAC traditionally viewed the ROC as the heir of the “apostates”-Sergianists, who made a deal with the communist regime, which was murdering clergy and believers, and on the fact of the ROAC’s complaints of harassment by the ROC and the authorities, supporting it. Actually, this is a long-standing conflict between the branches of the Russian Orthodox Church, which in no way can be considered within the framework of anti-extremist legislation and poses no threat to the ROC followers, given that members of the ROAC criticize the ROC as the church structure, but never use aggressive rhetoric against believers. Recall that, in 2014, the same Oktyabrsky District Court of Vladimir inappropriately banned the video Pristavnoe Blagochestie (a pun that can be loosely translated as “Piety with Officers of Justice”) about the confiscation of the relics of St. Euthymius and St. Euphrosyne of Suzdal from the ROAC published on Credo.ru. The Vladimir Regional Court later upheld this decision, and, in 2015, the video was added to the Federal List of Extremist Materials as No. 2731.
The law enforcement agencies continue to target a variety of atheistic, mostly anti-Christian, invectives of individuals or acts that, in their opinion, incite religious hatred. However, such cases often have to be dropped due to difficulty of proving guilt.
Thus, the case, opened in 2012 against IT-specialist Roman Matveev from Moscow under Article 282 regarding seven atheistic de-motivators, was closed due to the statute of limitations in 2015. The de-motivators in question were satirical images, which contained no incitement; their publication presented no danger.
A criminal case under Article 282 against Alexander Serebryanikov, the owner of the Bloger51 website, was discontinued in Murmansk, also due to the statute of limitations. The case was filed in 2013 on the basis of posting a material that contained “statements that incite hostility against a group of people united on the basis of their attitude toward religion.” Serebryanikov argued that a paragraph with nationalistic content had briefly appeared in one of the texts after the site had been hacked, and was promptly removed.
Nevertheless, a new case of this kind was opened in 2015. A student of Omsk Transportation University was charged under Article 282 for posting on his social network page “extremist statements aimed at humiliation of a group of individuals selected by the criterion of their religion – “Orthodox”.” The charges pertained to a comment to the news item about the cancellation of a Marilyn Manson’s concert in Omsk as a result of the pressure from “Orthodox activists.” We would like to remind here that, in our opinion, humiliation must be removed from the Criminal Code, as an act of minor gravity; according to the prosecutorial report, the student wrote nothing more dangerous.
No verdicts that could be qualified as inappropriate were issued in 2015 under Article 148 Part 1 of the Criminal Code, which penalizes insulting the feelings of believers. However, four new criminal cases were inappropriately initiated, without due justification. As we stated before, we believe that Article 148 Part 1 of the Criminal Code excessively restricts the freedom of expression in general.
A resident of Chechnya was charged with public actions, expressing clear disrespect for the society and committed in order to insult the religious feelings of believers, for posting a video, insulting the religious feelings of believers, on VKontakte and Instagram. Unfortunately, we don’t have the exact wording of the charges, but the available information makes us doubt that criminal prosecution in this case is justified.
The charges under Part 1, Article 148 against Stavropol resident Viktor Krasnov were filed due to several statements he made in an online conversation in the “Overheard in Stavropol” VKontakte community on October 11 and 21, 2014. Krasnov, an atheist, expressed his negative attitude toward some passages from the Bible in a rough manner, typical for internet discussions, made fun of another participant of the conversation, stated that “there is no god,” and, then, in the same manner, expressed his opinion about Halloween. After that, two other participants of the conversation filed complaints with the police and demanded that the case be opened under Article 148 of the Criminal Code. The law enforcement responded promptly.
Two residents of Vyatskopolyansky District of the Kirov Region were charged with placing on a standing prayer cross in the village of Staraya Malinovka a stuffed dummy, manufactured using “pants, a jacket, a rope, a hat, a mask and screws” as well as some dry grass. The prosecutors believe that the act was pre-meditated and committed in order to insult the feelings of Christians. In our view, the suspects’ actions presented no public danger, and, at the most, should have been qualified as an administrative offense.
In Yekaterinburg, the criminal case was opened against Yekaterinburg resident Anton Simakov, “the Master of voodoo magic.” In October 2014, he performed a ritual in his office; according to him the purpose of the ceremony was to magically influence the Ukrainian authorities. The ritual, captured on camera and posted on the Internet, involved the following objects: a clay voodoo doll, a funeral pall, а band usually put on the heads of the dead in churches, a printed copy of the prayer read during church funeral services, a small wooden cross and a rooster, as a sacrificial animal, whose blood the “Master of magic” sprinkled on the above-listed items. All of this was interpreted as an insult to the religious feelings of Christians. The Prosecutor's Office approved the court’s decision of “applying of compulsory medical measures in the form of inpatient treatment in a psychiatric hospital.” It is possible that the “Master of magic voodoo” indeed needs psychiatric help; however we do not see how his actions constitute a crime under Article 148, since he didn’t express any negativity against Christianity or Christians, but simply used the ecclesiastical objects for his own ceremony.
A series of warnings to media outlets for reprinting the Charlie Hebdo cartoons in the wake of the attack against the editorial board of the weekly is also worth noting. This level of governmental concern for the feelings of the Muslims was likely due to the fear of possible radical protests.
As in previous years, people and organizations, which seemingly have no connection to activities that can be regarded as extremist, also suffered from misuse of anti-extremist norms.
In 2015, prosecutors continued to penalize libraries, due to contradiction between the law “On Libraries,” which directs librarians not to restrict reader access to the collections, and the anti-extremist legislation, which requires removal of prohibited materials from mass distribution.
Prosecutors pursue a variety of claims against libraries – from presence of banned materials (usually books) in their collections (despite the fact that libraries have no legal grounds for removing such materials) to the content of library rules that fail to mention a ban on distribution of extremist materials.
According to our obviously incomplete data, at least 170 cases of inappropriate sanctions against library management (including school libraries) took place from mid-2008 to the end of 2010, followed by at least 138 in 2011, at least 300 in 2012, at least 417 in 2013, and at least 297 in 2014. We recorded 322 such cases in 2015.
As a rule, the offenders face disciplinary action, but sometimes administrative sanctions are also applied. We know of at least one case in 2015, when Article 20.29 of the Administrative Code was applied against a librarian. The Deputy Director of the Science Library of the Izhevsk State Technical University was fined 2000 rubles for keeping extremist materials for the purpose of mass distribution, that is, de-facto, for performing his professional duties – the library collection contained several publicly accessible materials, recognized as extremist.
Unfortunately, in 2015, we also witnessed a very resonant case of criminal charges against a librarian. The criminal case under Article 282 Part 2 paragraph “b” of the Criminal Code (incitement of national hatred or enmity with abuse of official position) was opened in Moscow in late October against Natalia Sharina, the director of the Library of Ukrainian Literature. The prosecution was based on the results of a search, conducted at the request of an Ukrainophobic municipal deputy, which revealed Viyna u Natovpi, (War in the crowd, No. 2089 on the Federal List of Extremist Materials) a forbidden book by Ukrainian nationalist Dmytro Korchinsky. Sharina was detained; her home was searched, as well as the home of Valery Semenenko, the Deputy Chairman of the Ukrainians of Moscow association, who is considered a witness in the case. Sharina was placed under house arrest, the length of which has since been extended; the attempts to challenge the measure of restraint have failed. We would like to remind here that criminal prosecution under Article 282 is appropriate when it is applied to an act of propaganda – dissemination of materials, possibly not even banned in court, but of dangerous content, and, moreover, dissemination for the purpose of incitement to hatred. However, librarians are not engaged in propaganda; they store and provide access to books, and, of course, no law requires them to familiarize themselves with the content of all the literature. Notably, this is not the first attempt of the Russian authorities to bring the Director of the Library of Ukrainian Literature to responsibility; Natalia Sharina was charged under Article 282 in 2011, but the case was discontinued for absence of the event of a crime shortly thereafter.
Some cases of prosecution of citizens specifically under anti-extremist articles can only be explained by the desire of law enforcement agencies to improve their reporting statistics in the area of fighting extremism.
This category includes warnings about the impermissibility of violating the law on combating extremism, issued to organizers of mass events and public meetings, regardless of the extent to which participants of these activities are inclined to radical actions. For example, in early April, a prosecutor’s office in Krasnodar issued such a warning about the impermissibility to the organizer of a concert by Noize MC, stating that “in August 2014, the band Noize MC performed at Kubana festival, where its lead singer Ivan Alexeev expressed his disagreement with the position of the Russian Federation in relation to events in Ukraine.” As a result, the concert was cancelled upon request from the city authorities. Organizer of a truckers’ rally Nikolay Matveev received a similar warning in Miass in November. In the same month, on the eve of Vladimir Putin’s arrival in Yekaterinburg, law enforcement representatives visited local civic activists at their homes and places of study, warning them about the impermissibility of extremist activity.
We recorded 39 cases of sanctions for the display of Nazi or extremist symbols, clearly devoid of any propaganda intent; this number is approximately five times higher in 2015 than in the preceding year. The majority of those, inappropriately fined or subjected to administrative detention in 2015 under Article 20.3 of the Administrative Code (propaganda and public demonstration of Nazi paraphernalia or symbols, and the symbols of extremist organizations), were activists, who uses Nazi symbols as an artistic device to denounce the opponents, but some random citizens were also affected. For example, journalist Polina Petruseva, a resident of Smolensk, was fined a thousand rubles in March. She posted on her VKontakte page an image of her own building’s backyard during the occupation of Smolensk, found on a site of historical photos. The photograph showed a Nazi flag and a group of German soldiers in uniform. From our point of view, this is a “pure” incident of misuse of Article 20.3, which vividly illustrates the defectiveness of its wording that treats any demonstration of Nazi symbols as an offense without considering its context.
According to the data of SOVA Center, 24 verdicts against 61 individuals were issued in 2015 for violent crimes motivated by hatred; 202 verdicts against 211 individuals were issued for actual hate propaganda (here, as always, we need to clarify that, with respect to some of the cases, we don’t have sufficient information to assess the legitimacy of the sentences, and in some cases we can say that incriminating statements were xenophobic, but clearly presented no significant social danger). Eight verdicts against 14 individuals were issued for ideologically motivated vandalism.
The number of people, whose convictions were obviously inappropriate, is much smaller. Let us review these sentences, grouped by the relevant Criminal Code articles.
We view as inappropriate 7 verdicts issued to 7 persons in 2015 under Article 282 (in our comparable 2014 report we wrote about 5 verdicts to 7 persons). This group includes sentences to Ismail Avazov, an inmate of IK-5 penal colony in Nizhny Tagil, for his rude remarks on religious themes in the education room; to Anton Izokaitis from Staraya Russa for inciting hatred to Russians in the police station on the New Year’s Day; to Elvira Sultanakhmetova of Pervouralsk for her online appeals to Muslims to refrain from celebrating pagan holidays – the New Year, the Easter and the Victory Day; to Barnaul activist Anton Podchasov, who shared the famous “Russophobia post” calling for the discrimination of Russians in Ukraine; to Bakhchysarai mechanic Mustafa Yagyaev, who allegedly preached hatred toward the occupiers of Crimea to employees of the Housing Maintenance and Utilities Board accounting department, to schoolteacher Alexander Byvshev from Khromy (the Oryol Region) for his poem “To Ukrainian Patriots,” which encouraged the Ukrainians to meet the “Moskals” with armed resistance; to Tatar national movement activist Rafis Kashapov from Naberezhnye Chelny for posting online the materials criticizing Russian authorities' actions with regard to Ukraine.
On the other hand, while, according to our data, only one case under Article 282 was closed in 2014, we are aware of five such cases discontinued in 2015. The following cases were closed to the statute of limitation: the case against IT-specialist Roman Matveev from Moscow and his seven atheistic de-motivators, opened as far back as 2012; the case initiated in 2013 against Murmansk blogger Alexander Serebryanikov accused of inciting religious hatred because of one text, which briefly appeared on his website following a hacker attack; the 2015 case against the resident of Izhevsk Shamil Gareev accused of inciting religious hatred by publishing Falun Dafa online in 2012, and, finally, another 2015 case against Rashit Akhmetov, an editor of Kazan weekly Zvezda Povolzhya, charged with incitement to ethnic hatred for reprinting, in 2011, “We are Tartars, not Russians,” an article by Fauzia Bayramova, which had been published earlier in the Chuvash newspaper Vziatka (the Bribe). The 2013 case against Imam Nail Bikmaev from the Rostov Cathedral Mosque, accused of harsh words about the Jews and the Christians, when commenting on a Koranic chapter in the course of his sermon, was closed due to absence of the event of a crime; the prosecution apologized to Bikmaev. Thus, four out of five closed cases dealt with incitement to religious hatred.
However, at least 11 new criminal cases that we view as inappropriate were opened under this Criminal Code article. This is a smaller number, compared to the preceding year, when their number reached about two dozen; also, possibly, our data is not yet complete.
Four criminal cases were inappropriately opened in 2015 under Article 148 Part 1 of the Criminal Code, which penalizes insults to the feelings of believers: against a Stavropol resident for his rude atheistic jokes on the local Internet forum; against a resident of Chechnya, who posted online a certain video, which local law enforcement agencies deemed offensive to believers; against two residents of the Kirov region, who put a stuffed dummy on the prayer cross; against a Yekaterinburg resident, who performed a “voodoo ritual” on camera using some Orthodox Christian ecclesiastical objects. We have no information on any inappropriate cases under this article in 2013 or in 2014.
No inappropriate verdicts were issued in 2015 under Article 3541 (justification of Nazism), which has been rarely used so far.
The statistics relating to Article 280 of the Criminal Code, unfortunately, has changed for the worse. While no relevant inappropriate convictions took place in 2014, six people were convicted in 2015, either groundlessly or on dubious grounds. Note, however, that the cases against all these people were initiated back in 2014. The offenders are activists, punished for online posts, which are, for the most part, related to Ukraine in one way or another. Four of them ended up amnestied and faced no punishment; one has refused the amnesty. These include Dmitry Semenov from Cheboksary, convicted for sharing cartoons that accused Russian authorities of anti-Russian policies; above-mentioned Anton Podchasov from Barnaul, who shared on a social network the text urging the Ukrainian authorities to discriminate against Russians; Sergey Titarenko of Krasnodar, who also got in trouble for a repost (of a text with information that Ukraine had allegedly offered a reward for the elimination of the Russian president); Chelyabinsk activist and blogger Konstantin Zharinov, an expert on terrorism, for reposting an appeal by the Right Sector; LGBT activist from Khabarovsk Andrey Marchenko for publishing on a social network calls for violence against “Russian supporters of fascism and terror,” who invaded Ukrainian territory; Kuban activist Darya Polyudova for posting on a social network her own photo with a poster “Not a War with Ukraine, but a Revolution in Russia” and calls to take to the streets and overthrow the regime (we consider her sentence disproportionate). In 2015, at least one new criminal case under Article 280 of the Criminal Code was opened on dubious grounds.
Article 2801 of the Criminal Code (public calls for actions aimed at violating the territorial integrity of Russia) was utilized in three inappropriate sentences against three men (vs. none in 2014). Rafis Kashapov – the above-mentioned activist of the Tatar national movement – was convicted for publishing on the Internet a material that contained a negative assessment of the annexation of Crimea; Krasnodar activist Darya Polyudova, also mentioned above, was convicted for sharing on a social network a post stating that ethnic Ukrainians of Kuban demanded joining Ukraine; a deputy from Suojärvi (Karelia) – for his emotional speech at the rally, during which he suggested that a referendum on separation from Russia be held in Karelia in response to inaction of the authorities on the issue of municipal services. In addition, at least four new cases against four persons were inappropriately opened under this article (vs. one in 2014).
As in 2014, the courts handed down no inappropriate sentences under Article 2821 of the Criminal Code In 2015, and initiated no new inappropriate cases involving this article.
Five inappropriate verdicts were handed down in 2015 under Article 2822 of the Criminal Code, that is, their number decreased by three from the preceding year. Eight people were sentenced for organizing activities of organizations, recognized as extremist, or for participation in them – less than half of the corresponding number in 2014. Three sentences were issued against four believers in Krasnoyarsk and one verdict against three people in Ulyanovsk for the study of books by Said Nursi. One person was convicted in Novokuznetsk (the Kemerovo Region) for creation of Tablighi Jamaat cell. Not including this verdict in our overall statistics, we would still like to note the retrial of the high-profile case of 16 Jehovah's Witnesses – the members of the banned Taganrog community. While only nine of them were found guilty in 2014, now all 16 were convicted. Criminal proceedings on three inappropriately opened cases has been discontinued – the case of Pavel Butko from Nizhny Novgorod, suspected of continuing activities of the banned AVN; the case of 16 Muslims accused of membership in the Tablighi Jamaat movement, recognized as extremist, and the case of Elena Gerasimova, accused of involvement in the banned religious organization Nurcular. However, at least 3 new cases utilizing this Criminal Code article were inappropriately initiated.
Separately, outside of our general statistics, we would like to note the sentences against Hizb ut-Tahrir followers, which we consider inappropriate insofar as they relate to Article 30 Part 1 and Article 278 in conjunction with one of the anti-terrorist articles (2051, 2052 or 2055). Five such sentences involving 15 people were issued in 2015 – two in Ufa (four and eight people) and cases, involving one man each, in Samara, Chelyabinsk and Dagestan. Four other Hizb ut-Tahrir followers were wrongfully convicted solely under Article 2055 – two in Saint Petersburg and one each in Yekaterinburg and Bashkortostan (only one such verdict was issued in the preceding year). Most defendants were sentenced to long prison terms of up to ten years. Two new similar cases were inappropriately initiated in Bashkortostan and Chelyabinsk.
Two inappropriate verdicts were issued in 2015 under Article 213 of the Criminal Code (hooliganism) and one – under Article 214 (vandalism), taking the hate motive into account. One of them – under Article 213 of the Criminal Code – was imposed on Michael Feldman, Oleg Savvin and Dmitry Fonaryov in the case of the German flag hoisted on the garage of the Kaliningrad Regional FSB Office. The second sentence – for painting the star and raising the Ukrainian flag on the steeple of a Moscow high-rise building (under both Article 213 and Article 214 of the Criminal Code) was issued against roofer Vladimir Podrezov. In contrast, there were no such verdicts in 2014. No new inappropriate cases under these articles, taking into account the hate motive, were opened in the year under review.
Altogether, 23 inappropriate verdicts against 28 persons were issued in 2015 under anti-extremist articles of the Criminal Code, i.e. ten sentences more than a year earlier (14 convictions against 26 persons). At the same time, we know of at least 24 criminal cases inappropriately initiated during this period. Notably, this is fewer than in 2014, when we recorded at least 35 of them. We can conclude that the scope of the prosecution did not increase in 2015 – the verdicts were mostly issued regarding the previously opened cases.
On the other hand, we see a significant increase in severity of the penalties – the law enforcement agencies have begun to implement the relevant laws adopted over the past years. While, in 2014, all people, convicted under anti-extremist articles, were sentenced to fines, suspended prison sentences, or mandatory labor, in 2015, nine of them received prison terms.
Before turning to our data on the articles of the Administrative Code, intended for combating extremism, we need to remind that they are much less complete than our criminal prosecution data.
We know of at least 47 inappropriate convictions for mass distribution of extremist materials or for possession with intent to distribute, that is, under Article 20.29 of the Administrative Code, (vs. at least 46 in 2014) issued to 42 individuals and five entities; one of these sentences was overturned by a higher court. We know that the courts mandated a fine as a penalty in 35 of such cases, and administrative arrest in four. The defendants included Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses, community activists, bloggers, inmates and staff of Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia, librarians, bookstore owners and Internet service providers. As a rule, these people were not involved in actual mass distribution of prohibited materials.
At least 17 individuals and legal entities – owners of computer clubs and cafe, a library director and administrators of several schools – were inappropriately fined under Article 6.17 of the Administrative Code (violation of legislation on protection of children from information harmful to their health and (or) development) for the low quality of their content filtering. Five individuals and legal entities were fined under this rubric in 2014.
Penalties for public demonstration of Nazi or similar symbols, that is, under Article 20.3 of the Administrative Code were improperly imposed on 39 individuals; in 2014 the number was just seven. 30 persons were fined, nine were subjected to administrative detention.
The Federal List of Extremist Materials added 667 new items for 2015, while, in 2014, it only increased by 381 points. Thus, the growth rate of the List has increased significantly, and came closer to the 2013 numbers, when the list increased by 590 points. Increased number of materials within each numbered item should also be taken into account – this factor further complicates the List (already almost impossible to work with), and raises serious doubts as to whether every single material has received proper consideration in court. We view the following new additions as undoubtedly inappropriate: 13 numbered list items containing a variety of Muslim materials from Said Nursi’s works to the collections of prayers, 5 items with Jehovah's Witnesses website and brochures, 2 items, containing various other religious materials, at least 8 items with nationalist materials (Russian, Ukrainian history, Tatar, etc), 6 items containing various opposition materials, 7 items with journalistic and analytical materials, which courts improperly considered inflammatory, and, finally, 3 items with comic materials, interpreted by courts as serious. Altogether, we identified 44 inappropriately added items (vs. 21 such items in 2014). In addition, 25 new items of the List contained Hizb ut-Tahrir materials, banned by association with the banned party, regardless of whether they contained any dangerous incitement. Please note that our familiarity with the newly banned materials is far from total, so we cannot rule out the existence of other cases of unjustified prohibition in the instances, where we do not know the incriminating content.
 Report on the events in 2015 has been prepared as part of the project, the implementation of which uses state support funds allocated as a grant in accordance with the Presidential Decree of April 1, 2015 No. 79-rp and on the basis of competition held by the Civil Dignity Movement (http://civildignity.ru).
 The noteworthy suggestions included a proposal to criminalize justification of Stalinism and denial of the Armenian Genocide, a proposal to introduce criminal liability for the relatives of extremists and terrorists, and to revoke the citizenship of extremists and terrorists, and proposal to dramatically toughen the penalties for demonstration of banned symbols.
 For more information see: Anti-Extremist Articles in the New Code of Administrative Offences // SOVA Center. 2015. November 30 – December 18 (http://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/news/lawmaking/2015/11/d33341/).
 Vera Alperovich, Natalia Yudina, The Ultra-Right Movement under Pressure: Xenophobia and Radical Nationalism in Russia, and Efforts to Counteract Them in 2015 // SOVA Center. 2016. 20 February (http://www.sova-center.ru/en/xenophobia/reports-analyses/2016/04/d34247/).
 We view the provision of Lugovoy’s Law that demands blocking of information about activities conducted without permit as inappropriate, since the fact that the event is not permitted does not imply the grounds to ban information about it. The requirement to block posts on the activities, for which the authorities have not yet adopted any decision is even less legally appropriate.
 Determination of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation to refuse to accept for consideration the complaint of the foreign organization Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. against violation of constitutional rights and freedoms by Article 1 Paragraph 3 and Article 13 of the Federal Law “On Countering Extremist Activity” as well as Article 151 Part 5 Paragraph 2 of the Federal Law “On information, Information Technologies and Information Protection” // Website of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation. 2015. December 22. (http://doc.ksrf.ru/decision/KSRFDecision221322.pdf).
 We are definitely never informed about the majority of such inspections. Often we know about a series of audits, but the number of warnings and other acts of prosecutorial response is not always reported. In such cases, for statistical purposes, we counted the entire series as one instance.
 For publication the text of Canadian human rights lawyers David Matas and David Kilgour, Report into Allegations of Organ Harvesting of Falun Gong Practitioners in China banned several years ago.
 For the material “Demonstrators in Syrian Aleppo trampled the Russian flag after the bombing” with the image of a group of people, defiling the state flag of the Russian Federation.
 For video accompanying the news item, “Farion calls for destruction of Moscow, has accused the Investigative Committee of the RF of “senility”.”
 For an illustration to the article “Novosibirsk Social Activists Opposed the Monopoly of the Orthodox Church on Morality and Spirituality.” The collage consisted of images of Jesus Christ, Pushkin and Putin having a drink together.
 For an illustration to the 2012 news item, “The French Newspaper Published Caricatures That Shocked the Muslims.”
 This is the second warning issued to this media outlet; attempts to challenge it in court were unsuccessful.
All ten warnings were issued for reprinting the cartoons from Charlie Hebdo.
 See: Vera Alperovich, Natalia Yudina Calm Before the Storm? Xenophobia and Radical Nationalism in Russia, and Efforts to Counteract Them in 2014 // SOVA Center. 2015. 26 March (http://www.sova-center.ru/en/xenophobia/reports-analyses/2015/04/d31818/); Maria Kravchenko Inappropriate Enforcement of Anti-extremist Legislation in Russia in 2014 // SOVA Center. 2015. 30 March (http://www.sova-center.ru/en/misuse/reports-analyses/2015/06/d32083/).
It was on April 5, 2016, when the head of Roskomnadzor reported that the federal service issued 39 warnings in 2015. Thus, we are actually not informed on the majority of them. However, the Roskomnadzor only published 11 of 16 warnings indicated above on its website and all of them are inappropriate. See: Roskomnadzor Specified the Most Frequent Grounds for Warnings to Mass Media // Finam. 2016. 5 April (http://finam.info/blog/43590457359/Roskomnadzor-nazval-samuyu-chastuyu-prichinu-preduprezhdeniy-SMI).
 The Supreme Court refused to close Erzyan Mastor // SOVA Center. 2015. 30 January (http://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/news/persecution/2015/01/d31174/).
 The Resolution of the plenary meeting of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation No 16 On Judicial Practice Related to the Statute of the Russian Federation “On the Mass Media” of June 15, 2010 // SOVA Center. 2010. 18 June (http://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/docs/2010/06/d19079/).
 The Resolution of the plenary meeting of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation No 11 Concerning Judicial Practice in Criminal Cases Regarding Crimes of Extremism of June 28, 2011 // SOVA Center. 2011. 29 June (http://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/docs/2011/06/d21988/).
 We usually do not classify cases against Hizb ut-Tahrir supporters under Article 2822 of the Criminal Code as inappropriate. Our position is based, in particular, on the judgment by the ECHR regarding the activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir, rendered as a supplement to the decision regarding the complaint of the two convicted members of the organization against the Russian authorities. The ECHR stated that, although neither the doctrine nor the practice of Hizb ut-Tahrir allows to view the party as terrorist, and it does not call for violence, banning it as an extremist organization would be justified, because Hizb ut-Tahrir permits calls to overthrow the existing political system and establish a dictatorship based on the Sharia law; it is characterized by anti-Semitism and radical anti-Israel propaganda (for this, among other considerations, Hizb ut-Tahrir was banned in Germany in 2003), by a definitive rejection of democracy and political freedoms and recognition of the legitimate use of force against the countries, which the party considers aggressors against the “land of Islam”. The Hizb ut-Tahrir objectives run clearly contrary to the values of the European Convention on Human Rights, in particular, the commitment to peaceful resolution of international conflicts and the sanctity of human life, recognition of civil and political rights, and democracy. Activities for such purposes are not protected by the European Convention on Human Rights.
 In early February 2016 the Moscow District Military Court issued an unprecedentedly severe sentence in this case – two defendants received the terms of 17 and 16 years and two more – of 6 and 5.5 years in a maximum security penal colony.
 See: The Supreme Court Bans Nurcular as Extremist Organization // SOVA Center. 2008. 10 April (http://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/news/persecution/2008/04/d13081/).
 In February 2016, the Belgorod Regional Court recognized the Belgorod and Stary Oskol communities as extremist. The decision about their ban is currently under appeal.
 In particular, in February 2016 Vyborg City Court received a request to recognize as extremist the Bible, translated into Russian by Jehovah's Witnesses and seized on the border in the summer of 2015. The proceedings are expected to be interesting in the light of the amendments, banning recognition of Scriptures as extremist, which have since come into force.
 We provided an extended list of possible claims in our report four years ago. See: Alexander Verkhovsky Misuse of the Anti-Extremist Legislation in Russia in 2011 // V. Alperovich, A. Verkhovsky, O. Sibireva, N. Yudina, Xenophobia, Freedom of Conscience and Anti-Extremism in Russia in 2011 // SOVA Center, 2012 (http://www.sova-center.ru/en/misuse/reports-analyses/2012/04/d24302/ (http://www.sova-center.ru/en/misuse/reports-analyses/2012/04/d24302/).
 We receive no definite information about many instances of imposed sanctions. Often, we know about a series of inspections and subsequent sanctions, but number of imposed warnings and other acts of prosecutorial response is not reported. In such cases, we count the entire series as one instance for statistical purposes.
 More in Vera Alperovich, Natalia Yudina The Ultra-Right Movement under Pressure… (http://www.sova-center.ru/en/xenophobia/reports-analyses/2016/04/d34247/).
 It should be noted that speaking of appropriate and inappropriate verdicts, we focus only on the merits; omitting discussion of possible procedural violations in most cases.
 In addition, seven sentences under Article 2822 of the Criminal Code (in conjunction with other articles of the Criminal Code) were issued in 2015 against at least 20 followers of Hizb ut-Tahrir, but we do not include them in our statistics of inappropriate judicial decisions, since we view prosecution of members of the party for participation in an extremist organization as debatable, but acceptable.