Inappropriate Enforcement of Anti-Extremist Legislation in Russia in 2016

Настоящий материал (информация) произведен и (или) распространен иностранным агентом РОО Центр «Сова» либо касается деятельности иностранного агента РОО Центр «Сова».
Edited by Alexander Verkhovsky

PRINCIPAL TARGETS OF PERSECUTION : Ideological Opponents of the Authorities : The “Ukrainian Question” : Other “Separatism” : Incitement to Hatred toward Public Officials : Fight against “Justification of Terrorism” : Religious Groups : Hizb ut-Tahrir : Tablighi Jamaat : Followers of Said Nursi : Other Muslims : Jehovah's Witnesses : Yehowist-Ilyinites : Downsides of the Fight for Tolerance : Fight against Those Insulting the Feelings of Religious Believers : Misusing the Criminalization of Incitement to Hatred : Prosecutions for Extremist Symbols : Incidental Victims of Inappropriate Anti-Extremism : The Internet and Anti-Extremism : General Blocking Practices : Selected Examples of Access Restrictions : Other Sanctions : Mass Media and Anti-Extremism






Russian anti-extremist legislation conquered new frontiers in 2016 expanding the state control over the realm of information, public activity and religious life of the citizens. New laws that comprised the infamous “Yarovaya’s Package” represented a significant milestone on this path and sparked a spirited discussion in the society. Meanwhile, a number of law enforcement problems became so noticeable that the Supreme Court of Russia made an attempt to clarify the interpretation of some legislative provisions prone to misuse in court judgments.

In general, in 2016, the pattern of misuse of the legislation to counteract extremism and terrorism showed no drastic changes, however, we can point out some trends, based on our monitoring data.[1]

In the current political situation in Russia, independent public activity takes place primarily online, so the Internet has been attracting increasing attention of the law enforcement, and the vast majority of prosecutions for making relatively public statements pertain to activity of citizens on social networks. Notably, statements, critical of Russian policies in connection with the conflict in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea, continue to elicit a particularly strong official reaction. However, law enforcement agencies also react unfavorably to other discussions that touch upon the issue of Russia's territorial integrity. The agencies strive to follow instructions from above, which order them to struggle for tolerance and counteract manifestations of extremism, and, since the quantitative indicators clearly play a leading role in the assessment of their activities, the number of sentences under Article 282 of the Criminal Code for the incitement of hatred online has been growing steadily from year to year. The issue of appropriateness, with regard to using this Criminal Code article, has been resolved by courts without much hesitation. The number of unreasonable prosecutions under this article also shows no signs of decrease. The activity of law enforcement agencies on the Internet is also evident from the constantly increasing number of blocked websites, and a growing percentage of online materials on the Federal List of Extremist Materials.

While recommendations to member states to abolish the blasphemy laws are heard in the UN, Russian prosecutors increasingly initiate criminal cases under Article 148 of the Criminal Code for insulting the feelings of believers, thus creating tension between the secular society and the adherents of religious organizations (primarily the ROC) that enjoy state support and protection.

At the same time, religious organizations and trends not classified by the authorities as “traditional” for Russia, that is, the very religious minorities presumably in need of protection, have been increasingly subjected to government pressure. Jehovah's Witnesses, whose organizations are being banned for extremism one after another, face the danger of being forced underground.

A legitimate aim of confronting radical Islamism generates abuses as well. We would like to bring to your attention the increase in repressions against members of Hizb ut-Tahrir party, recognized as terrorist in Russia despite the fact that it does not practice violence. The number of criminal cases involving Hizb ut-Tahrir has doubled, and prison sentences are approaching 20 years.

The introduction of new repressive laws and the continuous proliferation of law enforcement practices that bear no correlation to actual public danger of the offending acts continue to undermine trust in public security measures and generally introduce a destructive note into the relationship between the society and the state.

Creation of Regulatory Acts

The package of anti-terrorist laws, known as “Yarovaya’s Package,” submitted to the Duma in early April 2016, became the most significant legislative innovation of 2016. The initiative introduced by Deputy Irina Yarovaya and Senator Victor Ozerov caused a heated discussion, which resulted in removal of several proposals from the legislative package under public pressure. The Deputies decided against dropping all forms of punishment other than imprisonment from the Criminal Code articles related to extremist crimes. They also rejected the proposed introduction of a new Criminal Code article on providing support to an extremist activity, the restrictions on leaving the country for those previously convicted under terrorist and extremist articles. Another rejected proposal suggested loss of citizenship for dual citizens convicted for crimes of terrorist or extremist nature, or serving in the army or law enforcement agencies of another state without prior authorization, or working in international structures that do not include Russia.

Nevertheless, the package as a whole was adopted and signed by the president on July 7, 2016. It launched the mechanisms that directly invaded the areas of freedom of speech and of protection of privacy and other rights and freedoms of citizens. The part of the package, related to control over the Internet caused a particularly strong resonance. The amendments require all communication providers to store information on the fact of communication between people for three years, and the actual content of calls and correspondence for up to six months (this part will only enter into force in the summer of 2018). The amendments further demand that “the organizers of information dissemination on the Internet” provide the FSB with keys to decrypt their users’ correspondence or be subject to a fine, and that providers terminate contracts with subscribers upon request of law enforcement agencies, unless the user's identity is confirmed within 15 days (in case of anonymous SIM-cards).

Another important part of the package substantially restricts missionary work and has been applied most actively, starting in 2016; dozens of people faced administrative responsibility (SOVA Center covers this subject in greater detail in its 2016 report on the problems of exercising freedom of conscience in Russia). The amendments, essentially, make it possible to issue a fine for any religious statement not authorized in writing by an officially registered religious association. This section of the package was supposedly intended against the Salafi preaching, but the wording has been taken from the old “anti-cult movement,” so that the Protestants, the Hare Krishnas, etc. became its first victims.

Yarovaya’s Package significantly increased penalties for crimes of terrorist or extremist nature, as well as for organizing illegal migration. The age of criminal responsibility for a number of crimes (mainly of terrorist nature) was lowered. The Criminal Code came to include such questionable offenses as failing to report a terrorism-related crime or encouraging organization of mass disorders. From our point of view, prior law enforcement practice indicated no need for all these innovations, so there is little reason to think that they would be useful in fighting real threats; on the other hand, new abuses under the aegis of combating radicalism are already evident, and we can expect more of them.[2]


The bill “On the Basics of the Prevention of Offenses in the Russian Federation” was signed into law on June 23, 2016. The authorities of different levels and law enforcement agencies have been entrusted with such prevention; however, according to the law, citizens, public associations and other organizations legally possessing such rights, can participate in it. Prevention should be conducted in a number of areas, including fight against terrorism and extremist activities. In essence, the law merely sums up the established practices, but it has aroused certain suspicions by introducing (or reintroducing) vague expressions such as “antisocial behavior,” “educational influence,” and “a person intending to commit a crime” into the legal terminology. Preventive monitoring or participation of various kinds of social groups in crime prevention are not objectionable in and of themselves, but there is reason to fear that law enforcement agencies could interpret this law as a signal to an “excessively intensive” prevention campaign that would violate the rights of citizens (privacy, freedom of speech, religion, movement, etc.), as it happens, for example, in Dagestan. In addition, all kinds of citizens' registries, aimed at prevention, have a tendency to transform in our system from preventive to repressive tools, as happened in the 2000s with the Watchdog [Storozhevoy control] system, and later with the Rosfinmonitoring Registry.


On June 17, 2016, the government introduced to the State Duma a bill, which was then signed by the president on February 22, 2017. The Code of Administrative Offences was amended to increase responsibility of Internet providers for failure to fulfill their obligations and block webpages on the basis of information received from Roskomnadzor. Article 13.34 establishes the responsibility in the form of a fine: three to five thousand rubles for public officials, from 10 to 30 thousand for individual entrepreneurs, and 50 to 100 thousand rubles for legal entities for failure to fulfill obligations to block and unblock websites. Notably, a window of one day, provided by the law for compliance, is a condition that can be easily satisfied by large providers, while small ones might find it technically difficult to track changes in the Unified Registry and respond to them on such a short notice. Adoption of this law is logically consistent with the preceding government measures to combat the spread of illicit materials online and will lead to new law enforcement “misuses.” The previously introduced mechanisms for adding materials to the Unified Registry of Banned Websites deserves considerable criticism, and we view extra-judicial blocking of websites under “Lugovoy’s Law” as inappropriate.


On June 24, 2016, the president signed the law regulating the activity of online news aggregators in Russia. News aggregators with an audience of more than a million people a day now can only be owned by Russian nationals or legal entities and are somehow obligated to prevent “dissemination of materials containing public calls for terrorist activities or publicly justifying terrorism, or other extremist materials,” as well as materials “of defamatory intent against a citizen or certain categories of citizens on the basis of sex, age, race or ethnicity, language, attitude toward religion, occupation, place of residence or work, or in connection with their political beliefs.” This means that aggregators must delete news on a substantiated request from Roskomnadzor, and the refusal to comply entails responsibility under new Article 19.7.10-1 of the Administrative Code. A fine of up to one million rubles has been suggested for legal entities, increasing up to three million for a repeated violation. At the same time, aggregators are exempt from sanctions for the word-for-word distribution of materials, if these materials come from the sources registered as mass media – obviously, this clarification was made in order to encourage aggregators not to accumulate any other news sources. This law resulted in one tangible development in 2016 – has stopped publishing stories from unregistered media sites on its front page.


We should also note that several bills of questionable content were rejected by the Duma in 2016. They included a draft bill, proposed by the Chechen parliament, seeking to ban the media from mentioning ethnic or religious affiliation of terrorists; the initiative of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation calling for criminal responsibility for insulting feelings of veterans, the proposal of several members of the Federation Council to criminalize deliberate alteration of the Russian anthem, as well as the bill by Senator Viktor Ozerov suggesting that Prosecutors general of the constituent entities of the Federation be vested with the authority to issue requests for blocking websites under Lugovoy’s law (currently, only the Prosecutor General's Office of the Russian Federation has this mandate).


In March 2016, the Prosecutor General's Office issued an order providing a new procedure of banning materials for extremism. In accordance with it, the city and district-level prosecutor's offices and the military and specialized prosecutor’s offices of equal status lost their right to file such lawsuits in courts. This right has been transferred to the prosecutor's offices of the Russian Federation constituents and to the military and specialized prosecutor's offices of equal status, albeit with the use of information coming from the lower-level prosecutors. Moreover, under the order, prior to court filing, the prosecutor's offices of the Federation’s constituents are required to coordinate their prepared cases with the Department of the Prosecutor General's Office for supervision of enforcement of the laws on federal security, interethnic relations, countering extremism and terrorism (military prosecutors must coordinate their lawsuits with the Chief Military Prosecutor's Office). The order also contained a call to refrain from actions that could provoke adverse social consequences, and, in particular, take into account the law prohibiting recognition of the scriptures of the world religions and quotations from them as extremist. The order was clearly aimed at reducing the volume of new bans, and our preliminary analysis of the Federal List of Extremist Materials shows that this effect has been achieved to some extent, but not fully, since the earlier practice of filing claims at the district level has not been completely terminated.


On November 3, 2016, the plenary meeting of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation adopted a new resolution on the use of anti-terrorist and anti-extremist articles of the Criminal Code (“On Amending the decisions of Resolution No. 1 of the plenary meeting of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation “On Certain Issues of Judicial Practice in Criminal Cases Regarding Crimes of Terror” of February 9, 2012 and Resolution No. 11 of the plenary meeting of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation “Concerning Judicial Practice in Criminal Cases Regarding Crimes of Extremism,” of June 28, 2011).[3] The resolution contained clarifications on a number of issues faced by Russian courts in their application of legislative norms aimed at combating extremism and terrorism.[4] The courts now have to base their decisions under the relevant Criminal Code articles on these clarifications.

Among other issues, the Supreme Court drew attention to the fact that, when applying Article 2801 of the Criminal Code (public calls for actions aimed at violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation), one should distinguish such calls from incitement to crimes aimed at violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation, since “calls should not be aimed at inducing specific individuals to commit particular criminal acts.” Thus, from the point of view of the Supreme Court, a rather severe “anti-separatist” article of the Criminal Code should be applied precisely in the cases when an offender made no calls for illegal actions in order to achieve the goal.

An important clarification pertained to evaluating online publications: “When deciding on the nature of actions of an individual, who posted any information or expressed their attitude toward it on the Internet or other information and telecommunications networks, as aimed at incitement of hatred or enmity, as well as humiliation of dignity of a person or group of persons, the decision should be based on the totality of all the circumstances of the deed and, in particular, take into account the context, form and content of the posted information, the existence and content of comments or other expressions of their attitude towards it.” The Supreme Court’s comment is more than relevant, but there is a clear need for more detailed explanations, as to what kind of context should be taken into account (it should be both the historical context and the circumstances, in which the utterance was made), how exactly comments of the information-sharer and other users (the latter can’t be imputed to the original poster per se, but demonstrate the understanding of his/her statement by the audience), what is meant by “form” of a statement (for example, the court must learn to recognize the cases when the statement was ironic). In addition, it is necessary to take into account the quantitative and qualitative composition of the real target group of a given statement and the authority of its author within this group. This clarification about re-posting has had little practical impact until now, but it was unexpectedly used in March 2017 as an argument in the retrial of the notorious Yevgeniya Chudnovets case, unrelated to extremism; there is a hope that this case could become a precedent.

The following thesis of the Supreme Court regarding extremist propaganda and calls for terrorism also merits attention – in case of public calls via mass message campaigns via mobile communication networks or the Internet, the crime should be considered completed “from the moment when calls are placed on these public networks (for example, on websites, forums or blogs), or sending messages to other persons).” Until now, law enforcement agencies based their decisions on an assumption that a crime was still in progress for as long as the material in question remained online, even if this publication had been there for several years, and both the publisher and his readers have long forgotten about its existence. If this Supreme Court explanation becomes widely used, it will change the approach to determining the statute of limitations in the cases of people brought to criminal responsibility over their online statements.

Principal Targets of Persecution

Ideological Opponents of the Authorities

The “Ukrainian Question”

The Russian authorities continue to use anti-extremist legislation against actions and statements related to the crisis in Ukraine. The specifics of the situation are not being taken into account. Anti-extremist legislation was written for use in peacetime – it is not adequate to the situation of military operations and does not take into account the intensity of emotion in the Russian society, painfully sensitive to the conflict with Ukraine, to which it has very close ties. In addition, some articles of the Criminal Code, such as Article 2801 on incitement to separatism, are used explicitly to pressure those critical of, for example, the annexation of the Crimea. As a result, the number of inappropriate prosecutions in connection with the “Ukrainian Question” remains high.

In March 2016, the Donetsk City Court of the Rostov Region found Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko guilty, including under Article 105 Part 2 clauses a, f, g, and k of the Criminal Code (murder of two or more persons committed by a group of persons by previous concert or an organized group, by a generally dangerous method, and based on hatred or enmity towards a social group) and sentenced her to a total of 22 years in a minimum-security colony and a fine of 30 thousand rubles.[5] The indictment in Savchenko's case, defined the social group, hatred to which had been supposedly motivating the pilot, as “the civilian population of the Luhansk Region (Ukraine)” in connection with its“refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the current government in Ukraine and desire to create a separate territorial entity – the Luhansk People's Republic.” The court accepted this qualification, but we believe that the actions that constituted the basis of charges against Savchenko had taken place under the military conditions, even though the war was not officially declared, and therefore they could be qualified only as a war crime, to which the provisions of Section VII of the Criminal Code, pertaining to peacetime conditions, are not applicable. Constructing an arbitrary social group, as it was done in the indictment, transfers any war crime directed against civilians to the category of hate crimes; this is incorrect in principle.

The Kievsky District court of Simferopol sentenced Ukrainian citizen Andrei Kolomiets to 10 years of imprisonment in a maximum-security colony in June 2016. Kolomiets was found guilty of committing crimes under Article 30 Part 3 and Article 105 Part 2 clauses a, b, f, and j (an attempted murder of two persons in connection with the discharge of their official duties, committed by a generally dangerous method, based on political or ideological hatred) and Article 228 Part 2 (illegal acquisition, storage and transportation without the purpose of selling parts of plants containing narcotic drugs on a large scale). The court found Kolomiets guilty of attempted murder of two employees of the Crimean Berkut Special Forces unit, committed during clashes on Independence Square in Kiev in January 2014, when he attacked them with Molotov cocktails, being a member of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), recognized in Russia as an extremist organization. In addition, he was involved in storage and transportation of a narcotic plant on a large scale in Kabardino-Balkaria in 2015. In our opinion, Kolomiets's sentence under Article 105 of the Criminal Code was imposed inappropriately. If a Ukrainian citizen actually threw Molotov cocktails on Ukrainian territory targeting other Ukrainian (at the time) citizens, Ukraine could have initiated a criminal case against him, asking the Russian authorities to facilitate the investigation. Acting on their own initiative, Russian law enforcement agencies have overstepped their jurisdiction.

Igor Stenin, the leader of the Russians of Astrakhan movement, was sentenced to two years in a penal colony under Article 280 Part 2 of the Criminal Code in May 2016 (the verdict was upheld by the Astrakhan City Court in July; Stenin subsequently filed a complaint with the ECHR). Stenin was found guilty of publishing an entry on the subject of the war in the Ukraine on VKontakte; he also was charged for a comment, left by another user. In our opinion, the short post calling for destruction of “the Kremlin invaders,” cited in the court case, can’t be considered an incitement to extremist activity. The collective image of “the Kremlin invaders,” used in the preceding years by disgruntled citizens to denote the authorities, has obviously received even broader and less specific connotations in connection with the Ukrainian events. It is impossible to interpret this figure of speech as a direct call for violence against members of a particular social group, and, previously, the police had never prosecuted citizens for this popular slogan, not attaching much importance to it. Even if the statement is interpreted it as a call to action against the Russian authorities, it still pertains to activities outside the Russian territory. The unjustified severity of Stenin’s sentence – two years of real prison term – should also be noted; moreover, he was soon transferred from a settlement-colony to a minimum-security penal colony.

In the same month, the Zavolzhsky District Court of Tver sentenced local resident Andrei Bubeyev to two years in prison in a settlement colony. The criminal charges against him for public calls for extremism via the Internet (Article 280 Part 2) and public calls for actions aimed at violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation (Article 2801 Part 2) were brought in September 2015 for sharing on his VKontakte page Boris Stomakhin’s article about Crimea and an image of a hand that squeezes the toothpaste out of its tube with the caption “Squeeze Russia out of yourself,” accompanied by the statement that the only possible form of protest had to involve “active destruction” of Russia “as the Chechens did at one point, for example.” The materials published by Bubeyev did indeed contain aggressive appeals, but we view the verdict against Bubeyev under Article 2801 as inappropriate, because criticism of Russia’s new territorial acquisitions should not be equated to separatism. Bubeyev’s defense appealed to the ECHR.

Also in May and under the same article, a criminal case was opened against deputy chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people Ilmi Umerov. The incriminating event was the address made by Umerov in March 2016 in a live broadcast of the ATR TV channel in Ukraine. We view prosecutions of Crimean Tatar activists for their calls to return Crimea to Ukraine as inappropriate – people, who never recognized the acquisition of the territory, on which they live, to another country, have a right to express their point of view, especially since the legality of the annexation of Crimea to Russia is, to say the least, controversial under international law.

In February 2016, the Zheleznodorozhny District Court of Yekaterinburg found housewife Ekaterina Vologzheninova guilty of inciting hatred and enmity towards the authorities and “volunteers from Russia fighting on the side of the militias in Eastern Ukraine” (Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced her to 320 hours of mandatory labor with confiscation and destruction of her laptop and computer mouse. The prosecution was based on several posts shared via VKontakte social network. The law enforcement based the charges on the following publications: The Katsaps poem 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 ethnic 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. From our point of view, the hostile feelings of the authors of such posts and, likely, of those sharing them, pertain to the activity of a certain group of citizens, rather than ethnic, religious, sexual or social affiliation of such a group, so these publications can’t be qualified under Article 282. In addition, we question the expediency of prosecuting a person for appeals, addressed to citizens or authorities of another country.

A new criminal case under Article 282 Part 1 was initiated in September 2016 in Kromy, the Oryol Region, against poet Alexander Byvshev. At the same time, the Sovetsky District Court of Oryol banned Byvshev’s poem On the Independence of Ukraine, and the online publication of this poem served as the ground for prosecution against its author. In our view, the poem contains statements, which may be interpreted as humiliating for the Russians, but we believe that humiliation should be excluded from the Criminal Code as an act of minor gravity. We would like to remind that Byvshev was previously convicted under Article 282 of the Criminal Code in 2015 for publishing his poem To Ukrainian Patriots. We consider this prior conviction inappropriate as well.

Vyacheslav Kuteynikov, a retired sailor and a popular blogger, received a suspended two- year sentence and three years of probation under Article 282 Part 1 in Rostov-on-Don in October 2016. The court found Kuteynikov guilty of publishing on social networks, specifically on LiveJournal, information aimed at inciting hatred against the Russians. His verdict has entered into force. Kuteynikov had criticized, in harsh terms, the anti-Ukrainian propaganda campaign waged on the Russian television. The context of the statements indicated that Kuteynikov applied his derogatory characteristics not to the Russian people in general, but to participants of the information war with Ukraine, and his invectives contained no incitement to violence.

In May 2016, the Sevastopol Investigation Department of the Russian Federation Investigative Committee opened a criminal case under Article 282 Part 1 (incitement of hatred or hostility, and humiliation of human dignity) in relation to the substituted national anthem, played at the opening meeting of the Public Expert Council under the Governor of Sevastopol on April 8, 2016. The attendees of the event heard a satirical version of the Russian national anthem, Russia – Our Mad Nation. The organizers explained the incident as a mistake of the sound engineers, who had downloaded a wrong version from the Internet. Initially, the city authorities urged the community to avoid unnecessary dramatization of the situation and not to inflate the scandal around the occurrence. However, in their eagerness to utilize anti-extremist articles of the Criminal Code, newly available to them, the Crimean law enforcement agencies could not resist and ignore even this minor comic incident. From our point of view, a criminal case under Article 282 was unfounded in this instance, because the satirical version of the anthem contains no signs of inciting hatred towards anyone, and criticism of the state does not fall under Article 282 or any other articles of the Russian legislation. We have no further information on the fate of this criminal investigation.

In March 2016, Minusinsk resident G. Nazimov was sentenced to 10 months of corrective labor under Article 3541 Part 3 of the Criminal Code (desecration of symbols of Russia's military glory) for posting on his VKontakte page a captioned image, interpreted by the law enforcement as an insult against the St. George ribbon. However, the offender obviously viewed the St. George ribbon as a symbol used by one of the sides of the Ukrainian conflict, and not as a symbol of Soviet military glory of the Great Patriotic War.

Nationalist Vladimir Luzgin from Perm was fined 200 thousand rubles by the regional court in September 2016 under Part 1 of the same Article 3541 (public denial of the facts, established by the sentence of the International Military Tribunal for the trial and punishment of the principal war criminals of the European Axis countries, approval of the crimes established by this verdict, as well as dissemination of knowingly false information about the activities of the USSR during the Second World War) for re-publishing the articles that contained a debatable interpretation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, as well as controversial statements relating to episodes of the history of the Bandera movement. The verdict was upheld by the Supreme Court of Russia, and Luzgin has appealed to the ECHR.

We know of at least 5 inappropriate court decisions, issued in 2016 under Article 20.3 of the Administrative Code for online display of Nazi symbols in the context of polemics related to the Ukrainian events. Since designating the opposite side of the conflict as “fascists” is quite common and was even encouraged by the official propaganda in Russia, social network users actively utilize the Nazi symbols in order to vilify their ideological opponents. At the same time, Russian law enforcement agencies tend to punish for any demonstration of Nazi symbols regardless of the context. As a result, fines are issued to critics of Russian politics in Ukraine, to opponents of the Ukrainian authorities, and to supporters of the Donetsk and Luhansk Republics (LNR/DNR). Nina Solovyova, an LGBT activist from Krasnodar, was sentenced to ten days of administrative arrest for publishing on social networks a video of the song This is Rushism, Baby by Boris Sevastyanov. The video does show swastikas, since it includes a number of snippets from the Third Reich newsreels. Meanwhile, Roman Grishin from Kaluga was charged under Article 282 of the Criminal Code for sharing the same musical video, which contains harsh criticism of the Russian state propaganda and of the country’s foreign policy in connection with its actions in Ukraine, typical (according to the song’s author) for totalitarian regimes. Grishin is currently under travel restrictions.

In May, artist Pyotr Pavlensky was convicted under Article 214 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (vandalism committed by a group of persons by prior agreement) for his “Freedom” action in Saint Petersburg. He was sentenced to 1 year and 4 months of restriction of liberty, but released from punishment due to the statute of limitations for criminal responsibility. In February 2014, five participants of the “Freedom” action in support of the Ukrainian Euromaidan unfurled a black flag and the state flag of Ukraine on Maly Konyushenny Bridge, opposite the Church of the Savior on Blood; they also set on fire a number of automobile tires and banged on metal sheets with sticks. Despite the absence of hate motive in the charges against Pavlensky, we believe that he was de facto sentenced for his ideological action, so we discuss his case here and include it in our statistics. We consider his conviction inappropriate for absence of crime in the act. First, the action caused no property damage (the worst damage caused by the actionists consisted of some burn marks on the pavement), i.e. it did not meet the Criminal Code definition of vandalism. Additionally, Pavlensky had already faced administrative responsibility for the same offence, and double jeopardy is not acceptable.

In April 2016, the Supreme Court recognized the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People as an extremist organization and banned its activities. The Supreme Court of Russia upheld this decision in September. The request for the ban of the Mejlis was filed by the Crimean Prosecutor's Office in February 2016. The prosecutor's office cited a number of statements and actions by the leaders and members of the Mejlis as reasons for banning the Crimean Tatar organization, beginning with the adoption of the Declaration on the National Sovereignty of the Crimean Tatar people in 1991 and ending with participation in the transport blockade of Crimea. The majority of the actions with participation by Mejlis members, mentioned by the prosecutor's office, took place before Crimea’s transition to Russia, and does not fall under the jurisdiction of the Russian court at all. The remarks of the Head of the Mejlis Refat Chubarov, which became the basis for a criminal case against him under separatism charges and were cited by the prosecutor's office as an argument in favor of eliminating the organization, contained no direct incitement to war for liberation of the peninsula, as far as we could tell. The blockade of Crimea from the Ukrainian side, incriminated to some members of the Mejlis, was, indeed, an illegal action, but it was carried out on the territory of another state and was unrelated to the operation of the Mejlis as an organization on the Crimean territory. In general, the evidence of the organization's involvement in extremist activity, presented by the prosecutor's office, was not considered in detail or weighed by the court; the decision to close down the Mejlis was promptly pronounced, because it was dictated not by actual activities of the organization but by political motives openly stated by Crimean Prosecutor General Natalia Poklonskaya. In our opinion, this decision is not only inappropriate but also politically reckless, since it could potentially provoke an aggravation of ethnic tensions on the peninsula.

In 2016, Russian law enforcement authorities continued to block Ukrainian resources (as well as websites that had relocated to Ukraine after the annexation of Crimea and beginning of the armed conflict) under Lugovoy's law. The reasons for limiting access to these resources are often quite obvious, since verbal activity in a situation of armed conflict typically contains appeals to destroy the enemy, but analytics or information materials has occasionally been blocked as well. In this regard, our position has remained the same – we consider such restrictions a part of the ongoing information war between the two countries. We believe that evaluating them from the standpoint of following the rules of peacetime is pointless.


Other “Separatism”

In 2016, two new criminal cases unrelated to Ukraine were initiated without proper justification under the article on separatism.

A criminal case under Part 2 of Article 2801 was initiated in March 2016 in Ulan-Ude; Buryat nationalist Vladimir Khagdaev faced the charges in December. According to the investigation, “having personal convictions focused on uniting the Mongolian peoples in a single state,” Khagdaev published statements with calls for actions aimed at violation of the territorial integrity of Russia, under the pseudonym “Genghis Bulgadaev” in November 2014 – January 2015. Khagdaev authored one post and two comments on VKontakte that contained calls for actions toward separation of Buryatia from Russia. The incriminating social network post is an image showing a quote from an interview with journalist Alexandra Garmazhapova, in which she was critical of the Russian nationalists and mentions separation of Buryatia from Russia as a hypothetical scenario; this post definitely contained no separatist appeals. In his comments, Khagdaev called for a “major geopolitical shift” and reshaping of the world and Russia, and also asked a rhetorical question “when will it be possible to take up weapons and go assimilate a Russian lieutenant-colonel neighbor?” We can’t call prosecution for these statements unequivocally illegal. However, it must be recognized, that two comments under the post, which attracted almost no attention, hardly represented significant public danger.

It was reported in July that the Moscow FSB had opened a criminal case under Articles 2801 and 282 of the Criminal Code based on the post A Bomb Ready to Explode published by journalist Andrei Piontkovsky on his blog on the Echo of Moscow website in January 2016. According to the FSB, the article contained calls for “violation of the territorial integrity of Russia and actions aimed at inciting hatred and hostility based on ethnicity.” We have no information whether Piontkovsky was ever charged as a defendant in this case. The publicist had left Russia even before the case was initiated. A Bomb Ready to Explode focused on the crisis in relations between the Russian and Chechen peoples. Originally, the text ended with the statement that, in order to avoid a catastrophe, Chechnya should be granted full independence, but these words were removed at some point after the publication of the text. In our view, calls for the violent separatism are the only ones that merit prosecution, and Piontkovsky’s post contained no such calls. Furthermore, we found the text to contain no statements inciting hatred on ethnic grounds.


Incitement to Hatred toward Public Officials

We view criminal prosecution under Article 282 of the Criminal Code on charges of inciting hatred towards a social group of public officials as inappropriate, since this social group can’t be considered vulnerable, and, in our opinion, anti-extremist articles should specifically protect vulnerable groups (such as people with disabilities, homeless people, sexual minorities, etc.), and this clarification needs to be included in the law; so that its abuses, associated with an expanded interpretation of the nebulous term “social group,” could be avoided.

A criminal case from this category was opened in April against Olga Li, a deputy of the Kursk Regional Duma. She was charged with incitement of hatred or hostility, and humiliation of human dignity on the basis of membership in the social group “government representatives, particularly law enforcement officials and the judiciary,” based on the text of her appeal to President Putin, publicly accessible on Li’s page on VKontakte, and on videos of her speeches, published elsewhere online. Li’s statements contained harsh criticism of foreign and domestic policy of the authorities as well as accusations of embezzlement and other offenses against certain government officials in the Kursk Region, but no dangerous incitement. In October, the investigation under Article 282 of the Criminal Code against Lee was dropped (although the investigation under charges of libel against the judge has continued).

In August 2016, criminal proceedings under Article 282 Part 1 for incitement of hatred against the authorities were opened against the Left Bloc (Levy Blok) activist Danila Alferyev. The charges were based on the address he gave at a rally on November 7, 2014. In the speech, the activist, for reasons that are not quite clear, parodied the notorious speech by Andrei Kovalenko, the leader of the Moscow branch of the Eurasian Youth Union, and called for “sweeping out” “the fifth column” in the State Duma, participation in the Donbass conflict, and “freeing Russia from the occupation” upon receiving an order from Gennady Zyuganov (not Putin, as in Kovalenko’s original version). He was additionally charged under Article 280 Part 1 for the same speech in November, but we have doubts about this accusation as well – Alferyev’s incitement can’t be qualified as direct, and his appeals to Zyuganov to move the young people to disobedience can’t be considered a significant public danger for the past 10 years or more.

In February 2016, criminal charges under Article 282 Part 2 Paragraph “b” (actions aimed at inciting hatred or hostility, committed with the use of official position) were brought against well-known religious scholar Rais Suleimanov of Kazan. The law enforcement objected to the materials published by Suleimanov – an expert of the Institute of National Strategy – on VKontakte, Facebook and a number of other sites. The decision to open criminal proceedings stated that, in 2011 – 2016, the expert published materials testifying to “the alleged presence of underground radical Islamist gangs and active groups of ethnic separatists in the Republic of Tatarstan and support, shown to them by a large number of Muslims and Tatars and by the clergy and some officials of the republic” and also spoke of ongoing “mass persecution” against Russian residents of Tatarstan and the “propaganda of the Tatar national exclusiveness” in the republic. We believe that estimating the popularity of the radical currents of Islam in Tatarstan or criticism against the ethnic policy of the republic's leadership, in and of itself, cannot be regarded as extremist statements, and prosecution based on expressing opinions on these topics can be regarded as an attack against freedom of speech. At the same time, as we noted earlier, certain statements by Suleimanov really have a potential to stir up hatred against peaceful representatives of “non-traditional” religious movements. In this regard, we find it difficult to assess the appropriateness of criminal prosecution against Suleimanov. In any case, the criminal case against him was dropped in July 2016.


Fight against “Justification of Terrorism”

In December 2016, the visiting session of Privolzhsky District Military Court in Tyumen found blogger Alexei Kungurov – a former member of Igor Strelkov’s Committee of 25 – guilty of justifying terrorism (Article 2052 Part 1 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced him to two years and six months in a settlement colony. Kungurov faced responsibility for the text Whom Putin's Falcons Are Really Bombing posted on his personal blog. According to Kungurov, the FSB objected to his allegations that Russia was actually helping the Islamic State, rather than bombing it. We view Kungurov’s verdict as inappropriate. The article Whom Putin's Falcons Are Really Bombing contains an analysis of the situation in the Middle East and, in our opinion, includes no incitement to terrorism.


Religious Groups

Hizb ut-Tahrir

According to our information, 19 verdicts against 37 people were issued on charges of involvement in the activities of the Islamic religious-political party Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami, which was banned as terrorist in 2003. 18 of the verdicts (against 35 people) were issued under Article 2055 (organizing activities of a terrorist organization or participation in it). In four of these 18 cases, 12 people were additionally convicted under Article 2822 – for the period of activity before the adoption of Article 2055.Eight people in two cases were charged under Article 30 Part 1 of the Criminal Code in conjunction with Article 278 (preparation for the violent takeover of power); two people (one case) were also charged under Part 1 of Article 222 (illegal circulation of weapons); one more person was also convicted under Article 282 for incitement of hatred. One Hizb ut-Tahrir follower was convicted only under Article 2052 (public incitement to terrorist activity or justification of terrorism). We believe that the decision to ban this organization as 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.[6]

Verdicts on charges of collaboration with Hizb ut-Tahrir remained severe throughout 2016; prison sentences under Article 2055 in some cases approached 20 years. Meanwhile, there have been no attempts to prove the facts of actual preparation by defendants to carry out acts of terrorism or a government takeover – investigators simply report the defendants’ involvement in party activities in the form of studying or distributing the Hizb ut-Tahrir literature or conducting meetings of like-minded people, and the court finds it sufficient. The courts – these are military district courts[7] – willingly fulfill prosecutorial requests despite the poor quality of the investigation.

According to our data, at least 21 new cases against 69 persons, related to involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, were opened in 2016 under Article 2055 of the Criminal Code (including 12 cases against 29 individuals in Tatarstan and 4 cases against 15 individuals in the Crimea). In comparison, there were at least 8 such cases against 57 people in the preceding year. Four of the defendants in one of the new cases were also charged with preparing for a government takeover under Article 30 Part 1 and Article 278 of the Criminal Code; three defendants in the other case faced additional charges of inciting hatred under Article 282. Most of the defendants are in pre-trial detention; some under house arrest or travel restrictions.

The Federal List of Extremist Materials came to include at least six new entries with Hizb ut-Tahrir materials in 2016. Resources, which published the materials recognized as extremist, were also added to the Unified Registry of Banned Websites. These materials are heterogeneous; some of them give reasons for criticism, while others are prohibited without proper justification. In addition, dozens of different non-propaganda materials related to prosecution of Muslims on charges of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir were inappropriately blocked in 2016 under Lugovoy’s Law. It should be noted that law enforcement agencies and courts prohibit materials of the party automatically, by the virtue of their association with a banned organization, without considering them on their merits and not ascertaining the degree of potential danger of each one.


Tablighi Jamaat

At least three new criminal cases were opened in 2016 on charges of involvement in the activities of the international religious movement Tablighi Jamaat, banned in Russia.

Thus, in early October 2016, a resident of Barnaul was detained, and a criminal case against him was opened under Part 1 of Article 2822 of the Criminal Code (inciting, recruiting or otherwise involving a person in activities of an extremist organization). According to the investigation, he rented a cafe in Barnaul in 2015, organized a prayer room there, and held weekly religious meetings, during which he tried to persuade the residents of Barnaul and Novosibirsk to participate in the activities of Tablighi Jamaat.

A criminal case under Article 2822 was opened in October in Tatarstan. Officers of the republic’s units of the FSB, Investigative Committee and the Ministry of Internal Affairs conducted searches at 39 separate addresses in Kazan, Naberezhnye Chelny, Almetyevsk, Aznakaevo, Rybno-Slobodsky, Kukmorsky and Sabinsky districts of the republic. At least nine believers were detained on suspicion of their Tablighi Jamaat involvement.

In late December 2016, seven Muslims were detained and then arrested in Moscow; they were charged with activities related to Tablighi Jamaat. The operation was conducted as part of the investigation of the criminal case initiated in December under Article 2822 by the Investigation Department of the regional FSB (the preceding detention campaign against the believers took place in the summer of 2016). According to the investigation, the detained Tablighi Jamaat members called for unification of Muslims of the Moscow Region, and involved them in illegal activities, “studied forbidden literature, and discussed plans to establish “the Caliphate Islamic state” on the territory of the Russian Federation.” As reported by the FSB, new members of the movement were sent to camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan for education and special training. Two more people were detained in Kazan in January 2017, as part of the same investigation.

Tablighi Jamaat religious movement was banned in Russia in 2009. We view this ban as inappropriate, since the movement is engaged exclusively in promotion of the Islamic religious practices and have never been known to incite violence.


Followers of Said Nursi

Persecution of Muslims studying the works of Turkish theologian Said Nursi, which are – in our opinion, unreasonably – prohibited in Russia, continued in 2016. We would like to remind that 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. We know about at least one verdict, issued against a Nursi follower, and about three new criminal cases against five people, charged on the basis of their Nurcular affiliation.

In May 2016, the Sovetsky District Court of Chelyabinsk issued a suspended sentence of two years with a two-year probation period and a one-year restrictions on freedom to local resident Yakov Tselyuk under Part 2 of Article 2822 of the Criminal Code, having found him guilty based on the fact that, in November 2012 – February 2013, he distributed Nursi audiobooks via a social network, and also shared seven posts with quotations from forbidden books. The case was heard under a special procedure, since Tselyuk fully admitted his guilt.

It became known in late December 2015 that Yevgeny Kim, a Muslim resident of the Ivanovka village, was arrested in Blagoveshchensk in the Amur Region on charges of organizing the activity of the Nurcular cell (Article 2822 Part 1). Several Muslims served as witnesses in this case, including Blagoveshchensk resident Anton Starodubtsev, who was later charged with participation in the activities of the cell under Article 2822 Part 2. The indictment in the case was confirmed in December 2016 and informed that Kim was also charged with inciting religious hatred under Article 282 Part 1. Note that Muslims, who study books of Nursi, as a rule, are not charged with inciting religious hatred; the case of Kim is noteworthy in this sense. From our point of view, the books of Nursi contain no signs of inciting hatred, and the conviction of believers regarding the superiority of their religion over all others is natural and should not be interpreted as illegal, unless they allow themselves any aggressive rhetoric against those not sharing their faith.

In March 2016, law enforcement agencies conducted an operation against the followers of Nursi in three cities of Dagestan: Izberbash, Makhachkala and Khasavyurt. 14 people were taken into police custody; 12 of them were released after interrogations, and two – Ziyavdin Dapaev (previously convicted in 2011 under Article 2822 and given a suspended sentence of three years) and Sukhrab Kultuev – were detained and later arrested on charges under Article 2822 of the Criminal Code. Sukhrab Kultuev remained in Makhachkala pre-trial detention facility until September and then was released on his own recognizance with travel restrictions. His brother Artur Kultuev has been under travel restrictions as well.

In March, Andrei Dedkov and Andrei Rekst were detained and later arrested in Krasnoyarsk. Both faced criminal charges for involvement in Nurcular: Dedkov – under Part 1 and Rekst – under Part 2 of Article 2822. Rekst was soon released on bail; Dedkov remained in jail until March 2017, and then was released under travel restrictions. According to the investigators, in May 2015 – March 2016, Dedkov “organized a Nurcular cell,” arranged religious meetings in private apartments, where he discussed Nursi’s books with other believers and explained the ways to distribute them, while Rekst participated in these activities. You may remember that, in December 2015, Dedkov was found guilty under Article 2822 Part 1 and sentenced to a fine of 150 thousand rubles, but the Krasnoyarsk Regional Court released him from punishment due to the statute of limitations in January 2016.


In November 2016, the Yevpatoria City Court fined Elmar Abdulganiev, the imam of the Khan-Jami Mosque, under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offenses, accusing him of storing the literature of the banned religious association Nurcular in the mosque for the purpose of disseminating it. The parishioners, present during the search, reported that people, who introduced themselves as FSB officers, were conducting their search in complete darkness with the electricity turned-off, and could have easily planted the books.


Other Muslims

In late October, the Caucasus District Military Court found Magomednabi Magomedov – the imam of Vostochnaya Mosque and the chairman of the Imams’ City Council of Khasavyurt – guilty under Article 2052 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (public incitement to terrorist activity or public justification of terrorism) and under Article 282 Part 1 and sentenced him to five years' imprisonment in a minimum-security penal colony. The imam was accused of “calling for terrorist activities and publicly justifying terrorism in the mosque of the Vostochny settlement of Khasavyurt on February 5.” Magomedov’s sermon was dedicated to shutting down of Salafi mosques in Dagestan. The imam talked about the unacceptability of further pressure against the Salafis by the security forces and urged the community members to stay united and defend their rights by peaceful means. The Human Rights Center “Memorial” has recognized Magomedov as a political prisoner – the charges against him were based on his sermon, which was critical of the authorities but contained no dangerous incitement. The Russia's Supreme Court took six months off Magomedov’s sentence, reducing it to 4.5 years in late January 2017.

In January 2016, a criminal case was initiated under Part 1 of Article 282 against Ali Yakupov, the imam of the Kurgan mosque. The Kurgan City Court started considering his case in September. According to the investigators, Yakupov left a comment in November 2015 under the material published on VKontakte on the subject of the Muslim women in China not being allowed to wear a hijab, in which he allegedly spoke of “divine punishment” that was going to befall the Chinese Communists (Yakupov claims that he never wrote this comment, and this was the work of hackers). In our opinion, the case against Yakupov was inappropriate. We believe that the Chinese Communists do not constitute a vulnerable social group in need of special protection. Previously, Yakupov was an imam in the Penza Region and was also charged under Article 282 of the Criminal Code, but the case was dismissed.


According to our, admittedly incomplete, data, at least 16 Muslims, including several imams and one mufti, were improperly fined in 2016, under article 20.29 of the Administrative Code for dissemination of extremist materials or storage thereof for the purpose of distribution.

On July 22, 2016 the Samara Regional Court banned the activities of the Mirmamed’s Mosque religious community as extremist. Earlier, this year, in January 2016, the mosque's imam, Ilgar Guseinov received a warning about the impermissibility of extremist activity, and then, in February, was fined under Article 20.29 of the Administrative Code for publishing on a social network the banned (inappropriately, in our opinion) video The Miracles of the Koran [Chudesa Korana]. In May, the Chapaevsk City Court once again fined Guseinov under the same article for the banned book Fortress of the Muslim [Krepost Musulmanina], found in the mosque. This is a collection of prayers that we view as containing no signs of extremism. The court made a decision to ban the activities of the religious group based on the fact that the new violations of the legislation on combating extremism were revealed within a year from the date of issuance of the warning. In our opinion, since both cases pertained to distribution, or storage for the purpose of distribution, of inappropriately prohibited materials, the decision to ban the activities of a religious group is also inappropriate. In September 2016, the organization appealed to the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation with a complaint against the decision of the Samara Regional Court.

The Federal List of Extremist Materials came to include seven new entries with Muslim materials in 2016 that we consider inappropriately banned by Russian courts (not counting the above-mentioned Hizb ut-Tahrir materials).


Jehovah's Witnesses

The persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses sharply increased in 2016. If in the preceding year just one of their local religious organizations was liquidated as extremist, this number grew to five in 2016 – the communities were liquidated in Stary Oskol, Belgorod, Elista, Oryol, and Birobidzhan. At the same time, the Supreme Court of the RF decided to overturn the decision to liquidate the Tyumen community, and the Arkhangelsk Regional Court refused to liquidate the Arkhangelsk community.

The number of sanctions under Article 20.29 of the Administrative Code (for distribution of prohibited brochures of Jehovah's Witnesses or their storage with intent to distribute) also increased. According to our data, Russian courts adopted at least 18 decisions on levying an administrative fine in 2016 (approximately twice the number of such cases in 2015). In addition, the courts twice used the same article to issue a ruling on temporary suspension of activities of local Jehovah's Witnesses organizations – for 80 days in Abakan and 45 days in Voronezh – but this decision was overturned by the Regional Court in March 2017.

The criminal cases against Jehovah's Witnesses in 2016 never showed much progress. Thus, in March, the Sergiev Posad City Court, having examined the case of Vyacheslav Stepanov and Andrei Sivak (the leaders of the local Jehovah's Witnesses religious community) opened under Article 282 of the Criminal Code as far back as 2013, and after failing to find any signs of incitement to hatred in their statements, concluded that they were innocent, lifted their travel restrictions and acknowledged their right to exoneration, including the right to be compensated for moral harm and restored in their labor, retirement, housing and other rights. The charges of inciting religious hatred was brought against Stepanov and Sivak based on the fact that, at the prayer meetings, they had quoted the forbidden Jehovah's Witnesses brochures, which contained negative characteristics of other religions, including “traditional” Christianity and the Christian clerics, and called to join Jehovah's Witnesses. However, on May 26, 2016, the Moscow Regional Court issued an appellate ruling on this case. The case materials were sent for a retrial in the same court, but in a different composition.

At the same time, it was reported that criminal charges under Article 2822 against six Jehovah's Witnesses in Taganrog, the Rostov Region, were dropped in December 2016 on the rehabilitative grounds. The believers were charged in October 2013 and placed under travel restrictions. The investigation suspected that, by praying and reading the Bible together in 2011, six Jehovah's Witnesses were continuing the activity of the local religious organization, banned for extremist activity.


At least seven Jehovah's Witnesses communities received warnings from prosecutors about the impermissibility of extremist activities in 2016.

On March 2, 2016, the Prosecutor General’s Office issued a warning to the flagship organization of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia – the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia. In October, the Tverskoy District Court of Moscow denied the Jehovah's Witnesses’ request to recognize this warning as unlawful. This decision was, once again, upheld by the Moscow City Court in mid-January 2017.

The representatives of Jehovah's Witnesses stated that the Jehovah's Witnesses’ Administrative Center in Russia committed no extremist acts, and the accusations of followers of Jehovah's Witnesses in extremist activities “are based on false evidence, planted literature and false fabricated testimony.” The organization stated its intention to appeal the decision of the Moscow City Court to the Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights.[8]

We view liquidation of Jehovah's Witnesses organizations for extremism, prosecutions against members of their communities and bans on their texts as religious discrimination.

Note that at least three Jehovah's Witnesses brochures were banned in 2016: Listen to God, How Did Life Begin? and Does God Really Care about Us? as well as the website that featured the Jehovah's Witnesses online library on the subject of the Bible. The Federal List of Extremist Materials came to add five items containing the materials of Jehovah's Witnesses in 2016.


In addition, two high-profile processes started in 2016 in Vyborg, the Leningrad Region. In April, the Vyborg City Court started its consideration, in the presence of the defendant, of the lawsuit filed by the Leningrad-Finland Transport Prosecutor's Office on recognizing as extremist a print run of brochures by Jehovah's Witnesses, seized by the Vyborg customs in 2015, including the Holy Scriptures in the New World Translation (published in 2007), that is, the Bible in the Russian translation by Jehovah's Witnesses. It has been decided to conduct an examination by a religious expert and suspend the proceedings until the announcement of its results. In our opinion, the Holy Scriptures in the New World Translation contains no signs of extremism. We would also like to remind that Russia has a law, which bans recognizing the scriptures of the four world religions and their fragments as extremist, although it is difficult to understand how it should be applied to translations, which believers tend to use most frequently.

In November, the same court started considering the claim against the Vyborg customs filed by the Gideons International. The Association attempted to import a print run of the New Testament and the Psalms into Russia in July 2016, but the books were detained, because the customs officers had them confused with Jehovah's Witnesses materials. The customs demanded a psycho-linguistic examination of the books of the Bible in order to determine whether they should be considered extremist literature. The Gideons presented to the head of the customs an expert opinion that the New Testament and the Psalter were parts of the Bible, which, by law, couldn’t be considered extremist. The customs refused to take the expert opinion into account. As a result, the mission’s vehicle with 20 thousand books remained in the customs for a long time, so that the books have deteriorated and the entire print run had to be returned to Finland.



In Korsakov, the Sakhalin Region, the local branch of the Investigative Committee of the RF opened a criminal case against a local resident under Part 1 of Article 282 in May. He has been accused of inciting religious hatred through distribution of the prohibited brochure Svidetelstvo ISUS-CHRISTOVO [The testament of Jesus Christ] in a hallway of an apartment building. In our view, this Ilyinite[9] brochure is intended to assert the truthfulness of the version of Christianity, revealed to its author, and the falsity of all other denominations. We view its prohibition and prosecution for its dissemination as inappropriate, because, according to the Supreme Court, propaganda of the superiority of one’s own religion over the others cannot be regarded as incitement to hatred, and the text contains no incitement to violence. The case was forwarded to the Korsakov City Court in September.


Downsides of the Fight for Tolerance

Fight against Those Insulting the Feelings of Religious Believers

In February 2016, in Orenburg, the former teacher of the local medical university, Sergei Lazarov, was found guilty under Article 148 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (public actions expressing obvious disrespect to society and committed with a purpose of insulting religious feelings of believers) in connection with publishing online The Evil Christ article by Yaroslav Yanitsky. The court levied a fine of 35 thousand rubles with exemption from punishment due to the statute of limitations. An attempt to challenge the verdict in the district court was unsuccessful. In our opinion, the prosecution against Lazarov under Article 148 of the Criminal Code was inappropriate. The text, dedicated to the image of Christ the Pantocrator in Christian iconography, contains rough epithets describing God the Creator in the Gnostic interpretation, and the author links the ROC to Satan. However, the Russian secular society has no generally accepted or fixed legislative ideas about God and his image, therefore publication of even the most extravagant reasoning on this topic can’t be considered an act expressing disrespect to the society. In addition, the Resolution of the Plenary meeting of the Supreme Court No. 11 “On Judicial Practice in Criminal Cases Concerning Extremist Crime” (confirmed, in this part, in the above-mentioned Resolution of the Supreme Council of 2016) states that criticism of religious beliefs, customs and organizations, in and of itself, should not be viewed as an action aimed at inciting hatred or enmity. We believe that this instruction should also be taken into account when considering criminal cases under articles other than Article 282, since it defines the boundaries for criminalization of such critical statements in general.

It became known in January 2016 that a criminal case had been opened against a resident of Kotlas, the Arkhangelsk region, charged under Part 1 of Article 282 for inciting religious hatred. The FSB found a comment left by a local resident in August 2014 in the Kotlas VKontakte community under an anonymous post proposing to burn down a church. The comment used an obscene word to categorize atheism, and called its adherents fools. According to the comment, those, who fail to read the Bible, will become “monsters, Rodnovers, Hare Krishnas, Hindus, Buddhists” and “other satanic rabble;” the author also added an insulting verbal description of such people. The case went to court in April 2016. The court refused to discontinue the case on the basis of active repentance of the defendant, a 19-year-old vocational college student. In our opinion, his actions presented no public danger.

The same is true regarding the case of another student, 18-year-old Alexander Razhin of Omsk, sentenced to 120 hours of corrective labor under Part 1 of Article 282 in May. Razhin, under an alias, posted a comment on a social network regarding the news about the Marilyn Manson concert in Omsk, cancelled due to pressure from Orthodox activists, in June 2014. The comment was qualified by the linguistic expertise as containing “the signs of humiliation of dignity of a group of people (Orthodox Christians – ed.) on religious grounds.”

In the same month of May, the Berdsk City Court in the Novosibirsk Region delivered a guilty verdict to 21-year-old Maxim Kormelitsky (repeatedly prosecuted in the past), who had published on his VKontakte page a photograph depicting people bathing in the ice-hole, accompanied by an insulting caption. The court found Kormelitsky guilty of inciting religious hatred, sentenced him to a year in a settlement colony, and extended his term by three months, since he was still on probation related to his earlier suspended sentence. During the investigation, Kormelitsky stated that he was an “ardent atheist” and had a negative attitude towards “propagandists of religion.” According to him, he wanted to characterize the “mental state of people, who sacrifice their health for the sake of religion.” In our opinion, the image in question provided no reason for a criminal prosecution.

In April, the Kirovsky District Court of Yekaterinburg referred “Voodoo Master” Anton Simakov for compulsory mental health treatment. Simakov performed a certain ceremony in his office in October 2014, with the purpose of exerting magical influence on the Ukrainian authorities. It 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 traditionally read during church funeral services, a small wooden cross, and a rooster for a sacrificial animal, whose blood the “Voodoo Master” sprinkled on the above-listed objects. All of this was recorded on video and found its way online. We believe that the actions, committed by Simakov, should not be qualified as a crime under Article 148 of the Criminal Code; he had no intent to insult the Christian symbols, but merely used them for his own ceremony.

The verdict under Article 148 Part 1 in the case of two residents of Sosnovka in the Vyatskopolyansky District was issued in June in the Kirov Region. The court found Konstantin Kazantsev and Rustem Shaidullin guilty of placing a stuffed dummy, made for that purpose and accompanied by an insulting inscription, on a high cross in the village of Staraya Malinovka; each of them was sentenced to 230 hours of mandatory labor. In our view, the convicts’ actions presented no public danger and should have been appropriately qualified as an administrative offense, rather than a crime.

An absurd case against an atheist was opened in September 2016 in Yekaterinburg. Videoblogger Ruslan Sokolovsky was charged under Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (incitement to religious hatred) and Article 148 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (insulting the feelings of believers). Sokolovsky has remained under investigation since September 2016, and spent a considerable part of this time in a pre-trial detention unit. Now, he has filed an appeal against the arrest in the ECHR. In February 2017, before his case went on trial, the court, once again, released him under house arrest, but extended his term until mid-August. Sokolovsky faces charges of inciting hatred and insulting the feelings of believers for publishing videos full of provocative remarks, primarily atheist in their character. The blogger's story of catching Pokémon in the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Spilled Blood in Yekaterinburg was viewed as particularly offensive to the believers. We believe that charges for humiliation of dignity on religious grounds for rude statements against believers could have been appropriate, but humiliation of dignity should be removed from the Criminal Code.


In December 2016, it became known that a prosecutor's office in Chelyabinsk had issued a warning to Ekaterina Omelchenko, a student of the Yuzhnouralsk State University, who created a petition against the construction of a chapel in Chelyabinsk. The prosecutor's office warned the student about the impermissibility of “unlawful actions,” having concluded that she could “possibly, in the future, commit acts that incite religious hatred and enmity,” covered under Article 5.26 of the Administrative Code (violation of the legislation on freedom of conscience), as well as Article 148 Part 1, and Article 280 of the Criminal Code. After creating her petition, Omelchenko wrote the following Facebook post: “Once, there were the great 1960s, when – I can be mistaken, but that’s what I know – Polet radio plant, which was the most powerful at that time, beautified this square and planted the fur trees. Now, Polet is on the verge of bankruptcy and is about to close down – and an Orthodox chapel is being inappropriately built on the site of this square. I do not like such a spirit of the times. Meanwhile, a friend of mine, who works in the Russian Orthodox Church, is laughing in my face and saying “Hipsters can find another place for to hang out.” No, we will not look for another place.” According to the Prosecutor's Office, this post “provoked unrest in the society, expressed in posting comments aimed at inciting religious discord.” From our point of view, there was nothing provocative about the student's actions. The actions of the prosecutor's office violated her right to freedom of expression.


Notably, Heiner Bielefeldt, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, presented a report at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March 2016 examining, in particular, the application of blasphemy laws in different countries, and called for their general revocation.[10] According to Bielefeldt, these laws restrict freedom of expression and contribute to manifestations of hatred and intolerance on religious grounds. Religious minorities tend to be the first to suffer from their enforcement. This occurs most frequently in Asian countries; however, in Europe, where these laws were largely preserved as a relic, their existence contributes to suppression of criticism and incitement of intolerance, discrimination and hatred of certain groups of the population on the basis of their religious affiliation. In the countries, where blasphemy laws have been adopted recently, they are also aimed primarily at protecting the religious majority. Specifically in Russia’s case, they protect the Orthodox, rather than the feelings of religious minorities, increasingly harassed and arrested under the guise of fighting extremism. Bielefeldt stated that, from his point of view, allowing the fight against extremism to lead to restrictions on the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens is unacceptable.


Misusing the Criminalization of Incitement to Hatred

Several verdicts, handed down by the Russian courts in 2016 for incitement of all kinds of hatred, give us reasons to doubt the expedience of criminal prosecution in these cases. We readily concede that the share of such sentences among the verdicts issued under Article 282 of the Criminal Code in 2016 could be, in fact, much larger, and we simply lack necessary information to assess the extent of their legitimacy. However, we have repeatedly said that the scale of prosecution against citizens under this article (and for public utterances in general) raises serious concerns.


The Zelenograd District Court in Moscow sentenced previously convicted 20-year-old Yevgeny Kort to a year of imprisonment in a settlement colony under Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (incitement to ethnic hatred) in November 2016. Kort was charged with publishing on VKontakte a collage that included neo-Nazi Maxim “Tesak” Martsinkevich and a man resembling Alexander Pushkin. The image depicts Tesak pressing Pushkin against the wall; the action is accompanied by an offensive xenophobic comment. The investigation found that the image contained a “set of psychological and linguistic indicators of denigrating non-Russians.” The defendant argued that he had not published the image but was merely keeping it in an album on his social network page, but technically there is no difference between saving and posting. We view the criminal prosecution for publishing a single image, the content of which allows various interpretations, as inappropriate, and the punishment as disproportionately harsh. Kort appealed the verdict, and the Moscow City Court softened the sentence to a fine of 200 thousand rubles in January 2017.

In February, the Kirov District Court of Yekaterinburg found Semyon Tykman, a teacher in Or Avner Jewish Gymnasium, guilty of inciting hatred; the verdict was upheld by the Sverdlovsk Regional Court in June. Tykman was sentenced to a fine of 200 thousand rubles and released from punishment due to the statute of limitations. The case was opened based on claims, filed with the Prosecutor’s Office by the parents of two students in the school. According to the girls, in the winter of 2013, Tykman instructed them to spit in the direction of Orthodox churches when walking past them, as he was doing; he also argued that all the Germans should be annihilated for what they did to the Jews during the Second World War. During the trial, the only evidence against Tykman consisted of the records of the FSB employees interviewing two minors – of questionable reliability, since the two texts were almost identical. Tykman has never admitted his guilt and expressed his readiness to appeal his sentence all the way up to the European Court of Human Rights.

In July, the Elista City Court of the Republic of Kalmykia issued its verdict against Said Osmanov, who had desecrated a statue of Buddha. Osmanov was found guilty under Article 148 Part 2 of the Criminal Code and Part 1 Article 282 of the Criminal Code (incitement of ethnic hatred or enmity). The court gave him a suspended sentence of two years’ imprisonment with a one year probation. In spring, 2016, Osmanov, a Dagestani athlete who arrived in Elista for a freestyle wrestling competition, entered a Buddhist temple at night along with teammates, urinated there and kicked a Buddha statue in the nose with his foot. Osmanov published the video recording of his vandalism on the Internet. We do not deny Osmanov’s guilt, however, we doubt the appropriateness of the verdict with regard to incitement to ethnic hatred, since neither the media nor the law enforcement in reports mention any statements, made by Osmanov during his action in a Buddhist temple.

In early August, we learned about the verdict to Mukhidin Yusupov under Article 280 Part 1 (public incitement to extremist activities) and Article 282 Part 1. Yusupov was sentenced to four years in penal colony, with a two-year ban on serving in any public or political official position, for the crimes of inciting his inmates in a Moscow jail to participation in the religious struggle in Syria and making statements that incited hatred of the police. We consider Yusupov’s verdict at least partially inappropriate. First, we don’t view the police as a vulnerable population group in need of protection against acts of hatred under Article 282 (this consideration is applicable to a number of other cases reported below), and next, we believe that Yusupov’s statements in the presence of three fellow inmates can hardly be considered public.

A similar case was initiated in 2016 against an English language instructor from Vladivostok, who, while playing volleyball on an embankment court, “used phrases and idioms” humiliating dignity of the Russians.[11] If the instructor’s statements were not made in the presence of numerous passers-by on the street, but could only be heard by the conflicting parties on the court, they should not have been considered public. In addition, we also believe that humiliation of dignity should be removed from Article 282, since it does not pose a serious public danger (this consideration also applies to many cases mentioned in this report).

An investigation in the case of Tatar writer Aydar Khalim was completed in April in Kazan. The writer was charged with inciting ethnic hatred for making emotional statements about the Russians, including references to Russian President Vladimir Putin, during his address at a rally in 2014. In his speech, Khalim reportedly reiterated the thesis of his own book To Kill an Empire [Ubit Imperiyu] about the “biological death” of the Russian people, and said that the Russians could only be saved after “getting rid of Putin.” Apparently, even though Khalim holds rather radical nationalist views, the above speech contained no calls for aggressive actions towards Russians, but merely expressed his personal opinions regarding the political course of the Russian authorities and the imperial mindset. The indictment in the case was not confirmed by the prosecutor's office of the republic.

In October, the Presnensky Court of Moscow found blogger and media manager Anton Nossik guilty under Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (incitement of ethnic hatred) for publishing the post Erase Syria from the Face of the Earth on his LiveJournal blog in October 2015. Nossik was sentenced to a fine of 500 thousand rubles; the defense appealed the verdict, and the Moscow State Court reduced the fine to 300 thousand rubles in December. Nossik, however, continues to fight against the verdict, and has filed an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights. In his post, Nossik called for carpet-bombing of the Syrian territory to the point of complete destruction of the civilian infrastructure of the country and praised the killing of civilians, including children, as well-deserved. We believe that Nossik’s statements really contained the calls for gross violations of humanitarian law, in fact, for war crimes, as well as the statements about inferiority of the Syrians, and therefore could incite hostility toward these people as a group. However, in our opinion, the criminal prosecution against the blogger was unnecessary, since his statements presented very little social danger – hostility toward the Syrians is far from widespread in Russian society, and, as for his calls for carpet-bombing, they were addressed to the governments of various countries, and Nossik’s opinion has no effect on their decisions.

The Nakhimovsky District Court of Sevastopol issued a 2-year suspended sentence to a local resident Vitaly Slavikovsky under Article 282 Part 1 in January. He was found guilty of incitement to hatred against members of particular ethnic groups as well as against fans of the FC Spartak Moscow for posting materials on VKontakte. We view the charge as partially inappropriate – the Spartak fans are not a vulnerable group in need of protection under anti-extremist legislation. This example clearly demonstrates that the vague notion of “social group” should be excluded from the anti-extremist articles of the Criminal Code.

The Dzerzhinsky District Court of Yaroslavl issued a one-year suspended sentence with a probation period of one year to a local resident. He was found guilty under Article 282 Part 1 for posting on his VKontakte page in July 2015 publicly accessible texts that incited hatred and hostility towards the law enforcement officialsand “the opponents of Fascism.” We view this verdict as inappropriate, because anti-fascists do not belong to vulnerable population groups and the law enforcement personnel is already protected by other Criminal Code articles.

In 2016, we learned about two new court cases related to inciting hatred against representatives of social groups that, in our view, need no special protection. A 29-year-old resident of Tula was charged under Part 1 of Article 282 for posing materials, “humiliating dignity of the Great Patriotic War veterans and the Red Army soldiers” on his VKontakte page. Gorokhovets resident Michael Pokalchuk (the Vladimir Region), like the aforementioned resident of Yaroslavl, was prosecuted for inciting hatred against the anti-fascists.

Several new cases related to incitement of hatred against the law enforcement officers were initiated in 2016: Evgeny Domozhirov, who headed the Vologda branch of the Party of Progress, Shamil Kazakov of Tver (his charge under Article 282 of the Criminal Code was dropped already in court) and ultra-right activist Dina Garina from Saint Petersburg (the court returned this case to the prosecutor’s office in February 2017).

In Kazan, Danis Safargali, the leader of Altyn Urda [the Golden Horde] Tatar Patriotic Front, was accused of many counts of inciting hatred based on the fact of his 15 publications on VKontakte. We believe that these charges are at least partially inappropriate. Criminal responsibility for criticizing or insulting the president of Russia, the authorities or the media is inappropriate, since neither of these categories represent a vulnerable group in need of protection under anti-extremist legislation. Charges of incitement to national and religious enmity against Safargali are not too convincing either. Perhaps, the true reason for the prosecution against Safargali was his involvement in a domestic conflict with the owners of the dormitory, where he had worked as a manager.


Prosecutions for Extremist Symbols

In 2016, we recorded 17 cases of imposing sanctions for demonstration of Nazi or extremist symbols that obviously were not intended as dangerous propaganda – approximately half as much as a year earlier. Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offences (propaganda or public demonstration of Nazi attributes or symbols, as well as symbols of extremist organizations) was utilized to improperly fine and/or subject to administrative arrest not only users of social networks using Nazi symbols in the heat of controversy to expose opponents, but also antiques dealers or even random citizens. Often, this article was used to exert pressure on activists that fell out of favor with the authorities. For example, in October, the Sortavala Town Court issued a fine of one thousand rubles to Vitaly Rystov, a local historian and the art director of the Serdobol anthology, under Part 1 Article 20.3 of the Administrative Code (public display of Nazi symbols). Rystov was charged for publishing three historical posters with swastikas on his VKontakte page. He denied his guilt, stating that he had saved the posters on his page for professional purposes and had not been aware that strangers could see it. Judging by the content of his account, Rystov adheres to leftist-patriotic views, and there are no reasons to suspect him of supporting Nazi ideology. On the other hand, the media reports a number of conflicts between Rystov and the city authorities in connection with his position on protecting the Sortavala cultural heritage sites.


Incidental Victims of Inappropriate Anti-Extremism

As in previous years, people and organizations that are clearly not related to any radical activity continued to become victims of inappropriate enforcement of anti-extremist legislation in 2016.

Prosecutors continued to impose sanctions on libraries that arise from the contradiction between the law “On Librarianship,” requiring the libraries to provide unfettered reader access to collections, and anti-extremist legislation forbidding mass distribution of prohibited materials.

As you may remember, prosecutors charge libraries with a variety of offences from presence of banned materials (usually books) in their collections (despite the fact that libraries have no legal ground for de-accessioning these materials) to the text of libraries’ bylaws that fails to mention the ban on dissemination of extremist materials.[12]

According to our admittedly incomplete data,[13] at least 281 instances of unlawful sanctions against library management were reported in 2016, including school libraries (vs. at least 322 in 2015).

Some actions of law enforcement officers in the framework of anti-extremist legislation can be explained only by their desire to improve their reporting statistics in the field of combating extremism. This, in particular, pertains to warnings about the impermissibility of violating the law on extremism, issued by law enforcement agencies to the organizers of mass events and public gatherings whether or not the event participants are inclined to radical actions.


The Internet and Anti-Extremism

In 2016, Russian authorities continued to actively use the existing tools for blocking online content. As we mentioned before on multiple occasions, both selection criteria and blocking mechanisms give reasons for serious concerns.


General Blocking Practices

The Unified Registry of Banned Websites, created in 2012, has continued to add resources that contain pornographic information or images, 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, by court decisions, the Registry comes to include materials that are recognized as extremist, or materials similar to those.

According to the data available to us (only Roskomnadzor maintaining the Registry has the full information), at least 486 resources blocked for “extremism” by the courts were added in 2016, vs. 283 in 2015; thus, the growth rate of the Registry has increased significantly. Information about specific resources on the Registry can be found in the SOVA Center’s report on racism and xenophobia for 2016.[14]

Websites and webpages, subject to restrictions under Lugovoy’s Law and added to a special registry on the Roskomnadzor website (created in addition to the Unified Registry of Banned Materials), should be mentioned separately. The law allows the Prosecutor General's Office to demand that Roskomnadzor immediately block websites containing “calls for mass riots, undertaking extremist activities, inciting interethnic and (or) inter-confessional enmity, participating in terrorist activities, participating in public mass actions carried out in violation of the established order.” In our opinion, extra-judicial restrictions of users' access to websites violate the right to freedom of speech and information. It must also be taken into account that the requirements of the Russian law on rallies run contrary to the right to freedom of assembly.

According to the data available to us (only Roskomnadzor has the complete information), the Registry of resources blocked under Lugovoy’s Law increased by at least 923 items in 2016. Only 133 new entries were added in 2015, which means that the growth rate of this registry increased even more than the other ones. You can find more detailed information about the number and character of the blocked sites from the above-mentioned 2016 report on racism and xenophobia.

We view unfounded restrictions on oppositional materials, announcements of oppositional actions, as well as inappropriately banned religious materials, materials of nationalists, analysis of the Ukrainian situation, materials of a comic or satirical nature as inappropriate. We are also concerned about the mass blocking of any information related to the persecution of adherents of the radical Islamist party Hizb ut-Tahrir in Russia.

In addition, it is worth noting that, in 2016, Russian courts issued decisions on blocking dozens of anonymizing websites based on prosecutorial claims. As a rule, prosecutors justify their demands by the fact that, with the help of such services, Internet users can access extremist materials. However, the anonymizers, in and of themselves, contain no forbidden information. Meanwhile, access to prohibited materials can be achieved through other tools, including conventional search engines, since they can’t be completely removed from the global network, but this possibility can’t be used as a basis for cutting off access to search engines. Similarly, the fact that printing houses can theoretically print extremist materials can’t be used as a basis for closing them down.


Selected Examples of Access Restrictions

Details on several noteworthy cases of bans and blocking of webpages are provided below.

In early February 2016, Roskomnadzor added a YouTube page with Pavel Bardin’s movie Russia 88 to the list of banned websites, thus blocking it on the territory of Russia. This 2009 movie about neo-Nazis, anti-fascist in its ideology, was shown in Russia and received various cinematic prizes. The decision to block it was issued by the Naryan-Mar City Court of the Nenets Autonomous District, based on a claim by the local prosecutor's office. The grounds for blocking were as follows: in 2012, the Leninsky District Court of Kemerovo banned a xenophobic video Russia 88 (Babulka) based on assembled scenes from Bardin’s movie. The Naryan-Mar Prosecutor asked the court to block the banned video, posted on YouTube and as well as on VKontakte; the court also demanded that Bardin’s movie be blocked as containing fragments of the extremist video. In accordance with the usual practice in such cases, the filmmakers were not involved in the trial, and the court satisfied the prosecutorial request. Responding to the ensuing media resonance, Roskomnadzor appealed to the Prosecutor General's Office, arguing that the Naryan-Mar Court decision was problematic; it was subsequently overturned. The mechanism used by the Prosecutor General's Office to allow Roskomnadzor not to execute the court decision is not known.

Also in February, the Russian-language information and analytical portal Voice of Islam [Golos Islamа], based in Turkey, was blocked upon request of the Prosecutor General's Office. Lawyers, representing the interests of the portal, managed to prove that Roskomnadzor had violated the law, since, after blocking the site upon request of the Prosecutor General's Office, the agency failed to notify the editorial board specifically what materials should be removed for the restrictions to be lifted (also a common practice). The Prosecutor General's request to Roskomnadzor to block the Voice of Islam stated “The publications posted on the main newsfeed and in other sections of the website exhibit biased presentation of the material and hostile attitude towards certain social groups, in particular, towards representatives of law enforcement, government bodies and the leadership of the Russian Federation, and also toward Russia's foreign and domestic policies.” Pro-Turkish material about the Kurds, an article criticizing Assad, and an article about the persecution of Muslims in Russia were cited as examples. Having identified the objectionable materials in the course of this court case, the editorial board deleted them from the pages of the portal, and it was unblocked in July.

In the same month of February, the hosting provider of the Roskomsvoboda project ( received a notice from Roskomnadzor informing that one of the Roskomvoboda pages had been included in the Unified Registry of Banned Websites. The page on the Roskomvoboda website that provided information on the ways to bypass online access restrictions was banned by the decision of the Anapa City Court, which ruled that it could provide citizens with “access to prohibited materials, including extremist materials.” The Krasnodar Regional Court upheld this decision. Information on the ways to restore one’s access to information is not legally prohibited for distribution in Russia, so the decision to block the Roskomvoboda webpage was inappropriate. The Roskomvoboda administrators decided to replace the contents of the banned page with the scanned report of the Ministry of Communications, which also lists the tools for circumventing the restrictions. Subsequently, official Roskomnadzor representative Vadim Ampelonsky said that the court decision was considered fulfilled, and the resource was taken off the Registry.

In March 2016, SOVA Center received two letters from the Roskomnadzor, which reported that, according to the decisions of the Leninsky District Court of Kirov and the Kumensky District Court of the Kirov Region, two pages of the SOVA website contain illegal information and should be deleted, otherwise the site would be blocked. The information in question was a two-page reference book, created back in 2008 as part of a joint project of SOVA Center and Swedish EXPO anti-racist research center and magazine. The reference book was a Russian adaptation of Far-Right Movements and Their Symbols, a work by Swedish researcher Hakan Gestrin, published in Stockholm in the autumn of 2007, supplemented by the chapter on symbols used by Russian right-wing radicals. Like many similar reference books in other countries, this work is addressed primarily to teachers, police officers and other people facing ultra-right manifestations, primarily in the youth environment, and in need of factual knowledge on this subject, including the symbols being used. The standardized Roskomnadzor missives provided no information on exactly what violations of the law the courts found in the reference book, but, presumably, these had to do with Nazi symbols, prohibited by the Russian law for any kind of display regardless of whether or not it was aimed at propaganda of Nazism. To avoid access restrictions, SOVA Center had to delete the reference material, leaving only a link to the page on another site that posted it.


Below we would like to provide some examples of information, related to public activities held without permits, blocked under Lugovoy’s Law. We believe that the provision of the Lugovoy’s Law on blocking information about public events clearly limits freedom of speech – the fact that the event have received no permit (or simply have not yet received its permit) gives no grounds for banning communication about it. The requests to block events that do not require official coordination are even more problematic.

In February 2016, upon request of the Prosecutor General's Office and Roskomnadzor, the website of the Open Russia movement deleted from its pages the article Short Memory. The City Administrations Refuse to Coordinate the Actions in the Memory of Boris Nemtsov. According to the overseeing agencies, the text contained “calls for mass riots, carrying out extremist activities, participation in mass (public) events, conducted in violation of the established order.” These claims were obviously related to the fact that the article dedicated to the events in the memory of Boris Nemtsov, murdered a year earlier in Moscow, cited the words of the Nizhny Novgorod activists, who were urging citizens to attend the memorial action in the city center, despite the absence of the official permit.

In October 2016, the social network VKontakte blocked the page of the meeting called “March against Hate-2016” upon request of the Prosecutor General's Office. It was reported earlier that the Saint Petersburg authorities had refused the permit to hold another March against Hate in the memory of Professor Nikolai Girenko, killed by neo-Nazis in 2004. Having received a refusal from the city authorities, the activists, via the channels available to them, expressed their intention to hold the event in the format of a walk.


Other Sanctions

At least 12 individuals and legal entities – owners of cafes, computer clubs, and school administrations – were inappropriately fined for low quality of their content filtering under Article 6.17 of the Administrative Code (violation of the legislation on protection of children from information that is harmful to their health and (or) development).

Schools and libraries still often face the prosecutorial wrath. As you may remember, all their computers are supposed to be equipped with filters restricting access to the forbidden information, including extremist materials. If the protection system does not work or works inadequately (and ideal filters simply do not exist), prosecutors issue their motions not to software developers and vendors, but to administrators of educational institutions and libraries; as a result, the “culprits” are brought to disciplinary responsibility.

The number of inspections in schools and libraries in 2016 and various acts of the prosecutor's response based on their results stands at 59 – approximately one-fifth of the 2015 number (344). Our information is certainly incomplete, but it reflects the downward trend in the number of sanctions; obviously, educational institutions took note of the prosecutorial requirements and tightened their control over content-filtering systems.


Mass Media and Anti-Extremism

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 2016. Starting in 2014, Roskomnadzor no longer publishes on its website the list of warnings issued to founders and editors-in-chief of media outlets for violation of Article 4 of the Law on Mass Media (including those related to the “extremism prevention”). As reported by Roskomnadzor, it issued 64 warnings to media outlets in 2016, half of them related to the use of obscene language.[15]

We have information on just one media warning “for extremism” – the regional department of Roskomnadzor in Kaliningrad issued a warning to the publisher of the newspaper The New Wheels of Igor Rudnikov [Novye Kolyosa Igorya Rudnikova] in May 2016. The department decided that the article The Count-Surgeon from Königsberg, published by the newspaper “creates a negative image of Soviet soldiers who took part in the Great Patriotic War and contains information expressing obvious disrespect to the days of Russia's military glory,” possibly corresponding to a criminal act stipulated by Article 3541 Part 3 of the Criminal Code. The published material in question is based on the memoirs of Hans von Lehndorff, a surgeon, who worked in Königsberg and claimed in his memoirs that Soviet soldiers, liberating the city, looted and raped patients and hospital staff. In November 2016, the Central District Court of Kaliningrad recognized the warning as legally inappropriate. The court noted that April 9 (the day of the liberation of Königsberg, on the eve of which the article was published) was not featured on the list of memorable dates or the days of Russia's military glory; the Victory Day was not mentioned in the article, the material contained no negative information about it, and the author does not belittle heroic deeds of Soviet soldiers.


As in the preceding year, the Internet publication 7x7 was fined in 2016 under Article 13.15 of the Administrative Code in Syktyvkar. This time, 7x7 was sentenced by the decision of the Magistrate Court of the Kutuzovsky Court District, upheld by the Syktyvkar City Court, to a fine of 200 thousand rubles under Part 4 of this article (public desecration of symbols of Russia's military glory, committed with the use of mass media and (or) of the Internet). The charges were based on the publication of an interview with blogger Ilya Varlamov. Varlamov was asked some questions from the test, composed by Meduza news portal; one of the questions had to do with to the local nickname for the Syktyvkar Eternal Flame memorial. The expert council of the regional Roskomnadzor department decided that the fact of mentioning this moniker (Women frying a crocodile) was desecrating it as a symbol of military glory; subsequently, the agency went to court. Both hearings were held without representatives of the editorial board. We believe that ironic references to the folk nickname of the memorial, which merely mocks the appearance of a sculptural group, do not constitute a desecration of a symbol of military glory, and that the prosecution of 7x7 was not legally appropriate. The Supreme Court of the Komi Republic overturned the decision of the lower courts in June, although de-facto never considering the case on its merits. The higher court preferred to base its decision on the fact that the fined legal entity – the founder rather than the editorial board of the publication – couldn’t interfere in the activities of the Internet magazine and can’t be viewed as a distributor of the controversial information.

A Bit of Statistics

According to the data collected by SOVA Center, 19 verdicts against 44 individuals were issued in 2016 for violent crimes motivated by hatred; 181 verdicts against 198 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). Five verdicts against six individuals were issued for ideologically motivated vandalism.[16]

The number of people with obviously inappropriate convictions was much smaller.[17] Let us review these sentences grouped by the relevant Criminal Code articles (the details of these cases are reviewed in corresponding chapters of this report).

We view as inappropriate 10 verdicts to 10 persons issued in 2016 under Article 282 (in our comparable 2015 report we wrote about 7 verdicts to 7 persons). These include the sentences to housewife Ekaterina Vologozheninova from Yekaterinburg and retired sailor Vyacheslav Kuteynikov from Rostov-on-Don for publishing pro-Ukrainian materials on social networks, to teacher Semyon Tykman from Yekaterinburg for his statements at school against the Germans and the Orthodox believers, to student Alexander Razhin from Omsk for using obscene language with regard to the Orthodox believers following the cancellation of the Marilyn Manson concert, to Maxim Kormelitsky from Berdsk, for similar statements regarding Orthodox believers bathing in the ice-hole on the Epiphany Day, to sportsman Said Osmanov from Dagestan convicted in Elista for inciting ethnic hatred after desecrating the Buddha statue, to twenty-year-old Muscovite Yevgeny Kort for publishing a xenophobic image on a social network, to a Yaroslavl resident accused of inciting hatred against the anti-fascists and the law enforcement officers on a social network, to Khasavyurt imam Magomednabi Magomedov for his sermon critical of the authorities and the communists in relation to closing down of Salafi mosques, and to Mukhidin Yusupov from Moscow, who called for a war in Syria and scolded law enforcement officers in a prison cell, rather than in a public space. In addition, we have serious doubts with regard to the criminal prosecution of blogger and media manager Anton Nossik, convicted of inciting hatred toward the Syrians. Two Jehovah's Witnesses from Sergiev Posad, Vyacheslav Stepanov and Andrei Sivak, were acquitted in the case of inciting religious hatred; however, the higher court sent the case for retrial.

We consider 22 criminal cases brought against 22 people under Article 282 of the Criminal Code in 2016 inappropriate, or at least we doubt their legitimacy. This is twice the number of such cases recorded in the preceding year, coming close to the 2014 data. However, four of these cases were dropped, and, in one case, the prosecution under Article 282 has been withdrawn in court.

According to our data, three inappropriate verdicts against 4 people were issued in 2016 under Article 148 Part 1 of the Criminal Code for insulting the feelings of believers: Konstantin Kazantsev and Rustem Shaydullin, residents of the Kirov Region, were convicted for hanging a homemade scarecrow with an insulting inscription on a high cross; Sergei Lazarov from Orenburg – for harsh epithets used in the text he had shared online about the image of Christ the Pantocrator; Anton Simakov from Yekaterinburg – for using Christian symbols in the voodoo ritual of his own invention, which had been recorded and posted online (Simakov was sentenced to mandatory mental health treatment). A new case under this article, opened against videoblogger Ruslan Sokolovsky from Yekaterinburg for publishing atheistic videos, has attracted significant media attention.

Two inappropriate verdicts were issued in 2016 under Article 3541 of the Criminal Code (justification of Nazism), both based on the social network publications: nationalist Vladimir Luzgin from Perm was convicted for his loose interpretation of the meaning of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and for his controversial statements about the history of the Bandera movement, while Minusinsk resident G. Nazimov was convicted for an image that, according to the law enforcement, insulted the St. George ribbon. We have no information on any new cases inappropriately initiated under this article in 2016.

Only one verdict was inappropriately issued under Article 280 of the Criminal Code in 2016. Astrakhan nationalist Igor Stenin received a real prison term for incitement to liquidation of the certain “Kremlin invaders” on the Ukrainian territory (six people were convicted under this article in 2015). We have doubts regarding one new case opened in 2016 under this article.

One inappropriate sentence (vs. 4 verdicts against 4 persons in 2015) was issued in 2016 under Article 2801 of the Criminal Code (calls for separatism) to Tver resident Andrei Bubeyev for sharing Boris Stomakhin's article about Crimea. At least 3 new cases against 3 people were inappropriately initiated under this article (vs. 4 against 4 in 2015).

In 2016, as in the preceding year, the courts did not issue any wrongful convictions under Article 2821 and did not open any cases for this article inappropriately.

One inappropriate sentence was pronounced under Article 2822 of the Criminal Code in 2016 (there were 5 such persons in the preceding year) for studying the books by Said Nursi; Yakov Tselyuk from Chelyabinsk was convicted of involvement in non-existent, but nevertheless banned, Nurcular organization. Six new cases under this article against 10 people were initiated inappropriately (we recorded 3 such cases in 2015), while one previously initiated case against six Jehovah's Witnesses from Taganrog was closed.[18]

Separately, outside of our general statistics, we would like to note the sentences to followers of Hizb ut-Tahrir, which we consider inappropriate in the part covered by the anti-terrorist articles (2052 or 2055). In 2016, we recorded 19 such verdicts against 37 people. A year earlier, there were 8 verdicts against 19 people, i.е. the number has doubled in comparison to 2015. In two of these cases, eight people also faced charges under Article 30 Part 1 and Article 278 of the Criminal Code – that is, preparing for government takeover – also inappropriately, in our opinion.

According to our information, there were no inappropriate sentences passed under Article 213 of the Criminal Code (“Hooliganism”) aggravated by the hate motive in 2016, and no new cases were initiated.

One inappropriate verdict was issued under Article 214 of the Criminal Code (“Vandalism”), in which the motive of hatred was not imputed. The sentence in question was issued to the actionist Pyotr Pavlensky for his “Freedom” action performed in 2014 in support of the Ukrainian Euromaidan. We have no information on any new cases inappropriately initiated in 2016 under this article.

So, the total of 19 inappropriate sentences against 20 people was issued under anti-extremist criminal articles in 2016, fewer than in the preceding year (24 verdicts against 29 people). At the same time, we know of at least 32 new criminal cases initiated during the review period without due cause, exceeding the 2015 number of 24 newly opened inappropriate cases; this is a cause for concern, since we see no signs of improvement in the quality of investigations.


Before proceeding to our data on use the Administrative Code articles aimed at combating extremism, we would like to remind that it is much less complete than our information in the area of criminal prosecution.

We know of at least 36 unlawful sentences (vs. at least 47 in 2015) against 26 individuals and 10 legal entities for mass distribution of extremist materials or for storage with intent to distribute – that is, under Article 20.29 of the Administrative Code – in 2016. We know that in 35 of these cases courts imposed fines, an administrative arrest in one case, and suspension of activities in one additional case. Defendants facing administrative responsibility included Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses, public activists, prison inmates, employees of the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia, and a bookshop owner. As a rule, these people did not engage in actual mass dissemination of prohibited materials.

At least 12 individuals and legal entities – owners of cafes, computer clubs, school administrations – were inappropriately fined for low quality of their content filtering under Article 6.17 (“Violation of the legislation on the protection of children from information that is harmful to their health and (or) development”). In 2015, 17 individuals and legal entities were fined under this article.

Sanctions for public demonstration of Nazi or other prohibited symbols, that is, under Article 20.3 of the Administrative Code, were inappropriately imposed on 17 individuals in 2016 (we recorded 39 such offenders in 2015). Fifteen individuals were fined; two were subject to administrative arrest.

The Federal List of Extremist Materials increased by 785 entries in 2016, vs. 667 entries in 2015. Thus, the growth rate of the List has increased again, although most of the growth took place in the first half of the year. However, we note that the trend towards increasing the number of materials within each entry – typical for 2015 and complicating any work with the List – has declined significantly; this change is probably connected to the increase in new entries. We consider the following materials to be inappropriately included on the list: at least eight entries that contain various non-dangerous oppositional and nationalist materials, seven entries containing various Muslim materials, five entries with materials of Jehovah's Witnesses, two entries containing materials of the True Orthodox Church, one entry with journalistic material, erroneously classified as inflammatory by the court, one historical essay and one entry with a pseudo-historical document. The above cases add up to the total of 25 entries, in comparison with 44 clearly inappropriate entries added in 2015. At least 6 entries consisted of Hizb ut-Tahrir materials, banned by association with the ban on the party, whether or not they contained dangerous incitement. We emphasize that we are not familiar with all the materials on the list, and the materials with content unknown to us could have also been banned inappropriately.


[1] Our work on this topic in 2016 was supported by several donors, including the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, the International Partnership for Human Rights and the state support funds, allotted as a grant in accordance with the decree of the President of the Russian Federation of April 1, 2015.

On December 30, 2016, the Ministry of Justice forcibly included SOVA Center on the list of “non-profit organizations performing the functions of a foreign agent”. We disagree with this decision and have filed an appeal against it.

[2]Additional details on the content and history of the adoption of the law can be found on our website: “Putin signed the “Ozerov-Yarovaya package” // SOVA Center. 2016. 7 July (

[3] Resolution of the Plenary Meeting of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation No. 41 on issues of judicial practice in criminal cases of terrorist and extremist nature // SOVA Center. 2016. 28 November (

[4] SOVA Center Comments on the Resolution of the Plenary Meeting of the Supreme Court on extremist and terrorist crimes // SOVA Center. 2016. 3 November (

[5] In May 2016, Nadezhda Savchenko was pardoned and released to Ukraine in exchange for two Russian citizens convicted in Ukraine for taking part in military operations in the Donbass.

[6] 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.

[7] In accordance with the 2014 law “On Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation (Concerning the Improvement in Counteracting Terrorism),” criminal cases concerning activities of terrorist organizations fall under the jurisdiction of three (taking the amendment of 2016 into account) district military courts.

[8] In March 2017, after a large-scale February inspection at the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, the Ministry of Justice filed a claim in the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation for liquidation of the organization on the grounds that it and its structural units continued to carry out extremist activities. The activities of the Administrative Center have been suspended pending the court's decision; this order can be extended to local communities. If their parent organization is banned, Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, numbering over than one hundred thousand, will find themselves outlawed; each of them will be threatened with criminal prosecution.

[9] Yehowist-Ilyinites (also Ilyinists, Ilyintsy, Jehovists, the Right Hand Brotherhood) is a religious movement founded in the 1840s by Nikolai Ilyin (1809-1890), based on elements of the Judaic and Christian traditions.

[10] Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief // Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights. 2015. 23 December (

[11] The instructor received a suspended sentence of two years in March 2017.

[12] A detailed list of possible charges can be found in our report, A. Verkhovsky, Inappropriate Enforcement of Anti-Extremist Legislation in Russia in 2011 // V. Alperovich, A. Verkhovsky, O. Sibireva, and N. Yudina, Xenophobia, Freedom of Conscience and Anti-Extremism in Russia in 2011. Moscow: SOVA Center, 2012 (

[13] We are sure that we never find out about the majority of sanctions imposed. Often, we know about the series of inspections, which was conducted and resulted in sanctions, but the number of warnings and other acts of prosecutorial response is not reported. In such cases, we counted the entire series as a single instance.

[14] See Alperovich Vera, Natalia Yudina. Old Problems and New Alliances. Xenophobia and Radical Nationalism and Efforts to Counteract them in 2016 in Russia (

[15] Roskomnadzor: In 2016 Regional Media Received Warnings for Obscene Language // Rossiyskaya Gazeta. 2016. 17 December (

[16] More in: Alperovich Vera, Natalia Yudina. Old Problems and New Alliances. Xenophobia and Radical Nationalism and Efforts to Counteract them in 2016 in Russia (

[17] It should be noted that in speaking of appropriate and inappropriate verdicts, we focus only on the merits; in most cases, we omit discussion of possible procedural violations.

[18] In addition, 4 sentences under Article 2822 of the Criminal Code (in conjunction with other articles of the Criminal Code) were issued in 2016 against 12 followers of Hizb ut-Tahrir, but we do not include them in our statistics of inappropriate verdicts, because we consider the prosecution of members of this party for participation in an extremist organization controversial, but acceptable.