Inappropriate Enforcement of Anti-Extremist Legislation in Russia in 2017
CREATION OF REGULATORY ACTS
ТHE PRACTICE OF THE EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
PRINCIPAL TARGETS OF PERSECUTION : Ideological Opponents of the Authorities : The “Ukrainian Question” : The Fight against Activists of Nationalist Movements in the Subjects of the Federation : Prosecutions for Calls for Extremist Activities and Incitement to Hatred toward Public Officials : Side Effects of the Fight for Tolerance : Abusing Criminalization of Incitement to Hatred : Prosecution for “Rehabilitation of Nazism” : Fight against Insults to the Feelings of Religious Believers : Religious Groups : Hizb ut-Tahrir : Tablighi Jamaat : Followers of Said Nursi : Other Muslims : Jehovah's Witnesses : Scientologists : Falun Gong : Banning Materials of Other Religious Movements : Prosecutions for Extremist Symbols : Sanctions against Libraries : The Internet and Anti-Extremism : General Blocking Practices: Other Sanctions : Mass Media and Anti-Extremism
A BIT OF STATISTICS
This report presents an analytical review of anti-extremist legislation and its misuse over the past year of 2017. SOVA Center has been publishing these annual reports on a regular basis since the mid-2000s to summarize the results of the monitoring carried out by the organization.
In 2017, Russian anti-extremist and anti-terrorist legislation was supplemented with new norms that restricted the rights of offenders convicted under the relevant articles of the Criminal Code. The laws to expand censorship in the field of online dissemination of information were adopted, and new initiatives appeared, which, in the near future, could allow the authorities to establish control over the work of foreign online social networks and search engines in Russia.
We observed no radical changes in anti-extremist law enforcement in 2017 – evidently, they can be expected no earlier than mid-2018.
Law enforcement agencies continue to take independent social network activity quite seriously, so activists can be sure that their Internet pages are under constant surveillance. The suppression campaign against criticism of Russia’s actions in the Ukrainian conflict – which, in the preceding years, used to trigger a particularly harsh law enforcement response – gradually began to recede into the background in 2017, giving way to the fight against the “revolution” and the opposition – hence the numerous law enforcement claims against supporters of Vyacheslav Maltsev and Alexei Navalny, as well as independent local activists. In some cases we consider these claims to be justified, in others they are obviously contrived, but, on the whole, the objective is to neutralize political opponents rather than ensure public safety.
Law enforcement agencies are still trying to follow the program of enforcing tolerance, which they receive from the top, and, since quantitative indicators obviously play a leading role in assessments of their performance, the number of sentences under Article 282 of the Criminal Code for incitement of hatred on the Internet continues to grow. Cases of inappropriate prosecution under this article are as numerous as ever. The scope of extrajudicial blocking of online materials is growing.
Law enforcement authorities continue to initiate criminal cases for insulting the feelings of believers, although the obvious absurdity of such cases gives rise to heated discussion in the society, and, occasionally, even to reconsideration and closing of the cases.
Religious organizations and movements not officially classified as “traditional” for Russia face growing persecution. The flagship organization of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia and all their local communities were banned from any further activities; believers have found themselves under threat of criminal prosecution. A criminal case for creating an extremist community has been opened against five members of the Church of Scientology in St. Petersburg.
Other notable trends include a sharp increase in repressions against the followers of the banned Islamic religious movement Tablighi Jamaat and against Muslims studying the legacy of the Turkish theologian Said Nursi; we also observed excessively severe sanctions against supporters of the radical Hizb ut-Tahrir party, which has been recognized as terrorist in Russia, despite the fact that it does not practice violence. The number of people, charged with involvement in these associations, has grown more than 50 percent, and, with increasing frequency, defendants have been sentenced to real prison terms not only for participating in the activities of organizations recognized as terrorist (in this case an offender can face up to 20 years in prison), but also for participating in the activities of organizations recognized as extremist.
Throughout the year, both legislative and law enforcement practices in the sphere of combating extremism remained a hotly debated topic. The society faced more and more issues related to the state’s invasion of the sphere of expression. In recent years, Russian citizens have often appealed to the European Court of Human Rights with complaints regarding the decisions by Russian courts that involve anti-extremist and anti-terrorist articles. Many of these appeals were communicated in 2017, and the first decision regarding the application of Article 282 has been issued, but it is unclear whether the position of the ECHR will have any effect on the Russian authorities’ course of action.
In 2017, the government continued its prior course on tightening its control over the Internet. New laws in this area are logically consistent with the course on stopping distribution of banned materials online, which worries both Internet industry representatives and the human rights defenders. However, the innovations of 2017 have had little impact on law enforcement practice so far.
In February 2017, the president approved changes to the Code of Administrative Offenses (CAO) that increased the liability of Internet providers for failure to fulfill their obligations to block pages based on information received from Roskomnadzor. A new Article 13.34 was introduced in the Code, establishing their liability in the form of a fine in the amount of three to five thousand rubles for government officials, 10 to 30 thousand rubles for individual entrepreneurs, and 50 to 100 thousand rubles for legal entities.
The law banning the use of anonymizers and VPN-services for access to blocked websites in Russia was signed in July and entered into force in November. The Federal Law on Information added a new Article 15.8, which requires such services to implement restrictions against banned materials under threat of sanctions, starting with blocking access to their own sites. At the same time, the regulations regarding the bloggers’ registry and their duties were removed from the Law on Information and the Administrative Code due to their lack of effectiveness. The Article 15.8 has not been used yet, as of late February 2018.
The draft legislation that seeks to fine search engines operators for failure to stop providing the links to prohibited sites (5 thousand rubles for citizens, 50 thousand rubles for officials, 500 to 700 thousand rubles for legal entities), introduced in the State Duma simultaneously with the above-described bill, passed the first reading in October; the second reading has not yet taken place.
In November, amendments were made (and immediately came into force) to the Laws “On Information” and “On Mass Media” with regard to “foreign agents” media; among their other effects, the amendments created the widest opportunities for blocking Internet resources. They make extrajudicial blocking possible not only with respect to websites that contain calls for extremist activity, riots, or participation in actions without permits, as previously stipulated by Lugovoy’s law, but also of websites that contain materials from “undesirable organizations” as well as “information, allowing to access” to any of the above. The meaning of the phrase “information allowing to access” is not entirely clear. At the very least, it implies hyperlinks to the websites or any publications of “undesirable organizations” or to calls (even extremely dated ones) to participate in non-permitted actions – and such links can be found on numerous websites of all kinds. Probably, a website can also be blocked for posting instructions on obtaining anonymous access to problematic resources via VPN or anonymizers.
In mid-July, deputies Sergei Boyarsky and Andrei Alshevskikh (United Russia) introduced in the State Duma a legislative package that imposes on the administration of social networks the responsibility to remove illegal content and proposes million-ruble fines for non-fulfillment of this duty. The idea for one of the initiatives was borrowed from the authors of the notorious German law on social networks adopted in June 2017. According to the text of the amendments, social network operators, whose audience includes over two million users from Russia, are obligated to open their representative offices on Russian territory available round-the-clock to “restrict access to or delete, upon request from a social network user, the information shared in the network that is clearly aimed at promoting war, racial or religious hatred and enmity, information that is false and (or) discrediting the honor and dignity of another person or his reputation, other information, distribution of which is subject to criminal or administrative liability, within 24 hours from the receipt of such a request.” According to the authors of the proposed legislation, copies of illegal content should also be deleted; meanwhile, the information on the servers of social network operators should be stored for three months. It is not clear from the text of the draft whether social networks are expected to make their own decisions based on the cited criteria or be guided by court decisions. It is also unclear if the authors of the draft laws seek to punish social networks only for failure to receive user complaints, review them in a timely fashion and submit reports to Roskomnadzor, or whether social networks that demonstrate unjustified (as the authorities see it) reluctance to delete problematic content would also be considered in violation. Taking into account the fact that all the social networks already have mechanisms for handling complaints and removing content, we have to conclude that the proposed mechanism is an instrument of state censorship. The Boyarsky and Alshevskikh package were approved by the State Duma’s Committee on Information Policy, Information Technologies and Communications, but faced serious criticism from the government commission, although the commission supported its concept in principle. The package was never submitted in the first reading in 2017, but, most likely, its consideration was only temporarily postponed.
New restrictions for media outlets, primarily the foreign ones or the ones using foreign funds, fit the same trend of strengthening control over the flow of information.
The amendments to the Law on Mass Media, signed in July, imposed a ban on establishing media outlets for persons who are deprived of their liberty, or have a criminal record for committing crimes using the media or the Internet, or a criminal record “for committing crimes related to carrying out extremist activities. The amendments also allow Roskomnadzor to refuse permission to distribute a foreign periodical or to revoke such a permission, if the publication fails to comply with the article of the law on misuse of the media or with anti-extremist legislation in general.The text of the Law does not describe the mechanism to be used by Roskomnadzor to detect violations of anti-extremist legislation, giving rise to concerns regarding the possibility of inappropriate extra-judicial decisions by Roskomnadzor that significantly restrict freedom of speech.
A new bill expanding the legislation in the sphere of relations with “foreign agents” was introduced in the State Duma in December. The bill proposes amendments to the Law on Mass Media and the Law on Information. First, it adds to the Law on Mass Media the stipulation that the recently introduced designation of “mass media outlets that perform the functions of a foreign agent” can also pertain to individuals. In fact, this status can be given to any person, who receives funds from abroad and systematically distributes any kind of information; the consequences are currently unclear. The draft bill also proposes that the “foreign agent media outlets” be ordered to establish the corresponding Russian organizations to represent them; the latter will automatically receive the same “foreign agent” status. Finally, according to this draft, materials and messages coming from the mass media outlets designated as “foreign agents” or their Russian subsidiary “foreign agents” must be accompanied by a disclaimer that these materials were created by a “foreign agent.” This requirement applies to any informational resources under threat of blocking. The bill was passed the first reading in January 2018.
A number of measures were taken in 2017 to increase the severity of the anti-terrorist and anti-extremist legislation.
In May, amendments were made to the Law on Administrative Supervision of persons released from correctional institutions. The amendments introduced changes to the provisions on administrative post-prison supervision, which affect, in particular, the fate of those convicted under anti-extremist and anti-terrorist articles. Now, offenders, convicted of serious and most serious crimes under a number of the Criminal Code articles – including Articles 2052 Part 2, 2055, 278, 282 Part 2, 2821, and 2822, which, in our opinion, are often used in inappropriate verdicts – could remain under administrative supervision until their conviction is expunged.
In July, a law was signed allowing to revoke an earlier act on acquiring Russian citizenship for some of those convicted of extremist and terrorist crimes. Supposedly, the court verdict regarding such crimes proves that, at the time of obtaining citizenship, an applicant falsely claimed that s/he was committed to respect the Constitution and legislation. Meanwhile, it is quite obvious that criminal intent could have been formed at a later point. There is a reason to fear that the law will be used to revoke the citizenship of (and subsequently deport) some immigrants or residents of Crimea.
In December, the President signed a law on increasing penalties for contribution to terrorism. The additions were made to the wording of Article 2052 of the Criminal Code (public incitement to terrorist activity or justification of terrorism) so that it came to include “propaganda of terrorism,” and added comments to the article to point out that propaganda of terrorism should be understood as “dissemination of materials and/or information aimed at forming the ideology of terrorism, convincing of its attractiveness or creating the sense of permissibility with respect to terrorist activities.” It should be noted that the concept of the “terrorist ideology” has not been defined in the Law on Combating Terrorism or in any other official document, therefore, it is unclear what kind of materials could be regarded as forming such an ideology. Additionally, according to the law, the penalties under Parts 1 and 2 of Article 2051 (contributing to terrorist activities) for inducing, recruiting or otherwise involving a person in committing crimes of terrorist nature were increased up to a life sentence.
In November, a plenary meeting of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation adopted a resolution that clarified certain aspects of the legislation on protecting the interests of children when resolving related disputes. In particular, the Supreme Court expanded the list of acts seen as falling within the definition of “abuse of parental rights,” which can be used as the grounds for termination of parental rights under the Family Code. The Supreme Court recommends adding to the list such acts as involving children “in activities of a public or religious association or other organization, with respect to which an enforceable court decision on its liquidation or prohibition of activities has been issued (Article 9 of Federal Law No. 114- FZ “On Combating Extremist Activity” of July 25, 2002; Article 24 of the Federal Law No. 35-FZ of March 6, 2006 “On Counteraction to Terrorism”). We would like to point out that the concept of “involving children in activities of the organization” has not been defined in the legislation, providing opportunities for its expansive interpretation by law enforcement agencies and courts. Moreover, the Supreme Court failed even to indicate that termination of parental rights should be preceded by a court verdict for involving a child in the activities of a banned organization. Thus, believers and political activists find themselves in a situation, in which they are facing not only potential inappropriate criminal charges for being involved in banned organizations, but also the threat of their children being removed from the family for no valid reason. We would like to remind that, in our opinion, a number of religious associations and organizations of a political nature are prohibited in Russia inappropriately. Even if the courts refrain from wide application of this Supreme Court resolution in their practice, the very existence of such recommendations creates an additional “preventive” instrument for exerting pressure on citizens and pushing them to abandon the beliefs, which the authorities find objectionable, or to give up their protest activity.
Only one significant legislative initiative of 2017 was aimed at “liberalization” of an anti-extremist legislative provision. In late June, the Ministry of Telecommunications posted a draft law amending Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offences (public demonstration of Nazi symbols and symbols of prohibited organizations). It has proposed to add a clarification to Article 20.3 Part 1 of the Code that the use of the banned symbols “in the works of science, literature, art, as well as for edifying, educational and information purposes does not constitute public demonstration, provided there are no signs of propaganda.” We welcome this initiative of the Ministry of Communications. SOVA Center has repeatedly pointed out the absurdity of banning any demonstration of Nazi symbols regardless of its context, as currently prescribed by Russian legislation. However, we believe that it would be simpler and more appropriate not to list specific exceptions; it would be sufficient to make propaganda of the corresponding ideology a necessary precondition for making demonstration of the banned symbols illegal.
Since the summer of 2017, the European Court of Human Rights has communicated several dozen appeals, in which the applicants dispute the application of anti-extremist and anti-terrorism laws as well as norms about insulting the feelings of believers in Russia. Obviously, the ECHR intends to create precedents for making subsequent decisions on numerous similar complaints coming from Russia.
Thus, in August the ECHR communicated eight appeals related to bans of or denial of registration to several religious organizations, prosecution for involvement in their activities, or recognition of religious works as extremist. All these appeals, filed with the ECHR in 2011-2017, were considered simultaneously since they all complained of similar violations of Articles 9, 10 and 11 of the European Convention that talk about the right to freedom of conscience, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association. The ECHR will review the rulings of Russian courts that affect the majority of the religious movements, whose adherents face discrimination on the territory of the Russian Federation – in particular, Muslims studying the legacy of Turkish theologian Said Nursi, followers of the Tablighi Jamaat movement and Salafis, as well as Scientologists, adherents of the Chinese spiritual practice Falun Gong and of Aum Shinrikyo international organization. The decisions to be made in Strasbourg are of fundamental importance for further judicial practice in the cases pertaining to religious organizations and, more broadly, in the matters relating to the right to freedom of conscience, both in Russia and in some former Soviet republics, whose religious policies are influenced by the Russian Federation. However, it should be borne in mind that Russia has repeatedly ignored the ECHR decisions in this sphere.
In the same month, the European Court of Human Rights communicated the complaints related to restrictions against a number of websites blocked by the Russian authorities in 2012-2016 under various pretexts: Kasparov.ru, Grani.ru and Ej.ru, the Roskomsvoboda project website and the Worldview of Russian Civilization. The ECHR combined these five complaints into a single case, seeing their cases as similar. The appellants believe that restricting access to the websites is illegal and “pursues no legitimate purpose.” The ECHR contacted the Russian authorities with questions pertaining to the case, and, in particular, asked whether the norms of Russian legislation on internet restrictions were “sufficiently specific and predictable in their application” and “whether they provided sufficient degree of protection against arbitrariness.”
As mentioned above, dozens of complaints in our area of interest were communicated in 2017- early 2018, including complaints related to the use of Criminal Code Articles 280, 282, 3541, 2052, 2822, 213 Part 2 and 214 Part 2, Code of Administrative Offenses Articles 20.29, 5.26, and bans against materials and organizations. The applicants pointed out violations of their rights to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, personal integrity, and a fair trial.
In October, the ECHR issued its first judgment on a complaint regarding the application of Article 282 of the Criminal Code, and upheld the claim of journalist and human rights activist Stanislav Dmitrievsky from Nizhny Novgorod. Dmitrievsky received a suspended sentence of two years under Part 2 Paragraph “b” of Article 282 (incitement of hatred or enmity, committed in the media with the use of official position) in 2006. The prosecution was based on the publication by Dmitrievsky – then the executive director of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society and the editor-in-chief of Pravo-Zashchita newspaper – printed in his newspaper the statements by Ahmed Zakaev and Aslan Maskhadov in the spring of 2004. The ECHR decided that Dmitrievsky’s conviction and the severity of punishment imposed on him could have a “chilling effect” on the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and discourage journalists from discussing matters of public significance, in particular relating to the conflict in Chechnya. Thus, the Russian authorities overstepped their margin of appreciation in limiting the discussion. The ECHR pointed out that Dmitrievsky’s verdict, taking into consideration the content of his publication and the circulation of the newspaper was not dictated by pressing needs of society and was disproportionate to the aims invoked by the Russian authorities. In this case, interference in the exercise of the right to freedom of expression was not necessary in a democratic society, and, therefore, violated Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to freedom of expression. Separately, the ECHR made an important observation that, when making a decision on the case, the legal argumentation of the court was in fact replaced by the quasi-judicial reasoning of the linguistics expert – and, indeed, this is a common practice in such cases. The ECHR ordered Russia to pay Dmitrievsky ten thousand euros in compensation for non-pecuniary damage and 3,615 euros in respect of costs. We hope that this decision of the Strasbourg Court will be of help in protecting the publishers’ right to disseminate information of public interest and, in general, will encourage Russian courts to consider cases under Article 282 of the Criminal Code more carefully.
As in previous years, in 2017, the Russian authorities continued to use anti-extremist legislation to address the statements related to the conflict in Ukraine and dissemination of various Ukrainian materials. Here we would like to examine the cases of clearly inappropriate or disproportionate law enforcement reaction.
In June, the Meshchansky District Court of Moscow found Natalya Sharina, the former director of the Library of Ukrainian Literature, guilty under Article 282 Part 2 Paragraph “b” of the Criminal Code (incitement of ethnic hatred or enmity with the use of official position) and Parts 3 and 4 of Article 160 (embezzlement committed on a large or an especially large scale) and received a suspended sentence of four years followed by a four-year probation period. The prosecution was based on the fact of finding prohibited Ukrainian literature in the library as a result of a search conducted upon request of a local Ukrainophobic municipal deputy. Safekeeping and providing access to literature is the responsibility of librarians under the Law on Librarianship, which conflicts with the official requirement to vet the names of books from existing collections and new acquisitions against the constantly updated Federal List of Extremist Materials. Currently, this contradiction is managed at the level of procedural instructions. However, we view the criminal charges of engaging in a conscious propaganda act (deliberate distribution of materials that incite hatred) against a librarian for failing to withdraw materials from circulation as clearly inappropriate.
In the same month, the Kaluga District Court of the Kaluga Region sentenced local resident Roman Grishin to 320 hours of mandatory labor, having found him guilty under Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code. He refused to comply and the court replaced the sentence with 40 days of imprisonment in a settlement colony. The charges of inciting ethnic hatred against Grishin were based on the video “A New Hit from Kharkov: This is Rashism, Baby” to a song by Boris Sevastyanov, which Grishin reposted on his VKontakte page in 2014. Sevastyanov’s song contains sharp criticism of Russian state propaganda and foreign policy in connection with its actions in Ukraine (which, according to the author, are characteristic of totalitarian regimes), but includes no calls for aggression. The video contains images of Nazi symbols and emblems of the prohibited Movement against Illegal Immigration (Dvizhenie protiv nelegalnoi immigratsii, DPNI), and its publication already led to an arrest of activists from Krasnodar in 2015 under Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (propaganda or demonstration of Nazi symbols). However, in this case, as in many others, demonstration of Nazi symbols has not been intended as propaganda of Nazi ideology, and, certainly, sharing this video does not correspond to the composition of Article 282.
In February, a court in Saratov issued a verdict under Part 1 of Article 282 (incitement of hatred on the basis of belonging to a specific ethnicity and social group). 19-year-old Alexander Gozenko was convicted for publishing on VKontakte in November 2015 four comments against ethnic Russians and “vatniks” [derogatory nickname derived from a cheap cotton-filled winter coat]; one of the comments contained incitement to violence against the latter (as indicated in the court's decision, Gozenko called for “organizing a holocaust for vata”). We have had no access to the full text of his comments, so we do not know whether Gozenko made any statements that provoked ethnic enmity. As for the social group “vatnik” or “vata” it should be noted that such a group simply does not exist. Law enforcement agencies rephrased this term as “patriots of Russia,” once again demonstrating that, in reality, it is not a social group, but adherents of a certain ideology. However, incitement of ideologically-motivated hatred is not covered by Article 282. Gozenko fully acknowledged his guilt, and the case was examined according to special procedure. The court sentenced him to 160 hours of mandatory labor. It must also be noted that Gozenko was still a minor at the time he left the incriminating comments.
A trial began in December in the Oryol Region on yet another case against poet Alexander Byvshev from Kromy opened in early 2017 based on the fact of the publication of his poem “On the Independence of Ukraine” in VKontakte in 2015. Byvshev was charged under Part 1 of Article 282 with incitement of hatred against Russians aimed at ethnic Ukrainians. In our opinion, this poem, recognized as extremist in 2016, indeed contains statements that can be interpreted as humiliating for residents of Russia. However, we believe that Byvshev’s poems have a political, and not a xenophobic, intent. We also believe that humiliation of dignity, should be excluded from the Criminal Code as an act of minor gravity. Earlier, in 2015, Byvshev was convicted for publishing a poem “To Ukrainian Patriots” – also inappropriately, in our opinion.
In November, the Petrogradsky District Court of St. Petersburg issued a verdict under Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code to Anatoly Pleshanov. The court imposed a one-year suspended sentence. The charges against Pleshanov were based on the statements, he left in the “Konakovo and Konakovsky District” VKontakte group in the summer of 2014. The author expressed extremely negative opinion with regard to Ukrainians who decided to move to Russia, and spoke out against the annexation of Crimea. The author also made negative statements regarding migrants from Central Asia, but was not found guilty of inciting hatred against them. According to the expert opinion, Pleshanov’s statements were “aimed at humiliating the dignity of groups of individuals on the grounds of ethnicity and belonging to a social group” [residents of Ukraine]. As stated in the opinion, “the author writes that he is dissatisfied with the help Russia and Russian citizens provide to residents of Ukraine, demonstrates a negative attitude towards residents of Ukraine – Ukrainians. The author believes that the actual population of Russia receives no such help and support in their own country.” At the same time, the experts found no “justification or rationalization of violence” or “calls for violent actions.” Since Pleshanov’s statements can only be regarded as humiliation of dignity on the basis of nationality, we saw no need for criminal prosecution in this case.
In September, the Simferopol District Court issued a verdict on the case of Ilmi Umerov, a Deputy Chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People. The court sentenced him to two years in a colony-settlement with a two-year ban on public activities, despite the fact that the prosecutor asked for a suspended sentence. The criminal case under Article 2801 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (public calls for actions aimed at violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation using media or the Internet) was opened in May 2016, after Umerov went live on the Ukrainian ATR channel in March and called for the return of Crimea to Ukraine. However, in our opinion, this did not give grounds for criminal prosecution – it is impossible to accuse residents of the area, who have never recognized Russia’s annexation of the territory to begin with, of separatism. In addition, the legality of Russia’s annexation of Crimea to Russia is questionable from the point of view of the international law, and the Crimean Tatars have the right to their point of view in this dispute. Umerov was sentenced to a real prison term despite his numerous health problems. However, in October, Ilmi Umerov along with another Deputy Chairman Akhtem Chyigoz, convicted on charges of organizing mass riots in the Crimea prior to the annexation of the peninsula, were released from custody and sent by plane to Turkey. According to media reports, they were pardoned by the president upon request of the mufti of Crimea, despite the fact that they had never applied for pardon. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said that the release of Umerov and Chyigoz happened due to the agreements with Turkish President Recep Erdogan.
In December, the Astrakhan Regional Court, once again, reviewed the case of Igor Stenin, the leader of the Russians of Astrakhan movement, and upheld his conviction issued by the Sovetsky District Court of Astrakhan in May 2016. At that time, the nationalist was sentenced under Article 280 part 2 of the Criminal Code (public incitement to extremist activities via the Internet) to two years in a settlement colony. We would like to remind that, in 2016, the lower court found Stenin guilty of publishing on VKontakte a post on the subject of the war in Ukraine, in which he made public calls for liquidation of the “Kremlin invaders.” He was also held responsible for a comment made by another user, which the investigation mistook for a post shared by Stenin). The appellate court (the Astrakhan Regional Court) approved this decision. Then, already in 2017, by the order of the Supreme Court, the verdict was reviewed by the appellate court and overturned for lack of corpus delicti. Stenin was released from the penal colony, where he was serving his sentence. We must admit that we know of no other such cases in the practice of anti-extremist law enforcement. However, in November, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation unexpectedly granted the appeal of the Prosecutor General’s Office and returned Stenin’s case to the appellate court for a new consideration, which, once again, found him guilty.
It was reported in June that the Investigative Committee in Ulyanovsk has dropped the criminal case under Article 280 Part 1 and Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code against Danil Alferiev, an activist of the Left Bloc, for lack of corpus delicti. The case against Alferiev was opened in the summer of 2016, when he was charged with inciting hatred against the social group “representatives of the authorities that currently run Russia,” based on the speech he delivered at the communist rally on November 7, 2014. The activist talked about “the fifth column sitting in the State Duma, which caused the Maidan to flare up in Ukraine and which must be cleaned out,” about the betrayal by “the United Russia, Medvedev and Putin” and about his own readiness to take part in the Donbass conflict and “cleanse Russia from the occupation,” if given the corresponding order by Zyuganov. As Alferiev explained later, his speech had been a “political art performance piece” – a parody of the speech by Andrei Kovalenko, the leader of the Eurasian Youth Union Moscow branch, which gained some popularity online. We saw no grounds for prosecuting Alferiev.
The Oktyabrsky District Court of St. Petersburg in 2017 banned five materials from Ukrainian websites (one video, three articles and a de-motivating poster were added to the Federal List of Extremist Materials) containing statements about the involvement of Russian special services in terrorist attacks that have taken place in Russia since the late 1990s, as well as in the terrorist attacks that took place on Ukrainian territory since the development of the military conflict there. The court relied on the provision of the law “On Combating Extremist Activity,” according to which public false accusations of this activity (and terrorism, in particular) against state officials constitute extremist activities. However, in our opinion, the trial failed to prove convincingly that the authors of the materials or commentators, whose opinion they cited, were putting forward “knowingly false” propositions, that is, such propositions, in which they themselves had no reason to believe. This provision of the law is problematic per se. It can be assumed that slanderous accusations of high-ranking officials in serious crimes can lead to destabilization, and therefore the legislator classified them as extremist activity, but it is not clear why some such accusations, say, of ideologically-motivated murders are considered a form of extremist activity, while others – for example, accusations of other criminal murders – are not. We believe that such a provision has no place in the law on extremist activity – accusations of any kind of crimes put forward by one person against another can be examined in court in libel suits (the question of what code should contain the article on libel needs a separate discussion).
In 2017, as in the preceding year, Russian law enforcement agencies continued to block Ukrainian resources, as well as sites that relocated to Ukraine after the annexation of Crimea under Lugovoy’s law. The reasons for restricting access to these resources are often quite obvious, since journalism during an armed conflict tends to use aggressive rhetoric, but the restrictions often affect analytical, information or satirical materials as well.
The actions by activists of nationalist movements in the constituent republics of the Russian Federation frequently attracts attention of law enforcement agencies. In 2017, a number of sentences were issued on the cases initiated earlier, while tense discussions about the official languages in the republics led to new instances of pressure against local nationalists.
In April, the Oktyabrsky District Court of Ulan-Ude found Buryat activist and blogger Vladimir Khagdaev guilty of public calls for separatism (Article 280.1 Part 2 of the Criminal Code) and of storing narcotic drugs on a large scale without the purpose of sale (Article 228 Part 2 of the Criminal Code) and issued a suspended sentence of three years with a three-year probationary period. We doubt that Khagdaev’s statements merited criminal prosecution. According to the investigation, “having personal convictions in favor of uniting the Mongolian peoples in a single state,” Khagdaev published a post and two comments, which contained calls for actions toward separation of Buryatia from Russia, on VKontakte under the pseudonym “Genghis Bulgadaev” in 2014 - 2015. 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 mentioned separation of Buryatia from Russia as a hypothetical scenario; this post definitely contained no separatist appeals. In his two 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?” Despite the radical nature of Khagdayev’s comments, it should be recognized, that they contained no specific suggestions and were left under the post that attracted almost no attention, so they hardly presented a significant public danger.
In May, the Vysokogorsky District Court of Tatarstan sentenced the Tatar nationalist Ayrat Shakirov to a fine of 100 thousand rubles under Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code for publishing the banned video “08.02.2013 Rally in Makhachkala” on VKontakte but released him from punishment due to the statute of limitations. Shakirov denied ever posting this particular video or a number of other videos he found on his page. The video, which provides the basis for the current prosecution against the activist, is on the Federal List of Extremist Materials. It contains the recording of a speech by Gadzhimagomed Makhmudov, representative of the Ahlus Sunnah organization, during the rally against the abuse of power by the siloviki (Russia’s military-security establishment), conducted with an official permission on February 8, 2013 in Makhachkala. Makhmudov’s emotional speech reflected his outrage at the difficult situation of Muslims in Russia, but contained no dangerous appeals, and, in our opinion, provided no grounds for a ban. It’s not entirely clear who was implied as the object of hatred allegedly incited by Shakirov, but in any case, the video does not substantiate such charges.
In October, the Leninsky District Court of Ufa sentenced Sagit Ismagilov, an activist of the Bashkir national movement to a fine of 320 thousand rubles under Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (the Supreme Court of Bashkortostan reduced the fine to 100 thousand rubles in December). Ismagilov was found guilty of reposting on VKontakte a text on the closing down of the Humanitarian Research Institute in Ufa, in which the author blamed the Tatars for the collapse of the Bashkir culture. The text was accompanied by a photograph of a book page with a fragment from the 16th-century poem containing invectives against the Tatars of the Golden Horde. In our opinion, works of the past centuries should not be evaluated for compliance with modern ideas of tolerance and, particularly, with legislation on extremism. Here we are in agreement with the relevant clarification recently issued by the Constitutional Court. The combination of the two texts can indeed be regarded as a statement aimed at humiliation of dignity on the basis of ethnicity. However, we believe that humiliation of dignity should be decriminalized as an act that does not pose a significant danger to society.
In August, the Vakhitovsky District Court of Kazan sentenced Danis Safargali, the leader of the Tatar Patriotic Front Altyn Urda [the Golden Horde] to three years of imprisonment in a minimum-security penal colony on charges of deliberately causing minor health damage (Article 115 of the Criminal Code), beating (Article 116), hooliganism (Article 213) and inciting hatred (Article 282). The verdict was approved by the Supreme Court of Tatarstan In November. We consider Safargali’s sentence under Article 282 (issued for 15 publications on VKontakte) at least partially inappropriate. Among other offences, Safargali was charged with the humiliation of the Russian president, government agencies and the media, but none of the above categories should be considered a vulnerable social group protected by anti-extremist legislation. The charges against Safargali of incitement to ethnic hatred (mostly with regard to politically-motivated posts) and of incitement to religious hatred (for the publication of a video to the song of the band Ensemble of Christ the Savior and Crude Mother Earth, critical of the ROC and the Orthodox radicals.) also did not appear very convincing.
The same Vakhitovsky District Court of Kazan discontinued in October the case of writer Aidar Khalim, charged with inciting ethnic hatred. The charges against Khalim were based on his emotional statements about Russians, including references to Russian President Vladimir Putin, made on October 11, 2014 during his address at the meeting dedicated to the Day of Memory of the Defenders of Kazan Killed in 1552. In his speech Khalim reportedly reiterated the thesis of his own book Ubit Imperiiu [To Kill an Empire] (later recognized as extremist) about the “biological death” of the Russian people, and said that Russians could only be saved after “getting rid of Putin.” Apparently, despite Khalim’s adherence to rather radical nationalist views, the above-mentioned speech contained no calls for aggressive actions towards Russians, but merely expressed his opinions on the policy of the Russian authorities and on the imperial mindset. Nevertheless, we assume that the writer was not convicted solely due to his venerable age and prominence in the republic.
In May, the Naberezhnye Chelny City Court granted the claim of the Republic of Tatarstan Prosecutor’s Office for the liquidation of the Naberezhnye Chelny branch of the All-Tatar Social Center (Naberezhnochelninskoe otdelenie Vsetatarskogo Obshchestvennogo Tsentra, VTOTs) and banning it as an extremist organization. The organization, formerly headed by Rafis Kashapov (convicted for incitement to separatism), was banned, despite its change of leadership.
In August, it became known that a criminal case had been opened in Kazan under Article 282 against unidentified persons based on the fact of the activity of the flagship organization – the All-Tatar Social Center. According to the Center, the case was triggered by a picket and a conference, conducted by the Center, dedicated to the fate of the Tatar language as the second state language in Tatarstan. During these events, critical statements were made about the language policy in the republic that cited the fact that Tatar is almost never used as an official language, and proposed various measures to maintain its status.
In mid-October, Tatarstan Prosecutor General Ildus Nafikov issued a warning to the VTOTs regarding the impermissibility of violating legislation on combatting extremism. The Prosecutor’s Office gave the organization two months to address the violation, which consisted of “carrying out its activities and issuing its decisions in the Tatar language only.” The Prosecutor’s Office stated that, according to the Federal Law on the State Language of the Russian Federation, Russian as the state language “is mandatory for use in the activities of organizations of all forms of ownership.” In addition, the prosecutors found “signs of information aimed at inciting hatred on the basis of “relation towards language” in the January address “Save the Tatar language” by the VTOTs presidium to deputies of different levels and political and public organizations of the republic, which proposed for discussion the idea of granting Tatar the status of the only state language in the Republic in order to counteract its gradual displacement. The Prosecutor’s Office regarded this suggestion as a discriminatory statement and declared that the VTOTs was seeking to “limit the rights and legitimate interests of Russian-speaking citizens.” It should be noted that violations of the Law on Language are not covered under anti-extremist legislation. As for the discussions regarding the status of a particular language, in our opinion, they do not violate the law, and VTOTs made no calls for discrimination on the basis of one’s linguistic identity.
Prosecution for various statements “against the authorities” presents a separate direction of the law enforcement agencies fight against “extremism.” In our opinion, such prosecution is appropriate only when dealing with dangerous incitement to specific violent actions; otherwise, it only fuels discontent in the society. We would like to remind that the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, in its Resolution No. 11 of the plenary meeting “Concerning Judicial Practice in Criminal Cases Regarding Crimes of Extremism,” of June 28, 2011, pointed out that the limits of permissible criticism against officials should be wider than in the case of ordinary citizens, and that criticism of political beliefs or organizations per se should not be seen as an act aimed at inciting hatred or enmity; this position was confirmed in 2016.
In August, the Tverskoi District Court of Moscow issued a verdict to members of the Initiative Group of the Referendum “For Responsible Power” (Za otvetstvennuiu vlast, IGPR “ZOV”), Yuri Mukhin, Valery Parfyonov, Alexander Sokolov and Kirill Barabash, who were found guilty under Part 1 of Article 2822 of the Criminal Code for continuing the activities of the organization recognized as extremist, namely the banned Army of People’s Will (Armiia Voli Naroda, AVN). Mukhin received a suspended sentence of 4 years followed by one year of restrictions on freedom and four years of probation; Sokolov was sentenced to 3 years and 6 months in a minimum-security penal colony; Parfyonov and Barabash – to 4 years in a penal colony each. Barabash was also stripped of his military rank of Lieutenant Colonel of the Air Force Reserve. The Moscow City Court considered the appeal on the case in December and reduced the prison terms for Barabash and Parfyonov from four years to three years and ten months in a minimal security colony due to extenuating circumstances – the court took into account Parfyonov’s health and the fact that Barabash was a combat veteran. We believe that the AVN, an organization of the Stalinist-nationalist kind repeatedly implicated in xenophobic propaganda, was banned inappropriately. The decision to recognize it as extremist was based solely on the ban of the leaflet: You have elected – You are to judge! (“Ty izbral – tebe sudit”), which contained a proposal to hold a nationwide referendum and adopt a new article of the Constitution and the corresponding law, according to which the president and members of parliament would be criminally responsible for the deteriorating quality of life of the population; it was also suggested that any attempts to evade punishment should put them outside the law. The call to conduct any kind of referendum, in our opinion, should not be regarded as extremist, therefore we considered the ban of the organization to be unfounded, and, accordingly, we also view prosecution for continuing the activities of the AVN as inappropriate.
In September, the Novocheboksarsk City Court in Chuvashia sentenced Alexei Mironov, a volunteer of Alexei Navalny’s Cheboksary headquarters, to 2 years 3 months in a settlement colony. Mironov was found guilty under Article 280 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (public calls for extremist activities via the Internet) and Article 282 of the Criminal Code (incitement to ethnic hatred) for his VKontakte posts. We do not consider the charge under Article 282 inappropriate, although, in our opinion, the offence didn’t deserve a real prison term. Meanwhile, Mironov’s conviction under Article 280 was based on the fact that he had posted on his VKontakte page an image of the identity card of a citizen, subject to military conscription, accompanied by the caption in English: “God bless the USA. Keep calm and f *** Russia” and with the text “I officially call for a violent change of government” placed on top of the image. In our opinion, such an anti-government statement of a general nature made by an ordinary citizen poses no danger to the state, especially since the audience of this post was minimal.
In November, the Krasnogvardeysky District Court of St. Petersburg issued a verdict in the case of Russian nationalist Vladimir Timoshenko, finding him guilty of inciting hatred toward the social group “employees of agencies and institutions of the state” (Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code), and sentenced him to two years in a maximum-security colony. The defense intends to appeal the verdict. Timoshenko was previously convicted in 2010 in the Novgorod Region for an attempt to prepare a terrorist attack (according to the investigation, he intended to blow up the wall of the Novgorod Kremlin to draw attention to the problems of “Russia and the Russian people,”) as well as in Kislovodsk, in 2011, for illegal manufacture and trafficking of weapons. In January 2015, while in a penal colony in the Novgorod Region, Timoshenko dictated over the telephone to his fiancée the text, which she then published on his behalf in the “Slavianskaia sila (“Slavic Force”) - Nord West Peterburg” community on VKontakte. The text was dedicated to the “fight” against “the antinational regime of Putin and his power base, the punitive-repressive apparatus” and contained a call to “deliver a crushing blow” against this apparatus. We believe that the verdict to Timoshenko was inappropriate – the published text (unlike other personal notes seized from him), contained а call only for an abstract “crushing blow,” not for any specific actions.
In December, the Miass City Court in the Chelyabinsk Region found Aidar Kuchukov guilty of incitement to ethnic hatred (Article 282 Part 1) and issued a 2-year suspended sentence with a 2-year probationary period. Kuchukov is a former investigator in the Miass police department and a former lawyer, who was deprived of his status for significant violations of his client’s interests in a criminal case. His political views are oppositional. He was found guilty on the basis of his 2016 publications on the social network Moi Mir, in which he “imposed provocative topics, unrelated to those being discussed, on the conversation participants, and posted messages grounded in ethnic hatred,” as well as used insulting language with respect to the Russians. We do not know whether Kuchukov made hateful xenophobic statements that incited hatred. However, from the report by the prosecutors, we know that Kuchukov was also charged for leaving comments under the news posted by various media outlets; in particular, he commented “about the inevitability of imminent defeat of the Russian Armed Forces in Syria, about the vulnerability of our weapons, about the antinational regime of Vladimir Putin and the rapid growth of popular protest aimed at changing the government” and “about illegal activities of the FSB in the Crimea, the antinational annexation of the peninsula, and the deterioration of quality of life in Russia because of it.” Such statements of opinion on political issues are not covered under Article 282 of the Criminal Code.
We view as partially inappropriate the verdict issued in February under Part 1 of Article 282 against 27-year-old resident of Tver. He received a suspended sentence of 1 year and 7 months for incitement to ethnic hatred, but also for publishing texts that humiliated representatives of several social groups, including “employees of internal affairs agencies;” the latter charge, in our opinion, is not covered under Article 282.
A similar new case, in which legitimate xenophobic propaganda charges were apparently combined with charges of inciting hatred against government officials, was opened in February against a 16-year-old teenager from the Tyumen Region.
It is worth noting that at least one person had such charges against him dropped in 2017. In November, the Gryazovetsky District Court in the Vologda Region acquitted civic activist Yevgeny Domozhirov, who had been charged under Part 1 of Article 282 for inciting hatred toward the social group of “Vologda police officers.” Domozhirov posted on his website a material, in which he, in harsh terms, described the local police officers, who had arrived to conduct a search at his house and then damaged his mother’s hand in the ensuing squabble. He was found guilty of insulting a police officer (Article 319 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced to 90 hours of mandatory labor.
In March, the Federal List of Extremist Materials came to include two images, banned in 2016 by the Central District Court of Tver. One of them is the de-motivating poster (No. 4071 on the List), described by the court as follows: “A poster depicting a man, who resembles president of the Russian Federation V.V. Putin with makeup on his face – painted eyelashes and lips – this, according to the author(s) of the poster, was intended as a hint regarding the supposedly non-standard sexual orientation of the Russian president. The text under the image (reproduced with original spelling and punctuation but with the obscenities removed): “Putin’s voters are like ... there seem to be many of them, but among my acquaintances there are none.” The de-motivating poster does not contain calls for incitement of hatred on any of the grounds listed in the law on combating extremist activity, and, therefore, its prohibition has been obviously inappropriate. The same can be said about the image included on the List as No. 4072 (“a poster-collage depicting three people, two of them (in the uniform of the Third Reich soldiers) resemble President V.V. Putin and Prime Minister D.A. Medvedev; a photograph of Kirill, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, with the caption “The invaders are in Moscow already” is on the right”). In our opinion, this collage is an instrument of political polemics and, in and of itself, does not call for any unlawful actions. However, the court found that both images insult the dignity of citizens on the basis of belonging to a social group, although in both cases it is impossible to establish the specific social group implied by the decisions.
Banning the image of the President in makeup was perceived as a funny oddity and actively discussed online, leading to quite serious consequences. In June, the Yelets City Court put local activist Gennady Makarov under arrest for five days under Article 20.29 CAO for distribution of the controversial image. Makarov’s post on VKontakte actually discussed the fact that the image had been recognized as extremist. The publication cited the corresponding item of the Federal List and criticized the court’s decision; the caption was not displayed. Makarov appealed the decision of the court in the ECHR; his complaint has been communicated.
We regard several other sentences, handed down by the Russian courts in 2017 for the incitement of various kinds of hatred, as inappropriate or insufficiently justified. It can be assumed that the percentage of such sentences, among those delivered in 2017 under Article 282, is, in fact, much higher, but, in most cases, we simply have no information to assess the degree of appropriateness of a verdict under Article 282. We can only repeat that the very scale of prosecution against citizens under this article (and for public utterances in general) raises serious concerns.
As noted above, in our opinion, anti-extremist articles should protect only the particularly vulnerable groups of the population. However, law enforcement agencies bring people to responsibility for inciting hatred to a wide variety of social groups.
Rapper David “Ptakha” Nuriyev was fined 200,000 rubles in Moscow in March 2017 for inciting hatred against “a group of persons united on the basis of “assisting law enforcement agencies in search and detention of criminals” and being representatives of the public organization Antidealer”. The prosecution was based on Ptakha’s speech in the 16 Tons club in September 2015 on the subject of the Antidealer movement, which contained insults against the movement’s activists and calls for unlawful actions (damaging their property), but no incitement to violence.
Mikhail Pokalchuk, a resident of Gorokhovets in the Vladimir Region received a suspended prison sentence with a 1-year probation period under Part 1 of Article 282 in February. He was found guilty of inciting hatred towards the social group “anti-fascists” by publishing a video on VKontakte. At least one new similar case – against a 28-year-old resident of Novgorod, who published on the same social network an image, “expressing his negative assessment of representatives of the social group antifa, which advocates the fight against fascism” in 2015.
A criminal case under Part 1 of Article 282 was opened in April in the Ryazan Region against a 22-year-old local resident accused of inciting national and religious hatred with his social network posts; he was also charged with “statements of hostile and insulting nature with respect to veterans of the Great Patriotic War.”
We were informed in November about the newly initiated criminal proceedings under Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code against Valery Bolshakov – the chairman of the Union of Workers of Sevastopol. He was charged with “giving a deliberate negative assessment of the social group “Terek Cossacks,” “acting on the basis of political and ideological hatred and enmity.” In addition to the fact that the Terek Cossacks can hardly be considered a vulnerable social group, it should also be noted that the incitement of political and ideological hatred is not covered by Article 282.
In mid-March, an English language instructor from Vladivostok received a suspended sentence of two years for, “using phrases and idioms” humiliating dignity of the Russians, during a volleyball game on an embankment court. Since his statements were heard not by numerous passers-by on the embankment, but only 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. A similar case under Part 1of Article 282 was opened against a resident of Kurshavy, a village in the Andropovsky District of the Stavropol Region. According to the investigators, in the summer of 2016, in an unnamed store in Nevinnomyssk at night the suspect “used expressions against a woman passerby, aimed at humiliation based on ethnic criteria, undermining trust and respect for nationalities other than his, inciting feelings of hostility toward her, and called for hostile actions of one group of people against another based on ethnicity.” It is unlikely that he verbally assaulted the woman in the presence of large audience, so his statement should not be considered public.
In May in Cheboksary 61-year-old local resident Vladimir Avdeev received a suspended sentence of 2.5 years for publishing three compositions of Ensemble of Christ the Savior and Crude Mother Earth, which have been put on the Federal List of Extremist Materials (p. 3011): “Breaking the Crescent,” “Heart Takes No Orders,” and “Crucify All These Deputies.” Avdeev claimed that he had shared on his social network page someone else’s post about the fact that the songs had been added to the Federal List, and that post had the audio recordings of the banned songs as an attachment, but this circumstance had no effect on the court decision. The song “Heart Takes No Orders” comically extols Hitler; the song “Crucify All These Deputies” talks about the parliamentarians wallowing in vice; the song “Breaking the Crescent” is about migrants from the Caucasus as internal enemies who are blamed for all the ills. The texts of the latter two songs clearly express hostility or disrespect toward the groups of citizens (note, however, that the law does not prohibit offensive statements about the groups of politicians) and include direct calls for reprisals against representatives of such groups. At the same time, the lyrics of the song about the deputies come across as grotesque, while the song “Breaking the Crescent” has a pronounced xenophobic character and can be taken seriously by the audience. Nevertheless, taking into account that the Ensemble verbally recommends to perceive their texts as satirical, the prosecution for the dissemination of their texts – and they are increasingly appearing in criminal and administrative cases – appears insufficiently justified. It is worth noting that two more comic songs by the Ensemble (“Kill the Cosmonauts” and “The Collider”), banned for no reason whatsoever, were recognized as extremist in 2017.
A criminal case under Article 282 was opened In July in Sudak against local activists Dmitry Dzhigalov and Oleg Semenov – members of Anti-Corruption Bureau of the Republic of Crimea, a citizens association; they were charged with humiliating the dignity of the Bulgarians. They were released under travel restrictions, but then Semenov was arrested in the fall. The case was based on a publication on Dzhigalov’s Youtube channel – a video recorded by him that contains negative statements by Semenov with regard to the Bulgarians. The indictment does not specify what statements have been found offensive, and the version of the video currently available on Youtube contains nothing that would fall under Article 282 – Semenov only reproaches the Bulgarians for being ungrateful toward Russians, who freed them from the “Ottoman yoke.” It is possible that this version of the video is incomplete, because, according to media reports, Semenov was charged for some statements regarding Stalin’s deportation of the Crimean Bulgarians. Nevertheless, we believe that, since the activist is not charged with any unlawful incitement, there was no need for criminal prosecution in this case. Obviously, the real reason for the prosecution against the activists has to do with their civic activities – the fight of the Anticorruption Bureau against landfills, violations of the construction standards, illegal allocation of land for construction, etc., including active criticism of local authorities and publication of materials with allegations of corruption, which, among others, affected Vladimir Serov, the former mayor of Sudak, who recently became vice prime minister of the government of the Republic of Crimea.
Meanwhile, one notorious case under Article 282 was closed in 2017. In early August, the Maykop City Court closed a criminal case against ecologist Valery Brinikh, for lack of corpus delicti; he had been charged with contributing to incitement to ethnic hatred (Article 33 Part 5 and Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code) for publishing an article on environmental pollution caused by a large pig farm. The investigation believed that the material “foments ethnic hatred and sows enmity,” and “calls for carrying out extremist activities.” In his article “The Silence of the Lambs” the author accused the residents of the Adygean district, where the polluting enterprise was located, of subservience to the authorities and failure to actively defend their interests. The text was recognized as extremist in 2014. However, now, in connection with the termination of the case against Brinikh, the ban was lifted in September 2017 – notably, on the initiative of the Adygea Republican Prosecutor’s Office.
We know of two clearly inappropriate criminal cases opened in 2017 under Article 3541 of the Criminal Code for rehabilitation of Nazism.
In July, Alexei Volkov, the coordinator of the Alexei Navalny’s headquarters in Volgograd, was charged under Article 3541 Part 3 of the Criminal Code. The charges of public desecration of the symbols of Russia’s military glory were based on the fact that, after the green dye attack against Navalny, he published in the Volgograd VKontakte community of Navalny’s supporters a collage depicting the Motherland Calls statue covered with green dye. The image was later deleted, and the community administration apologized, but materials about this post were published in a number of federal mass media outlets. In October, the Volgograd Regional Court returned the case to the Prosecutor’s Office for further investigation, having concluded that the charge could be re-qualified to increase its severity. We believe that the prosecution of Volkov lacks clear justification. The creators and distributors of the collage obviously had no intention of expressing contempt for the monument or contributing to the justification of Nazism; on the contrary, they clearly compared the unlawful attack against Navalny to an attack against the famous sculpture. It is also obvious that creating a collage can’t be regarded as an act of vandalism. However, it is not entirely clear whether distribution of such an image can be views as an act of desecration of the monument, a “symbol of Russia’s military glory” – the law does not clarify the latter concept, used in the wording of Article 3541 Part 3, making it impossible to determine whether the Volgograd monument and, specifically, its photograph, constitute such a symbol.
In March, a criminal case under Article 3541 was opened in Magadan against 62-year-old zoologist Igor Dorogoi. The charges were based on Dorogoi’s publications on the social network Odnoklassniki, in which he expressed negative opinions of Georgy Zhukov, Mikhail Tukhachevsky, Alexander Marinesko and Roman Rudenko as persons involved in the mass death of people, and of Meliton Kantaria as an instrument of Soviet propaganda. The investigation inappropriately interpreted these statements as “dissemination of information expressing obvious disrespect to society with regard to the days of military glory and the memorable dates of Russia associated with defending the Fatherland” (Article 3541 Part 3). Dorogoi also faced responsibility for some of the comments left by his readers, which were interpreted as an assertion that the USSR “started the war” in 1939, despite the fact that the comments contained no such statements. In addition, the investigation interpreted a photograph, taken in Western Ukraine, of a poster featuring Stepan Bandera and the caption “National Heroes of Ukraine: Hero of Ukraine Stepan Bandera” as an endorsement of the crimes established by the verdict of the Nuremberg Tribunal (Article 3541 Part 1), although the verdict of the Tribunal never mentioned Bandera’s activity. We see this case as an attempt to restrict the right to a historical discussion, which is definitely out of scope for the article on justification of Nazism, even in its current problematic wording.
In March, the Leninsky District Court of St. Petersburg recognized “Bandera and Banderites. Who They Really Were” – an article by historian Kirill Alexandrov – as extremist material, and the St. Petersburg City Court upheld this ban in December. The decision of the Leninsky District Court was based on the opinion, authored by the expert from St. Petersburg State University, which found that Alexandrov’s article contained denial of the acts and the approval of the crimes established by the Nuremberg Tribunal, and the slander against the actions of the USSR during the Second World War – that is, fell under the formula of Article 3541 of the Criminal Code. Having read Alexandrov’s article, we found no denial of the crimes of the Nazis and their allies and no dissemination of any information about the actions of the USSR, except for the already well-known ones. In addition, it is important to note that the fact that a text corresponds to the formula of a Criminal Code article does not necessarily entail that it should be considered extremist. First, a court must establish that the text in question corresponds to Article 1 Part 3 of the Law on Combating Extremist Activity, according to which extremist materials are defined as “calling for extremist activity to be carried out or substantiating or justifying the necessity of carrying out such activity, including works by leaders of the National Socialist worker party of Germany, the Fascist party of Italy, publications substantiating or justifying ethnic and/or racial superiority or justifying the practice of committing war crimes or other crimes aimed at the full or partial destruction of any ethnic, social, racial, national or religious group.”
In August, the Moscovsky District Court of St. Petersburg recognized the book Vostochnye Razmyshleniia [Oriental Reflections] by Polish publicist Jan Nowak-Jeziorański as information prohibited for distribution in Russia, both the paper layout and an electronic copy published online. In making this decision, the court relied primarily on the prosecutorial assertion that the distribution of the book violated Article 3541, because the book contained false information about the activities of the USSR during the Second World War. The experts, brought in by the prosecutor’s office for examining the text, for example, regarded the author’s treatment of events that traditionally caused controversy – the Warsaw Uprising, the Volyn Massacre and the Katyn Massacre – as a “distortion” of history. In our opinion, this decision explicitly restricts historical debate and constitutes an unreasonable interference with the right to freedom of speech using the instrument provided to the law enforcement by the wording of Article 3541, which criminalizes the public dissemination of knowingly false information about the activities of the USSR during the Second World War.
The most resonant sentence of the year under Article 148 of the Criminal Code was the May 2017 decision of the Verkh-Isetsky District Court of Yekaterinburg to find video blogger Ruslan Sokolovsky guilty of nine counts of the crime under Article 282 (incitement of hatred or enmity, as well as humiliation of human dignity), seven counts under Article 148 Part 1 (public actions aimed at insulting the feelings of believers) and one – under Article 1381 of the Criminal Code (illegal trafficking in special technical equipment intended for secret transmission of information). Sokolovsky was charged with inciting hatred and insulting the feelings of believers for posting his provocative videos, primarily containing a number of atheistic statements, including the story of catching Pokémon in the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Spilled Blood in Yekaterinburg; he was also charged for acquiring a “spy pen.” The incriminating videos included abundant profanities and degrading characterizations of religion in general, as well as specifically Orthodox Christianity and its followers, Muslims, followers of Leonid Maslov and feminists. Sokolovsky also used ethnic slurs and criticized the Chechen authorities. However, these materials contained no dangerous incitement. In July, the Sverdlovsk Regional Court reviewed an appeal against the decision of the Verkh-Isetsky District Court in the Sokolovsky case and changed the decision, removing the charge under Article 1381. The punishment was changed accordingly – a suspended sentence of 3.5 years was reduced to two years and three months with a probation period of two years. The appeal of his case was dismissed. We believe that Sokolovsky’s sentence is inappropriate. Under Article 282 Sokolovsky could only be charged with humiliation of dignity of various groups, which, in our opinion, should be decriminalized. We opposed the amendments that added “insulting the feelings of believers” to the text of Article 148, because we are convinced that this vague concept does not and can not have a clear legal meaning, and absurd court proceedings on religious matters only serve to undermine the authority of the legal system.
We would like to mention a number of other judicial decisions, which we consider just as inappropriate as the verdict in the Sokolovsky case.
The Western District Magistrate’s Court of Belgorod found a 22-year-old resident of the city guilty under the same part 1 of Article 148 in May. Taking into account the mitigating circumstances, including having a minor child, she was sentenced to a fine of 15 thousand rubles. The prosecution was based on the woman’s VKontakte postings, which included photographs of her lighting up a cigarette from a candle in an Orthodox church. Although the Belgorod resident violated the accepted rules of conduct in the church, her actions obviously attracted no attention of the believers present at that time, inflicted no damage to the ecclesiastical objects and posed no significant danger to society.
Musician Daniil Sukachev was fined 30 thousand rubles in September 2017 under Article 5.26 Part 2 CAO (“Desecration of articles, marks and emblems relating to the world outlook symbols”); the Novgorod District Court upheld the decision of the magistrate in November. Sukachev published on VKontakte a video, set to the song of the Polish black metal band Batushka [Father], which used video of Orthodox worship, edited with addition of various overlay effects (flames, smoke, etc.). We view the prosecution of the Novgorod resident as inappropriate – he did not create a video, but only posted it on the social network page; in addition, even in the process of creating the video no actual religious objects were desecrated.
It was reported in July that the Omutninsky District Court of the Kirov region had sentenced a 21-year-old local resident to a fine of 25,000 rubles under Article 148 Part 1 of the Criminal Code The young man was found guilty based on the fact that he “for the reasons of obvious disrespect to society, repeatedly publicly placed on a social network on the Internet photographic images with captions that offended the feelings of believers, thereby demonstrating his disdainful attitude towards them and religion” in 2015-2016.
In early December, the Industrialny District Court of Barnaul issued a guilty verdict in the case of Natalia Telegina, a Neo-Pagan charged under Article 148 Part 1 of the Criminal Code and Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (incitement to ethnic and religious hatred and humiliation of dignity). The court gave her a suspended sentence of two years with a probation period of 1 year and 6 months for her posts on VKontakte. The court interpreted her post of an image, which depicted a warrior in a horned helmet swinging a hammer over the silhouette of a burning temple, as an insult to the feelings of believers. Her publication of six anti-Christian de-motivating posters, according to the court, incited hatred and humiliated the dignity of Christians. Yet another post by Telegina – a de-motivating poster about migrants from the Caucasus – was found to contain signs of humiliation of the dignity of a group of people united on the basis of ethnicity. In addition to the fact that we oppose prosecution for insulting the feelings of believers in principle, we also found no signs of inciting religious hatred in Telegina’s publications. Some of them can be regarded as humiliating the dignity of Christians, but we believe that the humiliation of dignity should not result in a criminal case. Telegina’s publication against migrants from the Caucasus is certainly racist, but, in and of itself, is unlikely to merit criminal prosecution.
In August, the Magistrate’s court of Area No. 101 of the Central District of Sochi sentenced Viktor Nochevnov to a fine of 50 thousand rubles under Article 148 part 1 of the Criminal Code. He was charged for sharing a series of cartoon images of Jesus Christ on VKontakte. The prosecution brought in the rector of the Holy Cross Monastery, the imam of Yasin (a Sochi Muslim community), the head of the city’s Jewish community and the rector of the St. Vladimir Church in Sochi as witnesses in the trial. The latter witness stated, among other things, that the images shared by Nochevnov are blasphemous and offensive to believers, provocative “in view of the disrespectful use of the sacred image,” and “express contempt for public morality and the society in general, as well as social values.” In support of his statement, the priest cited the dogma of icon-worship, adopted by the Second Council of Nicaea in 787. The Nochevnov case is an example that demonstrates how vague notions used in the Criminal Code article lead to the situation, in which the trial is replaced by a religious dispute, and instead of following legal principles the court starts to apply church dogmas. After extensive publicity, the case was sent for a re-trial and was discontinued in early 2018.
Several new cases were initiated in 2017 for publication of atheistic images – against a 48-year-old resident of Yoshkar-Ola, a 29-year-old resident of Oryol, and against Leonid Konvisher from St. Petersburg. In the latter case, the prosecution under Article 148 was dropped, and, in 2018, Konvisher was sentenced to a fine for incitement to religious hatred under Article 282 for having published an image that called for violence against the clergy. The image was indeed provocative, but it hardly deserved a criminal prosecution and a fine of 400,000 rubles.
In August, 20-year-old Artyom Ibragimov from Tatarstan became a defendant in the case, initiated under part 1 of Article 282 and part 1 of Article 148; he had posted on a social network a text and comments which, according to law enforcement agencies, incited ethnic and religious hatred, as well as insulted the feelings of Christians. We had no opportunity to get acquainted with Ibragimov’s statements, and, possibly, the charges brought against him under Article 282 are justified; however, from our point of view there was no need in the prosecution under Part 1 of Article 148.
It also worth mentioning that, in February, the Magistrate’s court of the Promyshlenny District of Stavropol discontinued due to the statute of limitations the high-profile criminal case against Viktor Krasnov, who had been charged under Article 148 Part 1 for posting comments in the Overheard Stavropol (Podslushano Stavropol) group on VKontakte. A staunch atheist, he spoke in crude terms about the Bible, and stated that “there’s no god” [intentionally misspelling the word “god”].
In July, 20-year-old Anton Ushachev was arrested in Naberezhnye Chelny under Article 214 Part 1 (vandalism), Article 282 Part 1 and Article 148 Part 1 of the Criminal Code. He was held responsible for writing graffiti that included swastikas and texts, including those of anti-religious content, on the fence of the Borovetskaya Church. We believe that qualifying Ushachev’s actions under Article 214 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (vandalism motivated by hatred) would have been sufficient and the charges under two other articles were excessive.
In October, a criminal case was opened in Krasnodar under Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code against local resident Maxim Drozdov. The charges were based on the fact of publication by Drozdov of his own poem “The Heretic” on his VKontakte page. This satirical work has the following plot: villagers, led by a local priest, burn at the stake a school teacher, who said in her lesson that science is important, and god doesn’t exist. The attention of the Investigative Committee was attracted by the following lines of the poem: “Bluebells blossom in the forest, / A bird is chirping in the distance. / At the stake, with faint crackling / The heretic is burning down...” and also “There are no people worse than vile atheists; we will bring the inquisition back!” Despite the fact that the material in question is an obvious satire on Orthodox radicals, the investigation declared that the poem was aimed at humiliating the dignity of the social group “atheists.” In our opinion, the poem gives no grounds whatsoever for criminal prosecution; this absurd case is unlikely to even reach the court.
The story of the case in Chuvashia against the activists, who published on VKontakte an image of MP Vitaly Milonov wearing a T-shirt with the (banned as extremist) slogan “Orthodoxy or Death,” which started in the preceding year, continued in 2017. The photo was perceived as a funny incident – a member of the State Duma demonstrating a banned slogan with impunity – and users of social networks eagerly distributed it, with no intent to show solidarity with Milonov’s conservative views. In November 2016, coordinator of the Open Russia (Otkrytaia Rossiya) movement in Cheboksary Dmitry Semenov was fined one thousand rubles under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (distribution of extremist materials) for sharing this photograph, and fined the same amount once again for sharing a photograph of Milonov wearing a suit, with same slogan mentioned in the caption. In December, the Supreme Court of Chuvashia dismissed Semenov’s appeal. Subsequently, Semenov shared on his page the information regarding the decision of the Supreme Court of the Republic, which contained a reference to the slogan. Despite the fact that the word “death” in this message was not displayed, the district court fined Semenov in March 2017 for this publication as well, and the Supreme Court of the Republic upheld this decision once again. Semenov appealed to the ECHR, and his complaint was communicated in February 2018.
Meanwhile, soon after Semenov, in November 2016, Dmitry Pankov – an activist of the PARNAS party from Novocheboksarsk – faced responsibility under the same Article 20.29. However, the Novocheboksarsk City Court ruled to discontinue his case, taking into account the fact that the slogan, included on the Federal List of Extremist Materials ended with an exclamation mark, while the phrase “Orthodoxy or Death,” published by Pankov, did not include an exclamation mark, and that Pankov had no intention to disseminate the forbidden slogan. Pankov then shared on VKontakte the news from the online public board Lentach about the termination of his case, once again mentioning the forbidden slogan. Once again, the city court fined him a thousand rubles for this shared post in March 2017. Later, in April, local activist Alyona Blinova from the Artpodgotovka movement had to pay the same fine of one thousand rubles for sharing on VKontakte the opinion of deputy Vitaly Milonov regarding the prosecution against Dmitry Semenov.
Several cases of prohibition against atheistic materials as extremist should also be noted.
In February, the Yoshkar-Ola City Court in the Republic of Mari El recognized the video “Photos, caricatures on the subject of atheism” as extremist. We reviewed this video – a ten-minute slideshow consisting of the atheistic de-motivating posters. In our opinion, dozens of images and captions, which constituted the video, contained no aggressive appeals against believers, could not be interpreted as inciting hatred, posed no public danger, and thus did not deserve a ban. The only exception was the image that featured a statement by Norwegian Neo-Pagan musician Varg Vikernes that could be interpreted as an incitement to Church arson, but we view the ban against the entire series of de-motivating posters because of a single inflammatory quote as questionable.
The Zavodskoy District Court of Grozny in the same month recognized Shutka pro Koran [A Joke about the Koran] video with the performance by video blogger Ilya Davydov (Maddison) as extremist. The video is a fragment from Davydov’s performance in 2012, in which, using obscene language, he retold an obscene episode that allegedly involved the Koran and the Bible, but included no defiling acts with respect to them. After a video was published by one of the Muslim channels in Telegram in January 2017, Davydov started receiving numerous insults and threats, so he ended up deleting his social network accounts (he appeared online again only in April) and, according to some reports, had to leave Russia. The Russian Congress of the Peoples of the Caucasus (Rossiiskii Kongress Narodov Kavkaza, RKNK) appealed to the Investigative Committee, the Prosecutor’s Office and the Ministry of Internal Affairs with a request to open a case against Davydov for insulting the feelings of believers. In February, the Chechen Republican Prosecutor’s Office issued a message that the Investigative Committee had opened a criminal case against Davydov under Article 282 Part 1 (humiliation of the person or group of persons on the basis of their relation to a religion). However, this report was later removed from the Prosecutor’s Office website, and the fate of this case is unknown. At the same time, a request was filed with the court to recognize the video of Maddison’s performance as extremist. According to a psycholinguistic study, commissioned by the Prosecutor’s Office, the video depicted actions and statements aimed at humiliation of a person or a group of persons on the basis of their relation to Islam and Christianity. In our opinion, Davydov’s speech was provocative, but posed no public danger.
In March, the Oktyabrsky District Court of St. Petersburg granted the claim of the City Prosecutor’s Office, filed in connection with the request by State Duma deputy Vadim Dengin, and recognized as extremist three images posted on a number of Internet pages, as well as pages of five atheist VKontakte communities. These pages contained various satirical atheistic materials, the vast majority of which constituted no public danger. Mostly, the materials were aimed at criticizing religion and the ROC, but do not incite hatred toward believers, although believers could have found them unpleasant. In our opinion, law enforcement agencies in this case could only have demanded that the VKontakte administration block individual images or posts in these communities, but the blanket prohibition of entire communities was inappropriate.
According to our information, in 2017, 14 verdicts were issues against 37 people on charges of involvement in the activities of the Islamist party Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami (banned in 2003) under Article 2055 (organizing activities of a terrorist organization or participating in it), sometimes in aggregation with other articles of the Criminal Code. Thus, in one of the cases, eight people were also convicted under Article 2822 for the period of their activity prior to the adoption of Article 2055. In two cases, two Muslims were charged under Article 278 in aggregation with Article 30 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (preparation for the forcible seizure of power); in one case charges were also brought under Article 222 Part 1 (illegal circulation of weapons). Three other offenders were also convicted under Article 282 for the incitement to hatred. The known sentences are geographically distributed as follows: four sentences against 16 people in Tatarstan, six verdicts against six people in Dagestan, two verdicts against six people in Moscow, one verdict against five people in Bashkortostan, and one verdict against four people in Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Okrug-Ugra.
We would also like to point out the sentence under Article 2052 of the Criminal Code (public justification of terrorism) against Mahmud Velitov, the Imam of the Moscow Yardyam Mosque. The Moscow Military Court found him guilty and sentenced to 3 years in a minimal-security colony; the Supreme Court of Russia upheld this sentence in August. The prosecution was based on the fact that, in September 2013, during the Friday sermon and the funeral prayer for Abdulla Gappaev, who died in Kizlyar and was likely involved with Hizb ut-Tahrir, Velitov allegedly made statements justifying terrorist activities. The Memorial Human Rights Center considers the prosecution against Velitov to be without merit.
We would like to remind that we consider the decision to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir as a terrorist organization inappropriate, because the party does not practice violence and does not view it as a suitable method in its struggle to build a global caliphate. However, in our opinion, Hizb ut-Tahrir could be banned on other grounds.
The set of articles of the Criminal Code applied in the Hizb ut-Tahrir cases remains unchanged, and the punishment stipulated by these articles does not become more lenient; the sentences on charges of participating in Hizb ut-Tahrir remain harsh – in some cases, prison terms under Article 2055 can approach 20 years. The only verdict in 2017 under which four people in Nizhnevartovsk received suspended sentences and fines has been revised and the suspended prison terms were replaced by the real ones.
As before, when considering cases of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, having to prove the actual fact of preparations by the defendants to commit acts of terror or seize power is out of question. The investigation finds that they have been involved in party activities in the form of disseminating or simply studying Hizb ut-Tahrir literature and meeting with like-minded people, and then district military courts grant the prosecutorial requirements.
At least 42 people were arrested in 2017 on the charges relating to the nine criminal cases that involved Hizb ut-Tahrir (compared to over 20 cases against over than 70 Muslims in 2016). Three out of these nine cases were opened in Tatarstan (22 individuals arrested), two in Bashkortostan (10 arrested), two in St. Petersburg (three arrested), one in Crimea (six arrested), one in the Saratov Region (one person arrested). In all these cases charges have been brought under Article 2055.
In 2017, four electronic issues of Al-Waie magazine, published by Hizb ut-Tahrir, were banned; they were included in the Federal List of Extremist Materials in 2018 under the numbers 4378-4381. These materials are heterogeneous; some of them deserve criticism, while others have been prohibited unreasonably.
In addition, Hizb ut-Tahrir’s materials were blocked under Lugovoy’s Law (not counting the court-mandated restrictions) at least 440 times in 2017. As before, the law enforcement agencies and the courts prohibit Hizb ut-Tahrir’s materials automatically by association with a banned organization, without considering them on the merits and without accessing the degree of potential danger of each item. The video “Mom Talks about the House Search of Her Son and His Friends,” released in November 2012 shortly after the series of searches in the homes of Hizb ut-Tahrir followers in Bashkortostan, can serve as an example. On the video, the mother of one of the young men, whose home had been searched, gave a positive characteristic to her son and his friends, said that the Russian authorities do not protect freedom of religion in the country and persecute Muslims, and insisted that Islam could not be a radical religion. The video obviously did not fit any of the criteria for Lugovoy’s law, but this consideration did not stop the Prosecutor General’s Office and Roskomnadzor from blocking it without a trial, as it did with dozens of other similar materials.
We recorded seven verdicts against 19 people, made in 2017 on charges of involvement in the activities of the international religious movement Tablighi Jamaat, banned in Russia under Article 2822 (organizing or participating in an extremist organization): two verdicts against 10 people in Tatarstan, one verdict against five people in Bashkortostan, and one case per region in the Altai Region, Buryatia (under Article 2822 Part 1.1 for involving a person in the activities of an extremist organization), Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod. Notably, we recorded no such verdicts in 2016 – we only had the information regarding three cases opened for participation in the movement.
At least four such new cases were initiated in 2017: two people were arrested in Tatarstan, four in the Crimea, 19 suspects were detained in the investigation in the Orenburg Region (but we have no information on any ensuing arrests), and five people were arrested following the detention of several dozen Muslims in Moscow in November.
From the reports of the FSB Border Service we know of numerous cases when citizens of other states, reportedly involved in Tablighi Jamaat, were not allowed to enter Russia.
We would like to remind that the Tablighi Jamaat religious movement was banned as extremist 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 implicated in incitement to violence.
In 2017, we saw the continued persecution of Muslims studying the works of the Turkish theologian Said Nursi, which, in our opinion, have been banned in Russia inappropriately. Russian law enforcement agencies prosecute believers, who are found to possess books by Nursi, for membership in Nurcular – an organization, banned in Russia despite the fact that its existence in Russia has never been proven to begin with. They are usually charged with participation in “home madrasas,” that is, with group discussions of Said Nursi’s writings, as well as with distribution of his books.
We recorded four sentences issued against nine followers of Nursi under Parts 1 and 2 of Article 2822, and three new criminal cases were opened against five people charged with involvement in Nurcular.
The Oktyabrsky District Court of Ufa issued suspended sentences to five Muslims in March. The offenders included correspondent of the Kiske Ufa newspaper Azamat Abutalipov, former head of the procurement department of the government of Bashkortostan Aivar Khabibullin, owner and director of the language school Shamil Khusnitdinov, and instructors Timur Munasypov and Airat Ibragimov. In June, the Supreme Court of Bashkortostan replaced the suspended sentences to Abutalipov and Khabibullin, convicted as the organizers of the activities of the “cell,” with the real ones; they were sentenced to 4 years and 2 years 3 months respectively in a minimum-security penal colony.
In June, a resident of the village of Ivanovka, Yevgeny Kim, was convicted in Blagoveshchensk of the Amur Region on the charges of organizing the activity of a Nurcular cell (Article 2822 Part 1) and incitement to religious and ethnic hatred (Article 282 Part 1). The Blagoveshchensk City Court sentenced him to three years and nine months of imprisonment with subsequent restriction of freedom for a period of one year. Kim was charged under Article 282 for making aggressive statements with regard to people of other religious persuasions during the religious classes he was organizing; we do not consider this part of the charges inappropriate.
In November, the Leninsky District Court of Makhachkala issued a verdict in the case of Ziyavdin Dapaev, Sukhrab Kaltuev and Artur Kaltuev, charged with organizing the activities of an extremist organization under Part 1 of Article 2822. Dapaev was sentenced to four years of imprisonment in a minimum-security penal colony; the Kaltuev brothers received three years each. Reportedly, another similar case was initiated in Izberbash in April, and 20-year-old Ilgar Aliev was detained in connection with it, but we have no information about any further developments.
In November, the Oktyabrsky District Court of Novosibirsk decided to release 63-year-old Uralbek Karaguzinov and 20-year-old Mirsultan Nasirov – charged under Part 2 of Article 2822 for participation in the “home madrasa,” organized by Imam Komil (Kamil) Odilov, whose case has not yet reached the court. Karaguzinov and Nasirov petitioned for Article 76.2 of the Criminal Code to be applied in their case; this article stipulates that a first-time offender, who has committed a minor or an ordinary offence, could be released from criminal responsibility by the court with a court-imposed fine, if s/he compensates the damage or otherwise redresses the harm caused by the crime. They accepted the charges, apologized to the state and committed themselves to telling their acquaintances about the ban against the activities of Nurcular in Russia. The court sentenced each of them to a fine of 90 thousand rubles, ordering student Nasirov to pay it within two months, and retiree Karaguzinov – within six months.
In Pyatigorsk (the Stavropol Region), a case under part 1 of Article 2822 was opened in August against Ashurali Magomedeminov, charged with involving others in the activities of Nurcular. Magomedeminov evaded the investigation and was put on the federal Wanted list.
In March, the Sverdlovsk Regional Court acquitted Albert Bayazitov, the Imam of the Yekaterinburg Ramadan Mosque, who, in 2016, was found guilty under Article 282 Part 1 by the Chkalovsky District Court of Yekaterinburg and sentenced to 360 hours of community service with loss of the right to preach for three years. The investigation suggested that Bayazitov kept certain forbidden publications in the mosque despite having received an official warning with regard to a similar issue in 2014.
In April, the Kurgan City Court acquitted former Imam of the city mosque Ali Yakupov, who had been charged under part 1 of Article 282 with incitement of hatred or enmity on the basis of belonging to a social group “the communists.” The prosecution was based on the comment left by Yakupov under the VKontakte post on the subject of the Muslim women in China not being allowed to wear a hijab. In his comment he allegedly spoke of “divine punishment” that was going to befall the Chinese communists. However, the court decided that an appeal to the higher forces could not be considered xenophobic. The judge emphasized that “God is not a civic entity, and appeal to him can’t be considered a call for acts of enmity.” The prosecutor’s office managed to get the case reviewed, and, in November, the same court once again decided that there was no corpus delicti in Yakupov’s actions, and recognized his right to exoneration. The attempts by the prosecutors to appeal this new decision have failed, and the acquittal entered into force in early 2018.
According to our admittedly incomplete information in 2017, at least 12 Muslims were inappropriately fined for distribution of Islamic religious materials recognized as extremist or possession of such materials with intent to distribute. The fines under Article 16.13 of the CAO (non-compliance with the customs ban) for attempts to import inappropriately banned Islamic literature into Russia were issued frequently as well.
Seven entries with Muslim materials were included in the Federal List of Extremist Materials in 2017 on what we see as questionable grounds; five of them actually pertained to the same video, placed on different resources. We regard six additional materials as banned and added to the List inappropriately: the brochure Muhammad, the Messenger of God by Abdul-Rahman Al-Sheha, Selected Hadith by Sheikh Muhammad Yusuf Kandhlawi, Blagochestiye i bogoboyaznennost [Piety and the Fear of God] by Muhammad Zakariya Kandhalwi, Musulmanskoe veroucheniye (Akyda) [Muslim Creed (Aqidah)] by Ahmet Saim Kilavuz, Islam. Korotko o glavnom [Islam. Briefly on What’s Most Important] by Fahd ibn Ahmad al-Mubarak and Iz shiizma v islam [From Shiism to Islam] by Ali Mohammed al-Qudaibi. We found no incendiary statements against adherents of other belief systems in any of the above materials, and assertions of the superiority of a specific version of Islam over other religious creeds, in our opinion, should not be interpreted as incitement to religious hatred.
In the first three months of 2017, several communities of Jehovah’s Witnesses at once were fined under Article 20.29 for distribution of banned religious literature (in Kislovodsk, Gelendzhik, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, and Smolensk). An organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Cherkessk (the Karachay-Cherkess Republic) was liquidated, and the claim to liquidate the community in Kirovo-Chepetsk (the Kirov Region) was under way.
Meanwhile, the head organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses – the Administrative Center for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia – tried to get its 2016 warning about impermissibility of the extremist activity rescinded, but, in January 2017, the Moscow City Court approved the decision of the Tverskoy District Court of Moscow, which rejected the request of Jehovah’s Witnesses to recognize the warning as illegal.
Then the situation started to develop increasingly fast. As early as March 15, 2017, the Ministry of Justice appealed to the Supreme Court to liquidate the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center and all 395 of their registered local communities as its structural subdivisions. In the statement of claim it was said, in particular, that the Administrative Center was importing into Russia the literature subsequently recognized as extremist, as well as reprints of prohibited materials, specifically, published in smaller fragments. The document listed 395 local organizations of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the list of communities that were banned as well as those who faced administrative sanctions. The Ministry of Justice argued that the Administrative Center was financing its branches, including the ones later banned, and was thus involved in financing extremist activities.
The activities of the Administrative Center and local communities of Jehovah’s Witnesses were suspended for the duration of the Supreme Court consideration of the claim by the Ministry of Justice; some believers faced administrative responsibility under article 20.28 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (organizing the activities of a public or religious association with respect to which a decision was made to suspend its activities), we recorded at least five such cases. The offenders in at least four of them were issued fines.
On April 20, 2017, the Supreme Court granted the Justice Ministry’s claim and issued a decision recognizing the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center in Russia as an extremist organization and ordering its liquidation. The Appeals Board of the Supreme Court rejected the appeal against this decision on July 17, and it entered into force. In accordance with the decision, the Administrative Center itself and 395 local religious organizations of Jehovah’s Witnesses as its structural units (added to the List of Extremist Organizations under No. 62 on August 17) were liquidated, and their property was subject to confiscation by the state. Jehovah’s Witnesses appealed this decision of the Supreme Court to the European Court of Human Rights, which communicated the complaint in December and expressed its intention to prioritize this case for consideration.
The consequences of the Supreme Court decision quickly affected the situation of believers. Immediately a new wave of persecution against Jehovah’s Witnesses rose in Russia, both judicial and extrajudicial in nature. Local branches of the Ministry of Justice started to liquidate communities and confiscate their property (unlike other cases of liquidation, liquidation “for extremism,” begins immediately after the decision of the court of first instance); new criminal and administrative cases were initiated; there was a series of illegal layoffs of Jehovah’s Witnesses from their jobs. The children of believers faced pressure in educational institutions; military commissariats deny Jehovah’s Witnesses the right to alternative civilian service. In addition to regular searches of their homes by the law enforcement, a wave of acts of vandalism and pogroms rolled across the Russian regions in April and May – the sites of Jehovah’s Witnesses were attacked with stones, windows and fences broken, and one case of arson targeting a private residence was reported.
We also would like to comment on the highly publicized trial in Vyborg City Court to recognize as extremist the Bible in the Jehovah’s Witnesses translation (the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, published in 2015), and three brochures (What is the Bible About,Are Science and the Bible Compatible? and Improve Your Health – 5 Things You Can Do Today), which ended in late August with the ban against these materials despite the obvious inconsistency of the prosecutorial arguments. The Leningrad Regional Court dismissed the appeal of four foreign organizations of Jehovah’s Witnesses against this decision in December. The texts presented no danger; moreover, in this case, the prosecutor’s office and the court circumvented the law, which prohibits the recognition of the scriptures of the world’s religions as extremist, without sufficient justification. This is a sad precedent that opens the possibility of prohibiting other translations and synopses of the holy books.
In November, four Jehovah’s Witnesses’ publications were added to the Federal List of Extremist Materials: two bulletins Jehovah, the God of Communication and Elders, How Do You Feel About Training Others?, brochure How Do I View Blood Fractions and Medical Procedures Involving My Own Blood? and the Watchtower magazine issue of June 15, 2015. The decision to ban materials was issued in August by the Arsenyev Town Court of the Primorye Region.
We know of four criminal cases brought against Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2017. The case under Part 1 of Article 282 was opened in March in Kabardino-Balkaria against resident of Prokhladny Arkadi Akopian; he was charged for allegedly making a speech, in which he humiliated the dignity of representatives of other religions, and also charged with distribution of forbidden literature among fellow believers. The court started reviewing the case in May. In August, also in Kabardino-Balkaria, a criminal case was opened against Yuri Zalipayev, the head of the Jehovah’s Witnesses community in the town of Maysky. According to the claim, despite the warning received in August 2016 from the Maysky District Prosecutor’s Office about the impermissibility of carrying out extremist activities, Zalipayev “for the purpose of inciting hatred against Christian clergy, instructed the believers to distribute copies of a printed publication included on the Federal List of Extremist Materials.”
Meanwhile, in August the Moscow Regional Court, for the second time, upheld the acquittal issued by the Sergiev-Posad Town Court in the case of two elders of the local Jehovah’s Witnesses community, who were charged with inciting hatred or enmity committed by an organized group (under Article 282 Part 2). The criminal case against Vyacheslav Stepanov and Andrei Sivak was opened back in 2013. The charges against the believers stated that during the meetings they had made statements to incite religious hatred, in particular, they had cited banned brochures of Jehovah’s Witnesses containing negative characteristics of other religions, including “traditional” Christianity and Christian clergy and appeals to join Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In May, the case under Part 1 of Article 2822 on the continuation of the activities of the local organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, banned for extremism back in 2016, was initiated in Oryol against Dennis Christensen, the citizen of Denmark. He was arrested, and the term of his arrest was extended repeatedly. The Memorial Human Rights Center recognized Christensen as a political prisoner, and the ECHR communicated his complaint against the criminal prosecution and the arrest in September.
In August, the first criminal case, based on the prohibition of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center and their 395 local communities rather than the prior bans against particular local organizations, became known. A prosecutor’s office in Kursk filed the case under Article 2822 part 1.1 of the Criminal Code (involvement in the activities of an extremist organization) against a local woman who distributed Jehovah’s Witnesses leaflets at the marketplace.
In 2017, we recorded six cases of fines imposed on Jehovah’s Witnesses under Article 20.29 for distribution of banned literature; however, it can be assumed that the real number is significantly larger. While for individuals the amounts in question were small, for the communities fined prior to the total ban on their activities, the sums reached half a million rubles.
We believe that prohibition of the Jehovah’s Witnesses literature and liquidation of their organizations as extremist, as well as prosecutions against members of their communities, are legally unfounded, and constitute religious discrimination.
A number of arrests took place in June in connection with the case of the St. Petersburg Church of Scientology, initiated under Article 171 (illegal enterprise), Article 282 (incitement to hatred) and Article 2821 (organizing an extremist community) of the Criminal Code. In accordance with the ruling of the Nevsky District Court of St. Petersburg, Ivan Matsitsky (the “spiritual leader” of the organization), head of the security service Anastasia Terentyeva, executive director Galina Shurinova, and chief accountant Sahib Aliyev were arrested. Konstantsiya Esaulkova, Terentieva’s deputy, was put under house arrest. Pre-trial detention was later replaced with house arrest for Terentyeva and Shurinova as well. According to the investigation, the Scientology Church was engaged in shadow business, selling educational programs to its followers and not paying corresponding taxes. In addition, the Scientologists were accused of having created an extremist community with the purpose of humiliating the dignity of some of its members, who comprised a social group “the sources of trouble.” Obviously, the prosecutors were referring to the “potential trouble source” category used by Scientologists. Believers assigned to this category are prohibited from participating in auditing, that is, in communicating with a Scientology consultant, while members of the community are advised not to enter into any contacts with outside people assigned to this category. The scientologists from St. Petersburg were also charged with disseminating their literature, recognized as extremist, and advocating the exceptionality of their religion.
We view prosecution against Scientologists under anti-extremist legislation as inappropriate. Psychological pressure (if any) exerted by the Scientologists against a segment of the Scientology followers, who became a target of criticism by their fellow believers, belongs to the sphere of internal relations within a religious community and has nothing to do with public humiliation of dignity on the basis of belonging to a social group. The Scientology documents also contain no suggestions to commit any unlawful actions with respect to external “trouble sources.” Adherents of any religion view their creed as exceptional, and prosecutions for such assertions are absurd.
Followers of the Chinese spiritual practice Falun Gong – a harmless combination of Qigong gymnastics with elements of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and folk beliefs – faced charges at least twice in 2017.
In May, the Khostinsky District Court of Sochi issued a fine in the amount of three thousand rubles to local resident, Sergei Baldanov under Article 20.29 (mass distribution of extremist materials), and confiscated his book Falun Dafa by Li Hongzhi. Baldanov was inappropriately found guilty of disseminating extremist materials.
First, in fact, a different treatise by Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi – Zhuan Falun – was banned and included on the Federal List of Extremist Materials, while Falun Dafa is another version of the treatise. No court has yet resolved whether the latter book is extremist as well. Next, Zhuan Falun was banned by the Pervomaisky District Court in the Krasnodar Region for allegedly advocating the idea of the superiority of Falun Gong followers over other people; however, in our opinion, this treatise contained no signs of extremism (the believers since filed a claim with the ECHR regarding the ban against Zhuan Falun, communicated in 2017). Finally, Baldanov did not engage in “mass distribution” of the book; he gave his copy to a young woman, supposedly interested in the exercises he was doing in the local park. The woman turned out to be a local “anti-sect” activist and brought the FSB officers into the park; she later also appeared as a witness in court. She had previously testified in the case of a Pentecostal pastor, fined for publicly reading the Bible in a cafe.
The Abakan City Court of the Republic of Khakassia fined Sergei Tuguzhekov two thousand rubles under Article 20.29 in June. Tuguzhekov faced responsibility after the law enforcement authorities seized a copy of Zhuan Falun from him and its computer printout from another practitioner in March. The judge ruled that reading the forbidden book in the company of the Falun Gong followers amounted to its mass dissemination.
In 2017, the Federal List added three materials related to Judaism. The principal issues against them can be generally boiled down to the charge that they advocate the exclusiveness and superiority of Jews over other peoples.
Two of these materials were banned in March by the Central District Court of Sochi. The first one is a novel (its Russian title is Nasilno Kreschennye [Forcibly Baptized]) by rabbi, writer and German social activist Marcus Lehmann (1838-1890), which tells about the fate of the Jews, who lived in Poland and Lithuania in the 14th Century, and about persecution and discrimination they experienced, using as an example the fate of a convert to Christianity, who later became the treasurer at the court of the Polish king. The second banned item is an article by Zoya Kopelman (a literary critic, a translator, an instructor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and a specialist in Jewish and Russian cultural relations) dedicated to the idea of Israel as a holy land in Judaism.
The book by head of the Bnei Baruch international Kabbalah academy Michael Laitman Kabbalah: The Secret Jewish Doctrine, Part X. Fruits of Wisdom was added to the Federal List of Extremist Materials in April. It was recognized as extremist by the Kirov District Court of Yekaterinburg back in October 2015; an attempt to appeal this decision in the regional court 2016 was unsuccessful.
In our opinion, there were no grounds for banning these materials. The authors of the expert opinions, which provided the basis for the ban, failed to take into account the fact that ethnocentricity is inherent in the Jewish religious tradition; in particular, the notions of the mission of the Jewish people and the holiness of the land of Israel are the most important and unquestionable tenets of Judaism.
In February, the Kirovsky District Court of Yaroslavl recognized as extremist Prizyv Vsekh Smertnykh Liudei k Bessmertiiu [The Call of All Mortal Men to Immortality], a pamphlet by Yehowists-Ilyinites distributed at the main entrance to the city railway station. The pamphlet contained statements about the verity of the Yehowists-Ilyinites teachings and the falsity of other dogmas, but included no aggressive appeals.
The book Hearts of Fire was added to the Federal List of Extremist Materials in April. It was banned by the Sevsky District Court of the Bryansk Region in April 2016. The book was published by the Voice of the Martyrs persecution ministry founded in 1967. It contains eight stories of Christian women, who were persecuted for their faith by other religious groups or the state in different countries of the world. Unlike the experts, whose opinion formed the basis of the court decision to recognize the book as extremist, we found in it no signs of inciting religious hatred.
In November, it was reported that the Pushkinsky District Court of St. Petersburg is considering the claim of the city prosecutor’s office to recognize books by American preacher William Branham (1909-1965) as extremist materials. Evening Light Tabernacle – the congregation, which distributes these publications – has been involved in the proceedings as an interested party. The expert opinion, which formed the basis for the claim seeking to prohibit the materials, stated that Branham used the neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) techniques, put his teachings above the teachings of other churches, and created an “image of the enemy” in the form of “the Catholic (the category that, for the author, also includes the Orthodox) and Protestant churches,” by insulting the feelings of “the relevant groups of clergy and believers,” labeling his opponents as sectarians, and instilling “the ideas of a person’s inferiority on the basis of their religious affiliation.” Indeed, Branham was strongly critical of the activities of the largest Christian churches, especially the Catholic Church, which, as he believed, was about to take power in the USA. However, Branham’s doctrine, which by now has lost all its popularity, doesn’t present any danger.
According to the statistics of the Judicial Department of the Supreme Court, only in the first half of 2017, 910 people faced responsibility under Article 20.3 CAO (propaganda and public demonstration of Nazi attributes or symbols, as well as symbols of extremist organizations), but only for some of these administrative cases we have the details and can judge the extent of their legitimacy. In the course of the year, we recorded 46 episodes of prosecution for public demonstration of Nazi symbols or symbols of banned organizations that were obviously not aimed at dangerous propaganda – approximately 250% increase over the preceding year. Increasingly, this article is being used to exert pressure against activists seen as undesirable by the authorities.
As an illustration, let us review the chain of sanctions that were imposed on activists in the Krasnodar Region. In June, Natalia Kudeeva – a supporter of Vyacheslav Maltsev and a coordinator of the Artpodgotovka movement protest walks in Krasnodar – was sentenced to 14 days under arrest under Article 20.3 CAO (the term of her arrest was reduced to 10 days on appeal) for publishing a collage with a swastika and a portrait of Putin on VKontakte – such de-motivating posters, aimed at criticizing Russia’s political course, gained significant online popularity in 2014. Local blogger Leonid Kudinov created and posted on the Internet a number of videos telling the story of Kudeeva’s arrest and of other prosecutions under Article 20.3, noting, in particular, that “patriotic” citizens regularly published images with swastikas without facing any consequences, and citing relevant examples. As a result, he was brought to responsibility for posting the videos not one but three times – twice fined and once arrested for a day. In October, activist Raisa Pogodaeva from Goryachy Klyuch in the Krasnodar Region was arrested for 10 days for sharing one of Kudinov’s videos. The story didn’t end there either. “Throughout December everyone was writing me personal messages. I have 1400 VKontakte friends. Everyone wanted to know why I had been incarcerated. Well, I got tired of answering everyone separately and decided to post the information on my wall, so everyone could see,” – said Pogodaeva. She attached the link leading to Kudinov’s video to the post about the reasons for her arrest. Since the video was played on her page she was sentenced for 10 days under arrest once again in January 2018. “The prosecutor told me later that I was supposed to remove the video, leaving only the hyperlink” – the activist explained.
Publishing images of historical objects is also punishable under Article 20.3. This frequently affects antique dealers, if they post online ads regarding the sale of items from the Third Reich, accompanied by photographs.
Amateur history connoisseurs also face liability under Article 20.3. Thus, in November, the Krasnoarmeysky District Court of Volgograd fined Sergei Demidov a senior operator of the Kaustik plant, for posting images of the Third Reich flag and details of the uniforms of Nazi military units on his VKontakte page. Demidov is interested in the history of the Great Patriotic War – particularly the Battle of Stalingrad – and participates in excavation of the battlegrounds in the Volgograd Region; on his VKontakte page he published the photographs of his finds and various materials about the Wehrmacht, Red Army, the course of military operations and military equipment; his intentions were clearly unrelated to propaganda of Nazism.
In 2017, the proliferation of absurd cases of prosecution for demonstration of Nazi symbols, which understandably confuse the citizens, once again prompted the authorities to think about changing Article 20.3, as we wrote in the above section on lawmaking.
In 2017, 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 removing these materials) to the fact that the library bylaws fail to mention the ban on dissemination of extremist materials. Sometimes, librarians are fined for banned materials under Article 20.29, as for deliberate distribution, but we have no information on any specific cases of this kind in 2017. Earlier in this report, we already described an outrageous case of Natalya Sharina, former director of the Library of Ukrainian Literature in Moscow, sentenced under a criminal article.
The most frequently occurring issue is that of prosecutorial objections with respect to library bylaws, and orders to eliminate the violations of legislation on combating extremist activity. They result in the libraries having to verify their holdings against the Federal List of Extremist Materials and take disciplinary action against the employees deemed responsible for the oversight. According to our data, at least 155 such sanctions were imposed on library administrators, including school libraries, in 2017 (vs. at least 281 in 2016). Although our data is admittedly incomplete, we can still notice the downward trend in the number of such sanctions. The change might be due to the fact that the library staff have generally adjusted to the peculiarities of the existing legislation and are now showing increased vigilance that enables them to successfully overcome prosecutorial audits.
In 2017, Russian authorities continued to actively use the previously created tools to block online content. As before, we doubt both the validity of criteria chosen by the authorities to select target materials for restrictions and the quality of blocking mechanisms.
The Unified Registry of Banned Websites, created in 2012 has continued to add resources that contain pornographic information or images, propaganda of drugs and 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 resources with information recognized as prohibited for distribution in Russia and materials that are recognized as extremist (or similar to those).
According to the data available to us (only Roskomnadzor has the complete information), at least 297 resources were blocked for “extremism” by the courts, and were added to the Unified Registry in 2017, vs. 486 resources in 2016.
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 Websites), should be mentioned separately. Until the end of 2017, the law allowed 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 December, when the scope of Lugovoy’s Law was expanded, these restrictions started to also apply to materials of “undesirable” organizations. In our opinion, extra-judicial restrictions of users’ access to websites violate the right to freedom of speech and information.
According to our information (only Roskomnadzor has complete data), the Registry of resources blocked under Lugovoy’s Law increased by at least 1247 entries in the course of the year (vs. 923 in 2016), showing that its growth rate does not decrease.
We regard as inappropriate restrictions on non-incendiary materials and the opposition websites (in particular, the ones containing announcements of peaceful actions); materials and websites of organizations recognized as “undesirable”; materials of regionalists and peaceful separatists; Ukrainian information and analytical materials that contain no calls for violence and websites of Ukrainian media; religious, anti-religious and some nationalist materials inappropriately recognized as extremist; materials and websites related to inappropriately prohibited organizations, and materials of a comic or satirical nature. There are at least few dozen materials that fall into these categories both in the Unified Register of Banned Websites and among the websites blocked under Lugovoy’s Law.
We are also concerned about the large-scale blocking of any information related to the persecution of adherents of the radical Islamist party Hizb ut-Tahrir in Russia.
It is also worth noting that the new law on anonymizers and VPN-services has not yet begun to be applied in 2017, but the Russian courts continued to satisfy prosecutorial claims on blocking anonymizing websites. We know of several dozens of such decisions. Prosecutors justified 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, and we regard restrictions against them as inappropriate.
At least 12 individuals and legal entities – café owners, school administrations and even one bank – were inappropriately fined 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”) for low quality of their content filtering.
Educational institutions and libraries still often face the prosecutorial wrath. All their computers are supposed to be equipped with filters restricting access to the forbidden information, including extremist materials. If a protection system does not work or works inadequately (and ideal filters simply don’t exist), prosecutors issue their motions not to software developers or vendors, but to administrators of educational institutions and libraries. As a result, educational staff responsible for the “neglect” face disciplinary responsibility.
The number of inspections we recorded in schools and libraries in 2017 and various acts of prosecutorial response based on their results stands at 53. This number is about the same as in 2016 (59), but significantly smaller than in 2015 (344). Our data, of course, are incomplete, but it suggests that, under pressure from the prosecutors, educational institutions in the past two years have been paying increased attention to the effectiveness of their content-filtering systems.
In the report on its activities for the first nine months of 2017, Roskomnadzor reports 16 warnings issued during this period to media outlets for violation of Article 4 of the Law on Mass Media (impermissibility of abusing freedom of mass information) in combination with violation of the Law on Combating Extremist Activity. However, the agency does not report which publications received a warning and for what specific reason.
We know of only one such warning, received in May by The New Times magazine for publishing the material “From Kaluga with Jihad” by Pavel Nikulin. Roskomnadzor claimed that Nikulin’s interview with a fighter from Jabhat al-Nusra organization, banned in Russia, contained signs of justifying terrorism. In our opinion, the material “From Kaluga with Jihad” contained no such incitement, and there were no reasons for sanctions against the publication. However, as early as June, the Magistrate’s Court of Area No. 367 of the Tverskoy District of Moscow fined the New Times magazine 100 thousand rubles under Article 13.15 Part 6 of the Code of Administrative Offences (production of mass media, publicly justifying terrorism); meanwhile, the editorial board was able to successfully challenge the original warning.
The following curious case of the application of Article 13.15, only a different part of it – Part 2, which punishes dissemination of information about the organization included in the list of banned organizations, without mentioning its ban – took place in June. The Magistrate’s Court of the Soviet District in the Republic of Crimea fined Rustem Mennanov, an activist of the Crimean Tatar national movement, 2,000 rubles for sharing on his Facebook page a congratulatory message from the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People to Mustafa Dzhemilev on occasion of his 73rd birthday in November 2016. The text in the Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar languages mentioned Mejlis, but failed to mention its status as a banned organization. Meanwhile, the organization was added to the list of banned entities only in February 2017. In addition, the post is not subject to Article 13.15, which only applies to mass media and blogs with an audience exceeding 3,000 users.
The above-mentioned Roskomnadzor report also indicates that, in the first nine months of 2017, the agency sent 105 requests to the editorial boards of the online media outlets with demands to remove from their pages a number of readers’ comments showing signs of extremism.
We could not access all the hundred-plus comments, but, in particular, such a letter was received by the online resource Orlovskie Novosti in August. The letter contained a request to remove a comment, left by the reader under the article “Official from Oryol Organized a Run Away from the NTV Crew: A Brief Recap” in order to avoid the site being blocked under Lugovoy’s Law. The editors complied with the agency’s request. As it turned out, Roskomnadzor saw “signs of calls for a violent change of the fundamentals of the constitutional system of the Russian Federation” in a joke that said that, if a government could get appointed and then executed a couple of times, then, on the third try, “normal politicians” would agree to participate in it.
According to the data collected by SOVA Center, at least 10 verdicts against 24 individuals were issued in 2017 for violent crimes motivated by hatred. Three verdicts against five individuals were issued for ideologically-motivated vandalism, and 213 verdicts against 228 individuals – for actual hate propaganda. Summarizing these figures, we need to clarify that our data differs at times from the real number of sentences, reflected in the statistics published annually by the Judicial Department of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, since we only know of the sentences that are reported by the press, law enforcement agencies, courts, convicted offenders themselves or their lawyers, etc., and such information does not always become public. In addition, in some 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. Nevertheless, we believe in the importance of giving our readers an opportunity to observe at least an approximate ratio between the numbers of legitimate prosecutions for hate crimes and inappropriate applications of anti-extremist legal norms.
Further in this chapter, we present the tallies for the court decisions and for the newly initiated criminal cases that we view as either completely unjustified or extremely problematic. We shall present this category of sentences grouped by the corresponding articles of the Criminal Code (the cases are discussed in greater detail in the relevant chapters of this report).
We regard as inappropriate 10 verdicts to 10 persons issued in 2017 under Article 282 of the Criminal Code (vs. 11 verdicts against 11 individuals in 2016). These include the sentences to former director of the Library of Ukrainian Literature in Moscow Natalia Sharina for storing banned Ukrainian materials in the library, to Kaluga resident Roman Grishin for sharing a video that criticized the Russian policy towards Ukraine, to Ayrat Shakirov from Tatarstan for publishing a video from a rally against the abuse of power by the security forces, to David “Ptakha” Nuriyev from Moscow for his speech against the representatives of the Antidealer movement, to blogger Ruslan Sokolovsky from Yekaterinburg for inciting hatred against Orthodox, Muslims and representatives of several social groups, to Neo-Pagan Natalia Telegina from Barnaul for inciting hatred against the Orthodox and migrants from the Caucasus, to Bashkir activist Sagit Ismagilov for publishing a fragment of the ancient poem that contained harsh statements regarding the Golden Horde Tatars, and to a teacher from Vladivostok for humiliating remarks about Russians uttered on a volleyball court. This category also includes the following verdicts pertaining to Russian nationalists: Mikhail Pokalchuk from Gorokhovets for inciting hatred against the social group “anti-fascists” and Vladimir Timoshenko sentenced in St. Petersburg for inciting hatred against government officials. We also have some serious misgivings with regard to criminal prosecutions of six additional people convicted under this article. On the other hand, in 2017, the courts or the investigators dropped the inappropriate (in our opinion) charges under Article 282 against eight people, thus exceeding the corresponding number from 2016.
We also classify as inappropriate at least 14 criminal cases against 15 people under Article 282 that were opened in 2017 and have not yet gone to trial. These numbers are smaller than in the preceding year (about 25).
According to our data, five inappropriate verdicts against five people were issued in 2017 under Article 148 Part 1 of the Criminal Code for insulting the feelings of believers (vs 5 verdicts against 6 individuals in the preceding year). These include the sentence to the Yekaterinburg blogger Ruslan Sokolovsky for the publication of atheistic videos, as well as four verdicts for publication of images on the social networks: Natalia Telegina from Barnaul was sentenced for anti-Christian de-motivators, an Omutninsk resident – for atheistic images, Victor Nochevnov from Sochi – for cartoon images of Christ (overturned in early 2018), a resident of Belgorod – for the photos of herself lighting up a cigarette from a candle in an Orthodox church. Five new criminal cases were initiated for insulting the feelings of believers – the same number as in the preceding year.
No inappropriate verdicts were issued under Article 3541 of the Criminal Code (“rehabilitation of Nazism”) in 2017, according to our information (we recorded 2 such cases in 2016). Two new unfounded cases were opened under this article in Magadan and Volgograd; the Volgograd case of Alexei Volkov (the coordinator of the local Alexei Navalny headquarters) was returned to the prosecutor’s office for further investigation.
As in 2016, only one verdict was inappropriately issued under Article 280 of the Criminal Code. It was a verdict against Alexei Mironov, a volunteer for Navalny’s headquarters in Cheboksary, who was sentenced to a real prison term (in aggregation with Article 282) for his online anti-government statements that, in our opinion, posed no danger. The unusual case of Astrakhan nationalist Igor Stenin, who, in 2016, received a real prison term after calling for the destruction of certain “Kremlin invaders” in Ukraine, is also worth noting. In 2017, Stenin was first acquitted and released by the Supreme Court, then his case was returned for a retrial by the same court, and he was found guilty once again. One of the cases, initiated a year earlier, that we saw as problematic – the case against Danila Alferyev, an activist of the Left Bloc (Levy Blok) from Ulyanovsk – was closed in 2017.
As in 2016, one inappropriate sentence was issued under Article 2801 of the Criminal Code for incitement to separatism in 2017 – against Ilmi Umerov, Deputy Chairman of the banned Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, who was soon released and allowed to depart for Turkey. We also have doubts regarding the verdict to Buryat activist and blogger Vladimir Khagdaev for his calls for the separation of Buryatia from Russia. We have no information about new inappropriate cases opened under this article in 2017 (vs. three such cases initiated in 2016).
In 2017, as in the preceding year, the courts issued no wrongful convictions under Article 2821. However, at least one case against five members of the Church of Scientology of St. Petersburg was inappropriately initiated under this article.
11 inappropriate sentences against 32 people were pronounced under Article 2822 of the Criminal Code in 2017. According to our information, one person was convicted in the year before that, so we observed a significant increase in the number of inappropriate convictions for involvement in the activities of banned organizations. Seven verdicts against 19 people were handed down for organizing the cells of the banned Islamic movement Tablighi Jamaat or participating in its activities; many defendants were sentenced to real prison terms (in Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Buryatia, the Altai Region, Nizhny Novgorod and Moscow). Another 4 verdicts were issued against 9 Muslims studying Said Nursi’s books (in Bashkortostan, Dagestan and the Amur Region) charged with participating in the non-existent, but nevertheless prohibited, organization Nurcular. Finally, 4 people were convicted in the IGPR “ZOV” case in Moscow. Seven new cases under this article were inappropriately initiated in 2017 against at least 14 people (we recorded 6 such cases against 10 individuals in 2016).
Separately, we would like to note the sentences to the followers of Hizb ut-Tahrir, which are not included in our general statistics, and which we consider inappropriate in the part related to the charges under anti-terrorist articles (2052 or 2055). We recorded 14 such sentences made against 37 people in 2017 (vs. 19 sentences against 37 persons in 2016). In two of these cases, two individuals were also charged under Article 30 Part 1 and Article 278 of the Criminal Code – that is, preparation for the forcible seizure of power – also inappropriately, in our opinion. At least 42 people were arrested in 2017 in nine criminal cases on the charges of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir (over 20 such cases were filed against more than 70 people in 2016).
In addition, we have doubts about the appropriateness of the verdict under Article 2052 of the Criminal Code (public justification of terrorism) to imam of the Moscow Yardyam Mosque Mahmud Velitov. He was sentenced to 3 years in a minimum security colony for his memorial speech about the deceased follower of Hizb ut-Tahrir, in which he allegedly justified terrorist activities.
According to our data, in 2017 (as well as in 2016) no inappropriate sentences were issued under Articles 213 and 214 of the Criminal Code (“Hooliganism” and “Vandalism”) aggravated by the hate motive, and no new cases were initiated.
In total, 26 inappropriate sentences against 47 people were handed down in 2017 under the “anti-extremist” articles of the Criminal Code (not counting the Hizb ut-Tahrir cases) – a much greater number than in the preceding year (19 sentences against 20 people). It should be noted that the majority of the offenders were followers of the banned religious organizations. We also know of about 30 new criminal cases against 40 people initiated in this period without proper justification. According to our most recent data, about 40 cases against 44 people were inappropriately initiated in 2016.
Before proceeding to our data on use the Administrative Code articles aimed at combating extremism, we would like to remind that, in reality, the cases of prosecution under these articles are measured in three-digit number (according to the statistics provided by the Judicial Department of the Supreme Court, only in the first half of 2017, 910 persons were punished under Article 20.3 and 911 persons – under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offenses). However, the number of cases, for which we have information on the specific reason for a prosecution, and can assess the degree of its appropriateness, is an order of magnitude smaller.
We regard 46 cases of prosecution for public demonstration of Nazi or other prohibited symbols, that is, under Article 20.3 of the Administrative Code, as inappropriate (vs. 17 such cases in 2016). In all cases the offenders were individuals, and, in some cases, the same persons faced responsibility repeatedly. A fine was imposed in 29 cases, administrative arrest in 10 cases and 3 cases were discontinued in a court of first instance; the outcome of 4 more cases is unknown.
According to our information, 30 defendants – 26 physical and 4 legal entities (there were at least 36 in 2016) – were inappropriately punished for mass distribution of extremist materials or for storage with intent to distribute, that is, under Article 20.29. We know that the courts imposed a fine as punishment in 29 of these cases and administrative arrest in one case. The defendants included Muslims of different branches, Jehovah’s Witnesses, adherents of Chinese spiritual practice Falun Gong, public activists and ordinary citizens. As a rule, these people did not engage in mass dissemination of prohibited materials.
In addition, we increasingly notice the fines levied under Article 16.13 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (non-compliance with the customs bans) for attempts to import inappropriately banned religious literature into Russia.
At least four Jehovah’s Witnesses were fined under Article 20.28 of the Code of Administrative Offenses for continuing the activities of the organization during its suspension; the outcome of the fifth case is unknown.
At least 12 individuals and legal entities – primarily school administrations and cafe owners – were inappropriately fined for the 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”). The number of fines under this article recorded by us this year is the same as the one observed in the preceding year.
The Federal List of Extremist Materials increased by 330 entries in 2017 compared to 785 entries in 2016; its growth rates experienced a decrease of over 50%. Obviously, this was the effect of the order, issued by the Prosecutor General’s Office in 2016, according to which only the prosecutor’s offices of the Russian Federation constituents can file requests to recognize materials as extremist in courts.
We consider the following materials, comprising the total of 38 entries, to be inappropriately included on the List (vs. 25 clearly inappropriate entries added in 2016): at least eight entries that contain various harmless opposition materials (five of them come from the Ukrainian websites), five entries with the Jehovah’s Witnesses materials, one entry containing the Yehowist-Ilyinite pamphlet, seven entries with the anti-religious materials, six entries with the Muslim materials, one entry that included the book about Christians persecuted for their faith, three entries that contain two books and the article by the Jewish authors, one entry with the text about false patriotism, one entry with the clip cut from a documentary on the subject of Nazi skinheads and antifa, as well as five entries with various satirical materials. In addition, we doubt the appropriateness of the ban against the Muslim materials that comprise seven more entries. We also would like to add that we are not familiar with all the materials on the List, and some materials with content unknown to us could have also been banned inappropriately.
The List of Organizations Banned in Russia for Extremism came to include the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People and the local religious organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Birobidzhan, (both were recognized as extremist in 2016) as well as the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center in Russia and 395 local Jehovah’s Witnesses organizations that had not been previously banned (altogether they formed one entry on the List), and the Naberezhnye Chelny branch of the All-Tatar Social Center.
 Our work on this topic in 2017 was supported by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, the International Partnership for Human Rights and the Federal Republic of Germany.
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.
 For additional information on this law see: “Putin Approved Fines for Internet Providers for Evasion of Blocking Websites” // SOVA Center, 2017. 22 February (http://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/news/lawmaking/2017/02/d36452/).
 For additional information on this law see: “The Bill to Ban the Means of Circumventing the Internet Blocking Was Adopted in the Second Reading” // SOVA Center, 2017. 19 July (http://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/news/lawmaking/2017/07/d37523/).
 For additional information on this law see: “The Law on Access to Materials of “Undesirable Organizations” and on “Foreign Agents” Media Has Entered into Force” // SOVA Center, 2017. 27 November (http://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/news/lawmaking/2017/11/d38355/).
 For additional information on the Boyarsky and Alshevskikh legislative package see: “The Deputies Suggested to Make Social Networks Responsible for Removal of Illegal Content” // SOVA Center, 2017. 12 July (http://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/news/lawmaking/2017/07/d37463/).
 For additional information on this legislative initiative see: “A New Bill on “Foreign Agents” Was Introduced in the State Duma” // SOVA Center, 2017. 20 December (http://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/news/lawmaking/2017/12/d38524/).
 For additional information on this law see: “The President Signed the Law on Administrative Supervision of Persons Guilty of Extremist and Terrorist Crimes after Their Release from Correctional Institutions” // SOVA Center, 2017. 29 May (http://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/news/lawmaking/2017/05/d37181/).
 For additional information on this law see: “Putin Signed the Law on Revoking Citizenship for Those Convicted of Extremist and Terrorist Crimes” // SOVA Center, 2017. 31 July (http://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/news/lawmaking/2017/07/d37585/).
 For additional information on this law see: “The President Signed the Law Bill on Life Sentences for Involving into Terrorist Activity” // SOVA Center, 2018. 10 January (http://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/news/lawmaking/2018/01/d38991/).
 Yet another controversial case under Article 20.3 in February 2018 led to speedy introduction in the State Duma of a bill partly based on the Ministry of Communications proposal.
 For more on the communication of the eight complaints of the religious organizations, see: “ECHR Has Communicated Eight Complaints Regarding the Bans against Spiritual Literature and Religious Organizations in Russia”// SOVA Center, 2017. 18 September (http://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/news/counteraction/2017/09/d37899/).
 For additional information on the ECHR decision regarding Stanislav Dmitrievsky’s complaint see: “The ECHR Has Issued Its First Decision on a Complaint Related to the Use of Article 282 of the Criminal Code” // SOVA Center, 2017. 23 October (http://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/publications/2017/10/d38113/).
 In January 2018, during the Trosnyansky District Court session on the Byvshev case, the Kromsky District Prosecutor reported that another criminal case had been opened against the poet – this time under Article 294 of the Criminal Code (obstruction of the administration of justice and of preliminary investigations). Byvshev is accused of publishing reports and giving interviews to the media regarding the progress of his trial, thereby putting pressure on the prosecution witnesses and complicating the administration of justice. From our point of view, the prosecutor’s attempt to prevent the media coverage of the process is inappropriate.
 It was reported in February 2018 that Stenin left Russia with his wife and son. He explained that he had decided to leave, fearing the pressure on his family by security officials, but that he still intends to pursue the overturn of his verdict and compensation for unreasonable prosecution.
 The Constitutional Court Ruled on a Complaint Regarding Prohibition to Recognize the Content of the Sacred Texts of the Major World Religionsas Extremist // SOVA Center, 2017. 29 May (http://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/news/lawmaking/2017/05/d37184/).
 Safargali was sentenced for violent actions following his clash with representatives of the company, from which he and his wife were renting a space for a student hostel in a building in the Kazan city center.
 Resolution of the Plenary meeting of the Supreme Court No. 11 “On Judicial Practice in Criminal Cases Concerning Extremist Crime” // SOVA Center, 2011. 29 June (http://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/docs/2011/06/d21988/).
 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 (http://www.sova-center.ru/racism-xenophobia/docs/2016/11/d35905/).
 If we consider the calls by the AVN from the point of view of Article 17 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which states that the Convention does not protect actions aimed at excessive limitation of human rights recognized by it, it can be said that the AVN called for such a limitation. However, the proposed limitation can hardly be considered so radical, as to justify the need to ban the organization.
 The Vologda Regional Court upheld this sentence in January 2018.
 It is worth noting that this de-motivator is indisputably homophobic; nevertheless, it can not be regarded as inciting hatred towards gays.
 In early 2018, Bolshakov also faced charges for his other posts as well as for his one-man picket (under Article 280).
 This decision was upheld by the St. Petersburg City Court in January 2018.
 The Altai Regional Court upheld the verdict in February 2018.
 The Naberezhnye Chelny City Court of Tatarstan sentenced Ushachev to 320 hours of community service under Article 148 Part 1 and Article 214 Part 1 (vandalism, without the hate motive); the charge under Part 1 of Article 282 was dropped.
 The slogan “Orthodoxy or Death,” printed on T-shirts sold online, was recognized as extremist in 2010 by the Cheryomushkinsky District Court. This slogan, is, indeed, popular among radical and aggressive representatives of certain Russian Orthodox organizations. Historically, however, it comes from a monastery on Mount Athos, and is interpreted not as wishing death to non-Orthodox, but as a contrast between orthodoxy and spiritual death – “Either we are Orthodox or we die spiritually.” The vast majority of those using this slogan in any manner shares this interpretation and do not understand it as an incitement to violence, so it has been banned inappropriately.
 As a rule, we do not categorize cases under Article 2822 of the Criminal Code (organizing activities of an extremist organization or participating in them) against the supporters of Hizb ut-Tahrir as inappropriate. Our position is based, inter alia, on the ECHR decision on the activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir, which was made as a supplement to the decision on the complaint of two convicted members of the organization against the actions of the Russian authorities. The ECHR stated that although neither the teachings nor the practice of Hizb ut-Tahrir allow us to consider the party a terrorist organization and it does not explicitly call for violence, its prohibition as an extremist organization would be justified, since it presumes, in the future, the overthrow of some existing political systems with the aim of establishing a dictatorship based on the Sharia law; it is also characterized by anti-Semitism and radical anti-Israeli propaganda (for which Hizb ut-Tahrir was banned in Germany in 2003), as well as categorical rejection of democracy and equal rights and recognition of violence against the countries, which the party considers as aggressors against the “land of Islam,” as legitimate. The goals of Hizb ut-Tahrir clearly contradict the values of the European Convention on Human Rights, in particular, the commitment to the peaceful settlement of international conflicts and the inviolability of human life, the recognition of civil and political rights, and democracy. Activities for such purposes are not protected by the European Convention on Human Rights.
 In accordance with the Law on Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation (in Part of Improving Counteraction to Terrorism) adopted in 2014, criminal cases related to activities of terrorist organizations are handled by three (taking into account the amendment of 2016) district military courts.
 Yehowist-Ilyinites (also Ilyinists, Ilyintsy, the Right-Hand Brotherhood), is a religious movement founded in the 1840s by Nikolai Ilyin (1809-1890) from elements of the Judaic and Christian traditions.
 Consolidated Statistical Data on the Activities of Federal Courts of General Jurisdiction and Magistrates’ Courts for the First Half of 2017 // Judicial Department at the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. 2017 (http://www.cdep.ru/index.php?id=79&item=4151).
 A retiree from the Krasnodar Region was Arrested Twice for a VKontakte Video // OVD-Info 2018. 5 February (https://ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/02/05/pensionerku-iz-krasnodarskogo-kraya-dvazhdy-arestovali-za-rolik-vo-vkontakte).
 A detailed list of possible charges can be found in our report, Alexander Verkhovsky, Inappropriate Enforcement of Anti-Extremist Legislation in Russia in 2011 // SOVA Center, 2011. 27 April (http://www.sova-center.ru/en/misuse/reports-analyses/2012/04/d24302/).
 We are sure that we never find out about the majority of sanctions imposed. Often, we know about the series of inspections, which was conducted and resulted in sanctions, but the number of warnings and other acts of prosecutorial response is not always reported. In such cases, we counted the entire series as a single instance.
 For more details see: Natalia Yudina, Xenophobia in Figures: Hate Crime in Russia and Efforts to Counteract It in 2017 // SOVA Center, 2018. 12 February (http://www.sova-center.ru/en/xenophobia/reports-analyses/2018/02/d38830/).
 Roskomnadzor’s results for 9 months of 2017 // Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Communications, Information Technologies and Mass Communications (Roskomnadzor). 2018. 26 January (https://rkn.gov.ru/plan-and-reports/reports/p449/).
 We also would like to point out that, in early 2018, Pavel Nikulin served as a witness in the criminal case under Article 2053 of the Criminal Code (training for the purpose of carrying out terrorist activities) in connection with the events described in his article.
 For more details see: Natalia Yudina, Xenophobia in Figures: Hate Crime in Russia and Efforts to Counteract It in 2017 // SOVA Center, 2018. 12 February (http://www.sova-center.ru/en/xenophobia/reports-analyses/2018/02/d38830/).
 For more details see: N. Yudina, Countering or Imitation: The state against the promotion of hate and the political activity of nationalists in Russia in 2017 // SOVA Center, 2018. 19 March (http://www.sova-center.ru/en/xenophobia/reports-analyses/2018/03/d39029/).
 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.
 In addition, one sentence under Article 2822 of the Criminal Code (in aggregation with other articles of the Criminal Code) was issued in 2017 in Kazan against eight followers of Hizb ut-Tahrir, but we do not include them in our inappropriate verdicts statistics, because we view the prosecution of members of this party for participation in an extremist organization debatable, but acceptable.
 Consolidated Statistical Data on the Activities of Federal Courts of General Jurisdiction and Magistrates’ Courts for the First Half of 2017 // Judicial Department at the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. 2017 (http://www.cdep.ru/index.php?id=79&item=4151).