Inappropriate Enforcement of Anti-Extremist Legislation in Russia in 2019
THE PRACTICE OF THE EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
PRINCIPAL TARGETS OF PERSECUTION
Ideological Opponents of the Regime : Prosecutions for “Rehabilitation of Nazism” : Prosecutions for Calls for Separatism : Prosecutions for “Justifying Terrorism” : Other Prosecutions for Anti-Government Statements : Prosecutions for Anti-Government Group Initiatives
Side Effects of the Fight for Tolerance : Abusing Legal Norms on Incitement to Hatred : Sanctions for Display of Extremist Symbols : Fight against Insults to the Feelings of Religious Believers
Religious Groups : Hizb ut-Tahrir : Tablighi Jamaat : Faizrakhmanists : Said Nursi Readers : Jehovah’s Witnesses : Administrative Sanctions for Distributing Religious Literature
Sanctions against Libraries
The Internet and Anti-Extremism : 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 in 2019. SOVA Center has been publishing these annual reports on a regular basis to summarize the results of the monitoring carried out by the organization continuously since mid-2000s.
The trend to eliminate the shortcomings of anti-extremist legislation, which had started to take shape in the preceding year, failed to develop further in 2019 – the initiatives proposed in 2018 were implemented, but no new steps were taken in this direction, despite the fact that the need for further changes is more than obvious. Another trend, which also manifested itself in 2018, has prevailed – the course on increasing the severity of the old restrictive norms and introducing the new ones that either curtail the rights of those “involved in extremist and terrorist activities” or introduce new measures to control the Internet.
The anti-extremist policy course chosen by the Russian authorities directly interferes with the realization of fundamental human rights including the right to freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and freedom of association, conflicting with Russia’s obligations under international treaties. In 2019, the European Court of Human Rights continued to reveal contradictions between decisions of the Russian courts and the European Convention on Human Rights. At the same time, Russia is bound by commitments that imply further increases in severity of anti-extremist restrictions; thus, in July, it ratified the repressive Convention on Countering Extremism of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
With regard to the law enforcement statistics for 2019, consequences of partial decriminalization of Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code should be noted first, such as repeal of some previously issued sentences and termination of criminal prosecution in cases not yet considered by courts at the time of decriminalization. A general decrease in the number of criminal prosecutions under articles on “extremist statements” is also worth pointing out. At the same time, the percentage of sentences we have identified as inappropriate among the total number of sentences issued under criminal articles covering extremist statements remains unchanged in the recent years. We increasingly report cases of arbitrary prosecution under Article 2052 of the Criminal Code – an anti-terrorist article relating to public speech, which punishes justification of terrorism. We also noted a number of unreasonable prosecutions under new Article 20.3.1 of the Code of Administrative Offences on incitement to hatred, which was enacted as a result of decriminalization of Article 282 of the Criminal Code. In addition, we recorded dozens of cases of prosecution under the new administrative norm that pertains to disrespect for the authorities and society; we consider this norm to be close to anti-extremist legislation and completely unjustifiable. Despite the reform of the article of the Code of Administrative Offences on the demonstration of banned symbols, launched in 2019, the number of sanctions imposed under this article, including inappropriate ones, actually increased.
The policy regarding religious minorities has generally remained the same – the authorities actively suppress the activities of religious organizations and movements of foreign origin, which they do not welcome. As regards religious associations, the contradiction between the ban on continuing activities of organizations recognized as extremist, stipulated in the criminal law, and the right to choose faith and practice it individually and collectively guaranteed by the Constitution of the Russian Federation has never been resolved. Thus, mass prosecutions of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who have continued their religious practice after their communities in Russia were banned as extremist, only gained momentum in 2019. We saw no signs of decrease in the scope of prosecutions against followers of the Islamic radical party Hizb ut-Tahrir, who face huge court-imposed prison terms (up to 22 years) solely on the basis of their alleged membership in an organization that was recognized as terrorist in Russia (in our opinion – erroneously).
In July, Russia ratified the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Convention on Countering Extremism, signed in 2017; the convention entered into force for Russia in October 2019. Among other provisions, it expands the definition of extremism previously adopted at the SCO level. While the definition of extremism in the Shanghai Convention of 2001 was tied to violence, the new definition also came to include “other unconstitutional actions.” It also introduces a list of “extremist acts,” largely corresponding to the definition of extremism used in the Russian law “On Combating Extremist Activity.” This list includes, inter alia, incitement to political enmity, which is absent in the Russian definition; in principle, this opens the way to increasing the severity of the current Russian legislation. The Convention imposes on SCO members obligations to establish penalties for extremist acts and for a number of related actions. The document provides for close cooperation between law enforcement agencies in their investigation of extremist cases, including travel to the territory of other participating states to attend operational search activities. In addition, the Convention imposes on participating countries an obligation to deny refugee status to all those involved in extremist crimes. We view strengthened cooperation of the kind as alarming, since it may lead to further deterioration of the already problematic situation of dissidents in the SCO countries.
The number of legal norms restricting the rights of people viewed by the Russian authorities as involved in terrorism and extremism kept growing in 2019. These include the laws signed in March, one of which requires lawyers and accountants to freeze the funds of their clients, if the latter were placed on the so-called Rosfinmonitoring (Federal Financial Monitoring Service) list of extremists and terrorists. Another law prohibits persons included on this list from working at nuclear facilities. Since July, they are also not allowed to operate railroad trains, and, since August, they are banned from owning crowdinvesting platforms or using them to solicit funds under the law on crowdinvesting. We would like to remind that the Rosfinmonitoring list includes not only convicted offenders but also individuals charged with or suspected of involvement in extremist and terrorist activities.
In addition, the government submitted a draft bill to the State Duma extending the ban on creating non-profit organizations and on membership in such organizations to include individuals whose funds were frozen by the Interdepartmental Commission on Countering the Financing of Terrorism.
In early April, Rosfinmonitoring published its legislative proposal that gives state agencies the powers of expedited extrajudicial suspension of banking operations on suspicion of being related to one of the following: financing of terrorist or extremist activities, organizing and holding public events in violation of the established procedure, or drug trafficking. We believe that the new extrajudicial mechanism for blocking funds provides law enforcement agencies with yet another tool for preventive suppression of unwelcome social activities, and that the proposed measures will affect not only those who participate in such activity, but also members of their families. In addition, given the vague wording of the bill, we can expect the relevant court decisions to be based not only on criminal sentences under counter-terrorist and anti-extremist articles that entail arrest and confiscation of the means of committing a crime, and not even on the fact of criminal prosecution (as is currently the case for those added to the Rosfinmonitoring list of terrorists and extremists), but also on charges under the Code of Administrative Offenses or on operational information collected by law enforcement agencies. For example, we can easily surmise that accounts of activists suspected of organizing unapproved meetings will be blocked simply on the basis of these suspicions.
In 2019, the authorities finally addressed the need to limit the total ban on displaying prohibited symbols. In December, the president signed the law “On Amending Article 6 of the Federal Law ‘On Immortalization of the Victory of the Soviet people in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945,’ and Article 1 of the Federal Law ‘On Combating Extremist Activity,’” developed by a group of deputies led by Elena Yampolskaya of the United Russia party at the initiative of the All-Russia People’s Front. The newly adopted law replaces the legislative ban on “propaganda and public display” of Nazi symbols (as well as attributes and symbols of extremist organizations) with a ban on its “use,” except for the use that “forms a negative attitude towards the ideology of Nazism and extremism and contains no signs of propaganda or justification of Nazi or extremist ideology.” A similar note will be added to Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (public display of Nazi symbols) in accordance with the corresponding bill approved by the State Duma in February 2020.
We welcome the abolition of the blanket prohibition against demonstrating banned symbols, but it is not clear how the fact of forming a “negative attitude” towards Nazi or extremist ideology is to be established. In addition, this clause will not cover all the cases, in which banned symbols can be displayed without the purpose of advocating the corresponding ideology. In order to prevent inappropriate prosecutions, we proposed that federal laws and Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses explicitly state that display of forbidden symbols is punishable only if it is aimed at such propaganda. This suggestion was included in a legislative proposal submitted by Senator Anton Belyakov, which contained an alternative plan for reforming Article 20.3, but was rejected by the State Duma in December 2019.
A number of laws pertaining to the sphere of information and aimed at further restricting the right to freedom of expression in Russia were signed in 2019. We also saw some new legislative initiatives of the same kind.
In March, the president signed a package of laws targeting indecent behavior on the Internet and dissemination of inaccurate socially significant information. This legislation was introduced by Dmitry Vyatkin, a deputy of the United Russia party, and by senators Alexander Klishas and Lyudmila Bokova. Roskomnadzor (the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology, and Mass Media) received the right to block “unreliable socially
significant information disseminated under the guise of reliable messages,” upon request of the Prosecutor General’s Office, if the information poses a threat to citizens, public order, etc. At the same time, registered online media outlets were given the opportunity to quickly remove such information in order to avoid blocking. The laws introduced administrative responsibility under Article 13.15 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (abuse of freedom of mass information) in the form of large fines for disseminating “knowingly inaccurate” information. The fines are differentiated depending on the degree of the alleged or actual harm and reach 1.5 million rubles for legal entities.
Information that expresses clear disrespect for society, the state, state symbols and authorities “in the indecent form, which insults human dignity and public morality,” is to be blocked as well. Website owners are given 24 hours to remove such information. Citizens may face administrative punishment for its distribution in the form of fines of up to 300,000 rubles and/or arrests of up to 15 days under the new parts of Article 20.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (disorderly conduct).
As we have repeatedly stated, in our opinion, these laws operate with ambiguous concepts, introduce redundant norms and imply unreasonable interference with the right of Russian citizens to freedom of expression in order to suppress criticism of the authorities.
A law that increases liability for violations of the information-related legislation, proposed by deputies from United Russia, was signed in December. Under this law, Article 13.11 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (violation of the legislation of the Russian Federation on personal data) was supplemented by a norm establishing liability for refusal to store personal data of Russian citizens in Russia and imposing large fines for citizens and multi-million dollar fines for legal entities. In addition, large fines were established for repeated violations of the law on information that fall under Articles 13.31, 13.35, 13.36, 13.37, 13.39 and 13.40 of the Code of Administrative Offenses, which include anti-extremist restrictions among others. According to the law, cases of repeated violations under these articles should be tried in courts, rather than reviewed by Roskomnadzor inspectors.
Also in December, the president approved the law “On Amending the Law of the Russian Federation ‘On Mass Media’ and the Federal Law ‘On Information, Informational Technologies and the Protection of Information.’” This new legislation provides for the possibility of recognizing individuals as “foreign agent” mass media and establishes the procedure for disseminating information by the media recognized as “foreign agents.” Individuals can be branded a “foreign agent mass media” resource, if they distribute any messages or materials to an unlimited number of people, and, at the same time, but not necessarily in connection with this activity, receive money from any foreign sources. In addition, this status can be imposed for participating in the creation of materials by “foreign agent mass media,” if a participant also receives money from abroad or from a “foreign agent mass media” outlet. Russian physical and legal entities engaged in such activities will be included on the Foreign Agent Mass Media Register and might fall under the provisions of the law “On Non-Profit Organizations” that apply to “foreign agent” non-profits. The Ministry of Justice has been entrusted with keeping the new register, but the decision to add a particular individual is supposed to be made in consultation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Imprints, messages and materials of both “foreign agent mass media” resources and their corresponding Russian “foreign agent” legal entities will have to indicate this status. A similar indication should be included in the output of a registered mass media outlet established by such a legal entity. If a decision in an administrative case on violation of the procedure committed by a “foreign agent” mass media outlet or by its Russian legal entity enters into force, Roskomnadzor is to block the offender’s resource in the manner determined by the government. Another law, signed in the same month, introduced new Article 19.34.1 in the Code of Administrative Offenses, which stipulates the fines for violating the law on foreign agent mass media that range from 10,000 to 100,000 rubles for citizens, from 50,000 to 200,000 rubles for officials and from 500,000 to 5 million rubles for legal entities. Both legal norms entered into force in February 2020; at the time of releasing this report, we have no information on their application.
In October, a group of senators, led by indefatigable Andrei Klishas, introduced in the State Duma a package of two bills that seek to expand to email services the provisions on online messaging platforms set forth in the federal law “On Information” and in Article 13.39 of the Code of Administrative Offenses, as well as to clarify these provisions. Under the proposed legislation, “messaging service organizers” (not only owners of instant messaging services, but also owners of email services) are required to block user accounts, if law enforcement authorities establish the fact of messaging information that is supposed to be blocked either by a court order or extrajudicially upon request of the Prosecutor General. The draft bill received support from the relevant State Duma Committee on Information Policy, Information Technology and Communications and criticism from the co-implementing Committee on State Building and Legislation. The latter stated in its review that the bill de facto expands the rules on messengers to all information services organizers, requiring them to check all Internet messages, which would lead to mass non-compliance with the requirements of the law. As the Committee pointed out, this requirement, already applied to the owners of instant messaging services, is in fact often not followed. The review also notes general inefficiency of such measures, both for instant messengers and for mail services, because “blocking the correspondence of a specific user does not prevent them from immediately creating a new account and continuing their correspondence.” In addition, such measures imply the state-imposed rule that “violates the secrecy of correspondence principle with respect to its citizens.” The government, in its official response on the bill, indicated its support while suggesting the need for clarification of the term “messaging service organizer.”
In late February, Klishas’ comrade-in-arms Senator Lyudmila Bokova introduced two bills in the State Duma. The first one suggested increasing fines under Article 6.17 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (which punishes violation of the legislation of the Russian Federation on the protection of children from harmful information); the second one proposed amendments to this legislation aimed, inter alia, at ordering organizations to develop and implement programs for ensuring the information security of minors in accordance with the legislation. The draft bill also suggested unscheduled inspections to investigate complaints against providers who failed to protect children from harmful information. Bokova withdrew her proposals following the negative feedback from the government.
A package of bills, introduced in the State Duma in May, seeks to criminalize dissemination of information that can facilitate the imposition of sanctions against the Russian state, citizens or organizations. Its author, Deputy Mikhail Yemelyanov (A Just Russia), proposed banning collection, transmission and dissemination of information that might lead to the introduction of sanctions against Russia and Russians, as well as information on their non-compliance with the sanctions. The draft legislation suggested criminalizing dissemination, in mass media or on the Internet, of secrets protected by law or any other information that contributed to the imposition of sanctions; and proposed augmenting Article 1281 of the Criminal Code (libel) with a new provision on punishment for libel against those subjected to sanctions as well as for libel which served a basis for imposing sanctions. We noted that Yemelyanov’s proposals, inasmuch as they pertained to dissemination of information that contains no personal data or secrets specifically protected by law, directly contradicted Article 29 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation guaranteeing freedom of expression and mass information and could lead to criminal prosecution for acts committed without criminal intent. Furthermore, it was unclear what methods would be used to establish the fact that this particular dissemination or transfer of information had really contributed to the imposition of sanctions. Both the government and the State Duma Legal Department found Yemelyanov’s bill to be inconsistent with the principle of legal certainty; the Legal Department also indicated that it contradicted Russia’s obligations under international human rights treaties. The bill was recalled by the author in November.
In 2019, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) continued to accept and communicate complaints from Russian citizens regarding the use of anti-extremist norms. At least two important decisions were made.
In July, the ECHR examined the case of Zhdanov and Others v. Russia, which combined three complaints on the refusal of the Russian authorities to register the following LGBT community organizations: the Rainbow House, the Pride House in Sochi and the autonomous non-profit organization Movement for Marriage Equality. The Russian authorities attempted to justify the refusals by citing the need to protect morality, family, national security (due to a hypothetical decrease in the population) and the need to protect the rights and freedoms of others (from encountering manifestations of same-sex relationships, promoting LGBT rights and promoting the idea of equality of opposite-sex and same-sex relationships), as well as the need to prevent the incitement to social and religious hatred and hostility, which can lead to manifestations of violence. Thus, according to the authorities, the activities of LGBT organizations manifested signs of extremism. The ECHR decided that the Russian authorities should have enabled the LGBT organizations to function without disturbance by, for instance, publicly and unambiguously indicating their tolerant position and warning potential aggressors of possible sanctions. Instead, they decided to remove the very cause of potential tension and avert a risk of disorder by restricting the applicants’ right to freedom of association. According to the European Court, the interference of the Russian authorities in this right was not necessary in a democratic society. Consequently, the Russian authorities violated Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights guaranteeing freedom of assembly and association and (since the case involves the LGBT rights) Article 14 of the Convention prohibiting discrimination, as well as, under one of the complaints, also Article 6 of the Convention, which pertains to the right to a fair trial.
The second decision is only partially related to anti-extremist law enforcement, to the extent that it pertains to the so-called Lugovoy’s Law on blocking online resources, which is anti-extremist in its origin. In April, the ECHR ruled on the complaints by Syktyvkar activist Grigory Kablis regarding the authorities’ refusal to authorize a picket-style protest, the extrajudicial blocking of three posts on the 7x7 web portal, and blocking his VKontakte account. In 2015, Kablis filed a picket notice and posted about it on his blog on 7x7. When the city administration refused to grant a permit for his picket, he published two more posts on his blog announcing a people’s gathering, as well as one post on VKontakte. As a result, his social network account was blocked at the request of the Prosecutor General and then 7x7 was forced to delete his blog posts under the threat of blocking.
According to the ECHR, Article 15.3 of the Federal Law “On Information” contains an excessively broad formula on prohibition to disseminate information about events held in violation of the law. As a result, even the most insignificant, procedural violation in this area can trigger extrajudicial blocking of posts, and the breadth of the Prosecutor General’s discretion with respect to such blocking measures makes their judicial review practically impossible. Thus, Article 15.3 of the Federal Law “On Information” lacks the necessary guarantees against abuse. The ECHR recognized the very mechanism of extrajudicial blocking of information under Lugovoy’s Law, reflected in Article 15.3, as non-compliant with the Convention.
The ECHR decided that the blocking of Kablis’ account and posts constituted an interference by a state body with his right to express opinions, an integral part of which is the freedom to receive and disseminate information and ideas. The blocking in this case was aimed solely at enforcement of rules governing public assemblies, which, according to the ECHR practice, cannot become an end in itself. The blocking could have pursued the legitimate aim of protecting the rights of others, but the Russian courts did not establish whether Kablis’ actions had actually encroached on these rights. The ECHR noted that only two of the four posts contained calls to participate in the public event planned by Kablis. It should be borne in mind that the authorities must demonstrate a certain level of tolerance in relation to peaceful assemblies held in violation of the law. The reasons for blocking the other two posts were not at all clear, and, in addition, the posts discussed the matters of public interest, and such statements are subject to special protection. Thus, in this case there was no pressing social need to block access to the information. The court found that Russia had violated Article 10, 11 and 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantee freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and the right to an effective remedy, and ordered Russia to pay compensation to Kablis for non-pecuniary damage and legal expenses.
In 2019, after partial decriminalization of Article 282 of the Criminal Code on incitement to hatred, which had been often used to prosecute people for expressing political views, the courts more frequently prosecuted ideological opponents of the authorities under other articles of the Criminal Code as well as under Article 20.3.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses, similar in composition to Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code. Nearly fifty cases of prosecution under new parts of Article 20.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses for disrespect for the authorities and the society on the Internet are also worth noting. In general, it can be stated that online oppositional activity remains the focus of attention for law enforcement agencies and often becomes the basis for unjustified persecution.
In March, the Volgograd Regional Court fined Alexei Volkov – coordinator of Alexei Navalny’s headquarters in Volgograd in 2017 – 200,000 rubles under Article 3541 of the Criminal Code (rehabilitation of Nazism) Part 3 (public desecration of the symbols of Russia’s military glory). He was charged for publishing in the Volgograd VKontakte community of Navalny’s supporters a collage of the Motherland Calls statue covered with green dye. This post was made following the green dye attack against Navalny during his “pre-election” visit to Barnaul. The creators and distributors of the collage, obviously, did not intend to express disrespect for the monument and contribute to the rehabilitation of Nazism – on the contrary, they likened the clearly unlawful attack on Navalny to the attack on the famous sculpture. Distribution of such an image can hardly be considered a desecration of the monument. In addition, the legislation never defines the concept of “symbols of Russia’s military glory” used in the wording of Article 3541 Part 3 of the Criminal Code, so it is unclear what exactly should be regarded as such.
In December, the jury and then the Supreme Court of Chuvashia found opposition blogger Konstantin Ishutov guilty under Article 3541 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (rehabilitation of Nazism) and Article 2421 Part 2 Paragraph “d” of the Criminal Code (dissemination of child pornography on the Internet). Ishutov was sentenced to three and a half years in a penal colony and a fine of 150,000 rubles. We consider Ishutov’s sentence inappropriate in its part related to the rehabilitation of Nazism. The verdict was based on his two publications on social networks. In 2010, Ishutov wrote on LiveJournal that the Chuvash authorities had never recognized the fact that the region was a burial place for thousands of German POWs, who had worked at the peat plant in Zavolzhye, and no funds were allocated to care for the mass grave. The blogger noted that, on the contrary, it was customary in Germany to look after mass graves, memorials and monuments. Neither the text of his post nor the discussion that followed contained any statements to justify the actions of the Nazis. The blogger was also charged for his 2018 Facebook post containing a photograph of a 1941 German leaflet addressed to citizens of the Soviet Union and the Red Army soldiers and officers, in which the Nazis promised to transfer household plots into private ownership and to restore freedom of religion in the USSR. Ishutov accompanied the publication with a comment, “When the Third Reich cares for the Soviet people more than Putin does for the Russian people.” From our point of view, neither episode provided sufficient grounds for criminal prosecution, because Ishutov’s intent was, obviously, not to justify the crimes of the Third Reich, but to criticize the policies of the Russian authorities.
In December, the Kuntsevsky District Court of Moscow found Yegor Zhukov, a student of the Higher School of Economics and a video blogger, guilty of incitement to extremist activity on the Internet under Article 280 Part 2 of the Criminal Code. Zhukov received a three-year suspended sentence and a two-year ban on administering a website or engaging in similar activities. According to the investigation, four videos from Zhukov’s YouTube channel contained “calls for extremist activities motivated by political hatred and enmity, including calls for forcibly changing the constitutional system, riots and obstructing the lawful activity of law enforcement officials,” and the court agreed with this assessment. In these videos, Zhukov called on the opposition to engage in a more active and well-thought-out struggle against the current system of government in Russia, but he advocated exclusively non-violent methods of resistance and, moreover, argued that violent methods were unacceptable. In our opinion, the methods of political struggle listed by Zhukov do not fall within the definition of extremist activity provided in the corresponding law.
Bashkir nationalist Airat Dilmukhametov was arrested in Ufa in March. He was charged with posting calls to violate territorial integrity of the Russian Federation (Article 2801 Part 2 of the Criminal Code). A number of additional charges against him were filed in the course of the year and they all appear unfounded. The separatism charges were based on a video address by Dilmukhametov, in which he declared his intention to win the elections for the Head of Bashkortostan and then initiate the renegotiation of the federal agreement between the subjects of the Russian Federation on new terms. He did not speak about secession from Russia, and, in general, his plans appeared exceedingly abstract; he proposed no specific steps to implement his program and did not call for using violence to implement it. Meanwhile, in early 2020, Dilmukhametov faced additional charges under Article 2823 of the Criminal Code (financing of extremist activity) for trying to collect funds via the Internet “to support his struggle for the new Bashkir Republic IV.”
In April, a criminal case under Article 2052 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (justification of terrorism on the Internet) was initiated in Novy Urengoy (Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District) against Dmitry Chernomorchenko, the creator and editor-in-chief of the Voice of Islam online portal. He was prosecuted for the article “Aleppo Fell: Lessons and Conclusions,” published by the Voice of Islam website in 2016. The case was based on the conclusion by an expert, who discovered signs of justifying activities of the banned Islamic State in the author’s assertion that blaming this organization for Aleppo’s fall was meaningless, because, during the hostilities, the Islamic State fighters had, in fact, supported an “unspoken truce” with Assad. In our opinion, the expert’s interpretation is hardly reasonable, especially since the author criticizes all parties to the conflict, including the Islamic State, and does not call for any violence, let alone terrorism.
Inappropriate charge of justifying terrorism via the Internet under Article 2052 Part 2 of the Criminal Code was brought against the aforementioned Bashkir activist Airat Dilmukhametov. It was based on Dilmukhametov’s November 2018 YouTube video about the persecution against members of Hizb ut-Tahrir religious party. Dilmukhametov characterized the harsh punishments they face under Article 2055 of the Criminal Code as unjust, but, at the same time, warned young people against joining the party and criticized its ideology. Thus, Dilmukhametov did not even agree with the ideology of Hizb ut-Tahrir, let alone any advocacy or justification of terrorist activities – he merely stated that this organization did not resort to terrorist methods of struggle.
The dubious sentences under this article for alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir propaganda are described below in the chapter on prosecutions against religious groups.
In December, prosecutors returned for further investigation the case of journalist Svetlana Prokopieva from Pskov, who still remains under travel restrictions. She was charged under Article 2052 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (public justification of terrorism in the media) in September. The case was based on the broadcast by the Echo of Moscow radio station in Pskov of Prokopieva’s “Minute of Enlightenment” show in November 2018; the transcript of the show was subsequently published by the Pskovskaya Lenta Novostei [Pskov News Feed] website. The show discussed the causes of an explosion at the FSB office lobby in Arkhangelsk. Analyzing the incident, Prokopieva argued that the actions of the young man, responsible for the suicide bombing, were fueled by the repressive state policy, which limits opportunities for civilized political struggle, and that there was a great risk that young people, who grew up in the atmosphere of state-sanctioned brutality, would respond in kind. Roskomnadzor issued warnings to both the Echo of Moscow in Pskov and Pskovskaya Lenta Novostei in December 2018; they were upheld by the Pskov City Court in August 2019. In addition, in February 2019, a magistrate’s court issued fines under Article 13.15 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (production or release of media products containing public calls for terrorist activities, materials publicly justifying terrorism) to the radio station, in the amount of 150,000 rubles, and to Grazhdanskaya Pressa LLC, which maintained the Pskovskaya Lenta Novostei website, in the amount of 200,000 rubles. A criminal case based on the public statements made during the show was opened immediately afterward. It should be noted that Prokopieva has never said that the ideology or practice of terrorism were correct and deserved to be emulated, and never claimed them to be attractive or appropriate.
In the same month, the Investigative Committee dropped criminal charges against Galina Gorina, a 59-year-old activist of the Stop GOK environmental movement, in the Chelyabinsk Region. Gorina had been charged under the same Article 205.2 Part 2 in connection with sharing a VKontakte post dedicated to the same explosion in the Arkhangelsk FSB office. Gorina shared this post on her page with a comment, “What is happening all over the country... Children are killing themselves!” In the decision to terminate the criminal case, the investigator noted that Gorina’s personal comments did not express her approval of the incident described in the post.
In 2019, we became aware of 31 cases of liability under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offenses in different regions of Russia for distributing the banned video about unfulfilled campaign promises of the United Russia party, “Let’s Remind Crooks and Thieves about Their Manifesto-2002,” created by supporters of Alexei Navalny. The Belgorod region, where at least 18 people faced responsibility for the video, is a clear leader here. Courts put the offenders under administrative arrest in two cases and levied fines in 28 cases; the outcome of one case is unknown. We can assume that law enforcement agencies have chosen this video, because it can be easily found on social networks and thus allows for imposing “preventive measures” in the form of administrative sanctions against opposition-minded Internet users without much effort. In the Belgorod Region, it has obviously become the favorite instrument of the operatives of the local Center for Combating Extremism – fans of quota-based policing, who utilize the video to improve their statistics on the fight against extremism. We would like to remind that the content of the notorious video, recognized as extremist in 2013, merely lists a number of unfulfilled campaign promises from the 2002 United Russia party manifesto and calls to vote for any party other than the ruling party. We view the prohibition of this video and sanctions for its distribution as inappropriate.
At least 11 cases of filing baseless charges against opposition activists under Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (display of banned symbols) were reported to us in 2019. One case was dismissed; three cases led to administrative arrests and seven more – to fines. The cases in question involve the use of forbidden symbols with no intent to promote a corresponding ideology – for example, the use of swastikas in opposition memes.
Thus, in November, the Sverdlovsk District Court of Irkutsk punished political strategist and public figure Igor Madasov with two days of administrative arrest for his Facebook post depicting two badges – one of the Russian police patrol service and the other one of the Third Reich Department of Finance (featuring an eagle holding a Nazi swastika) – with the caption, “POLICE everything old is new again.”
In August, Alexander Kruglov, the chairman of the organizing committee of the All-Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) (VKP(b)), was fined 1,000 rubles in Samara after three images depicting Vladimir Putin and Nazi symbols had been found on his VKontakte page. Obviously, Kruglov did not pursue the aim of advocating Nazi ideology by posting these images; on the contrary, he used the swastika as a means of political criticism. The regional court rescinded the fine due to procedural violations committed by a lower court.
In 2019, citizens were held responsible at least 56 times under Article 20.1 Parts 3-5 of the Code of Administrative Offenses for dissemination of online information expressing in indecent form disrespect for the society and the state. Fines were imposed in 32 cases (two people were fined twice), proceedings were discontinued in 18 cases (four of these cases were attempts to penalize previously punished offenders for their new statements); the outcome of 6 cases is unknown. In addition, we know of four cases, in which the police rejected the informers’ complaints and refused to report the incidents. Almost all cases under Article 20.1 Parts 3-5 of the Code of Administrative Offenses pertained to disrespect for the authorities – most often to obscene statements about the president, but also to statements targeting local officials, judges and law enforcement representatives. The offenders include local activists, journalists and bloggers as well as ordinary Internet users dissatisfied with the authorities. It is worth noting that the first court decisions under Article 20.1 Part 3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses were handed down in the spring, the majority of the sanctions were imposed in the summer and the flow of cases decreased in the fall. In addition, lawyers from Agora International Human Rights Group, who provide legal support in such cases, were increasingly successful in getting them dismissed.
In June, it became known that Chelyabinsk activists Oksana Yeremina and Yuri Vashurin were charged under Article 213 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (hooliganism, motivated by political hatred committed by an organized group). In the course of the protest rally “He is Not Our Tsar” on May 5, 2018 in Chelyabinsk, protesters broke through the police cordon. According to the investigation, the participants in an unauthorized rally filled the intersection and the area around the Alyi Shopping Center, “using their quantitative advantage to obstruct the customary flow of people” and creating a threat of their accidental exit onto the roadway. According to the indictment, Yeremina was calling on protesters to break through the cordon and then started an “active forward movement” and broke through the cordon along with other protesters; Vashurin also participated in this break, linking his arms with other rally participants. Thus, according to the investigation, the defendants grossly violated public order and expressed obvious disrespect for the society, “in order to express their political will and political opinion, as well as to protest the current Head of State, President of the Russian Federation V.V. Putin, and to express their disagreement with results of the 2018 elections of the President of the Russian Federation.” The case was dismissed with respect to Boris Zolotarevsky, the former coordinator of Alexei Navalny’s Chelyabinsk headquarters, who had previously been a suspect as well; the investigation concluded that, although Zolotarevsky was the action’s organizer, he was not involved in the crime since he had been detained before the rally began. In our opinion, breaking through a cordon and filling a square or an intersection with participants in a mass event might be considered a violation of the procedure for holding a mass event, but not hooliganism committed on the basis of political hatred.
In December, Alexander Kotov, a member of the Perm branch of the Libertarian Party of Russia was charged with hooliganism committed by an organized group and motivated by political hatred; activists of Alexei Navalny’s headquarters in Perm Danila Vasilyev and Alexander Shabarchin faced the same charges in February 2020. The proceedings were initiated based on the fact of an installation, which appeared on a Perm street on November 11, 2018 – a mannequin, tied to a lamp pole, dressed in the striped prisoner’s robe, with Vladimir Putin’s face and the signs “Liar” and “War Criminal V.V. Pynia.” The creators recorded the installation on video and posted it on the Internet. In our opinion, tying a mannequin to a pole can hardly be interpreted as hooliganism, i.e., a gross violation of public order; therefore, in this case, the use of an article on hooliganism motivated by political hatred does not seem justified.
In December, a criminal case on alleged organizing of an extremist community was opened against Ingush opposition members, who participated in organizing protests against the changes to the Ingushetia-Chechnya border in March 2019. Malsag Uzhakhov, Akhmed Barakhoev and Musa Malsagov were charged under Article 2821 Part 1 of the Criminal Code for creating the Ingush Committee of National Unity; Barakh Chemurziev, Zarifa Sautieva, Ismail Nalgiev, Bagaudin Khautiev and Akhmed Pogorov – under Article 2821 Part 2 of the Criminal Code for participating in the Committee. The activists were previously charged under Article 33 Part 3 and Article 318 Part 2 of the Criminal Code with organizing violence, motivated by political hostility, against representatives of the authorities in connection with the discharge of their official duties, endangering their lives or health.
The charges stemmed from the events of March 27, 2019 that took place on the square near the Ingushetia National Television and Radio Company in Magas, where the protest rally turned into clashes with the National Guard. Uzhakhov was also charged under Article 239 Parts 2 and 3 of the Criminal Code (operating a public association involving individuals in commitment of illegal acts). According to the investigators, Uzhakhov, Barakhoev and Malsagov, united by their political hostility toward Ingushetia’s president Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, created an extremist community, namely the Ingush Committee of National Unity (Ingushsky Komitet Natsionalnogo Edinstva, IKNE), chaired by Malsagov. IKNE activists disseminated calls for participation in non-permitted protests via mass media and social networks as well as organized such actions. They declared the rally on March 27 as lasting indefinitely until the protesters’ demands were fulfilled, thereby “psychologically motivating and stimulating” the rally participants to disobey government officials and use violence against them; this stance led to clashes. At the same time, the above-listed activists were not charged with using violence or threatening to use it. Allegedly, the IKNE members deliberately encouraged the protesters to use violence against government officials motivated by political hostility, when, “manipulating ethnic customs” and “provocatively invoking male dignity and national unity,” they urged protesters to protect elders and women by any means necessary.
We view charges brought against the Ingush activists both under Article 2821 and Article 318 of the Criminal Code, as inappropriate. The investigation provides no convincing arguments either that the activists had planned in advance to provoke violence (and got together for this very purpose) or that their calls (whether planned or voiced spontaneously) were intended to motivate the audience to violence. Thus, firstly, it is impossible to regard this association of activists as an extremist community – that is, as a group created in order to plan extremist crimes, and secondly, the calls described in the indictment cannot be viewed as actions intended to organize the use of violence.
Due to partial decriminalization of Article 282 of the Criminal Code, a number of criminal cases under this article regarded by us as inappropriate or problematic were terminated in 2019.
- The overturn of the verdict against Sagit Ismagilov, an activist of the Bashkir national movement, who had been fined for inciting ethnic hatred for his statement about the Tatars of the Golden Horde.
- The overturn of the verdict against Dmitry Dzhigalov and Oleg Semenov, activists of the “Anti-Сorruption Bureau of Crimea” in Sudak, who had been sentenced to fines under Article 282 for the humiliation of dignity of the Bulgarians.
- The overturn of the verdict against Ingush activist Sarazhdin Sultygov, who had been fined for inciting hatred toward the Ossetians.
- The overturn of the verdict against Arkadia Akopian from Prokhladny (Kabardino-Balkaria), who had been fined for distribution of prohibited Jehovah’s Witnesses brochures viewed as incitement to religious hatred.
- Reduction by three months – as a result of dropping the charges of inciting hostility towards Yunus-Bek Yevkurov – of the verdict against Magomed Khazbiev, an Ingush opposition activist, sentenced under several criminal articles to two years and 11 months in an open prison.
- Reduction of the verdict against Danis Safargali, the leader of the Tatar Patriotic Front Altyn Urda (the Golden Horde) due to termination of his prosecution under Article 282 of the Criminal Code; in 2017, he was sentenced to three years of imprisonment on several criminal charges, including those for posting statements targeting representatives of certain ethnic and religious groups, the president of Russia, the authorities and mass media.
- Expunging the conviction of St. Petersburg nationalist Vladimir Timoshenko, who had served a two-year term in a maximum security colony for inciting hatred towards the social group “employees of government institutions and agencies.”
- Release of the blogger Ruslan Sokolovsky from punishment under Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code, under which (in aggregation with Article 148 Part 1 and Article 1381 of the Criminal Code (illegal sale or acquisition of special devices intended for secretly obtaining information)) he had received a suspended sentence. The blogger was charged for publishing videos which the court found, among other issues, to humiliate dignity on the grounds of nationality, religion and belonging to a social group.
In addition, we would like to note the following cases, which we regarded as inappropriate or doubtful, and for which prosecutions under Article 282 of the Criminal Code were discontinued:
- Ending the prosecution against student Daniel Markin from Barnaul, charged with humiliating the dignity of Christians by posting atheistic memes.
- Dropping the prosecution under Article 282 of the Criminal Code (but not under Article 280 of the Criminal Code, under which he was also charged) against Yuri Zalipaev, Jehovah’s Witness from the city of Maisky (Kabardino-Balkaria) for distributing prohibited Jehovah’s Witnesses brochures.
- Terminating the case of feminist Lyubov Kalugina in the Omsk Region charged with inciting hatred against men on a social network.
- Ending the prosecution of Amin Shayakhmetov, charged with inciting hatred and humiliation of dignity on the grounds of ethnicity, language and attitude toward religion for posting texts on a website belonging to the Shura of Muslims of the Republic of Bashkortostan; the criminal case against him had been terminated with imposition of a court fine. Terminating the prosecution against Valery Bolshakov – the former Chairman of the Sevastopol Workers Union and the secretary of the Sevastopol branch of the Russian United Labor Front Party (ROT FRONT) charged for his negative assessments of the Terek Cossacks made on a social network. Bolshakov was sentenced only under Article 280 Parts 1 and 2 of the Criminal Code for his calls for overthrowing the regime; then this verdict was overturned by the appellate court.
- Ending the prosecution against poet Alexander Byvshev for incitement of hatred against Russians in connection with the online distribution of his poems; later, the charges under Article 280 Part 2 and Article 294 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (obstruction of justice) were also dropped due to the absence of elements of crime.
According to our information, nine people were inappropriately held liable under new Article 20.3.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses introduced as a result of decriminalization of Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code. Six of them were fined, one received 15 days of arrest, one case was closed; and for one we don’t know the outcome.
The Privolzhsky District Court of Kazan fined left-wing activist D. Valiev 10,000 rubles for answering a question about the intellectual abilities and tolerance of Russians on the Internet portal Ask.FM. In his answer, the activist accused the Russians of intolerance and cowardice. Valiev is a supporter of anti-fascist ideology, and his remark was dictated by his rejection of certain views that are common in Russian society rather than by his desire to humiliate Russians on ethnic grounds.
The Laishevsky District Court of Tatarstan fined I. Sirazetdinov 10,000 rubles. Sirazetdinov posted on a VKontakte public page the video “Foreign Fascist Dictatorship in the Country,” which consisted of a recorded meeting of the Academy for Geopolitical Problems chaired by the head of this organization, Leonid Ivashov. During the meeting, Ivashov described to the audience his vision of the social, economic and political situation in Russia, criticizing the authorities for their clannishness, exploitation of natural resources and population, the economic decline, the low standard of living for the majority and so on. Only once did he resort to his habitual nationalist rhetoric and expressed his suspicions concerning the Jews and the Han Chinese and their desire for world domination. This statement, however, was far removed not only from inciting hatred, but also from abasement of dignity. They can be classified as an insignificant case of hate speech, which, in our opinion, does not deserve sanctions. We also reiterate our belief that authors rather than distributors of inflammatory statements should face primary responsibility for them.
The Norilsk City Court twice dismissed the case of Eva Repina, a citizen of Uzbekistan and a Norilsk resident, in respect of whom a report under Article 20.3.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses was compiled based on the fact that she created the “Online Idiots” album on VKontakte, where she kept screenshots of posts and comments containing xenophobic remarks against non-Muslims and Russians – in order to submit complaints, according to her. The court concluded that Repina’s actions were not intended either to incite hatred or hostility against a group of people on the basis of their religion, or to abase the dignity of a group of people on the basis of their ethnicity. This did not stop the FSB from issuing to Repina a ban on entering the country until the end of 2038 (even prior to the case review), followed by the cancellation of her temporary residence permit. Repina lost her appeal against this decision. We see no reason to prohibit Repina from living in Russia – it is evident that she had no intention of inciting hatred towards Russians and non-Muslims by collecting xenophobic comments in her album, and removal of the album from public access would have been a sufficient measure to prevent online conflicts. A twenty-year ban on entering the country based on evidence of an administrative offense is an obviously disproportionate response.
The Aldansky District Court of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) sentenced assembly line operator N. Filippov to 15 days under arrest. While reading information on the ethnic conflict on “Criminal Yakutia” Instagram page, Filippov found a comment under the post that was “extremist in its nature and incited the Yakuts to unite against the Russians” and forwarded it to a certain girl “just for laughs.” Despite the fact that this commentary apparently called for xenophobic violence, we doubt the appropriateness of Filippov’s sentence, since a statement forwarded to a single person cannot be considered a public statement, and Article 20.3.1 punishes for public statements.
FC CSKA fan Yevgeny Ogurtsov from Novocheboksarsk (Chuvashia) was fined 10,000 rubles for publishing a collection of his own poetry and advertising it on VKontakte. A number of his poems contained unflattering expressions targeting the players and fans of FC Spartak. We had no opportunity to review Ogurtsov’s poems. However, in our opinion, the players and fans of FC Spartak do not form a vulnerable social group in need of special protection against manifestations of hatred, and, unless Ogurtsov had called for violent actions against them, there was no reason for charges.
In Ust-Ilimsk of the Irkutsk Region, the case under Article 20.3.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses was opened against Vladimir Ivaschenko, the former head of the local branch of the Young Guard of United Russia, who characterized his fellow town residents as a “narrow-minded herd” and “cattle” for choosing Anna Schekina, a candidate from the LDPR, as the town mayor; he also made some unflattering comments about her personally. We believe that the town residents should not be classified as a particularly vulnerable group of people, who require protection from incitement to hatred. We generally advocate for excluding the term “social group” from Article 282 of the Criminal Code and Article 20.3.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses since the presence of such a vague term is fraught with abuse. Anyway, the Prosecutor’s Office in its decision to initiate a case has stated that resolving the question of whether Ivaschenko’s statements humiliated the dignity of Ust-Ilimsk residents and whether these residents form a social group required “conducting an administrative investigation including analysis and expert examination.” Apparently, the case has never reached the court.
We also object to sanctions imposed on the charges of inciting hatred (humiliation of dignity) against government officials, since the latter do not constitute a social group that needs special protection from hate. Thus, we view charges under Article 20.3.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses for harsh statements addressed to officials as inappropriate. We recorded three such cases in 2019.
The Mendeleevsky District Court of Tatarstan fined Radislav Fedorov 10,000 rubles for posting two videos on VKontakte, one of which we have never had a chance to review. The second one, “Dimon, Who Are You?” is an animated video, in which Alexei Navalny and Leonid Volkov escort rapping prime minister Dmitry Medvedev to an electric chair; in our opinion, it does not provide a sufficient reason for sanctions.
The Promyshlennovsky District Court in Kemerovo fined Igor Molchanov 10,000 rubles for posting on his VKontakte page a text “containing a negative and insulting assessment of representatives of various official bodies and law enforcement agencies in order to incite hostility and humiliate their dignity.”
The Zlatoust City Court of the Chelyabinsk Region fined Mikhail Gorin 10,000 rubles for inciting hatred against the social group “law enforcement agencies.” The charges were based on the fact that in 2018, Gorin posted a comment in the VKontakte group “Cops out of Control.” In his post he spoke rudely about the policemen and their friends, who were posting information in a local online group on traffic accidents, and about the group’s administrators, who, according to Gorin, were artificially creating a positive image of police officers in order to whitewash their illegal activities. In the commentary, Gorin expressed support to the administrator of the Cops out of Control and called not only for the dismissal of “such creatures in uniform” from the Internal Affairs agencies, but also for them to be burned alive at the stake, as witches were burned during the Inquisition. In our opinion, many arguments from the ECHR’s decision in the case of Savva Terentyev, convicted under Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code for his call for burning the “infidel cops” on town squares, apply in this case; the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Terentyev’s verdict violated the Convention on Human Rights.
Due to the partial decriminalization of Article 282, Article 280, which covers calls for extremist activity, is, to some extent, becoming its substitute, since such calls include incitement to hatred and violation of rights on the basis of social, racial, national, religious, or linguistic affiliation or attitude toward religion.
We have doubts about the validity of the charges of incitement to extremist activity (Article 280 of the Criminal Code) brought against Bashkir activist Airat Dilmukhametov in 2019 for his aggressive statement about Chechens. Law enforcement authorities interpreted as a direct call for attack the phrase uttered by Dilmukhametov in September 2018 in the Baimak City Administration building in the course of a conflict between local residents and the authorities, which followed a mass brawl with workers from Chechnya in the village of Temyasovo. In our opinion, when considering Dilmukhametov’s entire statement, it becomes clear that it was not a call for violence, but rather an emotional reaction to the conflict – indignation at the incident and relief that people did not die.
While the State Duma was considering amendments to the legislation on public display of prohibited symbols, law enforcement agencies continued to actively apply Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses in its current form and with its usual downsides.
According to statistics provided by the Judicial Department of the Supreme Court, 1388 persons were punished under Article 20.3 just in the first half of 2019, compared to 1,652 cases for the entire 2018 – that is, we observe a sharp increase in application of this article, despite its recognized shortcomings that caused the authorities to engage in its reform. Only for some of these incidents we know the details of the corresponding administrative cases and can assess their appropriateness. In the course of the year, we noted 31 cases of liability for public display of Nazi symbols or symbols of banned organizations, not aimed at dangerous propaganda (vs. 29 in 2018). In all cases, the charges were brought against individuals, including opposition activists, representatives of small business, or ordinary social network users. According to our information, fines were imposed in 26 cases, administrative arrest in 3 cases, and 5 out of 31 cases were dismissed.
In June, the Omsk Regional Court overturned the decision of the Pervomaisky District Court of Omsk, which fined designer Ilya Frishman 1,000 rubles in April under Part 1 of Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses. The proceedings in his case have been discontinued. Frishman was fined for posting videos with Nazi symbols on VKontakte, namely a spoof of the movie SeventeenMomentsofSpringcreated by the TV Channel 1 show Big Difference and three humorous videos based on a popular scene from the movie The Bunker. Frishman stated in court that he had never intended to advocate Nazi ideology, and that he was an ethnic Jew and an Israeli citizen, whose ancestors had died at the hands of the Nazis, but the court did not take his arguments into account. However, the district prosecutor spoke in his defense, demanding that the Frishman case be discontinued due to the absence of the fact of the offense. Representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, in turn, opposed the elimination of the fine, stating that the episodes from The Bunker, modified and taken out of context, did not condemn fascism, but, on the contrary, represented it as “something funny and amusing.” They further argued that displaying Nazi paraphernalia in such videos not only failed to cause abhorrence among young people but, instead, was making those symbols fashionable. The regional court canceled the fine based on the results of an expert examination.
However, it is not always possible to bring absurd cases to an end. Thus, Elena Kurkina, the head of the circus box office, was fined a thousand rubles in September in Volgograd. In 2016, Kurkina posted on a social network a photo that depicted actors involved in a play about the Great Patriotic War and wearing the Third Reich uniforms.
Yuri Vladykin from Glazov (Udmurtia) was fined 1,000 rubles in December for the fact that, over four years earlier, he set up a display of antiques on an open cabinet shelf of a shoe repair shop, where he works, which included, among other items, an envelope depicting Hitler and a swastika. In court, Vladykin explained that he had “committed an offense due to ignorance and misunderstanding.” However, the court indicated that “the content of Article 20.3 Part 1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses of the Russian Federation does not stipulate the intent of the person, in respect of whom the administrative case is being conducted, as a necessary criterion for being charged with an administrative offense, since one’s guilt can also be expressed in reckless actions.”
An absurd episode took place in the city of Samara in November. A solemn post-reconstruction opening of the memorial complex dedicated to the participants of the Great Patriotic War took place in the Upravlencheskoye village in November. During the ceremony, it turned out that the monument, originally erected in 1975, no longer features the image of the swastika, split apart by a sword. The district administration said that they had not reinstalled the swastika due to the fact that its use was prohibited by Article 6 of the Federal Law “On Immortalization of the Victory of the Soviet people in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945,” and its demonstration was punishable under Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses.
The practice of punishing the use of Nazi symbols as a visual tool in Internet posts that are critical of the Russian authorities has also continued (see above).
Similarly to the preceding year, most of the proceedings in connection with insulting the feelings of believers in 2019 addressed distribution of atheist images on social networks. We would like to remind that we see no need in sanctions for posting such materials, even rude ones, unless they contain aggressive appeals against believers. We believe that such posts pose no public danger, and sanctions for their distribution can be viewed as unreasonable interference with freedom of expression with regard to religion. In addition, we are convinced that the concept of “insulting the feelings of believers,” added to Article 148 of the Criminal Code, has no clear legal meaning and should be excluded from the legislation.
In September, the Magistrate’s Court of Unit No. 8 of Kirovsky District in Irkutsk ruled on the case of anarchist Dmitry Litvin, charged under Article 148 Part 1 of the Criminal Code. The court found Litvin guilty of insulting the feelings of believers and sentenced him to 100 hours of community service, but he was released from punishment, as well as from the court fees, due to expiry of the limitation period for the case. The court found signs of insulting the feelings of believers in only one of the four anti-Christian memes that formed the basis of the charges against Litvin – an image of an indecent gesture with a church on the background. No “violation of established norms and rules” was found in other images. Litvin expressed his intention to appeal the court decision.
Criminal cases against three Barnaul residents – Maria Motuznaya, Andrei Shasherin and Daniil Markin – were discontinued in January. The cases caused a scandal over the application of Article 282 of the Criminal Code in the summer of 2018. The first two defendants were charged simultaneously under Article 148 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (insulting the feelings of believers) and Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (incitement of hatred) for publishing atheist and xenophobic images; Markin had been charged with abasement of dignity of Christians under Article 282 Part 1 for publishing anti-Christian memes. In our opinion, the charges against Markin were completely without merit. Publications by Motuznaya and Shasherin did include xenophobic images, but their posts did not give sufficient grounds for prosecution. Criminal cases were terminated due to decriminalization of Article 282, and law enforcement authorities decided not to continue the prosecution of Motuznaya and Shasherin under Article 148.
New cases under Article 148 Part 1 were opened against three people – in Kirov, Voronezh and Ingushetia. The names of the defendants are unknown; the prosecutions were based on the facts of publication of atheist images online in all the three cases.
We believe that sanctions under Article 5.26 Part 2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (deliberate public desecration of objects of religious worship) for the publication of atheist memes are also inappropriate. From our point of view, posting atheist images, even the crude ones, should not, in and of itself, be interpreted as desecration of objects of religious worship, since published photo collages do not imply any operations with the actual objects. It is also worth noting that the legislation never defines the concept of “desecration,” which has obvious religious connotations. We recorded three cases in 2019, in which charges were brought under this article; one of them has been discontinued.
On February 20, a magistrate’s court fined Severodvinsk opposition activist Anatoly Kazikhanov 15,000 rubles under Article 5.26 Part 2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (deliberate public desecration of religious paraphernalia). The charges against him were based on about 30 atheist publications on VKontakte, including photographs of men in priestly robes with the caption “Healthy men who live off grannies’ pensions,” a photo of a classroom with Orthodox icons on desks and a caption “On September 1, all Russian students will receive from the country’s leadership the latest tablet computers from Skolkovo,” images of Patriarch Kirill accompanied by the threat “I will track you by your IP address!” and a meme, in which the photo of the icon is accompanied by a caption mentioning “dirty glass.”
A report under Article 5.26 Part 2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses was compiled against Novocheboksarsk resident Ilnur Kamaldinov in late May. The charges were based on the memes posted on his VKontakte page – photo of Patriarch Kirill with the caption “Thanks are fine, paying the church is better” and a photo of a religious procession captioned “The nuthouse is out for a walk under the supervision of orderlies.”
In December, the police dismissed the case of Yaroslav Varenik, a correspondent of the Arkhangelsk resource 29.ru, charged under Article 5.26 Part 2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses. In 2016, he added to his VKontakte page a video of the song “Yekteniya 1” by the Polish black metal band Batushka. The video contained footage of Orthodox worship, distorted by various superimposed effects added with a video editor. However, Varenik did not personally desecrate any objects of worship, and, in our opinion, the very fact of desecration was absent altogether; the objects of worship were not actually affected in any way. This was noted by experts from the Department of Cultural and Religious Studies of M.V. Lomonosov Northern (Arctic) Federal University, who submitted their opinion on the case. “Desecration implies a deliberate action; the intention of the authors is difficult to establish in this case, since the material in question is a video clip, that is, a product of creative activity, which implies a broad interpretation of the images created,” the experts noted.
According to our information, at least 26 inappropriate verdicts against 92 people were issued in 2019 on charges of involvement in the activities of banned organizations (there were 26 such verdicts in the preceding year, but only against 77 individuals). All these cases pertained to religious organizations. Fourteen sentences were imposed under Article 2055 of the Criminal Code (organizing activities of a terrorist organization or participating in it), and they all related to participation in the Islamist party Hizb ut-Tahrir, banned in Russia as a terrorist organization, despite the absence of any information about its involvement in terrorist activities. 52 persons in Tatarstan, Bashkortostan and Crimea, as well as in Moscow, Novosibirsk, Chelyabinsk and Samara were sentenced to long prison terms ranging from 7 to 22 years in a maximum security colony with various additional restrictions (not provided below), compared to 15 sentences against 49 people in 2018.
- In January, the Volga District Military Court (which has since been united with the Ural Court into the Central District Military Court) found Ainaz Yanyshev, a defendant in a so-called Sibay Case, guilty of participating in the activities of a terrorist organization (Article 2055 Part 2 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced him to seven years’ imprisonment.
- In February, the same court sentenced 12 residents of Bashkortostan – Batyr Mukhametov, Bulat Rakhmanov, Mikhail Toptygin, Ruslan Zaynullin, Ural Abdrakhimov, Ruslan Rakhmatullin, Timur Gadiev, Radik Valiakhmetov, Yaroslav Timofeev, Vadim Davletbaev, Artyom Naumov and Ural Galiev – to terms ranging from 11 to 16 years in prison under Article 2055 Part 2. In October, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, considering the case on appeal, increased Mukhametov’s and Rakhmanov’s prison terms to 16.5 years and 16 years and 3 months, respectively.
- In February, the Moscow (now the 2nd Western) District Military Court sentenced nine defendants to the terms of 11 to 16 years behind bars. Zafar Nodirov, Farkhod Nodirov and Khamid Igamberdyev were convicted under Part 1 of Article 2055 for organizing activities of the Moscow cell of the party; Sardorbek Siddikov, Otabek Isomadinov, Aziz Khidirbaev, Sobirdzhon Burkhoniddini, Olidzhon Odinaev and Murodzhon Sattorov were found guilty of participating in its activities under Article 2055 Part 2.
- In March, the Volga District Military Court issued a verdict against two other defendants in the Sibay case: Aynur Sagadeev was sentenced to 17 years in prison under Article 2055 Part 1 and Shavkat Alsynbaev – to 12 years under Article 2055 Part 2.
- The same court (the Central District Military Court) also sentenced five residents of Tatarstan in March. Ruslan Sungatov and Rustem Yamaliev, charged under the following articles: Article 2055 Part 1, Article 2051 Part 1 (involving in terrorist activity) and Article 150 Part 4 of the Criminal Code (involving a minor in the commission of a grave crime), received the longest prison terms – 22 and 20 years, respectively. Ilnar Zinnatov received 19 years in prison under Article 2055 Part 1 and Article 2051 Part 1, Marat Tulyakov – 18 years under Article 2055 Part 1 and Irek Nasirov – 14 years Article 2055 Part 2.
- In April, the Volga Court sentenced five residents of Almetyevsk in Tatarstan. Irek Mukhametov was sentenced to 18 years of imprisonment under Article 2055 Part 1 and Article 2051 Part 1, Anas Gimazetdinov – to 18 years under Article 2055 Part 1 (in September, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation reduced his term to 17 years and nine months), Azat Zagiev – to 13 years under Article 2055 Part 2 and Article 2051 Part 2, Rinat Khannanov and Emil Shangareev – also to 13 years of imprisonment under Article 2055 Part 2.
- In June, the Far Eastern (now the 1st Eastern) District Military Court found Kabul Usenbaev from Novosibirsk guilty under Article 2055 Part 2 and sentenced him to 13 years of imprisonment.
- In June, the North Caucasus (now Southern) District Military court sentenced five Crimean Tatars from Simferopol. The court found Teymur Abdullayev guilty under Article 2055 Part 1 and sentenced him to 17 years in prison. The remaining defendants – Rustem Ismailov, Uzeir Abdullaev, Ayder Saledinov and Emil Dzhemadenov – received from 12 to 14 years in prison under Article 2055 Part 2. In December, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation reviewed an appeal in the case, reducing each offender’s sentence by six months.
- In August, the Volga District Military Court sentenced Almaz Usmanov from Ufa to 11 years of imprisonment under Article 2055 Part 2.
- Also in August, the same court sentenced Renat Galimov from Kazan to 14 years of imprisonment under both Part 1 and Part 2 of Article 2055.
- In November, the Central District Military Court (as of October 1, this is the name of the combined court formed from the merged Volga District and Ural District Military Courts) sentenced Chelyabinsk resident Amir Giliazov, finding him guilty under Article 2055 Part 2, Article 2051 Part 1.1 and Article 2052 Part 2. He was sentenced to 11 years of incarceration with a ban on administrating websites and online channels for a period of three years. However, he was released from serving his sentence in a colony for health reasons. Giliazov moves in a wheelchair and is in need of constant assistance due to Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
- In November, the Southern District Military Court (the former North Caucasus District Military Court is known under the new name since October 1) delivered the sentence in the Yalta case against six Crimean Tatars. Muslim Aliev and Inver Bekirov were found guilty under Article 2055 Part 1 and Article 278 with the use of Article 30 Part 1 (preparations for a violent seizure of power) of the Criminal Code and sentenced to 19 and 18 years of imprisonment, respectively. The remaining defendants – Emir-Usein Kuku, Vadim Siruk, Refat Alimov and Arsen Dzhepparov – were found guilty under Article 2055 Part 2 and Article 278 of the Criminal Code with the use of Article 30 Part 1 and sentenced to terms from seven to 12 years of imprisonment.
- In December, the same court found Enver Seitosmanov from Sevastopol guilty under Article 2055 Part 1 and sentenced him to 17 years of incarceration.
- In December, the Central District Military Court sentenced two Hizb ut-Tahrir followers from Kazan: Zafar Yakubov received 17 years of imprisonment under Article 2055 Part 1 and Danil Bagautdinov – 11 years under Article 2055 Part 2.
Arrests of alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir supporters continued in various regions of Russia in 2019.
Thus, law enforcement agencies of Crimea carried out arrests among Crimean Tatars on several occasions throughout the year, on charges of involvement in the activities of the party.
In February, three residents of the Oktyabrskoye urban village of the Krasnogvardeisky District of the republic were arrested under Article 2055 Parts 1 and 2. In March, after a series of searches in Simferopolsky, Belogorsky and Krasnogvardeisky districts of Crimea, over 20 people were arrested; all of them, except one, were then moved from the peninsula to various jails of the Rostov Region. Eight additional people were put under arrest under the same charges in June, after searches in Alushta, Belogorsk and the Simferopolsky District.
In July, a rally in support of Crimean Muslims took place in Moscow, timed to coincide with the day when the verdict in the Bakhchisarai Hizb ut-Tahrir Case was to be reviewed by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation.
A total of about 50 people were detained on July 10 and 11 and then punished under Article 20.2 Part 5 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (violation of the rules of holding a public event by a participant), primarily members of the Crimean Solidarity movement, who went to Red Square with the posters “Fight against Terrorism in Crimea is a Fight against Dissent,” “Stop Persecution on Ethnic and Religious Grounds in Crimea,” “Our Children Are Not Terrorists,” etc.
In November, a total of ten people were arrested under Article 2055 Parts 1 and 2 in Moscow, Tatarstan and the Tyumen Region. According to the FSB of Russia, this group included two “leaders” and seven “members” of the party (apparently, they meant to say that two defendants were charged under Part 1 and seven – under Part 2 of Article 2055), who allegedly “formed closed terrorist networks in Russia’s regions, worked on providing financial support for illegal activities, spread the terrorist ideology among the population and recruited local Muslims.” In late November – early December, two people were detained and arrested in Chelyabinsk and the Chelyabinsk Region and seven others in Moscow. Law enforcement agencies also reported them as “two leaders and seven active members” of the party. In Tatarstan, a resident of Aznakaevo was placed under arrest in December under Article 2055 Part 1.
Thus, according to our sources, at least 51 people were arrested on criminal charges in connection with their alleged involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir in the course of the year.
In addition, we view as inappropriate the verdict on public calls for terrorism (Article 2052 part 1 of the Criminal Code) issued to St. Petersburg resident Mirzobarot Mirzosharipov, who was serving his prison term in a Kemerovo penal colony for participation in Hizb ut-Tahrir. The 1st Eastern (formerly Far Eastern) District Military Court added three years to the yet-unserved part of his prison term because Mirzosharipov had allegedly justified the party’s activities in conversations with several other prisoners. In our opinion, the statement that Hizb ut-Tahrir was not a terrorist organization, incriminated to Mirzosharipov, as well as discussions about the party’s plans should not have been interpreted as propaganda of terrorist activity. It is worth noting that Mirzosharipov was charged for public propaganda on the basis of conversations that he conducted in the company of no more than three people, that is, in a small circle.
We also doubt the legitimacy of the decision of the Southern District Military Court, which, in October, sentenced Nariman Memedeminov, an activist of Crimean Solidarity, to two and a half years in an open prison, finding him guilty of public calls for terrorism based on five videos related to Hizb ut-Tahrir he had posted online. We were able to review three of five videos in question, and none of them contained any calls for or justification of terrorism.
We cannot evaluate the appropriateness of the charges under Article 2052 against Amir Giliazov, on whose sentence we wrote in detail above, because we had no opportunity to review his statements on social networks, which formed the basis for the charges against him.
The charge under Article 2052, brought in April against Bashkir nationalist Airat Dilmukhametov in connection with the publication of his video, in which he spoke about the unjustified prosecutions against Hizb ut-Tahrir supporters under terrorist articles, is also worth noting. Dilmukhametov was taken into custody in March on a different charge; see above for more details.
Twelve sentences against 40 people were issued arbitrary in 2019 for involvement in extremist organizations. A year earlier, 10 such sentences were issued against 27 people, so we can point out an obvious increase in the number of guilty verdicts.
Three sentences under Article 2822 of the Criminal Code (organizing or participating in an extremist organization) were issued to 17 followers of the Tablighi Jamaat, a peaceful Islamic missionary movement, which was recognized as extremist in Russia (five sentences issued to 22 followers of the movement).
- In January, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Crimea sentenced four followers of the Tablighi Jamaat. Renat Suleymanov was found guilty of organizing the activities of an extremist organization under Article 2822 Part 1 and sentenced to four years imprisonment in a minimum security penal colony. Taliat Abdurakhmanov, Seyran Mustafaev and Arsen Kubedinov, convicted under Article 2822 Part 2 (participation in the activities of an extremist organization), received a suspended sentence of two and a half years.
- In March, ten followers of Tablighi Jamaat were convicted by the Tsentralny District Court of Orenburg. The court sentenced Alexander Shudobaev to six and a half years in a maximum security colony under Article 2822 Part 1, the rest of the defendants received from two to two and a half years in a minimum security penal colony under Part 2 of Article 2822. In May, the regional court increased the punishment by imposing additional restrictions on all defendants.
- In Tatarstan, three residents of the republic were charged in September for continuing the activities of Tablighi Jamaat. A Tatarstan resident, whom the court recognized as the leader of the cell, was sentenced to six years in a minimum security colony under Article 2822 Part 1 and two of his acquaintances – to two years in a penal colony under Article 2822 Part 2. Presumably, these people are Tagir Salimov, Marat Nazmiev and Fanis Usmanov.
We are aware of one new case initiated in connection with the Tablighi Jamaat’s activities in 2019; five people were arrested in the Saratov Region in January and charged with “exchanging extremist literature, flying to Jordan, Qatar and Kuwait, where they studied at religious centers,” and organizing a “bayan” (a preaching meeting) in an attempt to create a local cell of the movement.
Members of the Muslim Faizrakhmanist community were sentenced in Tatarstan in June. Five people – Gumar Ganiev, Talgat Gizatullin, Rustam Galiev, Glimyan Khazetdinov and Mudaris Ibragimov – were convicted under Article 2822 and Article 2823 and received from five to seven years in a minimum security penal colony. The community, founded by the former deputy mufti of Tatarstan Faizrakhman Sattarov, who was succeeded by Gumar Ganiev in 2015, was banned in 2013, after an inspection had revealed that they were leading an insulated lifestyle and were forbidden to go to medical institutions and to send children to school. We believe that since the community was showing no aggression toward the outside world, there were no grounds for recognizing it as extremist and prosecuting its members under corresponding articles.
In contrast to the preceding years, not a single sentence was issued against the followers of the Turkish theologian Said Nursi in 2019 (there were at least five sentences against five Muslims a year earlier). Moreover, two previously initiated criminal cases were closed.
Despite the fact that Nursi’s books are peaceful, Russian law enforcement agencies prosecute Muslims, found to possess these books, for their alleged membership in Nurcular – a centralized organization, banned in Russia despite the fact that its existence there has never been proven.
In February, the Sharypovо City Court of Krasnoyarsk Krai returned to the prosecutor the criminal case of Yevgeny Sukharev charged for his participation in Nurcular (Article 2822), since the indictment contained numerous violations of the Criminal Procedure Code requirements, and, in December, it became known that the Main Investigation Directorate of the Investigative Committee for Krasnoyarsk Krai dismissed the case due to the lack of corpus delicti.
In May, Krasnoyarsk resident Denis Zhukov was, once again, charged under Article 2822 Part 2. He was charged with participating in meetings of a Nurcular cell in Krasnoyarsk in August 2018, but then the prosecutor returned his case to the investigation. However, the case did not reach the court, and according to our information, the limitation period for bringing Zhukov to criminal responsibility expired in December 2019.
In April, the Zheleznodorozhny District Court of Khabarovsk imposed sanctions in the form of a fine and deportation from Russia under the Article 18.8 Part 1.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (violation by a stateless person of the rules for staying in the Russian Federation through absence of the documents proving right to stay) on Yevgeny Kim after his release from a penal colony. Kim had been previously convicted under Article 2822 Part 1 of the Criminal Code and Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code. While he was incarcerated, the internal affairs authorities invalidated the 2005 decision to grant him the citizenship of the Russian Federation, because, after having received his citizenship, he got convicted of organizing the activities of an organization recognized as extremist (despite the fact that it would have been impossible for him to reveal his undesirable sympathies when accepting his citizenship, since Nurcular was only banned four years later). Thus, Kim turned out to be a stateless person and had to be deported to Uzbekistan (his birthplace); however, he was not recognized as a citizen there, and Uzbekistan refused to accept him. At the time of publishing this report, according to our information, Kim is still held in the Center for Temporary Detention of Foreign Nationals of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia in the Khabarovsk Krai.
Prosecutions against Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose organizations in Russia (395 local communities along with the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center) were banned as extremist in 2017, continued on an unprecedented scale in 2019.
According to the estimates of the believers, as of December 31, 2019, from the moment when the total ban on the activities of their communities was imposed in 2017, the total number of law enforcement searches of Jehovah’s Witnesses residences reached 778; 489 of them were carried out in 2019.
213 Jehovah’s Witnesses were prosecuted during 2019 for continuing their activities and financing their prohibited organizations (Articles 2822 and 2823), and a total of 135 criminal cases have been opened since 2017 against 313 believers in 52 regions of the country.
Since May 2017, at least 149 believers experienced a stay in a pre-trial detention center, including 22 women. More than half of the total – 84 people – were in custody during 2019. At the same time, over the course of the year, two simultaneous processes were influencing the number of defendants in jail. On the one hand, more and more arrests were being made, and on the other hand, the courts relaxed the restraining measures for some of those arrested substituting incarceration with house arrest, ban on certain actions, travel restrictions. In the course of the year, the number of believers in pre-trial detention ranged between 20 and 40 people at any given time.
Jehovah’s Witnesses complained of being subjected to torture in detention in at least two cases. The alleged victims included seven persons involved in the case of the Surgut Jehovah’s Witnesses community (Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug – Yugra), who complained of beatings and electric shock – they were refused in their attempts to initiate a criminal case based on the fact of torture, despite the available documentary evidence and the expert opinion confirming that the torture had taken place. Roman Makhnev from Kaluga stated that, once detained, he spent several hours handcuffed to a pipe in the regional FSB department building and received no food for three days. In addition, believers in different regions have repeatedly reported the unwarranted use of force against them as they were being detained.
Eight sentences against 18 Jehovah’s Witnesses were issued in 2019 (there were no such verdicts in the preceding year – hence the overall increase in the number of sentences under Article 2822 compared with 2018); nine believers received prison terms with three of them sentenced to six years behind bars.
- A demonstratively severe verdict was issued against Dennis Christensen, a Danish citizen who was sentenced in February by the Zheleznodorozhny District Court in Oryol to six years in a minimal security colony under Article 2822 Part 1 as a leader of a banned local community; his sentence was upheld by the Oryol Regional Court in May. This case created a dangerous precedent for other Russian courts that sentence Jehovah’s Witnesses.
- However, Oryol resident Sergei Skrynnikov was sentenced by the same court to a fine of 350,000 rubles for continuing the activities of the same Oryol community; the sentence was upheld by the regional court in May. Such a disparity in the punishments faced by Christensen and Skrynnikov is due, perhaps, not only to the fact that Skrynnikov was convicted under Article 2822 Part 2, but also because the court’s intention in Christensen’s case was to make an example out of a foreign citizen found guilty of preaching a religion that was “non-traditional” for Russia.
- In July, the Ordzhonikidzevsky District Court of Perm found Alexander Solovyov guilty under Article 2822 Part 2 and sentenced him to a fine of 300,000 rubles.
- In September, the Zheleznodorozhny District Court of Khabarovsk sentenced Valery Moskalenko to two years and two months of community service with an additional sentence of six months of restriction of liberty under Article 2822 Part 2. The Khabarovsk Regional Court replaced Moskalenko’s compulsory labour with a fine of 500,000 rubles in November; however, he has been released from both punishments due to the fact that he spent over a year in pre-trial detention.
- In September, the Leninsky District Court of Saratov found six believers guilty under Article 2822 Part 1, of continuing the activities of a local Jehovah’s Witnesses community. Konstantin Bazhenov, Alexei Budenchuk, Felix Makhammadiev, Roman Gridasov, Gennady German and Alexei Miretsky were sentenced to prison terms ranging from two to three and a half years in a minimum security penal colony with a five-year ban on holding leadership positions in public organizations and restriction of liberty for one year. The verdict was upheld by the regional court in December.
- In November, the Oktyabrsky District Court of Tomsk sentenced Sergey Klimov to six years in a penal colony with a one-year restriction of liberty and a five-year ban on engaging in educational activities and publishing materials on the Internet, having found him guilty of organizing meetings of the banned community under Article 2822 Part 1.
- In November, the Ordzhonikidzevsky District Court of Perm sentenced Alexei Metzger, formerly a co-defendant of the aforementioned Alexander Solovyov, to a fine of 350,000 rubles under Article 2822 Part 2.
- In December, the Leninsky District Court of Penza issued a verdict against six Jehovah’s Witnesses from Penza. Vladimir Alushkin was sentenced under Article 2822 Part 1 to six years of imprisonment in a penal colony with deprivation of the right to engage in activities related to the leadership of and participation in public religious organizations for a period of two years and a one-year restriction of liberty. Defendants under Article 2822 Part 2 – Andrei Magliv, Vladimir Kulyasov, Denis Timoshin, Tatyana Alushkina and Galiya Olkhova – received a suspended sentence of two years in prison with a three-year probation period and an additional punishment in the form of restriction of liberty for eight months.
On the other hand, an important precedent was created by the decision made in September by the Sverdlovsk District Court of Kostroma. The court returned to the prosecutor the case of spouses Valeria and Sergey Rayman (born in 1993 and 1996), charged under Article 2822 Parts 1 and 2 of the Criminal Code, since the indictment was found to be insufficiently substantiated and to contain “vague wording.” Furthermore, the court failed to find in the indictment any arguments to prove the intentionality of the crime, which should be provided in accordance with the Resolution of the Plenary Meeting of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation No. 11 “On Judicial Practice in Criminal Cases Involving Crimes of an Extremist Nature” of June 28, 2011. The court also noted that the Supreme Court had not banned the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses, so the Rayman family only exercised their legal right to “worship independently.” In November, the Kostroma Regional Court upheld the decision to return the Rayman case to the prosecutor. This decision was followed by a series of other court orders to return the cases of Jehovah’s Witnesses to prosecutors due to violations of the Criminal Procedure Code requirements found in the indictments. There were at least six such cases, including the Rayman case. However, it is worth noting that none of the cases was closed; moreover, three cases were returned by higher courts to courts of the first instance for consideration on the merits.
- In November, the Leninsky District Court of Vladivostok granted the defense’s request and returned to the prosecutor the case under Article 2822 against Valentin Osadchuk and six elderly women: Nadezhda Anoykina, Lyubov Galaktionova, Elena Zayschuk, Nailia Kogai, Nina Purge and Raisa Usanova.
- The Yelizovsky District Court of Kamchatka Krai returned to the prosecutor in November the case of Konstantin and Snezhana Bazhenov, as well as Vera Zolotova, charged under Article 2822 Part 1. However, the Kamchatka Regional Court did not agree with this decision and, in January 2020, returned the case to the Yelizovsky District Court for consideration on the merits.
- In November, the Lensky District Court of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) returned to the prosecutor the case of Igor Ivashin, charged under Article 2822 Part 1. However, the Supreme Court of the republic overturned the decision to return the case to the prosecutor’s office and sent it to the Lensky district court for examination on the merits in January 2020.
- Also in November, the Naberezhnye Chelny City Court of Tatarstan returned to the prosecutor the case under Article 2822 Parts 1, 1.1 and 2 against Ilkham Karimov, Vladimir Myakushin, Konstantin Matrashov and Aidar Yulmetiev. In February 2020, the Tatarstan Supreme Court upheld this decision.
- In December, the Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky City Court of Kamchatka Krai returned to the prosecutor the criminal case of Sergei Ledenev, charged under Article 2822 Part 1; however, the Kamchatka Regional Court overturned this decision in February 2020.
According to our data, criminal prosecutions against three Jehovah’s Witnesses, have been discontinued – although the real number is, most likely, higher. In Arkhangelsk, the Investigative Committee dropped the criminal prosecution against 78-year-old Kaleria Mamykina in December due to the absence of corpus delicti. The case under Article 2822 Part 2 against elderly believers Olga Medvedeva and Valentina Makhmadagaeva in Volgograd was also terminated in November due to the lack of corpus delicti.
As in 2018, we only know of several cases of Jehovah’s Witnesses facing administrative responsibility under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offenses for distribution of prohibited literature, although it can be assumed that, in reality, these were much more numerous. Two believers were fined in Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay-Cherkessia; one person received seven days of arrest in the Nizhny Novgorod Region.
The number of known cases, in which charges were brought for the distribution of Islamic religious literature that we believe to have been banned unreasonably, is greater: eleven people in different regions of Russia were fined under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offenses mainly for peaceful materials that had been declared extremist, and had triggered administrative prosecution on previous occasions: Fortress of the Muslim (a collection of prayers), the Miracles of the Quran movie, the brochure Women in Islam vs.Women in the Judeo-Christian Tradition and others.
In addition, one person was put under arrest for three days in Abakan for distributing Li Hongzhi’s book Zhuan Falun in a city park. This treatise by the founder of the Falun Gong movement was recognized as extremist solely on the grounds that it allegedly proclaimed the superiority of Falun Gong followers over other people.
It should be noted that we possess information only on a small fraction of the decisions made under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offenses in 2019. Just in the first half of the year, the courts imposed sanctions under it 865 times.
In 2019, prosecutors continued to impose on libraries sanctions, arising from the contradiction between the law “On Librarianship,” which requires the libraries to provide unfettered reader access to collections, and anti-extremist legislation, which forbids mass distribution of prohibited materials.
Prosecutors charge libraries with a variety of offenses 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 local library regulations fail to mention the ban on dissemination of extremist materials.
The most frequently occurring actions are prosecutorial objections with respect to local library regulations, 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 63 such sanctions (vs. at least 170 in 2018) were imposed on library administrators, including school libraries, in 2019. Despite the slight increase in 2018, the data of the past two years indicates the general 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 handle prosecutorial audits.
In 2019, the Russian authorities continued to 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 blocking, and the quality of mechanisms designed to impose these restrictions, which grow in scope year after year.
The Unified Registry of Banned Websites created in 2012 has continued to add online casinos, resources that contain pornographic information or images, propaganda of drugs and psychotropic substances, information about the online sales of alcohol, 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 adds resources with information recognized as prohibited for distribution in Russia, including materials that are recognized as extremist (or similar to those). According to the Roskomnadzor, the total number of resources added to the Register during the first three quarters of 2019 constituted 208,966, including web mirrors (vs. 161,171 in the similar period of 2018); 98,030 of them were added to the Register on the basis of court decisions. Presumably, resources with extremist materials make up only a small part of them; this also follows from the 2019 data collected by the Roskomsvoboda project.
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. Information, that is “distributed illegally,” that is, “contains calls for mass riots, undertaking extremist activities, participating in (public) mass actions carried out in violation of the established order, unreliable socially significant information disseminated under the guise of reliable messages that creates a threat to the life and (or) health of citizens, threat of mass violation of public order and (or) public safety, of breakdown in the functioning of the essential services, transport or social infrastructure, credit organizations, energy facilities, industry or communications, or informational materials of a foreign or international non-governmental organization whose activity is considered undesirable on the territory of the Russian Federation” as well as “information allowing users to access the indicated information or materials” are subject to extra-judicial blocking upon request of the General Prosecutor’s Office to Roskomnadzor.
According to Roskomnadzor, 95 requests from the Prosecutor General’s Office regarding 369 resources were received in the first three quarters of 2019. It was reported that 11 of these requests pertained to unreliable information subject to extra-judicial blocking under the newly adopted Klishas law (see above); as a result, 85 URLs were blocked. Roskomnadzor, together with the Russian Union of Journalists, maintains a list of resources mentioned two or more times in the requests by the Prosecutor General’s Office to restrict access to unreliable information. As of late February 2020, the list contained 27 resources. For the most parts, these are groups (such as Lentach, MDK, city communities, etc.) and pages of individual VKontakte users, mass media user forums, YouTube channels, etc.
Information that expresses clear disrespect for society, the state, state symbols of the Russian Federation, the Constitution of the Russian Federation or the authorities exercising state power in the Russian Federation “in the indecent form, which insults human dignity and public morality,” is blocked in accordance with the Klishas law – also upon request of the Prosecutor General but under a different procedure; therefore Roskomnadzor calculated a separate tally of such requests. As of the end of the third quarter of 2019, it received 44 requests from the Prosecutor General to block information for expressing disrespect toward the government and the society; based on these requests, 85 URLs were included in the Unified Register.
In addition, Roskomnadzor reports on 97,040 mirror websites with extremist materials identified in the first three quarters of 2019 based on previous court decisions and requests from the Prosecutor General’s Office.
We view both judicial and extrajudicial restrictions on access to materials and websites, that do not call for forcibly taking down the regime, as inappropriate, in particular, when the restrictions target the sites containing announcements of peaceful actions, materials and websites of organizations recognized as “undesirable,” materials of regionalists and peaceful separatists, historical materials not intended to incite hatred, Ukrainian information and analytical materials that contain no calls for violence, Ukrainian media websites; 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. We regard access restrictions on unreliable information and information expressing disrespect for the authorities and the society under the Klishas laws as unreasonable, since, in our opinion, these types of information do not pose enough of a danger to society to justify such a gross interference with the right to freedom of expression.
We are also concerned about the mass blocking of information about the prosecutions of Hizb ut-Tahrir followers in Russia (for example, in the first three quarters of 2019, according to Roskomnadzor, at least 14,676 mirror sites were blocked simply due to their association with this banned organization, without any proper review of their contents).
Educational institutions and libraries still often face the prosecutorial wrath due to imperfection of content filtering on their computers. All computers accessible to minors 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 do not exist), prosecutors address their warnings not to software developers or vendors, but to administrators of educational institutions and libraries, and the “guilty” staff faces disciplinary responsibility.
The number of inspections we recorded in educational institutions (secondary schools, colleges, etc.) and libraries in 2019 and various acts of prosecutorial response based on their results added to the total of 25, that is, fewer than in 2018 (38). Our data, of course, is incomplete, but it suggests that, under pressure from prosecutors, educational institutions in the past few years have been paying increased attention to the effectiveness of their content-filtering systems, causing the number of charges against them to drop.
Principals of educational institutions were inappropriately fined in 2019 under Article 6.17 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (“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 on at least three occasions.
We are opposed to prosecutions against administrators of public institutions, such as cafes, Internet cafes, hotels, etc. under Article 6.17 Part 2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses for the lack of content filtering, since these institutions are intended not only for children (supervised by parents), but also for adult users whose rights should not be limited. In 2019, administrators faced such charges on two occasions – a hotel owner, whose hotel provided Internet access to its guests, was fined; a general manager of a pizzeria equipped with a Wi-Fi point was issued a fine that was later replaced with a warning.
In a report on its activities for the first nine months of 2019, Roskomnadzor reports that it issued three warnings to the media “for mentioning an extremist organization without indicating that its activities are prohibited,” without specifying which publications were charged with these infractions and for what reasons.
However, we know that in April the Volga Federal District department of Roskomnadzor compiled two administrative offense reports under Article 13.15 Part 2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (dissemination of information about an organization included into a published list of extremist organizations without specifying that its activities are prohibited) with regard to the Nizhny Novgorod news and opinion website KozaPress and its editor-in-chief Irina Murakhtaeva. The charges were based on the photographs from the website of the Investigations Directorate of the Investigative Committee of Russia for the Nizhny Novgorod Region, which included an image featuring the flag of the Misanthropic Division (a banned organization). The image was used in one of the news articles without mentioning the Misanthropic Division specifically or the fact of its prohibition. Under Article 57 of the Law “On Mass Media,” the editorial board is exempt from liability under the charges of abusing freedom of the mass media if the information in question comes from the press service materials of the state bodies. Representatives of the Investigative Committee stated in court that the images were removed from the agency’s website, but could not specify the time of removal. As a result, the magistrate’s court terminated the proceedings.
Meanwhile, after Roskomnadzor issued warnings to the publishers of Echo of Moscow in Pskov and Pskovskaya Lenta Novostei in December 2018, it also compiled protocols under Article 13.15 Part 6 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (mass media production or publication containing public calls for terrorist activities or materials publicly justifying terrorism) for publishing Svetlana Prokopieva’s fall 2018 radio show dedicated to the causes of an explosion at the FSB office lobby in Arkhangelsk (see above). Subsequently, the magistrate court fined both media outlets in the amount of 150 and 200,000 rubles, respectively in February 2019. In our opinion, this prosecution was inappropriate, since Prokopieva’s show never claimed that ideology or practice of terrorism were correct, worthy of imitation, attractive or permissible.
According to Roskomnadzor, the agency sent 112 requests to online media resources demanding to remove from their pages reader comments that showed signs of extremism in the first 3 quarters of 2019 – twice as many as a year earlier (when editorial boards received 58 appeals over the same period). According to Roskomnadzor, 77 requests pertained to comments that showed signs of incitement to ethnic enmity, one – to comments that showed signs of racial enmity, six – to comments containing propaganda of fascism, seven – to comments with signs of religious enmity, ten – to comments that showed signs of social enmity, four – to comments with incitement to carry out terrorist activities, five – to comments that called for violent changes in the foundations of the constitutional system and violating the integrity of the Russian Federation, two – to comments that contained public deliberately false accusation of extremist crimes committed in the course of performing official duties against persons holding public office of the Russian Federation. We have no information on the names of the media resources that received these requests or the exact content of the comments.
According to the data collected by SOVA Center, at least four sentences against nine people were issued in 2019 for violent hate crimes, not a single sentence for ideologically-motivated vandalism, and 97 sentences against 102 people for hate speech. Among this last group, we view 12 sentences against 16 people as legitimate and intended to suppress xenophobic manifestations, another 15 sentences against 15 people, in our opinion, are also legitimate and relate to propaganda of violence, albeit not xenophobic. We are not sure about the appropriateness of five sentences against five people and have no or insufficient information about the basis of 66 sentences against 66 people.
Providing these figures, we traditionally clarify that our data on sentences issued for utterances constitute only about one third of the real number of sentences; the latter is reflected in the statistics published semiannually by the Judicial Department of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. 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, we do not have sufficient information to assess the legitimacy of the sentences in close to half of the cases. It is also worth remembering that, in some cases, we can say that the incriminating statements violated the law, but presented no significant danger to society – for example, because they had a very small audience. Nevertheless, we believe in the importance of demonstrating our findings that provide at least an approximate ratio between the number of legitimate prosecutions for hate crimes and the number of clearly inappropriate application of anti-extremist criminal 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 have grouped the sentences by the corresponding articles of the Criminal Code (the cases are discussed in greater detail in the relevant chapters of this report).
In 2019, we recorded no inappropriate sentences under Article 282 of the Criminal Code (for comparison, in 2018 we counted seven of them against eight people). As a result of the partial decriminalization of the article, eight previously passed sentences under this article against nine people were overturned, and the inappropriate criminal prosecutions against six individuals were discontinued.
Moreover, we know of no new cases opened under this article that could be classified as inappropriately initiated (we noted 6 such cases against 6 people a year earlier).
According to our data, only one inappropriate verdict against one person was issued in 2019 under Article 148 Part 1 of the Criminal Code for insulting the feelings of believers (same as in the preceding year). Anarchist Dmitry Litvin was charged for an image of an indecent gesture with a church on the background he had posted on VKontakte. He was sentenced to community service, but released from punishment due to expiry of the limitation period for the case. In Barnaul, the investigation discontinued the prosecution against two people under Article 148 Part 1 of the Criminal Code for publishing atheist memes on social networks; however, similar cases were opened in 2019 against three people in Kirov, Voronezh and Ingushetia.
Two sentences were issued under Article 3541 of the Criminal Code (“Rehabilitation of Nazism”) in 2019 (not a single verdict in 2017 and 2018). Alexei Volkov, the coordinator of the Navalny headquarters in Volgograd, was fined 200,000 rubles but released from punishment due to expiry of the limitation period. He faced responsibility for publishing in the VKontakte community of opposition supporters a collage with the “Motherland Calls” monument covered in green dye. Opposition blogger Konstantin Ishutov from Cheboksary was sentenced to three and a half years in a penal colony and a fine of 150,000 rubles (under the aggregation of two articles – he was also accused of distributing child pornography) for statements that compared the policies of the Russian authorities with the German ones, including the policies of the Third Reich, but did not justify Nazism. We are not aware of any new cases opened in 2019 under this article for statements not aimed at promoting Nazism.
Two sentences were inappropriately issued in 2019 (vs. one in 2018) under Article 280 of the Criminal Code for incitement to extremism; one of them was later overturned. Valery Bolshakov, the secretary of the Sevastopol branch of the Russian United Labor Front Party (ROT FRONT) got a suspended sentence of two and a half years with a ban on holding public office for his anti-government calls, but the appeals court annulled the verdict and returned the case to the prosecutor’s office. Video blogger Yegor Zhukov got a suspended sentence of three years in prison with a two-year ban on administering video websites for his videos advocating non-violent methods of political struggle. Bashkir nationalist Airat Dilmukhametov was charged under Article 280 of the Criminal Code in 2019 on dubious grounds – for his emotional statement that was interpreted as a public call for violence against Chechens.
No inappropriate sentences were issued in 2019 under Article 2801 of the Criminal Code on calls for separatism (vs. two in 2018). However, charges under this article were brought in the Dilmukhametov case in connection with a video address, in which he considered the possibility of initiating a renegotiation of a federal agreement between the subjects of the Russian Federation on new conditions; his video said nothing about the violent methods of secession of any territories from Russia.
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 of involvement in a terrorist organization under Article 2052 (justification of terrorism). We view as inappropriate the verdict against Mirzobarot Mirzosharipov from St. Petersburg, who is currently serving time for involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir in the Kemerovo Region. Mirzosharipov was sentenced to three years in prison for justifying the activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir, not terrorism, in his conversations with other inmates. We believe that Nariman Memedeminov, an activist of Crimean Solidarity, was inappropriately sentenced to two and a half years in an open prison for having published on the Internet five videos related to activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir. We were able to review three of these videos and found no signs of justifying terrorism in them. We also regard as unjustified the charges under Article 2052 against Dmitry Chernomorchenko, the editor-in-chief of the Voice of Islam portal, for an article about the ISIS (recognized as a terrorist organization in Russia), which contained no attempts to justify the ISIS activities. Inappropriate charges were also filed against Pskov-based journalist Svetlana Prokopieva, who was accused of justifying terrorism for her speculations on the impact of repressive policies on the youth, made during the radio show dedicated to the explosion in the lobby of the FSB building in Arkhangelsk. Environmental activist Galina Gorina from Chelyabinsk had also been charged for a remark on the same explosion, but the case against her was closed due to the absence of corpus delicti.
In 2019, as in 2018, the courts pronounced no inappropriate verdicts under Article 2821 of the Criminal Code, which covers organizing and participation in an extremist community. We view the charges under this article against eight Ingush activists – organizers of protests against changing the border between Ingushetia and Chechnya – as unfounded.
Twelve inappropriate sentences against 40 people were pronounced in 2019 under Article 2822 of the Criminal Code (vs. ten sentences against 27 people reported in the preceding year). Three of these verdicts against 17 people were handed down for organizing cells of the banned Islamic movement Tablighi Jamaat or participating in its activities in Crimea, Orenburg and Tatarstan. Another sentence was pronounced against five Muslims in Tatarstan – members of the Faizrakhmanist community, recognized as extremist. Eight sentences against 18 people were imposed for continuing the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses communities. Inappropriate prosecutions under Article 2822 were discontinued in cases involving at least four people.
We know about one case initiated in 2019 under Article 2822 against five followers of the Tablighi Jamaat in the Saratov Region. Based on the data collected by Jehovah’s Witnesses, in 2019, criminal cases were opened against at least 213 of their fellow believers. Thus, twice as many people were inappropriately prosecuted under Article 2822 in 2019 (218 persons) as in 2018 (108 persons).
Separately, we note the sentences to the followers of Hizb ut-Tahrir, not included in our general statistics, which we consider inappropriate to the extent that they are based on the erroneous recognition of Hizb ut-Tahrir as a terrorist party. In recent years, this came to mean a charge under Article 2055 of the Criminal Code on involvement in a terrorist organization. 14 such sentences were issued against 52 people in 2019 (vs. 15 against 49 in 2018). In one of these cases, six defendants were also charged under Article 30 Part 1 and Article 278 of the Criminal Code, that is, with organizing preparations for a violent seizure of power. We consider these charges inappropriate as well. At least 20 people were arrested in 2019 in five criminal cases on charges of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir (we recorded five such cases against more than 20 people in 2018).
According to our data, in 2019 (as well as in 2018), no inappropriate sentences were issued under Articles 213 and 214 of the Criminal Code (“Hooliganism” and “Vandalism”) aggravated by the hate motive. However, at least one criminal case was inappropriately initiated under Article 213; based on the performance, in which a mannequin, dressed in a striped robe and with the face of the president, was tied to a light pole; three people became defendants in this case in Perm.
In total, 16 inappropriate sentences against 44 people were pronounced in 2019 under anti-extremist articles of the Criminal Code (not counting the Hizb ut-Tahrir cases opened under counter-terrorism articles). A year earlier, 21 sentences were issued against 39 people. In 2019, four sentences against four people were for “extremist” statements (in 2018, we recorded five such sentences against 12 people) and 12 sentences against 40 people for involvement in extremist organizations (vs. 10 against 27 people in 2018). While, summing up the results for 2018, we could say that followers of banned religious organizations constituted the majority of the wrongfully convicted, in 2019 this majority became overwhelming.
In total, we know of newly opened criminal cases against approximately 233 people inappropriately initiated during the review period under anti-extremist articles (that is, excluding the Hizb ut-Tahrir cases). This is almost twice as much as in 2018, when about 120 people found themselves inappropriately prosecuted. As in the preceding year, the increase came from the cases opened as part of criminal prosecution campaign against Jehovah’s Witnesses under the article on continuing activities of extremist organizations; only a few new cases pertained to public statements and actions.
Before proceeding to our data on the use of the Code of Administrative Offenses articles aimed at combating extremism, we would like to remind that, in reality, there are hundreds of cases filed under these articles. According to the statistics provided by the Judicial Department of the Supreme Court, only in the first half of 2019, sanctions were imposed 158 times under Article 20.3.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses, 1,388 times under Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (vs. 1,952 times for the entire 2018) and 865 times under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (vs. 1,964 times for the entire 2018). However, only for several dozen cases we have sufficient information to assess their appropriateness.
We regard as inappropriate the administrative sanctions against nine people under Article 20.3.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses for inciting hatred; the case against one of them was dismissed, six were fined, one faced 15 days arrest.
The sanctions for public demonstration of Nazi or other prohibited symbols, that is, under Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses, were, in our opinion, inappropriate for at least 31 persons (vs. 29 in 2018). In all cases the offenders were individuals, including activists of the opposition, small business owners and ordinary social network users. A fine was imposed in 15 cases, administrative arrest in seven cases and five cases were discontinued in a court of the first instance; the outcome of two remaining cases is unknown.
According to our information, at least 59 defendants were inappropriately punished under Article 20.29 for mass distribution of extremist materials or for storage of such materials with intent to distribute. We reported only 17 in 2018, but this numerical disparity is likely due to the fact that in 2019 we managed to find more published court decisions under this article. We know that the courts imposed a fine as punishment in 53 of these cases, an administrative arrest in four cases, and two cases were discontinued. Those who faced arbitrary sanctions primarily included ordinary users of social networks, opposition activists and believers of various movements. Most of them were not involved in the actual mass distribution of prohibited materials.
According to our information, at least 56 cases were filed in 2019 under Article 20.1 Parts 3-5 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (on the dissemination of information expressing disrespect for the state and the society in indecent form on the Internet). A fine was imposed 32 times (two people were fined twice); proceedings in 18 cases were discontinued (four of these cases were attempts to press charges for new statements against a previously punished individual); we do not know the outcome of six remaining cases. In almost all cases, the charges were related to disrespect for the authorities. We are also aware of four cases in which the police refused to report the incidents.
The Federal List of Extremist Materials increased by 193 entries in 2019, compared to 466 new entries in 2018, that is, its growth rate fell sharply. In our opinion, only five of these entries were added to the Federal List inappropriately (versus 63 inappropriate entries in 2018). It can be assumed that the authorities took a more cautious approach to banning materials, and this, of course, is a positive trend, possibly related to a new procedure for recognizing materials as extremist, which entered into force in 2019. We have to add, as usual, that we are not familiar with all the materials on the list, and some materials with content unknown to us also could have been banned inappropriately. In addition, we believe that the mechanism of banning materials and adding them to a special list, which reached 5004 points by the end of 2019, is ineffective and leads to prosecution for disseminating information that poses no danger to society.
 Our work on this issue was supported by the European Union, the Netherlands, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and the International Partnership for Human Rights.
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.
 See: The Belgorod region: Administrative sanctions for the distribution of the video “Let’s Remind Crooks and Thieves about Their Manifesto-2002” // SOVA Center. 2019. 23 October (https://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/news/persecution/2019/10/d41616/).
 See: Sanctions against citizens for online insults against the state and the society // SOVA Center. 2019 (https://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/news/persecution/2019/04/d40942/).
 Bashkir activist Ismagilov exempted from criminal liability // SOVA Center. 2019. 20 February (https://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/news/persecution/2019/02/d40680/)/
 The Supreme Court of Crimea overturns the verdict to activists of the Anti-Corruption Bureau // SOVA Center. 2019. 8 February (https://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/news/persecution/2019/02/d40638/).
 The sentence to co-chair of Mehk-Khel Movement overturned // SOVA Center. 2019. 30 September (https://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/news/persecution/2019/09/d41518/).
 The case under Article 282 of the Criminal Code against a follower of Jehovah’s Witnesses, convicted in Kabardino-Balkaria, has been closed // SOVA Center. 2019. 1 March (https://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/news/persecution/2019/03/d40726/).
 Charges of inciting hostility towards local authorities against an Ingush opposition activist dropped // SOVA Center. 2019. 28 February (https://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/news/persecution/2019/02/d40712/).
 The court releases Danis Safargali from punishment under Article 282 of the Criminal Code // SOVA Center. 2019. 14 February (https://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/news/persecution/2019/02/d40658/).
 Vladimir Timoshenko’s criminal record for inciting hatred against civil servants expunged // SOVA Center. 2019. 20 May (https://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/news/persecution/2019/05/d41034/).
 Blogger Sokolovsky released from punishment under Article 282 of the Criminal Code due to its decriminalization // SOVA Center. 2019. 8 May (https://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/news/persecution/2019/05/d40988/).
 A Barnaul court terminates the proceedings in the case of Daniil Markin // SOVA Center. 2019. 21 January (https://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/news/persecution/2019/01/d40538/).
 The Supreme Court of Kabardino-Balkaria recognizes Yuri Zalipaev’s right to rehabilitation // SOVA Center. 2019. 15 March (https://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/news/persecution/2019/03/d40772/).
 Criminal prosecution of Omsk feminist Kalugina discontinued // SOVA Center. 2019. 5 February (https://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/news/persecution/2019/02/d40611/).
 Criminal prosecution for posts on the Shura of Muslims of the Republic of Bashkortostan website dropped in Ufa // SOVA Center. 2019. 7 February (https://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/news/persecution/2019/02/d40626/).
 Valery Bolshakov’s sentence revoked // SOVA Center. 2019. 26 August (https://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/news/persecution/2019/08/d41387/).
 Alexander Byvshev’s case discontinued // SOVA Center. 2019. 30 October (https://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/news/persecution/2019/10/d41649/).
 See: The ECHR found violation of the Convention on Human Rights in the case of Savva Terentyev // SOVA Center. 2019. 28 August (https://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/news/counteraction/2018/08/d39919/).
 Consolidated statistical data on the activities of federal courts of general jurisdiction and magistrates’ courts for the first half of 2019 // Judicial Department at the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. 2019 (http://www.cdep.ru/index.php?id=79&item=5083).
 Consolidated statistical data on the activities of federal courts of general jurisdiction and magistrates’ courts for 2018 // Judicial Department at the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. 2019 (http://www.cdep.ru/index.php?id=79&item=4891).
 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 on other grounds 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.
 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. 2012. 27 April (https://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.
 According to Roskomnadzor, “due to the presence of prohibited information,” the Unified Registry added 140,734 sites and/or site indexes on the Internet in the first half of 2019 and 68,232 sites and/or web site indexes in the third quarter. See: Roskomnadzor’s results // Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Telecom, Information Technologies and Mass Communications (Roskomnadzor). 2019. February (http://www.rkn.gov.ru/plan-and-reports/reports/p449/).
 According to Roskomnadzor, 60 requests from the Prosecutor General’s Office regarding 243 resources were received in the first half of 2019 and 35 requests relating to 126 resources in the third quarter. See: Roskomnadzor’s results // Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Telecom, Information Technologies and Mass Communications (Roskomnadzor). 2020 (http://www.rkn.gov.ru/plan-and-reports/reports/p449/).
 List of information resources that repeatedly disseminate false information. Test Version // Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Telecom, Information Technologies and Mass Communications (Roskomnadzor). 2020 (https://rkn.gov.ru/mass-communications/p1104/).
 According to Roskomnadzor, 58,670 such mirror websites were identified in the first half of 2019, another 38,370 in the third quarter. Roskomnadzor’s results // Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Telecom, Information Technologies and Mass Communications (Roskomnadzor). 2020 (http://www.rkn.gov.ru/plan-and-reports/reports/p449/).
 According to Roskomnadzor, over 10,000 such mirror websites were identified in the first half of 2019, another 4,676 in the third quarter. See: Roskomnadzor’s results // Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Telecom, Information Technologies and Mass Communications (Roskomnadzor). 2020 (http://www.rkn.gov.ru/plan-and-reports/reports/p449/).
 The results of the analysis of information on the implementation of the plan of activities of Roskomnadzor for the 3rd quarter of 2019 // Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Telecom, Information Technologies and Mass Communications (Roskomnadzor). 2019. 28 November (https://rkn.gov.ru/docs/doc_2582.docx).
 Here, we only count the sentences, which take the hate motive into account. For more details see: Natalia Yudina, Criminal Activity of the Ultra-Right. Hate Crimes and Counteraction to Them in Russia in 2019 // SOVA Center. 2019. 5 February (https://www.sova-center.ru/en/xenophobia/reports-analyses/2020/02/d42031/).
 For additional details see: Natalia Yudina, In the Absence of the Familiar Article. The State Against the Incitement of Hatred and the Political Participation of Nationalists in Russia in 2019 // SOVA Center. 2020. 17 March (https://www.sova-center.ru/en/xenophobia/reports-analyses/2020/03/d42196/).
 It should be noted that in speaking of appropriate and inappropriate verdicts we focus only on the merits; in most cases we do not consider possible procedural violations.
 See: Consolidated statistical data on the activities of federal courts of general jurisdiction and magistrates’ courts for the first half of 2019 // Judicial Department at the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. 2019 (http://www.cdep.ru/index.php?id=79&item=5083); Consolidated statistical data on the activities of federal courts of general jurisdiction and magistrates’ courts for 2018 // Judicial Department at the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. 2019 (http://www.cdep.ru/index.php?id=79&item=4891).
 The law on procedural reform entered into force on October 1, 2019 and transferred cases on recognizing materials as extremist from civil to administrative jurisdiction. Prosecutorial claims to recognize materials as extremist now have to be filed in the manner prescribed by the Code of Administrative Judicial Procedure. The law specifies materials that are to be enclosed with the claim and allows the court to involve the concerned parties in the proceedings, to name individuals whose actions served as the basis for filing the claim as defendants and to impose the legal costs on them. If such an individual has not been identified, courts shall involve the Ombudsman of the Russian Federation or an Ombudsman in an entity of the Federation in the judicial review of the case.