Now Extremists. How Alexei Navalny's Supporters May Be Persecuted
On June 9, the Moscow City Court, based on the charges by the Moscow Prosecutor's Office, recognized the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), the Foundation for the Protection of Citizens' Rights (FPCR), and the headquarters of Alexei Navalny as extremist organizations. Now, many citizens are under a threat of pressure and persecution. We are offering an overview of several "anti-extremist" articles of the Administrative Code and the Criminal Code that may be applied to Navalny's supporters.
In addition to the newly introduced ban on running in any election (which has a retroactive effect on former leaders and members of "extremist" organizations), possible issues with accessing education and employment, there is a high probability of prosecution under the Administrative Code and the Criminal Code. You may learn about possible repercussions from our instructions prepared with the assistance of the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, one of the areas of activity of which is the unlawful application of anti-extremist legislation. Below we examine the application of the relevant articles in more detail. This text was also prepared together with our colleagues from SOVA.
Distribution of materials
Persecution for distributing the symbols and materials of a banned organization on the Internet is possible even if it happened before the ban because if the publication continued to be available after the ban, it is considered a continuing offense. However, in order to prosecute for the distribution of materials, the materials themselves must be recognized as extremist.
The prosecution for the distribution of materials related to Navalny as extremist is already underway. Under the article on the production and distribution of extremist materials (20.29 of the Administrative Code), citizens have been persecuted for more than seven years for the video "Let's Remind Crooks and Thieves of Their Manifesto-2002", which was published on Alexei Navalny's blog and YouTube in October of 2011, and banned in the summer of 2013 by Kirov District Court of Novosibirsk and included on the Federal List of Extremist Materials. According to SOVA, in the last two years alone, more than 60 people have been brought to administrative responsibility because of the publication of this video. What is extremist in this video is unclear: it lists the unfulfilled election promises of United Russia and encourages voters to vote for any other party.
It cannot be ruled out that the same fate will befall some publications of Navalny's organizations or his own. It is known, for example, that more than a year after the banning of all organizations of Jehovah's Witnesses, almost 20 publications of this confession were declared extremist, including the "Holy Scripture - New World Translation," that is, the Bible translated by Jehovah's Witnesses. At the same time, the courts may not even take the trouble to assess what is extremist in a particular material - it is enough to identify the connection of the material with an already banned organization.
The number of persons charged under Article 20.29 of the Administrative Code in recent years, according to the Judicial Department of the Supreme Court, ranges from 1,590 to 1,960 people per year. For the court, when considering such a case, only the very fact of recognizing the material as extremist is important, no other arguments are taken into account. At the same time, there are already more than five thousand items on the Federal List of Extremist Materials. Not a single person can keep in mind which materials have already made it to the list, and the principles according to which it is compiled defy logic. The punishment under Art. 20.29 of the Administrative Code is a fine of up to three thousand rubles (approximately 34 EUR) or an administrative arrest of up to 15 days, and possible confiscation of materials and equipment used for their production.
"Propaganda or public display" of prohibited attributes or symbols, that is, Nazi symbols, as well as attributes or symbols of extremist organizations or others, "the propaganda or public display of which is prohibited by federal laws" (part 1 of article 20.3 of the Administrative Code) is punishable by a fine up to two thousand rubles (approximately 23 EUR) or an arrest of up to 15 days. For the production, sale, or purchase for propaganda purposes - the punishment is a fine of up to two and a half thousand rubles (approximately 29 EUR). According to the Judicial Department of the Supreme Court, in 2016-2018, approximately 1,650 to 1,790 people were charged under this article per year, in 2019 - 2,388 people, in 2020 - 2,279 people.
In most cases, the publication of any images with Nazi symbols, primarily with a swastika, becomes the reason for drawing up the protocols under this article. In order to prosecute for the "symbols of an extremist organization" a separate decision on the recognition of these symbols as extremist is not required. The symbols do not even have to be officially registered as the symbols of the respective organization.
Since the end of 2019, Article 20.3 of the Administrative Code contains a clause clarifying that cases when "a negative attitude to the ideology" of extremism is formed and "there are no signs of propaganda or justification" of extremist ideology should not fall under its effect. In practice, however, this aspect is rarely taken into account.
It is not always clear by what criteria the police and the court determine that a particular symbol is connected to an extremist organization. One may recall the story of the Khabarovsk activist Rostislav Smolensky - "Furgalomobil" (a food truck with campaigning posters) driver - who rode in front of a column of protesters at the marches in support of the former governor of the Khabarovsk Krai Sergei Furgal. Smolensky was detained in November of 2020 in Vladivostok, where he came to collect signatures for the release of Furgal.
In the protocol, police officers wrote that the amulet in the "Furgalmobile"'s cabin was a pendant with the image of the neo-pagan "Svarog square", which is the symbol of the Northern Brotherhood - a radical nationalist organization banned in 2012. Obviously, the "Svarog square" was not an officially registered symbol of the "Northern Brotherhood". At the same time, the court was not interested in whether Smolensky had anything to do with the banned organization and whether he was going to propagate its ideology. As a result, Smolensky was arrested for ten days. The court of appeal later admitted two reports from different experts to the case, refuting the conclusion based on which the arrest warrant was issued, but upheld the decision.
A few months earlier, in Moscow, the host of Channel One Yevgeny Kolesov, who heads the Power of the Law organization, was fined 1,000 rubles (11.5 EUR) under the same article and in connection with the same symbol; the prosecutor's office found "Svarog square" in the organization's logo. The examination of the logo, as Kolesov told OVD-Info, was carried out by a linguist who was not a heraldry specialist, and the resolution indicated a broken link to the Power of the Law video on YouTube.
The most serious type of prosecution in connection with the prohibition of an organization as extremist is the application of Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code - on organizing (part 1), inclining, recruiting, involving (part 1.1) or participating in the activities (part 2) of an extremist organization. In the summer of 2016, the crimes provided for by this article were decided to be classified as grave, and the punishment under it became harsh.
Currently, one can receive a fine of up to 800,000 rubles (over 9,000 Euro) or imprisonment for up to 10 years under the charges of organizing the activities of an extremist organization; under the charges of recruitment - a fine of up to 700,000 rubles (approximately 8,000 Euro), forced labor for up to five years, or imprisonment for up to eight years; under the charges of participation in activities - a fine of up to 600,000 rubles (over 6,800 Euro), forced labor for up to four years, or imprisonment for up to six years. Punishments in the form of forced labor and imprisonment are accompanied by deprivation of the right to hold certain positions or engage in certain activities for various periods, as well as restraint of freedom for various periods after the end of labor or imprisonment.
Currently, both the FBK and Navalny's headquarters have stopped their activity. Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code does not have a retroactive effect, that is, a case cannot be initiated against a person for the fact that they participated or organized the activities of any of these organizations before they were banned. However, the investigation and the court could regard a different activity of the people associated with a banned organization as such that calls for prosecution.
The case of the Initiative Group for the Preparation of the Referendum "For Accountable Power", which, according to the court's decision, continued the activities of the banned "People's Will Army" organization, can serve as an example. The latter was banned for distributing the leaflet "You have elected - you are the judge!" in which it was proposed to amend the Constitution in order to provide voters with the opportunity to punish officials in various ways - up to the death penalty.
In August of 2017, Valery Parfenov and Kirill Barabash received four years in a general regime labor colony on charges of organizing the activities of an extremist organization (the court of appeal reduced the term to three years and ten months), RBK journalist Alexander Sokolov was sentenced to three and a half years in a general regime labor colony, and the former leader of the People's Will Army - Yuri Mukhin - received a four-year suspended sentence (apparently due to his advanced age). Another alleged participant, Vyacheslav Gorbaty, received a two-year suspended sentence in June of 2020. The case against the alleged organization's member Pavel Butko was dropped in December of 2015.
It is important to note that a person could be recognized as involved in the activities of an extremist organization even if their actions themselves do not constitute any crime. It can be any activity - for the investigation and the court, it is enough that it has a collective character and some, even indirect and poorly proven, relation to the goals of the banned organization. For example, as in the case of Jehovah's Witnesses, all of whose Russian communities were banned in April 2017, the continuation of the activities of an extremist organization in this case means religious activity itself: collective prayers, a study of relevant literature, sermons.
In recent years, several hundred people in no less than 61 regions have been persecuted under Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code on charges of involvement in Jehova's Witnesses communities. In 2019-2020, according to SOVA, at least 64 sentences were passed, at least 22 people received terms of up to six years inclusive (in 2021, one believer was sentenced to seven and a half years; earlier, six and a half years term was replaced with a conditional sentence). Followers of the Islamic religious movement Tablighi Jamaat are similarly persecuted (between 2017 and 2020, 85 people were convicted, 60 of them had been sentenced to real prison terms).
Paradoxically, prosecution for involvement in an extremist organization is possible even in the absence of an organization as such: for example, supporters of the ideas of the Turkish theologian Said Nursi, who are simply studying his works together, are accused of involvement in a certain extremist organization "Nurcular", which, according to experts, has never existed on the territory of Russia.
According to the Judicial Department of the Supreme Court, in 2016, 25 people were convicted under Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code (both as the main and as an additional charge), in 2017 three were 34 such persons, 41 in 2018, 67 in 2019, and 100 in 2020. These statistics take into account only decisions that have entered into force - in this regard, it is difficult to conclude anything about the dynamics since in some cases it can take more than two years between the decision of the court of the first instance and that of the court of appeal.
In addition, the data are difficult to compare with that of the SOVA Center, since the latter, on the contrary, considers decisions of the courts of the first instance. One way or another, it is obvious that the number of cases has grown over the years due to the persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses. However, so far, the overwhelming majority of those sentenced under this article are Muslims: SOVA has counted 128 people between 2016 and 2020 (the total number of those sentenced during this period, according to the organization, is 218 people).
Financing of activities
Finally, there is another criminal article that can be applied once Navalny's organizations are recognized as extremist: on the financing of extremist activities (282.3 of the Criminal Code). Prospective donors can be fined for up to 700,000 rubles over (8,000 Euro), sent for forced labor for up to four years with the deprivation of the right to hold certain positions or engage in certain activities for up to three years or without it and with the restraint of freedom for up to one year , or imprisonment for up to eight years.
On the whole, there were few such cases. According to the Judicial Department of the Supreme Court, in 2016 and 2017, one verdict was issued under Article 282.3 of the Criminal Code, in 2019 there were five, in 2020 - four. In the overwhelming majority of cases, this article is used against those who were also charged under Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code. Until now, it has been most often used against Jehovah's Witnesses.
Originally published by ODV-Info, translated with permission.