Inappropriate Enforcement of Anti-Extremist Legislation in Russia in 2021
THE PRACTICE OF THE EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
SANCTIONS AGAINST IDEOLOGICAL OPPONENTS OF THE REGIME : Sanctions against Alexei Navalny, His Organizations and Supporters : Other Criminal Cases : Calls for Extremist Activity and Incitement to Hatred : Justification of Terrorism : Hooliganism and Vandalism : Sanctions for Anti-Government Group Initiatives.
Other Sanctions for Anti-Government Statements : Banning Organizations for Extremism : Liquidation of the “Memorials” and Blocking of the OVD-Info Website
SIDE EFFECTS OF THE FIGHT FOR TOLERANCE : Sanctions for “Rehabilitation of Nazism” : Sanctions for Display of Extremist Symbols
FIGHT AGAINST INSULTS TO “THE RELIGIOUS FEELINGS OF BELIEVERS” : Persecution against Religious Associations : Hizb ut-Tahrir : Tablighi Jamaat : Followers of Said Nursi : Jehovah’s Witnesses : Administrative Sanctions for Distributing Religious Literature : Recognizing Religious Materials as Extremist
This report presents an analytical review of anti-extremist legislation and its misuse in 2021. SOVA Center has been publishing these reports annually to summarize the results of monitoring carried out by our center continuously since the mid-2000s.
In 2021, preceding the parliamentary elections, Russian authorities used the repressive potential inherent in the broad language and various legal instruments of the current anti-extremist legislation and its associated norms against their opponents. The ban on organizations associated with Alexei Navalny brought the debate over the enforcement of anti-extremist legislation into the mainstream of Russian politics. Although the outcomes of the criminal cases brought against Navalny and his supporters under articles targeting extremism are still unclear; the damage done to the political atmosphere in the country is already obvious.
At the same time, previous trends persisted – tightening control over the Internet, new laws against “foreign agents,” and active application of these laws against a wide range of opponents. The “combats pour l’histoire” continue as well – the legislation against the “rehabilitation of Nazism “ has increased in severity and expanded in scope, the corresponding article of the Criminal Code has been actively implemented, although not yet on a massive scale. The intensified sanctions for “insulting the feelings of believers” can be understood as the growing role of moral conservatism in the law enforcement. In general, the enforcement of anti-extremist laws appears increasingly to be the repressive means of propaganda and schooling of citizens.
The repressive policy towards religious minorities has remained more or less unchanged – authorities are actively pressuring religious organizations and movements of foreign origin, both Western and Eastern, which they consider unconventional and unwelcome in Russia. As in the previous year, Jehovah’s Witnesses hold the first place for the number of believers that have faced criminal charges for continuing their religious practice. The increase in the total number of inappropriate convictions under anti-extremist articles from 40 verdicts against 66 people in 2020 to 105 verdicts against 160 people in 2021 can be explained by the fact that the criminal cases against Jehovah’s Witnesses (opened over the previous two years on allegations of continued activity) finally reached the courts in 2021. The Supreme Court issued a clarification in October 2021 that the purely religious worship of adherents of banned religious associations should not be interpreted as participation in the activity of a banned organization, which is a criminal offence. However, this decision of the Supreme Court has so far had little effect on the established legal practices.
As for the 2021 statistics in our area of interest, we noted a greater than twofold increase in the number of criminal verdicts that we view as inappropriate both under articles that cover public speech and under articles that pertain to involvement in banned organizations. The number of penalties inappropriately imposed under the anti-extremist articles of the Code of Administrative Offenses has grown as well. However, this growth was not uniform across articles.
All law enforcement agencies have escalated their fight against associations and groups that they perceive as dangerous, and this campaign led to a much greater number of inappropriate sentences compared to the preceding years. However, the picture becomes more complicated if we shift our focus to sanctions for public speech. We see a sharp increase in the number of criminal cases under articles that are purely ideological in nature, such as the one pertaining to historical narrative or the one on offending the “feelings of believers.” Meanwhile, the judicial practices under the criminal articles on incitement to terrorism, extremism and hatred demonstrate a different trend – despite the overall significant increase in the number of verdicts, we found almost none of them completely inappropriate – that is, failing to directly correspond to the substance of the corresponding articles of the Criminal Code. Many verdicts punishing speech ought to raise serious doubts over the adequacy of the sanctions or extent of public danger of a given statement. However, based on the information we currently have (we only know the details for a fraction of the court decisions), we observed a somewhat unexpected trend in 2021 – while the Investigative Committee and the Ministry of Internal Affairs were increasingly issuing inappropriate criminal and administrative punishments for speech (with the exception of Article 282 of the Criminal Code), the FSB kept closer to the letter of the law in this regard.
Throughout 2021 the European Court of Human Rights continued, in response to the complaints submitted by Russian citizens, to repeatedly point out the inconsistencies between the anti-extremist legislation and legal practice and Russia’s obligations under the European Convention to guarantee the right to freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and freedom of association.
However, the ECHR decisions, which had already not been properly followed in prior years, are unlikely to reverse the trend towards increasingly repressive legal practices.
On the eve of the elections, the legislative process in our area of interest has been aimed entirely at increasing the severity of the existing legislation and introducing new harsh norms. Obviously, at this stage, the Russian authorities viewed suppressing independent public activity and intensifying the atmosphere of fear as the best way to maintain their control over the country. The legislators slowed down somewhat after the elections, but the vector of their activity remained the same.
2021 marks a new stage in the tightening of the Internet regulation.
On February 12, the government adopted a resolution based on the “sovereign Internet” law that allowed Roskomnadzor to slow down the traffic of popular platforms in order to restrict access to information that poses a threat to the country’s security including the information prohibited from distribution by Russian laws. In March, these measures were applied to Twitter, which, according to the Russian authorities, had failed to promptly remove content banned in Russia.
On February 24, amendments to the Code of Administrative Offenses were signed into law. Among other changes, the amendments establish administrative liability for owners of Internet resources, regardless of their size, who discriminate against Russian citizens on ethnic, religious and other grounds or on the basis of sanctions imposed against Russia, delete “publicly significant information” and generally impose “restrictions, violating the right of citizens of the Russian Federation to freely seek, receive, transmit, produce and distribute information in any legal way” – that is, liability for any content restrictions that are not prescribed by the Russian law. Fines were introduced for violators (in millions of rubles for legal entities); access to the resources could be restricted as well (traffic slowdown or complete blocking). Thus, defending the Internet projects of Russian media the authorities gave online platforms a set of practically impossible requirements, under which a resource would not be able to remove content that violates its internal rules, unless it is also prohibited by Russian law.
On July 1, the president signed the “landing” law that mandated foreign Internet companies to open representative offices in Russia if the daily audience of their sites exceeded 500 thousand users from the Russian Federation; the same obligations – regardless of the size of their Russian audience – were imposed on foreign hosting providers working with Russians, as well as owners of mail services, messengers, and advertising networks. Among other requirements, the law stipulates that these companies must restrict access to materials prohibited in Russia. Various coercive measures are provided for failure to comply with this demand: informing search engines users that a resource violates Russian legislation, a ban on the distribution of its advertising in Russia, a ban against advertising on the company’s websites, restrictions on accepting monetary transfers and payments from Russian individuals and legal entities, a ban on being delivered by search engines, and the prohibition on collecting and cross-border transfer of personal data. A refusal to interact with Roskomnadzor, to open a representative office, or to store personal data of Russians on the Russian territory can entail measures such as partial or complete restriction of access to the resource.
The list of information subject to extrajudicial blocking was also expanded. A law giving election commissions the right to decide on the temporary blocking of illegal campaigning websites was signed on March 8. Under a law signed on July 1, Roskomnadzor got a mandate to block false allegations of committing a crime; users can send requests to prosecutors containing a “reasoned justification” of the information’s inaccuracy and requesting that it is removed or blocked.
On December 30, a law was signed on extrajudicial blocking of the information “defending and (or) justifying extremist activities, including terrorist activities.” In our opinion, by adopting this law, authorities created the mechanism to interpret any academic research or discussion of political radicalism as “justification” of extremist or terrorist activities. Information materials of organizations prohibited under the law “On Combating Extremist Activity” or “On Countering Terrorism” will also be blocked; the same is true for the “information allowing access” to these materials. The same law also provides for blocking false reporting on acts of terrorism and advertisements for the sale of forged documents.
In addition, in late July, an interdepartmental Russian delegation submitted a draft convention on countering cybercrime to the UN special committee. The draft includes 23 offenses that can be committed using information and communication technologies. The wording proposed by the Prosecutor General’s Office is based on the terminology used in the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation in the context of countering terrorism and extremism, so it includes such categories as “humiliation of dignity” on the basis of belonging to various groups or “justification” of various illegal acts.
New restrictions were introduced in 2021 for individuals, whom the authorities consider involved in extremist and terrorist activities.
On April 5, Putin signed amendments to the law “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations.” They indicate that the following types of persons are not allowed to be leaders or members of religious groups: a foreign citizen or a stateless person, whose continued stay in the Russian Federation has been deemed undesirable; a person included on the Rosfinmonitoring List of Extremists and Terrorists (which includes even those merely suspected of a crime); a person in respect of whom a court decision established that their actions amounted to extremist activity; an individual whose accounts are frozen by the Interdepartmental Commission on Countering the Financing of Terrorism. Thus, the requirements already present in the legislation on non-profit organizations, including religious ones, are being extended to include the leaders and members of religious groups. In our opinion, these new restrictions represent an excessive intrusion into the exercise of the right to freedom of religion – even involvement in illegal activities should not deprive a person of the opportunity to be a member of a religious organization or group because this right is guaranteed by the constitutional provision regarding the right to profess one’s religion “together with others” (Article 28 of the Constitution).
Another round of restrictions for those on the Rosfinmonitoring List – this time a ban on working in aviation – is envisioned in the draft law “On Amendments to the Air Code of the Russian Federation,” submitted to the State Duma on October 28 (it was adopted in the first reading in February 2022).
The most important pre-election step was the signing on June 4 of a law prohibiting those “involved” in the activities of an extremist or terrorist organization from being election candidates. The passive suffrage restriction applies to everyone who, during the period starting three years before the entry into force of the decision to ban or liquidate the relevant organization, held the position of its founder, member of its collegiate governing body, head, deputy head, head or deputy head of a structural unit, or a member, participant, employee, or “another person involved in the activities” of the organization. For founders and leaders, the restriction of passive suffrage remains in effect for five years from the ban’s entry into force; for members and others the restriction is in place for three years after that date. Involvement in the activities of an extremist or terrorist organization is established by a court decision. It is defined as “direct implementation of the goals and/or activities (including individual events) that caused the organization to be recognized as extremist or terrorist,” “statements in support of” such goals and activities (including online), as well as providing support for the organization itself including financial, property, organizational, methodological, advisory and other assistance. Such broad restrictions on passive suffrage, especially for actions committed prior to the ban against the organization and even prior to the filing of charges against it, looked extremely doubtful in terms of compliance with Article 54 of the Constitution, but also happened to coincide with the recognition of Alexei Navalny’s organizations as extremist. On the eve of the parliamentary elections, the Russian authorities provided themselves with the mechanism to legally exclude members of opposition from participating and then actively used this opportunity.
Another notable legislative initiative is a draft federal law developed by Rosfinmonitoring and published on October 11. It gives the heads of the FSB, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Rosfinmonitoring, as well as their deputies and individual heads of the territorial branches of the FSB and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the authority to order urgent extrajudicial blocking of money transfers from cards and electronic wallets, if they have been informed that the money was being used to finance “extremist activities, including extremist mass riots; the activities aimed at organizing and/or holding public events in violation of the established procedure that can lead to riots, pogroms, arson, disruption of the functioning of life support facilities, transport or infrastructure, or other similar negative consequences;” or to finance drug trafficking. The law enforcement decisions to block such operations can be made only in urgent cases, can be challenged by the Prosecutor General’s Office, and are valid for ten days, at which point the decision to restrict financial transactions must be made in court. The bill provides for a court-appointed monthly allowance to meet the day-to-day needs of the people affected. The document states that courts must establish monthly payments to protect the livelihoods of people whose financial transactions are blocked and of their family members. Decisions to block monetary transfers will not apply to transactions made to pay for labor, taxes, fees, fines, utility bills, etc. Expanding the powers of law enforcement agencies at the expense of courts is always a cause for concern, since it increases the risk of abuse and generally contradicts the principle of separation of powers, which is fundamental for a democratic society.
In accordance with the law signed on June 28, Russian media has to accompany any references to organizations recognized in Russia as terrorist with explicit indications that their activities have been banned. Failure to comply with this requirement leads to fines. Until now, such a requirement existed only for references to organizations recognized as extremist. In our opinion, such purely formal requirements are superfluous, and their implementation leads to numerous mishaps. Instead of monitoring for the presence of particular disclaimers in informational publications, the authorities should be ensuring that Russian media does not promote misanthropic ideas.
However, the absence of required labels offers a convenient pretext for bringing objectionable actors to justice. On February 24, the president signed a law that reintroduced or tightened the already established administrative liability for all categories of “foreign agents” for violating the regulations governing their activity by not labeling their materials appropriately, failure to provide information or providing incomplete information about themselves and their status. The changes also affected Article 13.15 of the Code of Administrative Offenses on the abuse of freedom of the mass media, which now includes fines for disseminating in the media of information produced by “foreign agents” or information about them without appropriate labeling. On April 30, the president also signed a law establishing administrative responsibility for the media for distributing materials by “foreign agents” media without specifying this status.
“Foreign agents” participating in the elections were also obliged to disclose their status. Amendments, adopted on April 20, introduced two new legislative concepts – “a candidate affiliated with a person or entity performing the functions of a foreign agent” and “a candidate who is a person performing the functions of a foreign agent.” The former means any candidate who, within two years prior to the scheduling of an election, worked for a “foreign agent” non-profit organization, was the head or member of a “foreign agent” unregistered public association, was an employee of a “foreign agent” media resource or received money or material assistance from any foreign agents while carrying out political activities (in the very broad sense described by the “foreign agent” laws). The latter category includes individuals recognized as “foreign agents” or “foreign agent media.” Under the amendments, an election commission must inform the voters about candidates’ “foreign agent” status; and candidates should also include this information on their signature lists and all their campaign materials, including debates. This requirement also applies to a party from which a “foreign agent” candidate has been nominated. In addition, the law extends the ban on participation in election campaigns, already in place for “foreign agent” NPOs, to unregistered public associations recognized as “foreign agents” or as “foreign agent media.”
On April 5, a law was signed to tighten the reporting requirements for non-profit “foreign agent” organizations. The law required them to submit their programs “declared for implementation” to the Ministry of Justice prior to implementing them, and must also submit to the Ministry their annual reports on the implementation of programs and events, or inform the Ministry that certain events never took place. The Ministry of Justice can ban the entire NPO program or any part of it; if a prohibited program is implemented, the NPO is subject to liquidation (until now, such a procedure was in effect only for representative offices of foreign NPOs). The Ministry of Justice later issued an order postponing the actual enactment of the law pending the filing of applications for 2023 programs.
In the summer, the FSB published a draft order “On Approving the List of Information in the Field of Military and Military-Technical Activities of the Russian Federation Which, When Received by a Foreign State, its State Agencies, an International or Foreign Organization, Foreign Citizens or Stateless Persons, Can Be Used to Threaten the Security of the Russian Federation.” The order was approved later, on September 28, with some changes; it was developed to be applied in the context of the law, according to which collecting the information on Russia’s military and military-technical activities that can be used “against the security” of Russia by a foreign recipient in the interests of foreign states and citizens constitutes possible grounds for recognizing an individual as a “foreign agent,” if no signs of treason and espionage are present. The list consists of 60 entries and provides many opportunities for excessive restrictions on access to information or on freedom of speech. Such is, for example, a clause prohibiting the collection of “information on the progress and results of the crime report reviews and preliminary investigations carried out by investigators” of the FSB and the military agencies of the Investigative Committee, except for information made public with permission from these agencies. Designating an individual collecting such data as a foreign agent already constitutes an excessive restriction on these freedoms. However, in reality, this step also implies an immediate threat of criminal prosecution – if a person becomes a “foreign agent” specifically due to collecting such information, then any violation of the foreign agents’ legislation committed by this person will be punished immediately under the criminal rather than administrative procedure. For example, if they fail to declare themselves a “foreign agent” and never ask to be included in the appropriate registry, they could receive five years in prison for this violation alone.
In the spring, the authorities once again increased the sanctions for the “rehabilitation of Nazism.” The corresponding package of laws, signed on April 5, increases criminal liability for the rehabilitation of Nazism on the Internet, introduces penalties for “insulting the memory of the defenders of the Fatherland,” humiliating the honor and dignity of veterans and slander against them. The amendments increase the likelihood of the already poorly formulated Article 3541 of the Criminal Code on the rehabilitation of Nazism being used to impose unjustified restrictions on freedom of speech. The article has come to include a broad interpretation of “abasement of honor and dignity” – the concept used by Article 5.61 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (insult). The vague term “insulting the memory” does not specify the historical events for which the memory of the participants is in need of protection. The amendments also expanded the administrative responsibility for the “rehabilitation of Nazism” for legal entities.
On July 1, the symbolic “fight against Nazism” was marked by the signing of two additional laws. Both laws are vaguely worded and threaten freedom of expression for no apparent reason. The law “On Immortalization of the Victory of the Soviet People in the Great Patriotic War” now includes the ban against “publicly equating the goals, decisions and actions of the USSR leadership, the USSR commanders and military personnel with the goals, decisions and actions of the Nazi Germany leadership or commanders and military personnel of Nazi Germany and the Axis countries during World War II, as well as denying the decisive role of the Soviet people in the defeat of Nazi Germany and the humanitarian mission of the USSR in the liberation of the European countries.” It is not clear what kind of statements will be regarded as “equating” in practice. In late October, a draft law was submitted to the State Duma establishing administrative liability in the form of fines and other sanctions for violation of the ban against “equating” (citizens may face up to 15 days of arrest; repeated violations lead to temporary disqualification for officials and to suspension of activities for legal entities). The bill was passed in the first reading in February 2022.
The other law signed in July has provided the instrument for recognizing portraits of Nazi criminals and collaborators as extremist materials. The mechanism for combating the display of such images described in the law is so poorly thought out that its application was de-facto impossible, so, in the fall, the Ministry of Justice had to provide clarifications on this issue assuring the publishing industry that it was still possible to distribute books with portraits of Nazis without fear of retribution provided that they do not promote Nazism and condemn it.
Several amendments to the federal law “On Education” were also signed into law on April 5. The amendments provide for the introduction into the law of the concept of “educational activities,” defined as activities to disseminate various knowledge and experience carried out outside the framework of educational programs. According to the law, the procedure, conditions, and forms of conducting this broadly defined “educational activity” should be determined by the government. The federal government bodies are also responsible for coordinating the participation of educational organizations in international scientific cooperation. The law thus unreasonably expands the government’s control in the field of education – in fact, it expands its control over any communications. Besides, by analogy with the existing restrictions on pedagogical activity, the law introduces a ban on the use of educational activities to incite hatred or advocate the exceptionalism on the basis of various group affiliations, “including by reporting inaccurate information about the historical, national, religious and cultural traditions of peoples, or information intended to encourage actions that contradict the Constitution of the Russian Federation.” In our opinion, this formula sets the stage for imposing unreasonable restrictions on the historical discussion.
It should also be noted that, on July 2, the president signed a decree approving a new National Security Strategy. The updated Strategy differs significantly from the previous version adopted in late 2015. Its emphasis is on protecting traditional Russian spiritual and moral values, culture and historical memory and countering the Western influence, especially on the Internet. It is easy to see that the legislative innovations described above fit well into this scheme.
The Supreme Court plenary resolution of October 28 became an important event for the enforcement of anti-extremist legislation. The plenum amended Resolution No. 11 of June 28, 2011 “On Judicial Practice in Criminal Cases Concerning Crimes of Extremism,” (the previous amendments to the resolution were made in 2016 and 2018).
Among other changes, important clarifications were issued for two articles on public statements. Article 280 of the Criminal Code (calls for extremist activity) and Article 280.1 (calls for violating the territorial integrity of Russia) have become subject to the instructions that previously pertained only to actions on the Internet falling under Article 282 of the Criminal Code. The Supreme Court pointed out that, when qualifying or reviewing such cases, the courts should take into account the information indicating the social danger of the action or lack thereof, including the intended purpose or motive for committing the corresponding actions. It should be noted that the previous wording did not mention the “intended purpose” of the person when making a problematic post.
The Supreme Court also indicated that involving others in the activities of the organization or community, when committed by its organizer (leader), is covered under Article 2821 Part 1 (organizing the activities of an extremist community) or Article 2822 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (organizing the activities of an extremist organization) and does not require additional qualifications under Article 2821 Part 1.1 or Article 2822 Part 1.1 of the Criminal Code, which specifically punish involving other people in the corresponding crimes. The Supreme Court did not extend this clarification to ordinary participants, so a participant who involved others in the activities of a banned organization might face a more severe cumulative punishment than the organization’s leader.
Finally, the most important amendment was the Supreme Court’s recommendation regarding prosecution for being involved in the activities of organizations recognized as extremist. The Court indicated that for criminal proceedings under Article 2822 of the Criminal Code courts should name specific socially dangerous actions committed by the guilty party, indicate the significance of these actions for continuing or resuming the activities of a prohibited organization, and state the motives for committing these actions. With regard to former members of banned religious associations, the Supreme Court indicated that their actions, “not related to continuing or resuming the activities of an extremist organization but performed solely in exercise of their right to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, including through individual or joint religious worship, conducting services or other religious rites and ceremonies” do not, in and of themselves, constitute a crime under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code. In our opinion, this clarification is less-than-perfectly worded and is unlikely to completely eliminate numerous cases of prosecution on the charges of continuing the activities of extremist organizations for essentially non-criminal activities. The problem could be fully resolved only by changing Article 2822 of the Criminal Code. Nevertheless, the Russian courts now have the option to cite this Supreme Court clarification in order to avoid at least the most absurd sentences for continuing religious practice, which directly violate the constitutional right to freedom of religion. We believe that, based on the same considerations, the former members of such organizations should have an opportunity to continue their political activity when it is not directly aimed at resuming the activities of banned organizations.
It should be noted that, on the basis of this Supreme Court decision, Jehovah’s Witness Dmitry Barmakin was acquitted, and several other cases of Jehovah’s Witnesses were sent for review in late 2021. However, we can’t say that these clarifications by the Supreme Court have been widely applied.
In 2021, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issued several significant decisions on complaints from Russian citizens related to enforcement of anti-extremist legislation.
On May 11, the court satisfied a complaint filed by Novaya Gazeta in connection with a caution from Roskomnadzor received in 2010 for quoting the program of the ultra-right organization Russky Obraz and displaying symbols similar to Nazi symbols. The ECHR ruled that the interference with freedom of expression in this case was not necessary in a democratic society. The ECHR noted that the quotes from the Russky Obraz manifesto only illustrated the unequivocally expressed message of the article’s author and the editorial board regarding the illegal nature of the organization’s activities, while the published symbols were clearly related to the article and used in the context of public discussion. The Russian courts, in which Novaya Gazeta tried to challenge the caution, never investigated the context, in which these symbols had been displayed.
It is also important to note the first decision of the ECHR on the complaint against the use of Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses on propaganda or demonstration of prohibited symbols. The applicant, Vladimir Karataev, challenged the fine of one thousand rubles imposed on him in 2007 under Article 20.3 Part 1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses. He was fined for publishing photographs of household and religious worship items of Slavic peoples decorated with solar symbols in the article “In Defense of the Swastika” that appeared in Zakubanye (the newspaper issued by the Union of Slavs of Adygea). The article discussed the initiative of British Hindu organizations that launched a public campaign to rehabilitate the swastika, which “in the course of the previous century, has turned into the main symbol of fascism for most people,” but was, in fact, an ancient symbol used in different religions and by different ethnic groups. Karataev insisted that he had not published Nazi symbols but had instead informed his readers about an important public campaign. These arguments failed to convince the Russian courts, which simply stated that the symbols shown in the article were similar to the Nazi symbols to the extent of confusion. When reviewing Karataev’s complaint, the ECHR referred to several of its own earlier decisions and pointed out that, guided by the then-current wording of Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses, the Russian courts made their decision without the necessary consideration of the content, context and purposes of the publication, thus violating the applicant’s right to freedom of expression.
On June 15, 2021, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on the complaint of Olga Kurnosova, an opposition activist from St. Petersburg. Kurnosova’s complaint pertained to the events that took place in 2007, when she was fined 1 thousand rubles under Article 20.2 Part 1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (violating the established procedure for arranging or conducting a mass event). The charges were related to an article published by St. Petersburg branch newspaper of the Yabloko Party and written by Andrei Dmitriev, the leader of the National Bolsheviks of St. Petersburg. The article called on the NBP supporters to join the Dissenters’ March. At that time, the activities of the NBP were suspended in connection with the ongoing review of a claim to ban the party as an extremist organization. After considering the case, a magistrates’ court ruled that, by publishing Dmitriev’s article, Kurnosova, as the Dissenters’ March organizer, had involved members of the NBP in this public event while the party’s activities had been suspended. According to the ECHR, the magistrates’ court used an expansive and unpredictable interpretation of the legal norm, since the law defines an extremist organization as an organization that has been dissolved or banned by a judicial decision currently in force, rather than simply suspended. Thus, Kurnosova could not reasonably foresee that by publishing an article she would breach this provision. The ECHR ruled that the case against Kurnosova was legally unfounded, and Russia had violated Kurnosova’s right to freedom of expression, guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights on protecting freedom of expression interpreted in the light of Article 11 on protecting freedom of assembly.
The ECHR has continued its review of complaints related to the activities of the NBP, which was repeatedly denied registration and later banned as an extremist organization – in our opinion, without due justification. On June 29, the Strasbourg Court issued its decision in the case of Sergei Yezhov, Oleg Bespalov and Grigory Tishin, three former NBP members sentenced in 2004 to five years in prison for group hooliganism and the destruction of or large-scale damage to property (the terms were later reduced on appeal). In August 2004, the three men participated in the action against the adoption of the law intended to transform the in-kind social benefits into monetary compensation. In the course of the action, the NBP members entered the Ministry of Health and Social Development building while shouting the slogan “Benefits for the People; Executions for Ministers,” barricaded themselves in several offices, waved NBP flags out of the office windows, and threw Vladimir Putin’s portrait out of a window. The ECHR concluded that Russia had imposed disproportionately severe penalties on the applicants and had also violated the applicants’ right to freedom of expression since the court had been biased against their political views.
In September, the Strasbourg court ruled on a complaint by several members of the National Bolshevik Party Inter-Regional Civil Organization (Mezhregional’naya obschestvennaya organizatsiya “Natsional-bol’shevistskaya partiya,” MOO NBP) against its liquidation and the denial of registration as a political party. The ECHR did not review the ban against the NBP as an extremist organization, pointing out that the events used as a justification for this measure (in particular, the public actions that Russian courts had interpreted as the obstruction of legitimate official activities linked to violence or the threat of violence, mass riots, or propaganda of extremism) occurred after the NBP had been repeatedly denied registration and after the organization had been liquidated. The ECHR concluded that Russia had violated the applicants’ right to freedom of association, guaranteed by Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, since the national courts had failed to provide sufficient grounds for refusing to register a party. The Russian law on political parties indeed does not allow the creation of parties based on ethnicity, and the ECHR previously agreed with the legality of such a rule. However, the courts were unable to present convincing arguments to support the claim that the NBP was created specifically on an ethnic basis, or that its activities threatened the peaceful coexistence of ethnic communities and could lead to discrimination on ethnic grounds. Thus, denying the registration to the NBP was unfounded, according to the ECHR. The Court ruled that the liquidation of the NBP solely on the grounds that it didn’t submit reports on its activities on time and failed to choose the name not containing the word “party” for their organization (as required by the law on public associations) had been a disproportionate measure that could not be considered necessary in a democratic society. Thus, the applicants’ rights guaranteed by Article 11 of the Convention were violated in this case as well.
On December 7, the Strasbourg court found that the prosecution against activist Maxim Yefimov under Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (incitement to hatred or enmity) and the subsequent liquidation of the Youth Human Rights Group (Molodezhnaya pravozashchitnaya gruppa, MPG) of Karelia, of which he was the leader, violated Article 10 and Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights. A criminal case against Yefimov was initiated in 2012 in connection with an anti-clerical note he had posted online. Law enforcement agencies concluded that the text of the note contained statements that publicly humiliated the dignity of a person or group of persons on the basis of their attitude toward religion. Yefimov left Russia, was put on the wanted list and was added to the Rosfinmonitoring List of Terrorists and Extremists. Efforts to have the case dismissed undertaken by his lawyers in 2013 and 2014 were unsuccessful. According to the ECHR, such interference with his freedom of expression was not necessary in a democratic society. The liquidation of the MPG of Karelia, which exhibited no signs of extremism in its activities, merely for its failure to remove Yefimov’s name as its founder once he was added to the Rosfinmonitoring List had no clear and predictable legal basis at all. The ECHR criticized the norms of the Russian anti-extremist legislation, which do not allow challenging one’s placement on the Rosfinmonitoring List on the merits and lead to liquidating an organization merely on the formal basis of its founder’s inclusion on the List.
On December 14, the ECHR published a ruling on a joint complaint by Scientologists against several decisions of Russian courts recognizing L. Ron Hubbard’s books as extremist, refusing to re-register the Church of Scientology of Moscow and ordering its liquidation in 2015. The ECHR ruled that the decisions of the Russian courts violated the applicants’ rights guaranteed by Article 9 (freedom of religion), 10 and 11 of the European Convention. According to the ECHR, the banning of books by L. Ron Hubbard was not necessary in a democratic society, and the dissolution of the church on formal grounds was a disproportionate measure.
With regard to the bans against Hubbard’s materials, the ECHR pointed out that the Russian courts did not analyze the form, content and context of specific statements contained in the materials that they found objectionable in terms of inciting religious and social hatred or exerting a special “psychological impact” on the audience. The courts failed to demonstrate how the materials justified or promoted violence or could lead to dangerous consequences. At the same time, the applicants had no opportunity to present an alternative expert opinion, and all their arguments were rejected by the courts on general terms, without a specific justification. In addition, the ECHR reminded that no religious groups were immune from criticism; they all must accept the fact that others can deny their beliefs and even promote doctrines hostile to their faith. The same logic applies to non-religious beliefs including atheism and agnosticism. In this case, there was no evidence that the prohibited texts contained insults, ridicule or slander against people who do not belong to Scientologists, or insults against their sacred objects. The ECHR also emphasized that Scientologists were not charged with criminal offenses or socially dangerous activities, while the formal claims provided no grounds for such drastic measures as the liquidation of the organization.
On the same day, December 14, the ECHR found the 2009 verdict against editor Yuri Mukhin under Article 280 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (public calls for extremist activities using the media) to violate Article 10 of the Convention. Mukhin had been punished for having published an anti-Semitic letter from a reader in his newspaper, the Duel. The court found that the liquidation of theDuel for disseminating extremist materials after two warnings also violated Article 10. According to the ECHR, the Russian courts that reviewed the case failed to provide sufficient grounds for Mukhin’s guilty verdict under Article 280 of the Criminal Code, and his suspended sentence was a disproportionate punishment. The liquidation of the Duel was based on the formal grounds only, and, according to the ECHR, the Russian courts were unable to convincingly demonstrate the adequacy of such a harsh measure.
In the period leading to the elections, neutralization of Alexei Navalny and his supporters became a separate and very wide-reaching direction in the enforcement of anti-extremist legislation. The authorities used all imaginable instruments to prevent the opposition from participating in the elections. The suppression mechanism gained momentum and has not stopped even after the elections were over.
Back in February, a criminal case under Article 239 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (creating a public association whose activity is fraught with violence against citizens and operation of such an association) was initiated against Alexei Navalny and his associates, FBK Director Ivan Zhdanov and former Head of Navalny’s Headquarters Leonid Volkov. They were charged in August with their acts reclassified under Article 239 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (creating a non-profit association whose activity is fraught with inducement of individuals to refuse to discharge their civil duties or to commit other unlawful deeds, and operation of such an association). According to the investigation, the activities of the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) created by Navalny and headed by him together with Zhdanov and Volkov, were associated with the inducement of citizens to commit illegal acts. In particular, Navalny and his associates organized, on their personal webpages and on the FBK pages, the online distribution of publications that called on Russian citizens to participate in uncoordinated rallies in January 2021, despite the fact that the illegal nature of these events and the administrative liability for participation in them was “reliably known in advance.” Despite the fact that Article 239 of the Criminal Code is not classified as part of anti-extremist legislation, we mention this case against Navalny, Zhdanov and Volkov because it later served as the basis for charging them and their organizations with extremism.
On June 9, the Moscow City Court satisfied the administrative claim of the Moscow Prosecutor General and recognized the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), the Citizens Rights Defense Fund (FZPG, created in 2020 after the FBK was liquidated as a legal entity; both organizations had been recognized as foreign agents), and the Navalny Headquarters public movement as extremist organizations. We view this decision as inappropriate. The prosecutor’s office argued that the FBK, the FZPG and the Navalny Headquarters were “acting in active coordination with and were commissioned by various foreign centers conducting destructive actions against Russia” and engaging in extremist activities “by calling for violent actions, extremist activities, mass riots, and by attempting to involve minors in illegal activities, as was confirmed in a number of cases by the judicial acts that have entered into legal force.” The materials of the lawsuit mentioned the criminal case initiated against Navalny, Zhdanov, and Leonid Volkov under Article 239 of the Criminal Code, despite the fact that this case has not yet been tried in court. The claim also contained several lists of people previously prosecuted for extremist offenses and crimes, violating the legislation on public events or participating in the activities of an “undesirable organization.” Notably, the lists included not only the staff of the Navalny Headquarters or the FBK but also people whose connections with Navalny’s organizations have never been confirmed in any way; some of them were subscribed to social network pages associated with Navalny. Acts, such as violating the legislation on public gatherings, participating in “undesirable organizations,” or committing actions that fall under Article 239 of the Criminal Code, are not listed in the definition of extremist activity. The claim presented no evidence to indicate that employees of the Navalny Headquarters, the FBK, and the FZPG systematically faced charges specifically for their extremist activities. In our opinion, there is no cause-and-effect relationship between the activities of Navalny’s organizations and isolated sanctions under the “extremist” articles of the Criminal Code against subscribers to the social network pages of the Navalny Headquarters or the FBK. We see no reason to classify all the heated political discussions by social network users in the Navalny headquarters’ online groups as activities of the headquarters. Nevertheless, the First Court of Appeal of General Jurisdiction upheld the decision of the Moscow City Court on August 4.
In addition, a separate case was opened against Volkov and Zhdanov in August, under 2823 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (collection of funds, knowingly intended to support the activities of an extremist organization). The charges were evidently based on a video published in early August, in which Volkov and Zhdanov called for financial support for Navalny’s team following the ban on their three organizations.
Meanwhile, in late September, a case under Article 2821 Parts 1 and 2 of the Criminal Code (creating an extremist community and participating in it) was opened against Alexei Navalny and his supporters. Navalny, Leonid Volkov, Ivan Zhdanov and “other persons” (not named in the Investigative Committee’s announcement) became suspects under Part 1. Lyubov Sobol, Georgy Alburov, Ruslan Shaveddinov, Vyacheslav Gimadi, Pavel Zelensky (serving two years in a penal colony under Article 280 Part 2) and Rustem Mulyukov and unnamed “other persons” became suspects under Part 2.
According to the investigators, Navalny, as the FBK director, created an “extremist community” in 2014. Later, the politician and his supporters created the Navalny Headquarters public movement as well as eight other non-profit organizations “to expand the scope of criminal activity” of the FBK. The Investigative Committee provided several examples of “extremist” crimes committed by members of the “criminal community.” However, it remains unclear why this list of crimes included the cases opened under articles completely unrelated to anti-extremist legislation (under above-mentioned Article 239 of the Criminal Code and Article 1512 on the involvement of minors in activities that pose a danger to their lives). The Investigative Committee also failed to explain the nature of the links between the “community” members – it is unclear why, for example, the investigation viewed activist Mulyukov from Ufa and former FBK camera operator Zelensky as members of this community, but not thousands of other activists and dozens of people employed by Navalny’s structures.
Apparently, law enforcement agencies have specifically chosen Article 2821 as a convenient tool to prosecute anyone involved in activities related to Navalny over the past few years.
In November, as part of the investigation of this case, a series of searches and interrogations took place in the Kemerovo Region and Bashkortostan; subsequently, ex-coordinator of the local Navalny headquarters Lilia Chanysheva was detained in Ufa, and then transferred to Moscow; at the same time, the investigators also interrogated Rustem Mulyukov and released him under travel restrictions.
A new round of investigations took place in late December. The courts imposed preventive measures in the form of a ban on certain actions on Ksenia Fadeeva, Zakhar Sarapulov, Vadim Ostanin and Yegor Butakov, the ex-heads of Navalny’s headquarters in Tomsk, Irkutsk, Barnaul and Arkhangelsk respectively. All of them were charged with participating in an extremist community (Article 2821). Fadeeva, a deputy of the Tomsk City Duma, faces charges under Article 2821 Part 3 (“with the use of official status”) and Article 239 Part 3 of the Criminal Code (participating in a non-profit organization that infringes upon the liberties and rights of individuals).
Once the decision to ban Navalny’s organizations came into force, several activists in different regions of Russia faced sanctions under Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses for distributing Smart Voting materials with the campaign’s logo (the red exclamation mark), even though this symbol was not the emblem of any recognized extremist organization. Later, law enforcement agencies began to file cases for posts featuring the symbols of FBK and other projects associated with Navalny. We know of 14 such cases. In four cases, the offenders faced administrative arrest (one of them was replaced by a fine), six people were fined, the outcome of two cases is unknown to us, and two remaining cases were dismissed.
In addition, law enforcement agencies continued to punish social media users under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offenses for sharing the banned video “Let’s Remind Crooks and Thieves about Their Manifesto-2002,” created by supporters of Alexei Navalny. We recorded 49 such cases in 2021 (vs. 34 in 2020). The perpetrators were fined in the amounts ranging between one and two thousand rubles. This video, banned as extremist in 2013, merely lists a number of unrealized campaign promises made by United Russia in its 2002 draft manifesto and calls to vote for any other party. We regard the prohibition of this video and the sanctions for its distribution as unfounded. Law enforcement agencies actively monitor the distribution of this video, since searching for it on social networks makes it easy to carry out the “preventive measures” in the form of administrative sanctions against opposition-minded Internet users. While in previous years, the Belgorod Region had the largest number of people punished for sharing this video, now, according to our data, the Altai Territory (18 persons fined) and the Republic of Mari El (17 persons fined) took the first place.
In June through September, during the election season, election commissions and courts across the country were actively removing from ballots on various levels the candidates in any way connected with the activities of Alexei Navalny’s organizations. These removals were based on the law that came into force in June and prohibited persons “involved” in the activities of organizations recognized as extremist and terrorist from running for office. The cases tended to use a very expansive definition of “involvement,” but this worried neither election commissions nor courts that readily upheld their decisions. Not only former members of Navalny’s organizations but also candidates who participated in rallies in his support or spoke out on social networks against his prosecution were removed from the ballot. In total, at least 35 people in different regions of Russia were removed from elections at various levels under the pretext of their involvement in Navalny’s organizations.
On July 26, Roskomnadzor blocked access to 49 websites associated with Navalny’s organizations based on the decision by the Prosecutor General’s Office and demanded (albeit unsuccessfully) that global networks block a number of personal accounts of Navalny’s associates. As it turned out later, the corresponding request of the Prosecutor General’s Office mentioned 173 resources connected in one way or another with Navalny’s organizations or supporters, including pages on Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Facebook, YouTube, VKontakte, Odnoklassniki and Yandex Zen, as well as channels and bots in Telegram and websites of the individual projects. On October 11, the Tverskoy District Court ruled that the demands of the Prosecutor General’s Office and the actions of Roskomnadzor were legally sound.
It should also be noted that, on August 6, the Moscow Arbitration Court dismissed the American Google LLC’s lawsuit against Roskomnadzor that challenged the agency’s demand that access to certain materials on YouTube be restricted. The lawsuit filed in April pertained to 12 hyperlinks to identical videos that called for participation in rallies held without permission in January 2021. Google argued that Roskomnadzor had no legal basis for blocking the YouTube links since the Deputy Prosecutor General request received by the agency did not include these links at all, only a link to a similar TikTok video. The court ruled that all Roskomnadzor’s actions fell within the scope of its legislative powers, since its mandate included “preventive and suppressive measures,” and since the request of the Prosecutor General’s Office mentioned that the information was also to be blocked on “other Internet resources.”
On September 6, Roskomnadzor started blocking the Smart Voting website, after the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office requested that access to information resources associated with the FBK, recognized as extremist, be restricted. On the first day of the elections, September 17, Apple and Google removed the “Navalny” app, which allowed access to the Smart Voting list, from their stores. Apple also disabled for its Russian users the Private Node service, which masks the IP address and encrypts traffic. On September 18, YouTube blocked three Smart Voting videos, while Google blocked the lists of Smart Voting candidates shared via Google Docs.
Already after the end of the elections, on September 21, supporters of Alexei Navalny started complaining that, based on the same request from the Prosecutor General’s Office, VKontakte has started blocking Russian users’ access to the supporters’ personal pages.
Let us now turn to other changes in the ways anti-extremist and related legal norms were applied in 2021.
We regard as inappropriate 20 verdicts against 21 people issued in 2021 under anti-extremist or similar criminal articles for various kinds of public speech. During this period, law enforcement agencies also opened new criminal cases without due justification.
On February 11, the Zheleznodorozhny District Court of Chita found blogger Alexei Zakruzhny, known on social networks under the nickname Lyokha Kochegar, guilty under Article 280 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (public calls for extremist activity) and Article 212 Part 3 of the Criminal Code (calls for mass riots) and issued a suspended sentence of two years and three months with a subsequent probationary period of three years and a three-year ban on website administration with confiscation of equipment. The case was opened based on a YouTube stream, in which the blogger criticized the pandemic-related ban on visiting cemeteries for the “parents day” and called for “demolishing the cordons” at the entrance to the cemetery grounds and thus launching a “bloodless revolution.” In our opinion, the blogger’s statement contained no calls for violent actions. The Trans-Baikal Regional Court also had its doubts about the verdict, overturning the decision of the first instance in May and returning the case to the prosecutor. However, already in February 2022, Zakruzhny was once again sentenced on the original charge. The same district court issued a suspended sentence of two years and two months with a probationary period of one year and 11 months, a two-year ban on posting materials on the network and confiscation of the equipment by the state.
On May 31, the Second Western District Military Court sentenced Daria Polyudova under Article 2052 Part 2 (public justification of terrorism on the Internet) and Article 280 Part 1 (public calls for extremist activity) of the Criminal Code to six years in prison. We doubt the appropriateness of this verdict. On the one hand, the charges under Article 2052 Part 1 were based on the fact that she had publicly shared on VKontakte a post that approved of armed separatism leading to legitimate concern of law enforcement agencies. On the other hand, the episode, on which Polyudova’s guilty verdict under Article 280 Part 1 was based – approving the actions of Yevgeny Manyurov, who opened fire at the FSB building in Moscow in 2019 – should not have been regarded as public propaganda, since the activist’s statement could be heard by at most a few people. The charge was linked to a video recording found on the activist’s phone. In the video, Polyudova, in a conversation with her colleague, commented on the armed attack against the FSB building on Lubyanka on December 19, 2019. The conversation took place on the day of the incident and Polyudova was physically on Lubyanka. The investigation claimed that Polyudova’s statements, which approved of the actions of shooter Yevgeny Manyurov, were heard by people around her. The investigators tracked down the guards of Detsky Mir and of the Nautilus shopping center, who reported that they saw “a woman with white hair, expressing her regret that not all FSB officers had been killed” on the day of the shooting. In our opinion, the objective side of the crime covered under Article 280 of the Criminal Code (or Article 2052 of the Criminal Code) implies that the speech must be public – that is, addressed to a relatively wide group or an indefinite circle of people. Despite the testimony of the guards mentioned in the media, we doubt that many people could hear Polyudova’s words. The subjective side of the crime is characterized by direct intent. If the statements in question were made in a private conversation that was not intended for prying ears, this means that Polyudova did not have criminal intent in this case either. We also believe that the punishment imposed on Polyudova is disproportionately severe. However, on October 7, the Military Appellate Court upheld the verdict against the activist. Then, based on the activities of the Levoe Soprotivlenie [Left Resistance] group founded by Polyudova, a criminal case on the creation of an extremist community was opened in November (more on this below).
In March, Alexei Popov, a Marxist activist from Kamensk-Shakhtinsky, became a suspect under Article 280 Part 2 of the Criminal Code. The case was based on Popov’s VKontakte posts, in particular, the entry that said that, in the event of imperialist war, one should “raise arms against one’s own liberal government,” and then “move the fire of the revolution to a country or a bloc of countries at war with Russia.” According to Popov, his case file indicates that his posts contain signs of inciting hatred towards the social group “billionaires.” In our opinion, Popov’s statement about the imperialist war gave no reason to charge him with calling for the violent overthrow of the regime, since he discussed a purely speculative and unlikely situation. As for billionaires, in our opinion, they do not form a vulnerable social group in need of protection from manifestations of hatred.
In July, a criminal case was opened in Kemerovo, against local blogger Mikhail Alferov under Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (inciting hatred towards a social group). As a preventive measure, the Kirovsky District Court put him under house arrest. The charges were based on a video Vrag svinosobak [the Enemy of Pigdogs] published on his YouTube channel and dedicated to the detention of Alexei Navalny upon his return to Moscow. In this video, Alferov expresses his support for the opposition leader, discussed the detention procedure, criticizes the actions of law enforcement agencies calling them criminals more dangerous than street robbers, and calls the current government in the country “criminal.”
We view the prosecution of Alferov under Article 282 of the Criminal Code as inappropriate. In his video, he sharply condemned the actions of law enforcement agencies and judges but did not call for violence or any illegal actions. We believe that police officers should not be considered a vulnerable group in need of special protection by anti-extremist legislation – on the contrary, they should be extremely tolerant of criticism, unless a real threat of violence is present.
In May, a criminal case under Article 2052 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (public justification of terrorism on the Internet) was opened against artist Maxim Smolnikov from Khabarovsk, known as Xadad. He remained under arrest from May to September, then this preventive measure was replaced with a ban on certain actions. The prosecution was based on the artist’s post published on October 31, 2018, on his VKontakte public page, in which he discussed the explosion organized by anarcho-communist Mikhail Zhlobitsky in the FSB regional headquarters building in Arkhangelsk. According to Smolnikov, the repressive policy of the state and, in particular, the torture methods practiced by officers of the Federal Penal Enforcement Service and the FSB had motivated Zhlobitsky to take such a radical step. The artist noted that the explosion was closer to “an act of self-immolation” than to a “guerilla act or terrorist attack.” He called the incident “too high of a cost [of the political struggle]” and expressed his condolences to the family and friends of the deceased anarchist. We regard the prosecution against Smolnikov as inappropriate, since we cannot see in his statements any signs of public justification or propaganda of terrorism, as defined in the footnotes to Article 2052 of the Criminal Code. The artist’s text contained no statements on the appropriateness or permissibility of terrorism. In mid-November, it was reported that the prosecutor’s office did not approve the indictment and returned the case to the investigation for a comprehensive psychological and linguistic examination.
In early June, a criminal case under Article 2052 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (public justification of terrorism on the Internet) was initiated against video blogger Yuri Khovansky from St. Petersburg. He was taken into custody, and, only in late December, this preventive measure was replaced by a ban on certain actions. The case was based on the song about the terrorist attack on Moscow’s Dubrovka Theater in 2002, which Khovansky performed in 2012 as part of the stream of another blogger, Andrei Nifyodov. The song began with the line “Nord-Ost – it was *** [great],” and called terrorists Shamil Basayev and Salman Raduyev “real heroes.” According to the expert opinion, cited by the Investigative Committee, the song contained “signs of public calls to carry out terrorist activities, public justification of terrorism and its propaganda; signs of threats, humiliation, and use of violence against a group of persons based on ethnicity, as well as calls and justifications of the need to carry out aggressive, violent and brutal actions (terrorist acts), endangering human lives.” We doubt the legitimacy of prosecuting Khovansky under Article 2052 of the Criminal Code. Although the song he performed was obviously provocative, in our opinion, it was intended not to advocate for terrorist activity, but to ridicule the discourse that had developed around this topic – both the incitement by the supporters of militant Islamism and the official tactics of using the threat of terrorism to instill fear in the population. Taking into account the song’s tone, the audience of Khovansky and Nifedov, as well as the Russian live streamers’ culture of irony, we believe that the public danger of this performance was extremely small. At the same time, relatives of those killed in the terrorist attack on Dubrovka may find such creative output offensive, and a discussion about the ethics and acceptability of such “black humor” would be a completely natural social reaction. Nevertheless, the criminal article that covers justification of terrorism does not imply penalties for insults or unethical irony.
Article 2052 of the Criminal Code appeared in three sentences issued in 2021 against four people for justifying the activities of the radical Islamic party Hizb ut-Tahrir, recognized in Russia as a terrorist organization, despite the absence of any evidence of its involvement in terrorist activities. We describe these verdicts below in the section on sanctions for involvement in banned religious organizations. One of them, which involved two people, was overturned and sent for retrial.
Finally, in the second half of October, we learned about a criminal case under Article 2052 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (public justification of terrorism) against activist Olga Smirnova from St. Petersburg. She is accused of taking part in pickets in support of Crimean Tatars persecuted for their involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir. According to the investigators, during the picket of the open-ended “Strategy-18” action in August, Smirnova, “addressing an indefinite circle of people, for the purpose of forming the ideology of terrorism, publicly showed a poster with the text and accompanied this action with personal statements that contained a positive assessment of persons and their actions related to the activities of an organization recognized as terrorist on the territory of the Russian Federation.” In our opinion, refusing to recognize as terrorist the peaceful activity of Hizb ut-Tahrir and supporting the party’s followers who are being inappropriately prosecuted should not be regarded as justification of terrorism, and thus the case against Smirnova should be discontinued.
In June, a resident of Krasnodar, Vladimir Yegorov, received a two-year suspended sentence under Article 213 Part 1 Paragraph “b” of the Criminal Code (hooliganism based on hatred or enmity towards a social group) for climbing a Kuban Cossacks monument (in the form of a Cossack on horseback) during a rally in support of Alexei Navalny in January, turning towards the administrative building and slapping his buttocks. The court ruled that Yegorov had committed a crime motivated by hatred and enmity towards the Kuban Cossack Host and the regional administration. We believe that these groups are not vulnerable and do not need special protection from manifestations of hatred. Yegorov’s actions should be more appropriately qualified as disorderly conduct and not a gross violation of public order that requires criminal prosecution.
On January 14, the Tsentralny District Court of Chelyabinsk acquitted Oksana Yeremina and Yuri Vashurin, who had been charged with hooliganism, motivated by political hatred committed by an organized group (Article 213 Part 2 of the Criminal Code). The charge was related to breaking through the police cordon during the “He Is Not Our Tsar” protest action, which took place in Chelyabinsk on May 5, 2018. According to the case materials, the activists “filled the intersection” and thus grossly violated public order with their actions expressing obvious disrespect for society motivated by political hatred of Vladimir Putin. We welcome the acquittal of Yeremina and Vashurin. From our point of view, their actions should not be regarded as hooliganism, since they didn’t violate working or recreational environment for citizens, work of institutions, etc.; thus there was no gross violation of public order. These actions also should not be interpreted as expressing a clear disrespect for society, since the participants only expressed their political position, and did not set themselves against the community by violating generally accepted standards of behavior. It should also be noted that the manifestation of political hostility is, in and of itself, not criminalized, and in our opinion, this motive should be taken into account in the criminal charges only when the display of political hostility is associated with violence or manifestations of xenophobia.
On September 10, the same court sentenced local anarchists Dmitry Tsibukovsky and his wife Anastasia Safonova to two and a half and two years in prison respectively, under Article 213 Part 2 of the Criminal Code. They were found guilty of hooliganism committed by a group of persons by prior conspiracy with the use of weapons and motivated by political hatred and enmity. The charge was related to the anarchists’ action held on a February night in 2018, when they placed a banner with the inscription “The FSB is the Main Terrorist” on the fence of the Chelyabinsk FSB Office and also threw a flare over the fence. A video recording of the action was published by the People’s Self-Defense VKontakte community. We believe that the action did not constitute a gross violation of public order, so the hooliganism charge in this case is unfounded. On November 24, the Chelyabinsk Regional Court overturned this verdict, sending the case back to the district court for a new trial. The spouses were released from pre- trial detention with restrictions of certain activities.
In early March, a criminal case similar to that of Yeremina and Vashurin, was initiated in Izhevsk under Article 213 Part 1 Paragraph “b” of the Criminal Code. Anastasia Ponkina, an activist of the Russian Socialist Movement (RSD), became a suspect. According to the investigation, on January 23, 2021, Ponkina, “carrying out active actions to protest against the current political regime of the Udmurt Republic and the Russian Federation,” led the citizens, who gathered in support of Navalny on Tsentralnaya Square in Izhevsk, onto the traffic area of the adjacent street, where a mass event of at least two thousand people subsequently took place. The investigation believes that the activist violated generally recognized norms and rules of conduct, and also created a threat to public order and security. The Oktyabrsky District Court of Izhevsk began reviewing Ponkina’s case in early October; as of February 2022, the trial had not yet been completed.
We doubt the validity of sanctions for politically motivated vandalism. In our opinion, in fact, we are talking about a form of political advocacy. As we pointed out above, the manifestation of political hostility in itself has not been criminalized, and unless such vandalism is associated with the promotion of violence and xenophobia, the degree of its public danger is small and does not merit criminal prosecution. Minor property damage in such cases could be seen as an administrative offense. Out of the two decisions below, we view the second one, in which the criminal prosecution was terminated with the imposition of a court fine, as more reasonable.
On May 11 the Moscow Magistrates’ Court No. 369 found activists Olga Misik, Ivan Vorobyevsky and Igor Basharimov guilty under Article 214 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (vandalism motivated by political hostility). Misik was sentenced to two years of restriction of freedom, and both Vorobyevsky and Basharimov – to one year and nine months of restriction of freedom. The case was opened based on an action dubbed by the media as “the booth of federal importance,” undertaken in protest against the verdict in the New Greatness (Novoe velichie) case. In August 2020, the activists poured paint on the wall of the entrance checkpoint booth of the General Prosecutor’s Office and decorated it with sanitary pads and a poster with a crude caption; they also glued sanitary pads and posters to the fence of the Lyublinsky District Court.
On July 30, the Magistrate’s court of Court District No. 3 in Perm terminated the criminal case of Pavel Lisin charged under Article 214 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (vandalism motivated by political enmity) and sentenced him to a court fine of 20 thousand rubles. The case was based on the incident, in which Lisin, while under the influence of alcohol, painted the statement “Putin Is a Thief” on the walls of two houses. The damage to building management companies amounted to 285 and 263 rubles respectively. The court fine was imposed due to the fact that the defendant had fully admitted his guilt, compensated for the damage he had caused and even personally repainted the walls of the houses.
In St. Petersburg, a criminal case was opened in late April under Article 214 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (vandalism committed by a group of persons motivated by political enmity). The case was based on the graffiti painted on an electric cabin in the Petrogradsky District – a portrait of Alexei Navalny captioned “The Hero of the New Times.” The image appeared on the cabin at night and was immediately painted over by municipal services. We believe that this criminal case was initiated inappropriately. In our opinion, neither the image of Alexei Navalny with his hands folded in a shape of a heart nor the image caption contained signs of inciting political enmity. In June, the decision to open the case was canceled as unfounded and not based on law.
We classify four verdicts issued against ten people in the cases on organized politically-directed extremist activities as inappropriate.
On May 20, the Yevpatoria City Court sentenced Ukrainian citizen Alexander Dolzhenkov, a student in the School of Geology and Geography in the Odessa University, guilty under Article 2821 Part 1 of the Criminal Code and sentenced him to a year in prison with a ban on administering Internet websites for one year. Dolzhenkov was a member of the “Ukrainian Resistance in Crimea” VKontakte community, which published various materials critical of the annexation of Crimea to Russia and called for facilitating the peninsula’s return to Ukraine. We found no calls for violent actions aimed at returning the territory among the materials available on the community page. Initially, Dolzhenkov had been charged under Article 280.1 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (public calls for violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation), but due to the partial decriminalization of this article the charge was removed – instead, he was accused of creating an extremist community. As a reminder, we consider sanctions against calling for the secession of a particular territory from Russia to be unduly restrictive of freedom of expression, unless the calls are for violent separatism.
On December 15, The Kislovodsk City Court, at its visiting session in Yessentuki, issued sentences against the leaders of the protest movement that took place in Ingushetia in 2018–2019. Akhmed Barakhoev, Musa Malsagov and Malsag Uzhakhov were sentenced to nine years in a minimum-security colony under Article 33 Part 3 and Article 318 part 2 of the Criminal Code (organizing violence against representatives of the authorities motivated by political enmity in connection with the discharge of their official duties) and under Article 2821 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (organizing an extremist community). Uzhakhov was also found guilty under Article 33 Part 3 and Article 239 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (creating a non-profit organization associated with inducement of individuals to commit other unlawful deeds based on political enmity), and Barakhoev – under Article 239 Part 3 of the Criminal Code (participating in such an organization). Ismail Nalgiev, Bagaudin Khautiev and Barakh Chemurziev were sentenced to eight years in a penal colony under Article 33 Part 3, Article 318 Part 2 and Article 2821 Part 2 (participating in an extremist community) of the Criminal Code. Zarifa Sautieva was sentenced on the same charges to seven and a half years in a penal colony.
According to the investigation, in 2018, the offenders, united by their political enmity towards President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov of the Republic of Ingushetia, created an extremist community, which disseminated in the media and on social networks the calls for participation in protests held without permits. They also organized such actions, created a “shadow government,” and intended to achieve the resignation of Ingushetia’s leadership in order to establish in the republic a government under their control. The investigation also argued that, during the rally of March 27, 2019, they deliberately incited participants to violence against government officials.
We consider the verdict against the activists from Ingushetia inappropriate both under Article 2821 and Article 318 of the Criminal Code. We have no reason to believe either that the activists had planned in advance to provoke violence, or that appeals they made (whether planned or voiced spontaneously) were intended to incite the audience to violence. Moreover, we have no reason to interpret peaceful political criticism and organizing peaceful assemblies as socially dangerous acts committed out of hatred. Thus, on the one hand, the association of activists cannot be regarded as an extremist community, that is, as a group of persons formed for committing extremist crimes. On the other hand, their calls cannot be interpreted as actions to instigate violence. As far as we know, the convicted activists never initiated the clashes with the police – on the contrary, they tried to stop the violence.
In early November, the FSB Directorate for Moscow and the Moscow Region opened a new criminal case under Article 2821 Parts 1 and 2 of the Criminal Code on creating an extremist community in Moscow. The defendants were the alleged members of the Left Resistance movement, Moscow-based activists Daria Polyudova, Kirill Kotov, Sergei Kirsanov and Alena Krylova, journalist Igor Kuznetsov from Tomsk, and labor activist Andrei Romanov, who has received asylum in Finland.
Polyudova has been charged under Article 2821 Part 1 of the Criminal Code for, no later than October 2017, creating an extremist community “based on her negative attitude toward the existing system of government in the Russian Federation and its federal structure,” with intent “to prepare and commit extremist crimes,” “namely, public justification of terrorism and public calls for extremist activity.” Other alleged members of the Left Resistance were charged under Article 2821 Part 2 of the Criminal Code for “performing functional duties to ensure its activities” – specifically, for organizing rallies, processions and pickets “aimed at discrediting the authorities and provoking clashes with police officers” – as well as for administering the Left Resistance VKontakte community page and promoting the community’s activities on the Internet.
Thus, Kirill Kotov has been charged with administering the community page and holding five pickets in Moscow and one in Tomsk in 2019, despite the fact that his picket posters, in our opinion, contained no calls for violent actions and provided no grounds for criminal prosecution. Kotov faced administrative responsibility under Article 20.2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses for two of these actions. However, violating the procedure for holding public events is not an extremist activity.
Daria Polyudova created the Left Resistance movement in 2017 under the slogans of adherence to true Marxism, the revival of “anti-Stalinist” communist international, and the “democratic revolution in Russia,” which would begin as “decolonization of the regions and peoples of Russia” and continue as “an international revolution to liberate all peoples and regions of the planet.” All the acts, for which Polyudova was convicted, are listed in the court case on creating the Left Resistance as her extremist activity. However, none of these acts were associated with posts on the Left Resistance page, and none of them involved other alleged community members. Actually, Polyudova is not charged for any joint actions with the other defendants except for the very fact of creating a community. Thus, it is not clear what all the individuals charged under Article 282.1 of the Criminal Code have in common except their VKontakte page (and there are no charges related to any specific publications on this page), and what is basis for prosecuting them specifically for joint extremist activities.
Two additional verdicts related to the organized extremist activity issued under other articles of the Criminal Code are also worth noting.
On September 6, the Oktyabrsky District Court of Ufa issued a three-year suspended sentence to 60-year-old retiree Ilmira Bikbaeva under Article 2823 Part 1 of the Criminal Code for making several small monetary transfers in 2018–2019 to the account that belonged to the mother of Bashkir nationalist Airat Dilmukhametov. Airat Dilmukhametov was sentenced to nine years in a maximum-security colony in August 2020. He was found guilty under four articles of the Criminal Code for his public statements. We are inclined to consider all these charges inappropriate. Therefore, we regard the criminal prosecution against Bikbaeva as unfounded, even if the transferred funds were related to the activities for which Dilmukhametov had been punished – although she claims they were not related.
On December 10, the Leninsky District Court of Chelyabinsk sentenced a local activist to a fine of 300 thousand rubles under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (participating in the activities of an extremist organization). According to the investigation’s version, upheld by the court, he was a member of the banned National Bolshevik Party (NBP) and helped his party comrades to prepare a sledgehammer attack against the Czechoslovak Legion monument and an arson attack against the Leninsky District Prosecutor’s Office in Chelyabinsk. We view as inappropriate both the ban against the NBP and the sanctions against activists for participating in the organization. The attempts to destroy the monument and set the prosecutor’s office on fire should have been qualified under other articles of the Criminal Code.
We also know of approximately 20 criminal cases initiated under Article 2822 of the Criminal Code in connection with the activities of the Prisoners Criminal Unity (Arestantskoe Ugolovnoe Yedinstvo, AUE) movement recognized as extremist. It is worth reminding here that we have no doubts regarding the illegal nature of the AUE as a criminal subculture that is, by its very nature, incompatible with the implementation of the constitutional rights of citizens. Activities to spread such an ideology can be banned and criminalized, but this ideology is not political and not aimed at changing the constitutional order, and, therefore, in our opinion, should not fall under the anti-extremist legal regulation.
Statements against the authorities are often punished under Article 20.3.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses on inciting hatred, hostility and humiliation of human dignity on the basis of belonging to a specific social group; Article 20.3.1 was introduced into the Code of Administrative Offenses as a result of partial decriminalization of Article 282 Part 1 of the Criminal Code on inciting hatred. Reviewing the use of this legal norm reported in 2021, we classify as inappropriate 23 instances of sanctions against individuals (with one person punished three times) and one case concerning a legal entity (the All-Tatar Public Center (Vsetatarsky Obschestvennyi Tsentr, VTOTs) that we discuss in detail below). A fine was imposed in 13 cases, community service in four, in five cases people were placed under arrest for a period ranging from five to 13 days, one case was closed, and the outcome of one case is unknown.
In 20 cases, sanctions were a response to statements by Internet users against law enforcement agencies and authorities that were rude but not inciting to violence.
For example, in May, the Tsentralny District Court of Novosibirsk fined activist Viktor Sorokin 18 thousand rubles. The case was based on the video “Urgent!!! Appeal to the Prosecutor General of Russia,” which the activist published on social networks in March. In the video message addressed to the Prosecutor General of Russia he accused Novosibirsk Regional Prosecutor Yakov Khoroshev and other law enforcement officials of corruption and, in particular, of defending the interests of cement producers associated with ex-Governor Viktor Tolokonsky. Sorokin’s video included the words “bandits in uniform” and a derogatory term for police officers (“menty”). A linguistic expert examination found in the activist’s speech the signs of incitement to hatred against a group of people united by occupation “prosecutors and law enforcement agencies.” It must be noted that Sorokin did not criticize all the employees of the prosecutor’s office and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, but only those who, in his opinion, were violating the law. He used no obscene words and did not call for any illegal actions – on the contrary, he called for the rule of law.
We regard persecution for such and even more rude statements as inappropriate. Law enforcement officers should not be considered a vulnerable social group protected by anti-extremist legislation: The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly noted that law enforcement agencies should show exceptional tolerance for criticism, if it is not a real threat of violence. With regard to public officials, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, in its Decree “On Judicial Practice in Criminal Cases Concerning Crimes of Extremism” dated June 28, 2011, emphasized that the permissible limits for criticism against them are wider than those for criticism of individuals.
The case of stand-up comedian Idrak Mirzalizade charged under Article 20.3.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses stands apart from the others. In early August, the Tagansky District Court of Moscow placed Mirzalizade under administrative arrest for ten days, and the Moscow City Court approved this decision. The case against Mirzalizade was based on the statements he made on his YouTube show Razgony about discrimination faced by non-Slavs when looking for housing. Months after its publication, the Tsargrad TV channel and Vladislav Pozdnyakov (the Male State founder) drew attention to the video, and TV presenter Vladimir Solovyov called Mirzalizade a scoundrel and wondered why the comedian had not yet been convicted under the article on incitement to hatred. Mirzalizade faced bullying, was the victim of an assault, and finally faced administrative responsibility. The grounds for Mirzalizade’s arrest were insufficient. His speech, albeit somewhat provocative, was intended as critical of xenophobia faced by natives of the Caucasus, and the comedian directly emphasized his negative attitude towards any nationalism. However, the sanctions did not stop at his arrest. In late August, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia announced that the presence of the comedian on the Russian territory was undesirable for life. Mirzalizade is a citizen of Belarus, who received a residence permit in Russia in March 2021. The life ban was an obviously disproportionate response to a minor administrative offence. The comedian’s defense challenged the Interior Ministry’s decision, and, in October, the Zamoskvoretsky District Court of Moscow ordered the Interior Ministry to impose a reasonable ban on stay in Russia for Mirzalizade. This decision was upheld by a higher court. Already in February 2022, the Ministry of Internal Affairs complied with the court’s requirement having decided on a “reasonable” term of 14 years.
According to our information, there were at least 37 cases filed under Article 20.1 Parts 3–5 of the Code of Administrative Offenses for dissemination of information expressing in indecent form disrespect for the state and society on the Internet in 2021. There were at least 30 such cases a year earlier and 56 in 2019. In 2021, a fine was imposed 19 times, one case (repeated offense) led to a three-day arrest, and eight cases were terminated. Almost all charges had to do with disrespect for government officials (mainly for the president, but also for officials, policemen, judges, and even for “an indefinite circle of people).”
We know of eleven citizens, including activists from across the political spectrum, who faced responsibility under Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (propaganda or demonstration of Nazi symbols or symbols of extremist organizations) for using the swastika as a means of political criticism in posts expressing opposition to the government. Seven of these people were fined; four were placed under administrative arrest. A case in point is the decision of the Kuibyshevsky District Court of Omsk made in December to fine local opposition activist Richard Roman King 2 thousand rubles. King posted an image on VKontakte that included a film still of Nazis in SS uniforms taking away a woman prisoner next to a photograph of Russian Interior Ministry officers detaining a woman protester. The caption on top of the image read “Do you feel the difference? Not anymore...”
In addition, we are aware of 12 cases of sanctions for displaying the symbols of the banned National Bolshevik Party or the symbols of the Other Russia of E.V. Limonov (which law enforcement agencies and courts regard as the symbols of the NBP, although they are not identical). Administrative arrest was imposed as punishment in nine of these cases. Notably, Ivan Kislitsin, a member of the Communist Party from Omsk, who most likely never intended to promote the activities of the NBP, also found himself among the penalized National Bolshevik activists. In November, the Tsentralny District Court of Omsk fined the communist 2 thousand rubles for publishing on VKontakte in 2012 a concert recording of the song “And the Battle Is Going Again” (I vnov’ prodolzhaetsya boy) by the punk band Grazhdanskaya Oborona with a visible flag of the banned National Bolshevik Party (NBP) and for subsequently sharing archival photographs of the band’s leading singer Yegor Letov from the public page of the Other Russia of E. V. Limonov with a visible party logo.
We know of seven cases filed under Article 20.3.2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses for calls to violate the territorial integrity of Russia not accompanied by calls for any violent separatist actions. In such cases, we regard sanctions for discussions of territorial issues as inappropriate. One case was dismissed and six people were fined. In the latter group, two cases involved speakers who proposed separating Moscow from Russia, one case pertained to the status of Crimea, one to the rights of the republic of Tatarstan, one to Chukotka, yet another one to the citizenship of the Buryats, Sakhas, Tuvans and Kalmyks, and the final one – to the separation of Siberia.
In mid-January, the prosecutor’s office of Tatarstan filed a lawsuit to liquidate the All-Tatar Public Center (VTOTs) and recognize it as an extremist organization. The lawsuit lists several reasons for banning the organization: a warning issued to the VTOTs in 2017 for addressing deputies on the status of the Tatar language; recognition of the VTOTs Naberezhnye Chelny branch headed by Rafis Kashapov (convicted for inciting separatism and hatred) as an extremist organization; a warning issued in 2019 prior to a rally in memory of the Kazan defenders; the fact that VTOTs members who participated in the rally faced administrative responsibility under Article 20.3.1 (incitement to hatred) and the organization’s refusal to publicly distance itself from their statements; the allegedly separatist and discriminatory provisions in the VTOTs charter.
We are not familiar with the VTOTs charter, but have to point out that we regarded the warning issued by the prosecutor’s office in 2017 as inappropriate, doubted the charges under Article 20.3.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses against the 2019 Kazan rally participants, and viewed the verdict against Kashapov for incitement to separatism as clearly inappropriate (and, therefore, considered the prosecutorial arguments in favor of liquidating the VTOTs Naberezhnye Chelny branch less than convincing). The trial began in late February, and, in July, the proceedings were suspended to conduct an expert examination.
On October 21, a case under Article 20.3.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses was opened against VTOTs. The claim was based on the address to the State Council of Tatarstan delivered by a member of the VTOTs Presidium Abdullazyan Zalyalov at the VTOTs rally on October 15, 2021. The expert examination reviewed it and found “possible presence of a hostile context” with respect to the Russians, as well as contrasting the Russians and the Tatars as “the state-forming people” and “the colonized people.” The address stated that the addition to the Constitution of Russia in 2020 of Article 68 Part 1, which referred to the state-forming status of the Russian people, raises the question of the status of non-Russian primarily indigenous peoples. It further argued that, when ratifying the law on amending the Constitution, the State Council of Tatarstan should have also determined the status of the Tatar people. We believe that this address provided no grounds for proceedings under Article 20.3.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses. It shows no intent to incite ethnic hatred. The document merely criticizes the historical colonial policy of the Russian Empire as well as modern supporters of the idea of mono-ethnic Russia and contains peaceful calls to recognize the state-forming status of the Tatar people in Tatarstan. However, on December 7, the Vakhitovsky District Court of Kazan fined VTOTs in the amount of 250 thousand rubles. The Supreme Court of Tatarstan upheld this decision in January 2022.
In October, once the case under Article 20.3.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses was opened, the prosecutor’s office suspended the activities of VTOTs, while the claim to liquidate it was being considered. As a justification for this measure, the prosecutors argued that the organization was continuing its extremist activities. The order of the prosecutor’s office is valid until a decision is issued on the liquidation of VTOTs, and its violation entails administrative responsibility.
On December 28 and 29, the Supreme Court and the Moscow City Court satisfied the claims of the Prosecutor’s Office to liquidate the International Memorial and the Memorial Human Rights Centre (HRC). The claims against both organizations were related to violations of labeling requirements for the materials distributed by “foreign agent” NPOs. We consider the liquidation of organizations on such grounds a disproportionate measure and are generally convinced that the persecution of “foreign agents” should be stopped, and the relevant legislation should be repealed as contrary to international human rights law and the constitutional rights of Russian citizens.
The prosecutorial claim to liquidate the Memorial HRC, citing a psycholinguistic study carried out by the Center for Sociocultural Expertise, insisted that the materials of the Memorial Human Rights Center “contain linguistic and psychological signs of justifying the activities of participants in international terrorist and extremist organizations,” “deny the facts established by the decisions of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation that have come into force, forming an opinion that they were not legal or legally binding.” The incriminating material in question is the list of political prisoners, maintained by Memorial since 2008 as part of its program to support defendants in the criminal cases they viewed as politically motivated, and the information about these cases posted on the center’s website. These prosecutorial considerations were not included in the court decision on the liquidation.
However, on December 25, Roskomnadzor blocked the website of the independent human rights media project OVD-Info, a partner of the Memorial HRC also recognized as a “foreign agent,” and issued an order for the social networks to block the project’s accounts. The agency’s actions followed the decision by the Lukhovitsky District Court of the Moscow Region, which had ruled to recognize the information contained on the OVD-Info website and social network pages as prohibited from distribution on the territory of Russia. The information was allegedly aimed at justifying the activities of extremist and terrorist associations and justified the actions of their members and other people convicted of extremist and terrorist crimes. The text of the court decision provides no specific details – it contains only brief characteristics of several OVD-Info materials with references to the expert opinion available in the materials of the case.
In our opinion, the materials of Memorial HRC and OVD-Info contain no signs of justifying extremism and terrorism. We believe that by making such claims against human rights organizations, Russian law enforcement agencies are trying to silence the uncomfortable questions arising from dubious bans against organizations not involved in either violence or incitement to hatred possibly leading to violence or discrimination or from other anti-extremist sanctions that we view as inappropriate. Disagreement with the position of law enforcement agencies or courts over their decisions to recognize someone as a terrorist or an extremist by no means implies support for violence, an ideology of hatred or any other ideology that persons involved in criminal cases might follow.
In 2021, law enforcement agencies continued to initiate criminal cases under Article 3541 Parts 1, 2 and 3 of the Criminal Code that covers the rehabilitation of Nazism (denial of the facts established by the Nuremberg Tribunal, or approval of Nazi crimes, the same acts committed over the Internet, and dissemination of information expressing obvious disrespect to society about the days and symbols of Russia’s military glory) for attempts to upload photographs of the Third Reich leaders or famous collaborators (in particular, Adolf Hitler and Andrei Vlasov, but under different names) to the websites of the Immortal Regiment movement or the related Memory Bank project on the eve of May 9. We believe that the actions of the internet users were qualified incorrectly.
In our opinion, unless they are accompanied by Nazi propaganda, such actions should not be interpreted as justifying Nazism or disseminating disrespectful information about the date of May 9 – obviously, the images per se do not carry such information, and in general, such actions constitute Internet trolling, the motives of which may vary.
It is also worth noting that, in all known cases except one, the offense consisted only of submitting photographs; the images were filtered out during pre-moderation and were, in fact, never posted on the sites. Previously, in several such cases, the courts passed sentences under Article 30 Part 3 of the Criminal Code on attempted crime. However, all of them were later reconsidered, since the Supreme Court, as an appellate instance, has ruled that the composition of Article 3541 of the Criminal Code is formal, which means that the crime should be viewed as completed from the moment the actions aimed at the rehabilitation of Nazism were committed. In addition, according to the Supreme Court, such uploads are necessarily public in nature, because they are available to “an unlimited circle of people – moderators, volunteers, site administrators.”
As we were informed, about 15 such cases were initiated in 2021.
Verdicts were issued in ten cases:
- On May 27, the Voronezh Regional Court found 63-year-old Alexander Khoroshiltsev guilty under Article 3541 Part 1 of the Criminal and sentenced him to a fine of 90 thousand rubles. According to investigators, on May 4, 2020, Khoroshiltsev posted a photograph of Adolf Hitler to the Memory Bank website to be displayed as part of the Immortal Regiment online campaign. Khoroshiltsev explained that that in the spring of 2020 he received a letter from the Immortal Regiment project with an offer to publish a photograph of a war veteran on the website. In response, he uploaded Hitler’s photo onto the site because “he didn’t like the site” and in order to “no longer be spammed.”
- On July 30, the Orenburg Regional Court found Andrei Akimov, a 32-year-old resident of Orsk, guilty under Article 3541 Part 2 Paragraph “c” (condoning the crimes established by the Nuremberg Tribunal using the Internet) and sentenced him to a year of imprisonment, which was replaced by a year of compulsory labor with 15% salary deduction and a two-year ban on administering Internet websites – also for uploading a Hitler photo to the Memory Bank website.
- On August 5, the Perm Regional Court sentenced local resident Maxim Gusev to a fine of 180 thousand rubles under Article 3541 Part 1 for uploading to the Immortal Regiment website a photograph of SS Gruppenfuehrer Andrei Shkuro.
- On August 13, the Nizhny Novgorod Regional Court sentenced a 20-year-old resident of Sarov, Maxim Dobrykh, under Article 3541 Part 3 of the Criminal Code to a fine of 120 thousand rubles to be paid over one year. He was charged for uploading to the Memory Bank a photograph of a Wehrmacht soldier while indicating that it depicted a Soviet soldier. In this case, the photo has passed moderation.
- On August 20, the Primorsky Regional Court sentenced Roman Kostishin, a resident of Vladivostok, to a fine of 50 thousand rubles under Article 3541 Part 3 of the Criminal Code for uploading a photograph of Joseph Goebbels to the same website.
- On September 7, the Chelyabinsk Regional Court fined Ivan Kvitko, a 19-year-old resident of the Roza settlement in the Korkinsky District, under Article 3541 Part 1 of the Criminal Code 50 thousand rubles for submitting a photograph of Hitler to be displayed as part of the Immortal Regiment Online project.
- On October 11, the same court fined Alexei Galishko 60 thousand rubles under the same part of the article for a similar act.
- On October 29, the Irkutsk Regional Court issued a verdict against Semyon Shtrung, a 21-year-old resident of Bratsk, under Article 3541 Part 1 of the Criminal Code for uploading a photograph of Hitler to the Memory Bank website. He was sentenced to a fine of 100 thousand rubles with confiscation of the smartphone “and other means of committing a crime.”
- On December 17, the Tomsk Regional Court issued a two-year suspended sentence to local resident Sergei Sakharov along with a fine of 200 thousand rubles and a ban on engaging in activities related to “posting appeals and other materials” on the Internet for a period of two years. He was found guilty under Article 3541 Part 1 and Part 2 Paragraph “c” for uploading a photograph of Goebbels to be displayed on the Immortal Regiment website in May 2020 and in May 2021.
- On December 29, the Primorsky Regional Court sentenced Alexei Shulgin, a resident of Vladivostok, charged under Article 3541 Part 3 of the Criminal Code, to ten months of corrective labor with a with a 15% state deduction from his wages for uploading a photo of Hitler to the Immortal Regiment website in May 2020.
Two additional sentences under Article 3541 of the Criminal Code deserve to be mentioned separately.
On November 18, the Kemerovo Regional Court sentenced local opposition blogger Mikhail Alferov to 470 hours of community service under Article 3541 Part 3 for publicly desecrating the symbols of Russia’s military glory and under Article 319 of the Criminal Code for insulting a government official. He was also given an additional punishment in the form of a fine and a ban on posting appeals and other materials on the Internet for two years and 10 months. The prosecution under Article 3541 was based on a video that Alferov posted on YouTube on May 9, 2020. In the video, he criticized in harsh terms the lavish decoration of the city for Victory Day in contrast to the unsatisfactory condition of residential buildings. The blogger also expressed his dissatisfaction with the symbolic use of the St. George ribbon demanding that the police remove it from their uniforms. We consider the verdict against Alferov inappropriate in terms of the charges under Article 3541 of the Criminal Code. In our opinion, statements about certain symbols, even if they are regarded as offensive, should not be equated with the desecration of the symbol itself. Moreover, Russian legislation never defines the concept of “symbols of military glory).”
On December 24, the Moscow City Court sentenced 19-year-old student Matvei Yuferov to four years in prison under Article 3541 Part 4 (desecration of the symbols of Russian military glory, insulting the memory of the defenders of the Fatherland or humiliating the honor and dignity of a veteran of the Great Patriotic War, committed publicly on the Internet) for urinating on the portrait of a World War II veteran and posting a video of the incident on his Instagram story. We believe that Yuferov’s actions clearly constitute disorderly conduct and could be qualified under Article 20.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (petty hooliganism). Of course, these actions could be perceived as offensive and immoral, especially by veterans and their relatives; however, criminal prosecution for such acts is unjustified. Yuferov did not promote violence, hatred or discrimination. Protection of abstract objects – such as days of military glory, memorable dates, or symbols of military glory – from criticism, does not, in our opinion, require criminal sanctions. It is worth reminding that in General Comment No. 34 to Article 19 (Freedoms of opinion and expression) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the UN Human Rights Committee expresses its concern about laws on such actions as, in particular, disrespect for flags and symbols, and also states that “laws should not provide for more severe penalties solely on the basis of the identity of the person that may have been impugned.” Issues related to protecting the honor and dignity of veterans, as well as other persons, should, in our opinion, be considered in civil proceedings.
The same line of reasoning seems to apply to several new criminal cases filed in 2021.
Thus, in August, a case under Article 3541 Part 4 of the Criminal Code was initiated in Ingushetia in connection with the publication of the “Day of Shame” video. Its author Islam Belokiev, 32, has long lived outside of Russia. In this video, the blogger argued that Muslims should not celebrate Victory Day or use the St. George ribbon as a memorial symbol, since the history of the war is associated with the deportations and death of their ancestors. He also believes that Muslims should not congratulate war veterans, since many of them served in the NKVD and took part in the persecution against peoples of the Caucasus.
A case under Article 3541 Part 3 of the Criminal Code was initiated in Miass against a 40-year-old homeless man suffering from a mental disorder. He was taken into custody in October. One night in late September, the defendant damaged the “Grieving Mother” memorial by placing a wreath over the Eternal Flame so that he could dry his belongings. After that, the flame had to be turned off for a while to restore the damaged memorial. In this case, it is also necessary to take into account that, most likely, the homeless person had no intention to desecrate the symbols of military glory and was not guided by any ideological considerations.
In December a 54-year-old Volgograd resident became a defendant under Article 242 Part 3 paragraph “b” of the Criminal Code (illegal production or public demonstration of pornographic materials, committed using information and telecommunication networks) and Article 3541 part 3 of the Criminal Code for posting on Odnoklassniki a pornographic collage that included a photograph of a veteran decorated with the Order of the Patriotic War.
Also in December, Alexei Chervyakov, a resident of Safonovo in the Smolensk Region, was detained and placed under house arrest as a defendant under Article 3541 Part 4 of the Criminal Code. In his comments to a VKontakte post about a graffiti portrait of a veteran on a school building wall, Chervyakov stated that he opposed the cult of war and the “victory madness,” believed that only the “scum” and “psychopaths” were capable of killing their fellow humans, and that “making heroes out of them is immoral.” Later, in February 2022, Part 2 Paragraph “c” and Part 3 of the same article were added to his charges based on other similar statements, the exact content of which is unknown.
More abstract statements can also lead to criminal prosecution for the “rehabilitation of Nazism” if seen as contradicting the idealistic notion of the role of the USSR in World War II, which, as the authorities believe, should be upheld in the interests of the current state. A similar criminal case under Article 3541 Part 4 of the Criminal Code was opened in August in Rostov-on-Don, and local journalist Sergei Reznik, who had also previously been prosecuted and served almost a three-year sentence under several articles of the Criminal Code, was charged in absentia in October. Reznik was put on the federal wanted list. The case was based on his remark on his personal Telegram channel dated June 22, 2021, in which he said that, on June 22, 1941, “fascist German troops launched an operation to enforce peace and protect the constitutional order in the East.” The expert in the case regarded this statement as demonstrating “a falsified attitude to the historical past and historical memory as well as discreditation of the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal” and aimed at “concealing Nazi atrocities and justifying the regime of the Third Reich.” We believe that Reznik’s statement is ironic and intended not to rehabilitate the reputation of the Third Reich in the eyes of its readers, but to criticize the military operations involving Russia in recent decades (“enforcing peace” alludes to the events in South Ossetia, and “protection of the constitutional order” – to the events in Chechnya). The allegory was obviously intended to convey to the reader the author’s idea that the actions of the Russian armed forces in these cases did not correspond to their stated goals.
A high-profile case of administrative punishment was the one against Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty filed under Article 13.15 Part 4.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses on abusing the freedom of the press, the wording of which is identical to that of Article 3541 Part 1 of the Criminal Code. Roskomnadzor compiled a relevant protocol in November 2021, and, on January 26, 2022, the Simonovsky District Court decided to fine the publication in the amount of three million rubles. The claims were related to the article by controversial historian Boris Sokolov “Senseless and merciless. Why Stalin issued Order No. 270.” According to Roskomnadzor, the text contains some false information about the activities of the USSR during the Second World War or about the veterans of the Great Patriotic War. The charges were prompted by the segment, in which the author mentioned “ciphered telegram No. 4976” sent by Georgy Zhukov, then the Commander of the Leningrad Front, in September 1941 following Stalin’s Order No. 270 issued in August. Sokolov described it as a “draconian order” and a “sinister directive.” The document in question has not survived, but was cited in one of the surviving documents as follows: “Explain to all personnel that all the families of those who surrender to the enemy will be shot and, upon their return from captivity, they will also all be shot.” Roskomnadzor stated that Zhukov’s instruction constituted not an order but an “explanation,” and that by calling Zhukov’s actions “draconian “ and “sinister “ the author sought to discredit him. It is unclear on what grounds Roskomnadzor deemed it appropriate to intervene in the historical discussion in this case. Scholarly debates on whether the ciphered telegram ever existed, and whether it should be considered a directive or a free interpretation of the quite inhumane Order No. 270 have nothing to do with propaganda of Nazism, pose no danger to society and do not call for the severe sanctions established by the law. In our opinion, Russian legislation on the “rehabilitation of Nazism” is full of vague formulas and allows the state to unreasonably restrict the right to freedom of expression in order to censor historical research and maintain ideological control.
In late November, Martha Hillers’ book A Woman in Berlin: A Diary from April 20 to June 22, 1945 was included on the Federal List of Extremist Materials. The book was declared extremist in September 2021 by the Abakan City Court of the Republic of Khakassia. It is a diary by German journalist Martha Hillers on the experiences of women in post-war Berlin, published in 1954; among other detail, the book tells about alleged rapes of women in Berlin by Soviet soldiers. Hillers’ memoirs contain no propaganda of Nazism. The lawsuit to ban the diary was based on an expert opinion, which, in particular, stated that “at present, this work fits entirely into the general concept espoused by the radical Western historiography that pursues the purpose of forming an exclusively negative image of Russia’s historical past, in particular, of devaluing the role of the USSR in defeating Nazi Germany,” and therefore “the encounter of ordinary readers, who have no documented historical facts at their disposal, with this work can lead to distortion of the objective historical picture of the Berlin military operation and form an exclusively negative image of the Red Army soldiers.”
In late December, the Oktyabrsky District Court of Murmansk received an administrative claim from the Murmansk Regional Prosecutor requesting to recognize Agnessa Khaykara’s book Neizvestnaya severnaya istoriya[Unknown Northern History] as extremist material. Under the terms of the governor’s grant for the book’s publication part of its print run was intended for libraries but seized by the FSB in December 2020. The case was based on a psychological and linguistic examination of the publication conducted by experts Natalia Kryukova and Alexander Tarasov of the Center for Sociocultural Expertise, who found the book to contain “negative information about the actions of the Russians,” toward the Finnish and Norwegian people and concluded that the book can form in its readers “distorted biased notions” regarding the Russians, the Finns and the Norwegians and contribute to the incitement to hatred. We believe that there are no grounds for recognizing the work as extremist. The historical and ethnographic study by the enthusiast focuses on the fate of Norwegians and Finns who moved to the Kola Peninsula in the 19th century at the invitation of the Russian government to develop undeveloped territories. An original ethnic, cultural and religious community arose on the peninsula but was completely destroyed during the years of Stalinist terror, and most of its people were physically destroyed in the purges – the entire families of local Finns and Norwegians were arbitrarily sentenced to capital punishment or long terms of imprisonment, exiled to uninhabitable territories, and so on. Khaykara describes these events in her book based on official documents and stories of the settlers’ descendants including those of her own relatives; ten people in her family suffered in the purges. The book contains no xenophobic or anti-government statements – it would be strange to expect anything else given that Khaykara, a well-known and respected public figure in the region, spent 17 years working in the regional Duma. The principal message of Neizvestnaya severnaya istoriya is that historical memory must be preserved. In early February 2022, the court sent Khaykara’s book for a new expert examination. At the same time, the book was also sent for examination as part of the preliminary investigation review targeting the author under Article 282 (inciting national hatred) of the Criminal Code.
According to statistics from the Judicial Department of the Supreme Court, there were 1704 cases of punishment under Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses in the first half of 2021 for the public demonstration of Nazi or other prohibited symbols (compared to 2279 cases for the entire 2020). Thus, the number of sanctions imposed under this article for the entire year can possibly turn out to be much higher than the year before.
As usual, we know the details of the corresponding administrative cases and can assess their appropriateness only for some of these incidents. We noted more cases filed inappropriately in 2021 than in 2020. People faced sanctions without proper grounds on at least 55 occasions (we counted 44 such cases in 2020). All defendants were individuals, primarily activists (in 43 cases), but ordinary social network users as well. We know that a fine was imposed in 24 cases, administrative arrest in 23, and five out of 55 cases were dismissed; we have no information on the outcome of three cases.
In 24 cases, the charges were filed for demonstration of Nazi symbols, specifically, the swastika.
In 11 cases out of 24 the swastika was used as a visual means of criticizing the authorities, In eight cases it was presented in a satirical or humorous context, such as the Tom and Jerry meme, in which the cat is dressed in a German military cap, with a superimposed flag of the Third Reich (sanctions for posting these videos were reported in the previous year as well). In five cases the context was neutral.
Three cases were based on symbols that law enforcement agencies and courts considered similar to the Nazi or to the symbols of banned neo-Nazi organizations (Svarog Square, Kolovrat, the Odal rune); one case involved the AUE symbols and one more – the ISIS symbols. All of them were shown outside of the propaganda context.
We can still say that the introduction, in 2020, of a note to Article 20.3 (stating that the article does not apply to cases, in which negative attitude towards the ideology of Nazism and extremism is being formed, and there are no signs of propaganda or justification of Nazi or extremist ideology) could not fundamentally improve the situation. It failed to limit the sanctions only to cases, in which banned symbols were actually displayed in order to promote a dangerous ideology.
26 cases involved demonstrating the symbols of organizations that, in our opinion, are banned inappropriately. People faced responsibility for demonstrating the symbols of the National Bolshevik Party or the Other Russia of E.V. Limonov that were considered similar to the symbols of the NBP in 12 cases. Administrative arrest was imposed as a punishment in nine of them. 14 cases were based on social network posts containing the symbols of Smart Voting, FBK and other projects related to Alexei Navalny.
In 2021, the charges of public insult against the feelings of believers were mostly applied to publication on social media of atheistic or anticlerical posts and comments as well as various videos and photos taken near places of worship and depicting people in their underwear or in various degrees of nudity. We see no need to prosecute people for publishing “blasphemous” materials, unless they contain aggressive appeals against believers. In our point of view, such publications pose no danger to society, and sanctions for their dissemination can be regarded as unjustified interference with freedom of expression related to religion. In addition, we are convinced that the concept of “insulting the feelings of believers “ introduced into texts of Article 148 Parts 1 and 2 of the Criminal Code has no clear legal meaning at all and should be excluded from the legislation altogether.
We classify five sentences under Article 148 of the Criminal Code, issued in 2021 against six people as inappropriate.
On January 13, the Magistrate of the Verkhovsky District in the Oryol Region sentenced Alexei Savkov, a resident of the village of Verkhovye, to a fine of 75 thousand rubles under Article 148 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (public actions expressing clear disrespect for society and committed in order to insult the religious feelings of believers) for posting a comment in one of the communities on VKontakte, in which he mocked the concept of the Annunciation.
On March 9, 18-year-old blogger Vitaly Miroshnikov was sentenced in Chita to 120 hours of community service under Article 148 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (public actions expressing clear disrespect for society and committed in order to offend the religious feelings of believers in places specially designed for worship) for publishing a TikTok video, which shows him entering the Cathedral of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God, making the sign of the cross and then lighting up a cigarette from a church candle. Although Chita resident violated the rules of conduct in the temple, there were no other visitors in the vicinity, and his actions did not attract anyone’s attention, caused no damage to religious objects, and, in general, did not pose a significant danger to society, therefore we believe that in this case criminal prosecution was unnecessary.
On April 14, the Magistrate of Judicial Sector No. 4 of Oktyabrsky District of Penza fined local resident Igor Gladkov 20 thousand rubles under Article 148 Part 1 of the Criminal Code. Gladkov made a number of comments and posts on the city’s public webpages, which contained negative assessment of “clergy and their activities,” “the baptismal cross as an object of Christian worship,” “religion as a form of social consciousness, a set of spiritual ideas based on belief in supernatural forces and beings that are the subject of worship,” “treatment of believers by clergy” and “believers” themselves. The defendant pleaded guilty, and the case was tried under a special procedure.
On October 5, the Magistrate of the Judicial Sector No. 1 of Penzensky District of the Penza Region sentenced local resident Pavel Pischulin, charged under Article 148 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (insulting the religious feelings of believers), to 180 hours of community service for a number of various atheistic or anticlerical posts. Pischulin pleaded guilty, and the case was tried under a special procedure. Pischulin is the head of All-Russian Social Unity (Vserossiyskoe sotsialnoe edinstvo), a left-leaning patriotic organization. He had previously received a one-year suspended sentence with two-year loss of the right to post on the Internet for inciting extremism online.
On October 29, the Magistrate of Judicial Sector No. 370 of Tverskoy District of Moscow sentenced blogger Ruslan Bobiev and his girlfriend Anastasia Chistova to 10 months in a penal colony under Article 148 Part 1 of the Criminal Code. The case was based on a provocative photograph that depicted Bobiev and Chistova imitating oral sex in front of the St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow; the young woman, wearing a jacket that had “Police” imprinted on the back, was squatting in front of Bobiev, while he was holding her by the hair. The actions of the defendants, who took the staged photo, could hardly be noticed and understood by passers-by, whether believers or not, and did not violate public order. Notably, that this is the only real prison sentence under Article 148 in the entire history of using this Criminal Code article.
On July 7, the Magistrate of Judicial Sector No. 11 in Moscow dismissed a similar case due to the reconciliation of the parties. The case under Article 148 Part 1 was opened a month before against Alina Vlaskina, Maxim Zamyslaev, A. Barsukov and E. Ispolinova. The prosecution was based on an incident that took place in the course of recording a TikTok video on Nagorny Boulevard. Two young men were pretending to have a feast, using a girl as a table, with an Orthodox icon standing on the ground nearby. Once the case was officially opened, Vlaskina recorded a video apologizing to believers. The Russian Orthodox Church accepted her apology, and the injured party filed a motion to terminate the proceedings.
We know of four new cases, all initiated in the second half of the year: one in Kemerovo for publishing atheist comments, and three more – one in Moscow and two in St. Petersburg – for shooting “inappropriate” scenes in front of temples and posting them online. It is worth noting that some of these cases have been opened based on complaints from vigilantes, such as associates of Vladislav Pozdnyakov, the founder of the banned movement Male State.
We also would like to note two cases of inappropriate administrative sanctions imposed for similar acts. Two residents of the Tula Region – one from Plavsk and the other one from Schekinsky District were each fined 30 thousand rubles in January and May 2021 respectively. The charges against them under Article 5.26 Part 2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (deliberate public desecration of articles, marks and emblems relating to the world outlook symbols thereof). In the first case, a resident of Plavsk posted on his social network page a number of satirical cartoon images of Orthodox icons, such as the face of Christ with a washbasin tap from the Moidodyr cartoon, icons of Saints David and Jonathan, presented as a visual continuation of the LGBT flag, and so on. The second case was based on the social network post of an image stylized as an Orthodox icon depicting Joseph Stalin as a saint. In our opinion, posting such images should not, in and of itself, be interpreted as a desecration of objects of religious worship. Publishing collages implies no active action with actual religious paraphernalia. It is also worth noting that the legislation fails to define the concept of “desecration” in any way.
We know at least 95 inappropriate verdicts issued against 164 individuals in 2021 on charges of involvement in organized extremist and terrorist activities (vs. 43 such verdicts against 88 persons in the preceding year). 91 of those cases, involving 154 persons, pertained to religious organizations.
Eight sentences, issued under the articles of the Criminal Code on organizing the activities of a terrorist organization, participating and involving others in such an organization, pertained to Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamic religious party banned in Russia as a terrorist despite the absence of any information about its involvement in terrorist activities. 23 Hizb ut-Tahrir followers were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment – from 11 to 23 years in a maximum-security colony. In some cases, part of the term had to be served in prison, and various additional restrictions were imposed, but we do not specify them here. One sentence against two Muslims from Tolyatti was overturned, so we do not include it in our total, although we provide the information on it below. For comparison, in the preceding year, we recorded 12 convictions against 31 people. Over the past two years, we have seen a decrease in the number of those convicted for involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir. On the other hand, it should be noted that during 2021, at least 35 defendants in new criminal cases were arrested on similar charges in various regions of Russia (likely more, but reports from law enforcement agencies and the media provide insufficient information for us to calculate the exact number of new defendants).
Here are the relevant court decisions issued in 2021:
- On January 12, the Southern District Military Court delivered a verdict in the so-called Belogorsk Hizb ut-Tahrir case in Crimea. Enver Omerov was sentenced to 18 years in prison, and Aider Dzhapparov – to 17 years under Article 30 Part 1, Article 278 (preparation for forcible seizure of power) and Article 2055 Part 1 (organizing the activities of a terrorist organization) of the Criminal Code. Riza Omerov (Enver’s son) received 13 years of incarceration under Article. 30 Part 1, Article 278 and Article 2055 Part 2 (participation in the activities of a terrorist organization) of the Criminal Code.
- On March 2, the Central District Military Court in Samara issued a verdict in the case of Radik Khairutdinov and Elmar Mamedov. Mamedov was sentenced to 12 years of imprisonment under Article 2055 Part 2 and Article 2052 Part 2 (public calls for terrorist activities committed on the Internet), Khairutdinov – to 11 years of imprisonment under Article 2055 Part 2. On June 17, the Military Court of Appeal of the Russian Federation overturned this verdict and sent the case to the Central District Military Court for a new trial.
- On April 22, the Central District Military Court in Yekaterinburg found Rais Mavlyutov, who was detained along with Khairutdinov and Mamedov in Tolyatti, guilty under Article 2051 Part 1 (incitement to terrorist activities), Article 205 Part 2 and Article 2055 Parts 1 and 2 of the Criminal Code and sentenced him to 23 years behind bars.
- On March 5, the Central District Military Court in Yekaterinburg sentenced Ildar Ibragimov from Kazan to 16 years of imprisonment under Article 2055 Part 1 of the Criminal Code.
- On August 5, the Central District Military Court found inmate Asgat Khafizov guilty under Article 2055 Part 2 and Article 2051 Part 1.1 (involvement of others in the activities of a terrorist organization, as well as financing of terrorism) of the Criminal Code and sentenced him to 16 years of incarceration; in 2017, Khafizov was sentenced to 19 years behind bars for his involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, so his total term of imprisonment has now reached 23 years.
- On August 16, the Southern District Military Court issued a verdict against four residents of Crimea – defendants in the Alushta Hizb ut-Tahrir case. Lenur Khalilov and Ruslan Mesutov were found guilty under Article 30 Part 1, Article 278 and Article 2055 Part 1 of the Criminal Code and sentenced to 18 years of imprisonment each. Ruslan Nagaev was sentenced to 13 years and Eldar Kantimirov – to 12 years under Article 30 Part 1, Article 278 and Article 2055 Part 2 of the Criminal Code.
- On October 29, the Southern District Military Court delivered a verdict in the case of four Crimeans from Bakhchisaray. The court sentenced Seytumer Seytumerov to 17 years of imprisonment under Article 2055 Part 1, Article 30 Part 1 and Article 278 of the Criminal Code. Osman Seytumerov, Rustem Seitmemetov and Amet Suleymanov were sentenced under Article 2055 Part 2 of the Criminal Code in combination with Article 30 Part 1 and Article 278 of the Criminal Code to 14, 13 and 12 years of imprisonment respectively.
- On December 21, the Central District Military Court at its visiting session in Ufa sentenced Azat Lukmanov to 11 years of imprisonment in a colony under Article 2055 Part 2 of the Criminal Code.
- On December 24, the Second Western District Military Court in Moscow issued a verdict against eight citizens of Uzbekistan and the Kyrgyz Republic. Marifdzhon Mamadaliev and Ikbolzhon Sultonov were sentenced to 16 and 18 years in a penal colony under Article 2055 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (organizing the activities of a terrorist organization). Kamaldin Abdullaev, Farhodzhon Kimsanov, Marufzhon Malikov, Ikromiddin Tukhtasinov, Gulomzhon Kholdarov and Azizbek Kholmatov were found guilty under Article 2055 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (participating in the activities of a terrorist organization); their sentences range from 11 to 12 years in a penal colony.
Two additional sentences issued in 2021 and related to Hizb ut-Tahrir are worth mentioning.
On September 28, the Second Western District Military Court found Khamid Igamberdyev guilty of publicly justifying terrorism under Article 2052 Part 1 of the Criminal Code; Igamberdyev was previously sentenced to 16 years in a penal colony in September 2019 in the Hizb ut-Tahrir case of the so-called “Moscow Nine” under Article 2055 Part 1 of the Criminal Code. The court added three more years of imprisonment, so, taking his previous sentence into account, his total term amounts to 17 and a half years. The criminal case was initiated in connection with the conversations that Igamberdyev had had with his cellmates in pre-trial detention. He was accused of denying the terrorist nature of the Hizb ut-Tahrir activities in a conversation with three cellmates – an act that can hardly be regarded as public propaganda.
On February 15, the Nakhimovsky District Court of Sevastopol found Ruslan Bekirov guilty under Article 307 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (giving false evidence) and sentenced him to 300 hours of community service. Bekirov was a witness in the case of Enver Seitosmanov, sentenced to 17 years behind bars in 2019 under Article 2055 Part 1 the Criminal Code. Bekirov testified against Seitosmanov incriminating him as a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, but later stated at the trial that his testimony had been obtained under pressure from FSB officers, who had threatened him with a prison term, a fine, and an exposure to tuberculosis. The fact that Bekirov made a statement in court about the pressure used against him by the investigation and claimed to have no information on Seitosmanov’s involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir was interpreted as an attempt to “help his acquaintance, Seitosmanov, avoid criminal responsibility.”
In 2021, at least 13 sentences against 20 people were issued under Article 2822 of the Criminal Code for continuing the activities of the Tablighi Jamaat religious movement recognized as extremist in Russia. It was banned in Russia in 2009, and we view this ban as unfounded. This movement is engaged in propaganda of fundamentalist Islam, but has never been implicated in any calls for violence; therefore, we consider the sanctions against its supporters inappropriate.
- On May 18, the Babushkinsky District Court of Moscow passed a sentence on Altynbek Kozonov, a citizen of the Kyrgyz Republic charged under Article 2822 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (organizing the activities of an extremist organization). We have no information on the details of his sentence;
- On July 7, the Babushkinsky District Court of Moscow found six other citizens of the Kyrgyz Republic detained along with Kozonov guilty as well. Artyk Kalbaev and Aibek Mamazhunusov were charged under Article 2822 Part 1 of the Criminal Code. Sharabidin Asan uulu, Murzy Kushuev, Mederbek Seidaliev and Aibek Khalmatov faced charges under Part 2 of the same article (participating in the activities of an extremist organization). We have no information about the details of their sentences;
- On August 19, the Proletarsky District Court of Saransk fined Ryais Tyshkin and Aisu Aizatullin 500 thousand rubles under Article 2822 Part 1 of the Criminal Code; Khafiz Aizatullin was fined 300 thousand rubles under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code. The Supreme Court of Mordovia ruled this sentence to be excessively lenient and, on October 21, sentenced Aisa Aizatullin to three years in a minimum-security colony and a two-year ban on activities related to the leadership of and participation in civic and religious organizations. Tyshkin was sentenced to three years in a minimum-security colony and Khafiz Aizatullin – to one year in a minimum-security colony;
- On August 25, Volzhsky District Court of Saratov issued a verdict against a 46-year-old Muslim man from the Volgograd Region. He was found guilty under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code and received a two-year suspended sentence and six months’ restriction of liberty;
- In October–December, the same court issued seven more sentences to Tablighi Jamaat followers. Five Muslims who pleaded guilty received suspended sentences of two to three years under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code with a two-year probationary period followed by restriction of liberty for six months. Two defendants who pleaded not guilty were sentenced to two years of imprisonment to be served in a minimum-security penal colony;
- On December 2, the Sovietsky District Court of Volgograd sentenced Mikhail Kolotilin to three years in a minimum-security penal colony under Article 2822 Part 1 of the Criminal Code;
- On December 23, the Apsheronsky District Court of the Krasnodar Territory sentenced a 32-year-old resident of the village of Sredny Karachan in the Voronezh Region to seven years in a minimum-security penal colony with restriction of freedom for a year and a half under Part 1.1 (recruitment to an extremist organization) and Part 2 of Article 2822.
New criminal cases were opened against the alleged followers of Tablighi Jamaat under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code – specifically, against a resident of the Ivanovo Region and a resident of Saratov. In the Omsk Region, 11 people were detained under Article 2822 Parts 1 and 2, three of whom became defendants in the case, four more were brought in as witnesses, and the others (citizens of the Kyrgyz Republic and Kazakhstan) were deported from Russia by court decisions.
As a result of the unjustified bans against the books of moderate Islamic Turkish theologian Said Nursi for promoting the superiority of Islam over other religions, a decision was made in Russia in 2008 to ban an alleged organization under the name of Nurcular. Russian Muslims studying Nursi’s legacy do not, in fact, form a single organization, but this did not prevent the Supreme Court from banning Nurcular, which never existed in reality. Currently, Muslims reading and discussing Nursi’s books can be prosecuted under Article 2822 for involvement in an extremist organization and face real terms of imprisonment. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2018 that the Russian courts had violated Article 10 of the European Convention on Freedom of Expression by banning Nursi’s books. However, the situation has not changed; criminal cases against Muslims who study Nursi’s books are initiated in Russia every year.
On August 31, the Naberezhnye Chelny City Court issued a two-year suspended sentence to 63-year-old Nakia Sharifullina under Article 282.2 Part 1 of the Criminal Code. Sharifullina was found guilty of creating a Nurcular cell in 2015. Under the guise of conducting Quran study sessions and Turkish language classes, she allegedly gathered citizens and introduced them to the works of Said Nursi including the banned ones. Sharifullina was also convicted under the same article back in 2014 and fined 100 thousand rubles.
It is worth noting that on April 19, the Naberezhnye Chelny City Court recognized as extremist 163 publications in different languages seized as part of the investigation in Sharifullina’s criminal case; 160 of them are works by Said Nursi. However, on July 9, the Supreme Court of Tatarstan overturned this decision and sent the case for a new trial to the city court, which has not yet been completed, since the court sent the books for translation. The Naberezhnye Chelny Court set a new record for the number of simultaneously banned books. The previous record was 68 books (also Islamic) recognized as extremist in 2012 in Orenburg; the bans on most of them were later revised.
On November 2, the Privolzhsky District Court of Kazan sentenced the former imam and teacher Gabdrakhman (Albert) Naumov under Article 282.2 Part 1 and Article 282.3 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (financing of extremism). He was sentenced to six and a half years in a minimum-security colony. According to the investigators, whose version was accepted by the court, Naumov “organized the activities of conspiratorial groups” since 2015 and held “secret Nurcular propaganda meetings.” Furthermore, in November 2015, he allegedly organized and financed the Sunday courses on the foundations of Islam for village schoolchildren of Tatarstan in order to increase the number of followers of the banned association in the republic.
In November, six people in Kazan and Naberezhnye Chelny were detained and then arrested as defendants under Article 2822 Parts 1 and 2, who, according to the investigation, were members of Nurcular cells.
Throughout the year, there were several reports regarding criminal cases against alleged Nurcular followers in Dagestan. Meanwhile, in September–October, the Izberbash City Court of Dagestan dropped seven criminal cases under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code. The relevant court decisions were published in two cases, and they were based on the charges of involvement in the local Nurcular “cell.” We assume that the other five closed cases under the same article also involved allegations related to the activities of this banned association. However, it is likely that not all such cases against local Muslims were discontinued.
In 2021, the persecution against Jehovah’s Witnesses continued actively. Their organizations registered in Russia (395 local communities along with the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center) were all banned as extremist in 2017. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, criminal cases against 597 believers in 70 regions of the country have been opened since 2017. In 2021, new criminal cases for continuation of the activities of the banned Jehovah’s Witnesses organizations and their financing (Articles 2822 and 2823 of the Criminal Code) were initiated against at least 142 believers. In 2019, at least 213 believers faced charges; at least 146 were charged in 2020. Thus, we can say that the scope of the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2021 remained approximately the same as the previous year.
Numerous criminal cases initiated earlier reached the court in 2021. At least 68 verdicts against 105 Jehovah’s Witnesses were issued under Article 2822 and Article 2823, which was added to the charges against 13 believers (a year earlier, we recorded 25 verdicts against 46 believers). Three sentences against three believers were overturned, and we do not include them in our numbers, although the actual cases are described below. The convicted offenders included 77 men and 28 women; five women were sentenced to imprisonment. The group also included elderly people, such as Boris Burylov, 80, and Elena Savelyeva, also 80, who received suspended sentences, and 70-year-old Valentina Baranovskaya, who suffered a stroke during the investigation and was nevertheless sentenced to two years in a penal colony.
33 people were sentenced to imprisonment in a minimum-security penal colony (in 18 separate verdicts):
- On February 10, the Abinsky District Court of the Krasnodar Territory sentenced 63-year-old Alexander Ivshin to seven and a half years of imprisonment under Article 2822 Part 1 of the Criminal Code;
- On February 24, the Abakan City Court of Khakassia sentenced Roman Baranovsky to six years behind bars under Article 2822 Part 1 of the Criminal Code and his 69-year-old mother, Valentina Baranovskaya, to two years of imprisonment under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code;
- On March 29, the Gagarinsky District Court of Sevastopol sentenced Viktor Stashevsky to six and a half years of imprisonment under Article 2822 Part 1 of the Criminal Code;
- On March 30, the Abinsky District Court of Krasnodar Krai sentenced Oleg Danilov from the village of Kholmskaya to three years of imprisonment under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code;
- On April 6, the Abinsky District Court of Krasnodar Krai sentenced Alexander Shcherbina to three years of imprisonment under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code. In June, a regional court reduced his sentence from three years to two years;
- On May 20, the Leninsky District Court of Saratov sentenced Rustam Seidkuliev to two and a half years behind bars under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code;
- 7 On June 3, the Zheleznodorozhny District Court of Krasnoyarsk sentenced Andrei Stupnikov to six years of imprisonment under Article 2822 Part 1 of the Criminal Code;
- On June 3, the Promyshlenny District Court of Kursk sentenced Andrei Andreev to four and a half years of imprisonment under Article 2822 Part 1. Three other believers were sentenced under Article 2822 Part 2: Andrei Ryshkov to three years in a penal colony, Artem Bagratyan to two and a half years, Alevtina Bagratyan to two years in a penal colony, and yet another believer received a suspended sentence (see below);
- On June 30, the Blagoveshchensk City Court of the Amur region sentenced Alexei Berchuk to eight years behind bars under Article 2822 Part 1 and Dmitry Golik – to seven years of imprisonment under Article 2822 Part 1 and Part 1.1 of the Criminal Code. In early September, the regional court reviewed the appeal, dropped the charge against Golik under Part 1.1 and reduced his sentence to six years and two months of imprisonment;
- On July 29, the Leninsky District Court of Rostov-on-Don sentenced Arsen Avanesov and Alexander Parkov to six and a half years of imprisonment, and Vilen Avanesov to six years. under Article 2822 Part 1 of the Criminal Code;
- On August 11, the Abinsky District Court of Krasnodar Krai sentenced Vasily Meleshko from the village of Kholmskaya to three years of imprisonment under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code;
- On September 6, the Sverdlovsky District Court of Kostroma sentenced Dmitry Terebilov to three years in a maximum-security penal colony under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code (Terebilov was considered a repeated offender, because he had a criminal record prior to becoming a Jehovah’s Witness);
- On September 23, the Traktorozavodsky District Court of Volgograd sentenced Sergei Melnik and Igor Egozaryan to six years of imprisonment under Article 2822 Part 1 of the Criminal Code, Valery Rogozin – to six and a half years under Article 2822 Part 1 and Article 2823 Part 1 and Vyacheslav Osipov and Denis Peresunko – to six years and three months under the same articles;
- On October 11, the Pavlovsky District Court of Krasnodar Krai sentenced Vladimir Skachidub to four years and two months behind bars under Article 2822 Part 1.1 and Part 2 of the Criminal Code;
- On October 22, the Gagarinsky District Court of Sevastopol sentenced Igor Shmidt to six years of imprisonment under Article 2822 Part 1 of the Criminal Code;
- On October 25, the Trusovsky District Court of Astrakhan issued the most severe verdict against Jehovah’s Witnesses seen in recent years: Yevgeny Ivanov, Ruslan Diarov, and Sergei Klikunov received eight years behind bars each under Article 2822 Part 1 and Article 2823 Part 1 of the Criminal Code; Olga Ivanova was sentenced to three and a half years under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code;
- On December 2, the Abinsky District Court of Krasnodar Krai sentenced Anna Yermak and Olga Ponomaryova from the village of Kholmskaya to four and a half and five years of imprisonment under Article 2822 Part 1.1 of the Criminal Code;
- On December 23, the Abinsky District Court of Krasnodar Krai sentenced Alexander Nikolaev to two and a half years of imprisonment under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code.
- On January 20, the Birobidzhansky District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region sentenced Yevgeny Golik to two and a half years under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code;
- On January 21, the Obluchensky District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region sentenced Anastasia Sycheva to two years under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code;
- On January 26, the Leninsky District Court of Rostov-on-Don sentenced Galina Parkova to two years and three months under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code;
- On February 2, the Birobidzhansky District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region sentenced Artur Lokhvitsky to two and a half years under Article 2822 Part 2 the Criminal Code;
- On February 12, the Birobidzhansky District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region sentenced Igor Tsarev to two and a half years under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code;
- On February 12, the Birobidzhansky District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region sentenced Larisa Artamonova to a fine of 10 thousand rubles under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code. In April, however, the regional court, satisfied the prosecutorial appeal and replaced this small fine with the suspended sentence of two and a half years;
- On February 15, the Birobidzhansky District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region sentenced Svetlana Monis to a fine of 10 thousand rubles under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code. Once again, the regional court replaced the fine with a suspended sentence of two and a half years, but the Ninth Appellate Court of General Jurisdiction in Vladivostok returned the Monis case for a new trial in the regional court in December;
- On February 16, the Birobidzhansky District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region issued a sentence in the case of 54-year-old Yulia Kaganovich, imposing a fine of 10 thousand rubles under Article 2822 Part 2 the Criminal Code on a five-year installment plan. This punishment was also replaced on appeal with a suspended sentence of two and a half years in May;
- On February 16, the Birobidzhansky District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region issued a verdict in the case of Elena Reino-Chernyshova, and also fined her 10 thousand rubles under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code, but, as in the preceding cases, the regional court changed her punishment in April to a suspended sentence of two and a half years;
- On February 18, the Birobidzhansky District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region sentenced Konstantin Guzev to two and a half years under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code; the verdict was upheld by the regional court, but, in December, the Ninth Appellate Court of General Jurisdiction returned the case for a new trial to a differently staffed appellate court;
- On March 5, the Prioksky District Court of Nizhny Novgorod sentenced Sergei Verkhoturov to six years under Article 2822 Part 1 of the Criminal Code;
- On March 11, the Metallurgichesky District Court of Chelyabinsk sentenced 73-year-old Valentina Suvorova to two years under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code;
- On March 15, the Nadezhdinsky District Court of Primorsky Krai sentenced 77-year-old Vladimir Filippov to six years under Article 2822 Part 1;
- On April 1, the Birobidzhansky District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region sentenced Tatyana Zagulina to two and a half years under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code;
- On April 22, the Sychevsky District Court of the Smolensk Region sentenced Maria Troshina and Natalia Sorokina to six years each under Article 2822 Part 1;
- On April 23, the Promyshlenny District Court of Smolensk sentenced Valery Shalev and Ruslan Korolev to six and a half years, and Yevgeny Deshko – to six years under Article 2822 Part 1 of the Criminal Code; the prosecution against Viktor Malkov in the same case was terminated by the court due to the defendant’s death;
- On May 12, the Industrialny District Court of Perm sentenced 80-year-old Boris Burylov and Viktor Kuchkov under Article 2822 Part 1 of the Criminal Code, and Alexander Inozemtsev and Yuri Vaag – under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code to two and a half years. Igor Turik was sentenced to seven years under Article 2822 Part 1 and Article 2823 Part 1 of the Criminal Code;
- On May 18, the Leninsky District Court of Rostov-on-Don sentenced 71-year-old Lyudmila Ponomarenko to two years under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code;
- On May 19, the Nadezhdinsky District Court of Primorsky Krai sentenced 73-year-old Lyudmila Shut to four years under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code;
- On May 21, the Leninsky District Court of Novosibirsk sentenced Vitaly Popov to three years under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code and Article 2823 Part 1 of the Criminal Code;
- On May 24, the Chekhov City Court of the Moscow Region sentenced Yury Krutyakov under Article 2822 Parts 1, 2, and 1.1 of the Criminal Code to six years, and Zinaida Krutyakova, Konstantin Zherebtsov and Vitaly Nikiforov – to two years under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code;
- On May 31, the Gornomariysky District Court of the Republic of Mari El sentenced Ekaterina Pegasheva to six and a half years under Article 2822 Part 1 of the Criminal Code;
- On June 2, the Zeysky District Court of the Amur Region sentenced 78-year-old Vasily Reznichenko to two years under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code;
- On June 4, the Tsentralny District Court of Komsomolsk-on-Amur, Khabarovsk Krai, sentenced Nikolai Aliev to four and a half years under Article 2822 Parts 1.1 and 2 of the Criminal Code;
- On June 7, the Tsentralny District Court of Chelyabinsk sentenced Dmitry Vinogradov to two years under Article 2822 Part 2 the Criminal Code;
- On June 21, the Birobidzhansky District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region sentenced Yevgeny Yegorov to two and a half years under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code;
- On June 22, the Zavodskoy District Court of Kemerovo sentenced Alexander Bondarchuk and Sergei Yavushkin to four years under Article 2822 Part 2 and Article 2823 Part 1 of the Criminal Code;
- On June 25, 2021, the Birobidzhansky District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region sentenced Tatiana Sholner to two and a half years under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code;
- On July 1, the Metallurgichesky District Court of Chelyabinsk sentenced 75-year-old Vladimir Suvorov to six years under Article 2822 Part 1 of the Criminal Code;
- On July 13, the Voroshilovsky District Court of Rostov-on-Don sentenced Olga Ganusha to two years under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code;
- On July 14, the Zeysky District Court of the Amur Region sentenced Konstantin Moiseyenko to six years Article under 2822 Part 1;
- On July 19, the Birobidzhansky District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region sentenced Irina Lokhvitskaya to two and a half years under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code;
- On July 20, the Birobidzhansky District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region sentenced Anna Lokhvitskaya to two and a half years under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code;
- On July 30, the Birobidzhansky District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region sentenced Natalya Kriger to two and a half years under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code;
- On August 2, the Leninsky District Court of Rostov-on-Don sentenced Andrei Okhrimchuk to four years under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code and Article 2823 Part 1 of the Criminal Code;
- On August 11, the Birobidzhansky District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region sentenced Anastasia Guzeva to two and a half years under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code;
- On September 7, the Porkhovsky District Court of the Pskov Region sentenced Alexei Khabarov to three years under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code; in November, the Pskov Regional Court overturned the verdict and sent Khabarov’s case for retrial in the same but differently staffed district court;
- On September 9, the Birobidzhansky District Court of the Jewish Autonomous Region sentenced Andrei Gubin to two and a half years under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code;
- On September 27, the Leninsky District Court of Ufa sentenced Anatoly Vilitkevich to two years under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code;
- On October 25, the Sharypovo City Court of Krasnoyarsk Krai sentenced Anton Ostapenko to six years and three months under Article 2822 Part 1 of the Criminal Code;
- On October 25, the Pavlovsk City Court of the Nizhny Novgorod Region sentenced Alexei Oreshkov, Alexander Vavilov and Alexander Rakovsky to three years under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code;
- On November 17, the Seversk City Court of the Tomsk Region sentenced 80-year-old Elena Savelyeva to four years under Article 2822 Part 1.1 of the Criminal Code;
- On November 29, the Prioksky District Court of Nizhny Novgorod sentenced Victoria Verkhoturova to four years under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code;
- On December 6, the Cherkessk City Court of the Karachay-Cherkess Republic sentenced Alexander Batchaev to six years under Article 2822 Part 1of the Criminal Code;
- On December 16, the Cherkessk City Court of the Karachay-Cherkess Republic sentenced Elena Menchikova to five years under Article 2822 Parts 2 and 1.1 of the Criminal Code;
- On December 16, the Naberezhnye Chelny City Court of the Republic of Tatarstan sentenced Vladimir Myakushin to three years and one month under Article 2822 Part 1 and Article 2823 Part 1 of the Criminal Code, Aidar Yulmetyev – to two years nine months under Article 2822 Part 1, Ilkham Karimov and Konstantin Matrashov – to two and a half years each on the same charge;
- On December 21, the Zheleznodorozhny District Court of Krasnoyarsk sentenced Vitaly Sukhov to six years under Article 2822 Part 1of the Criminal Code;
- On December 30, the Nikolsky District Court of the Penza Region sentenced Pyotr Krupnov and Maya Krupnova to two years each under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code.
- On June 2, the Minusinsk City Court of Krasnoyarsk Krai sentenced Dmitry Maslov to a fine of 450 thousand rubles under Article 2822 Part 1 of the Criminal Code;
- On July 19, the Leninsky District Court of Kirov sentenced Andrei Schepin, Alexander Shamov and Yevgeny Udintsev to fines of 500, 420 and 200 thousand rubles, respectively, under Article 2822 Part 1 of the Criminal Code;
- On July 19, the Solombalsky District Court of Arkhangelsk sentenced Yevgeny Yakku to a fine of 850 thousand rubles under Parts 1, 1.1 and 2 of Article 282 2;
- On November 25, the Sovetsky District Court of Lipetsk sentenced Viktor Bachurin, Alexander Kostrov and Artur Netreba under Article 2822 Part 2 of the Criminal Code to a fine of 500 thousand rubles each, but took their detention during the investigation into account and reduced their fines to 300 thousand rubles;
- On December 24, the Uray Town Court of the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug sentenced Andrei Sazonov to a fine of 500 thousand rubles under Article 2822 Part 1 and Article 2823 Part 1 of the Criminal Code.
66 individuals (in 48 verdicts) received suspended sentences:
In addition, on June 3, the Promyshlenny District Court of Kursk issued a two-year suspended sentence under Article 2822 Part 2 to Alexander Vospitanyuk. His case involved four additional defendants who received real terms of imprisonment.
Nine people were sentenced to fines in five separate verdicts:
Тhe acquittal in the case of Jehovah’s Witness Dmitry Barmakin, by the Pervorechensky District Court of Vladivostok on November 22, 2021 sets an important precedent. Barmakin was charged under Article 2822 Part 1 of the Criminal Code). In the acquittal, judge Stanislav Salnikov cited the latest resolution of the plenary meeting of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation adopted on October 28, 2021. According to the clarifications given by the Supreme Court, for criminal proceedings under Article 2822, courts should name specific socially dangerous actions committed by the guilty party, the significance of these actions for continuing or resuming the activities of a prohibited organization, and the motives for committing them. In addition, the Supreme Court indicated that, in the event of a ban against a religious organization, individual or joint religious worship by its former members should not be interpreted as participation in an extremist organization. The verdict of the Pervorechensky District Court is the first one based on the new Supreme Court decision. In the course of Barmakin’s trial, judge Salnikov showed his consistent commitment to the constitutional right to freedom of religion.
The number of known cases for distribution of religious literature that we believe to have been banned unreasonably is quite small. Nineteen people in various regions of Russia were fined under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offenses. However, it should be noted that we have information only on a small fraction (a little over two hundred) of all the decisions issued under this article in 2021; meanwhile, just in the first half of the year, the courts imposed such sanctions 764 times.
Seventeen cases pertained to Islamic materials: five to the Miracles of the Quran movie (in the Mari El Republic), six to the Fortress of the Muslim collection of prayers (in Karachay-Cherkessia), and six to The Future Belongs to Islam, a book by Sayyid Qutb (also in Karachay-Cherkessia). All these materials are peaceful but appear in similar administrative cases year after year.
In addition, a resident of Glazov (Udmurtia) was fined for publishing on Avito an advertisement for the sale of issues of Zvezda Selennoi. This banned magazine was published by Allya-Ayat (Elle-Ayat), a religious group recognized as extremist and banned in several regions. Adherents of the Allya-Ayat preach that that any illness can be cured by applying this magazine to the body, pronouncing a certain “formula of life,” drinking special tea and engaging in prolonged contemplation of the sun. In our opinion, there were no grounds for recognizing the Allya-Ayat magazines as extremist. Despite the fact that Zvezda Selennoi contains negative remarks about the world religions, it includes no aggressive appeals against their followers. Accordingly, we regard sanctions for distributing magazines as extremist materials as inappropriate.
On March 31, the Oktyabrsky District Court of St. Petersburg declared the JW Library mobile application banned for distribution in Russia. The St. Petersburg City Court upheld this decision on appeal on September 27. The decision was based on the fact that the app contained Jehovah’s Witnesses’ materials recognized as extremist, including the New World Translation of the Bible. Evidently, the app was declared prohibited for distribution under Chapter 27.1 of the Code of Administrative Judicial Procedure, under the procedure that was developed to block specific materials previously recognized as extremist, and, in theory, should not apply to entire online libraries containing other materials besides the prohibited ones.
On April 30, a court in Moscow recognized The Rose of the Seraphites: The Bogomil Gospel as extremist. This book was written by Bishop Veniamin Bereslavsky of the Orthodox Church of the Sovereign Mother of God. According to the experts, the book contained statements regarding the superiority or inferiority of people depending on their religious affiliation, “calls for introducing restrictions or preferences in family relations for a group defined on religious grounds,” and “justification of hate and hostile, intolerant, antagonistic attitude towards a group of individuals identified by their religious affiliation.” We see no reason to ban The Rose of the Seraphites as an extremist material. The book contains the statements about the doctrine espoused by the author, which is extolled as the truth and the salvation, as well as the statements critical of Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Judaism, modern church institutions and secular life. All this, however, has nothing to do with incitement to hatred, since the disagreements in question are religious and philosophical and do not result in any calls for aggressive actions or discrimination against other believers. The book’s stand on family relations, psychological effects the book can have on readers, or its difference from the doctrinal literature of the religious movements considered “traditional for Russia” cannot, in and of themselves, serve as grounds for its prohibition, since they do not constitute signs of extremism.
On August 2, the Tsentralny District Court of Kemerovo satisfied the claim of the Kemerovo Region Prosecutor and recognized the Novy mirovoy poryadok/New World Order, a book by Alexei Ledyaev, as extremist. Ledyaev is a Pentecostal pastor and the leader of the New Generation Christian movement. The text was recognized as extremist because, according to the expert opinion, it contains “statements on the superiority of people depending on their religious affiliation,” as well as “manipulative techniques to purposefully convey negative emotional assessments, negative attitudes and motivations to act against a group of persons defined as belonging to the social group “authorities.” The author seeks to convince the reader of the truth of the Christian doctrine and insists that this doctrine should become the basis of the state systems for all countries of the world. However, the book contains no incitement to violence or discrimination against any religious group. It also does not call for violence against government representatives – the criticism against them is limited to an assertion of their alleged connection with the pagans and the Masons. Therefore, we believe that there were no grounds for recognizing Ledyaev’s book as extremist. It is worth noting that, in August, the Prosecutor General’s Office recognized as undesirable the activities in Russia of four foreign religious organizations that belonged to the New Generation movement (two of them based in Latvia and two in Ukraine). Russia is also a home to many Pentecostal organizations historically associated with Ledyaev’s New Generation.
On December 9, the Laishevsky District Court of the Republic of Tatarstan recognized the following materials as extremist: the first volume of the Interpretation of the Holy Quran by Abd ar-Rahman ibn Nasir as-Sa’di translated by Elmir Kuliev, one of the main Sunni collections of hadiths Sahih al-Bukhari as summarized by 15th Century imam al-Zubaidi, and Bulugh Al-Maram by al-Asqalani – a collection of 14th and 15th Century hadiths translated by Kuliev. Attempts to prohibit hadith collections, including the authoritative Sahih al-Bukhari, constitute an obvious mistake of the authorities, which discredits them in the eyes of Muslims. As we have repeatedly pointed out, modern notions of tolerance are not applicable to medieval Islamic literature, since it describes the era of religious wars and reflects the attitudes of that era. The ideological orientation of translations and modern commentaries on Islamic doctrinal literature still remains a concern; however, the translations and comments to all the Hadith collections reviewed by the court are, in our opinion, neutral and cannot serve as a basis for recognizing these publications as extremist.
Tafsir (interpretation of the Quran) as-Sa’di, written in 1923–25, indeed contains repeated direct calls for an aggressive war against non-believers; however, it is questionable whether such appeals, made a century ago, constitute sufficient grounds for modern publishers of religious literature to refrain from printing the Russian translation of this authoritative interpretation of the Quran. In general, we believe that the authorities should address not the materials per se but the actions of propaganda purveyors who use a variety of instruments, including religious literature, to justify xenophobic violence in the modern world.
Notably, other courts had previously prohibited a selection of quotes on jihad from al-Bukhari hadiths and a different edition of the first volume of Tafsir as-Sa’di.
Let us first turn to the general statistics collected by SOVA Center in 2021 in the field of criminal law enforcement.
We know at least ten verdicts against 35 people issued for violent hate crimes, three verdicts against seven people for ideologically motivated vandalism, 224 verdicts against 229 people for public speech, and 115 verdicts against 192 people for their involvement in banned organizations. Providing these figures, we traditionally clarify that our data differs significantly from the numbers published semiannually in the statistical reports compiled 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, and so on, and such information does not always become public.
Of the 224 verdicts against 229 individuals issued for public speech, we view eight verdicts against ten persons as appropriate and intended to stop manifestations of xenophobia; another 52 verdicts against 52 people, in our opinion, are likely appropriate and issued in connection with propaganda of violence against government officials. We regard 20 convictions against 21 people as inappropriate. We are not sure about the legitimacy of six verdicts against seven people, and we do not know (or have insufficient information on) the charges that led to 138 sentences against 139 people.
Of the 115 verdicts against 192 people issued for involvement in banned organizations, we recognize seven sentences against 13 people as appropriate. We are unable to evaluate 13 verdicts against 15 people due to lack or vagueness of information. 95 verdicts against 164 people we consider inappropriate.
Now let’s shift our focus to the data on the criminal sentences that we view as inappropriate in the categories listed above. If we take into account the problematic decisions made under both anti-terrorist and anti-extremist articles, the total for 2021 comes to 115 verdicts against 185 people (compared to 54 verdicts against 99 people in 2020), while 20 verdicts against 21 people (compared to 13 verdicts against 19 people in 2020) were associated with public speech. 95 verdicts against 164 people (vs. 43 verdicts against 88 people in 2020) were associated with involvement in the activities of banned organizations, primarily religious.
Out of this total, 105 inappropriate verdicts against 160 people were issued under anti-extremist criminal articles in 2021 (vs. 40 sentences against 66 people a year earlier). 18 sentences against 19 people were issued for “extremist” speech (we recorded nine such sentences against nine people in 2020), and 87 verdicts against 141 people for involvement in the activities of extremist organizations (compared to 31 verdicts against 57 individuals in 2020).
Below in this chapter, we present the results of tallying the court decisions and newly initiated criminal cases that we view as either completely inappropriate or highly problematic, grouping them according to articles of the Criminal Code (the cases themselves are discussed in the relevant chapters of the report).
In 2021, as in 2020, we saw no inappropriate verdicts under Article 282 of the Criminal Code. Only one new case – against a blogger from Kemerovo – was opened without due justification under this article.
A change in data was observed for sanctions under Article 148 Part 1 of the Criminal Code, which punishes “insulting the feelings of believers.” While in 2020, as in the preceding year of 2019, our data indicated one inappropriate sentence issued against one person, we recorded five such against six people in 2021 (in the Oryol Region, Chita, Penza and Moscow); one more case in Moscow was terminated due to the reconciliation of the parties. The court sentenced two defendants to 10 months in a penal colony and two to community service; two defendants were fined. Four new criminal cases were initiated under Article 148 against five people from Kemerovo, Moscow and St. Petersburg.
At least 15 new cases were inappropriately opened under Article 3541 of the Criminal Code (rehabilitation of Nazism) in 2021. Verdicts were issued against 12 individuals from different regions of Russia in 12 cases (a year earlier six verdicts against six people were issued under this article). One person was sentenced to four years of incarceration, three to community service, compulsory or corrective labor, and the remaining eight people were sentenced to fines.
We noted one inappropriate sentence under Article 280 of the Criminal Code on incitement to extremism in 2021 against a blogger from Chita, but it was overturned (two inappropriate sentences under this article were reported in 2020). We also doubt the validity of another verdict issued against a left-wing activist in Moscow. We view one newly initiated case under Article 280 of the Criminal Code against a Marxist activist from the Rostov Region as inappropriate.
No inappropriate sentences were issued under Article 2801 of the Criminal Code for calls for separatism as a result of the partial decriminalization of this article in 2021 (one such case was reported in 2020), and no new cases were inappropriately opened. Moreover, the charge was dropped in a number of existing cases. On the other hand, we know about several fines under the new similar article 20.3.2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (see more on this below).
In 2021, one inappropriate verdict was issued under Article 213 of the Criminal Code (no such sentences reported in 2020) against an activist from Krasnodar for hooliganism based on the motive of social and political hatred. Two defendants were acquitted by the court in Chelyabinsk; the sentence for two other defendants was sent for review; one new case was initiated without proper justification in Udmurtia.
We doubt the validity of one verdict under Article 214 against three activists in Moscow for vandalism motivated by political hostility. We know of no such verdicts issued in the preceding year.
Two verdicts were inappropriately issued under Article 2821 ofthe Criminal Code on the organization of an extremist community and participation in such a community – one against a citizen of Ukraine who participated in the Ukrainian Resistance in Crimea community on VKontakte, and the other one against seven Ingush oppositionists charged with creating an extremist community in order to organize mass riots in the republic. Two new cases that we view as inappropriate were opened under this article – one against Alexei Navalny and a number of his associates (by February, 2022, the case involved at least 14 defendants) and the other one against six members of the Left Resistance.
At least 84 inappropriate verdicts against 132 people were issued in 2021 under Article 2822 of the Criminal Code (according to our data, 31 inappropriate verdicts against 57 people were issued under this article in the previous year). Of these, 68 verdicts against 105 people (compared to 25 verdicts against 46 individuals in 2020) pertained to continuing the activities of Jehovah’s Witness communities – 33 defendants were sentenced to imprisonment (the maximum term was eight years in a minimum-security penal colony), 63 people received suspended sentences, nine people were fined. 13 verdicts against 20 people were issued for organizing cells of the banned Islamic movement Tablighi Jamaat or participating in their activities (a year earlier, we recorded two verdicts against seven people). Two verdicts were issued in Tatarstan for involvement in the activities of the banned Nurcular organization against two Muslims who studied the books of Said Nursi. Another verdict was issued against a National-Bolshevik in Chelyabinsk, who received a suspended sentence for continuing the activities of the banned National Bolshevik Party (according to our information, there were three such sentences against three activists in 2020). The number of those inappropriately prosecuted under Article 2822 in the cases opened in 2021 reaches at least 200, the majority of them Jehovah’s Witnesses (142 defendants in new cases). For comparison, in 2020 we counted about 130 new cases under Article 2822 ofthe Criminal Code.
We consider one sentence under Article 2823 on the financing of extremist activities inappropriate. It was issued against a resident of Ufa who sent money to the mother of a local activist convicted under a number of articles of the Criminal Code. We would like to point out that this article also appeared, in combination with Article 2822, in the verdicts of 13 Jehovah’s Witnesses and of one person convicted for his involvement in Nurcular. Throughout the year, a number of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Alexei Navalny’s supporters faced charges under this article among others.
In total, we are aware of new criminal cases against approximately 243 people inappropriately initiated in 2021 under anti-extremist articles – a significantly higher number than in 2020, when, according to our estimates, about 145 people faced unfounded prosecution.
As mentioned above, we view as inappropriate the sentences for continuing the activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir issued under the anti-terrorist articles of the Criminal Code. The party’s supporters are charged under Article 2055 of the Criminal Code (organizing the activities of a terrorist organization or participating in such an organization), sometimes in combination with Article 278 and Article 30 (preparing for forcible seizure of power) or Article 2051 (assistance in terrorist activities), as well as Article 2052 (justification of terrorism). In 2021, there were eight such verdicts against 23 people (compared to 12 verdicts against 31 individuals in 2020). The convicted offenders received from three to 23 years in prison in a maximum or super-maximum security colony, sometimes with part of the term to be served in prison, and with various additional restrictions. About 35 people were arrested in 2021 on the charges of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir (30 arrests were reported in 2020).
One Hizb ut-Tahrir follower from Moscow, who is currently serving a term for his involvement in the organization, was additionally convicted under Article 2052 for his conversations with fellow inmates in pre-trial detention, in which he argued that Hizb ut-Tahrir was not engaged in terrorism. We consider this sentence inappropriate as well. Among the new cases initiated under this article in 2021, we classify two – one against an artist from Khabarovsk and the other one against a blogger from St. Petersburg – as inappropriate.
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 or even thousands of cases filed under these articles. Thus, according to the statistics provided by the Judicial Department of the Supreme Court, only in the first half of 2021, sanctions were imposed 461 times under Article 20.3.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (vs. 757 for the entire 2020), 1704 times under Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (vs. 2279 times for the entire 2020) and 764 times under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (vs. 1826 times for the entire 2020). However, we have sufficient information on the reason for the sanctions and are able to evaluate the legitimacy only for several dozen cases.
We regard as inappropriate 23 administrative cases filed against the same number of individuals (vs. eleven individuals in 2021) and one case against a legal entity under Article 20.3.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses for inciting hatred. A fine was imposed in 13 such cases, community service in four cases, an arrest for a period of five to 13 days in five cases, one case was closed, and the outcome of the final one is unknown. In almost all of these cases, the sanctions were based on harsh statements against the authorities and law enforcement agencies. For comparison, we classified 168 decisions we know to have been issued under Article 20.3.1 as appropriate.
We know of seven cases under Article 20.3.2 of the Code of Administrative Offenses for incitement to violating the territorial integrity of Russia, not accompanied by calls for any violent separatist actions (in such cases, we regard sanctions for discussing territorial issues as inappropriate). One of these cases was dropped, and six people were fined.
The sanctions for public demonstration of Nazi or other prohibited symbols, that is, under Article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses, were, according to our data, inappropriate in at least 55 cases (vs. 44 in 2020). The offenders were individuals in all cases, primarily activists (43 cases) but also ordinary social media users. A fine was imposed in 24 cases, administrative arrest in 23 cases and five out of 55 cases were dismissed; the outcome of three remaining cases is unknown to us.
According to our information, at least inappropriate 90 cases were filed under Article 20.29 for mass distribution of extremist materials or for storage of such materials with intent to distribute (vs. 58 in 2020). The defendants included 85 individuals and five legal entities. We know that in 82 of these cases the courts imposed a fine as punishment (one of them was later cancelled); two cases resulted in arrest, four cases were discontinued, and the outcome of two remaining cases is unknown. Inappropriately punished individuals primarily included ordinary users of social networks, opposition activists and believers that belonged to various religious movements. As a rule, these people did not engage in the actual mass distribution of banned materials.
At least 37 cases were filed in 2021 under Article 20.1 Parts 3–5 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (dissemination of information expressing disrespect for the state and the society in indecent form on the Internet). A year earlier, there were at least 30 such cases, and in 2019, their number was as high as 56. A fine was imposed on 19 occasions; a repeated offender was placed under arrest in one case; proceedings in eight cases were terminated. In almost all cases, the charges were related to disrespect for government representatives.
The Federal List of Extremist Materials increased by 110 entries in 2021 (from No. 5144 to No. 5253), compared to 139 new entries in 2020, so the downward trend of the recent years has continued. We regard 19 items as included on the list inappropriately (vs. 25 items in 2020). They include peaceful Islamic materials, the books The New World Order by Pentecostal pastor Alexei Ledyaev, A Woman in Berlin by Martha Hillers and the new batch of songs by the band The Ensemble of Christ the Savior and the Crude Mother Earth. We have to add, as usual, that we are not familiar with all the materials on the Federal List, and some other materials could also have been banned inappropriately. Basically, we believe that the mechanism of banning materials and adding them to a special list, which reached 5253 entries by the end of 2021, is ineffective and leads to sanctions for disseminating information that poses no actual danger to society.
 Speaking about the appropriateness of court decisions, we consider them only on the merits, in most cases omitting any discussion of possible procedural violations.
 Our work on this issue and preparation of this report was supported, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Berta International and the Netherlands Embassy.
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.
 Resolution of the Plenum of the Supreme Court of October 28, 2021 No. 32 “On Amendments to Certain Resolutions of the Plenum of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation on Criminal Cases” // Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. November 2021 (https://vsrf.ru/documents/own/30487/).
 Resolution of the Plenum of the Supreme Court of June 28, 2011 No. 11 “On Judicial Practice in Criminal Cases on Crimes of an Extremist Nature” // Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. 2011. June 29 (https://vsrf.ru/documents/own/8255/).
 The count does not include sentences that were issued but then overturned.
 Speaking of sanctions for public “extremist statements”, we mean statements that were qualified by law enforcement agencies and courts under Articles 282 (incitement of hatred), 280 (calls for extremist activity), 2801 (calls for separatism), 2052 (calls for terrorist activities and justification thereof), 3541 (rehabilitation of Nazi crimes, desecration of symbols of military glory, insulting veterans, and so on) and Article 148 Parts 1 and 2 (known as “offending the feelings of believers”) of the Criminal Code. The last three articles do not formally cover “extremist crimes.” Article 2052 is viewed as part of anti-terrorist legislation, but since it has little to do with terrorism per se, we prefer to regard it as pertaining to “extremism” in a broader sense of the term. The other two legal norms, in our opinion, are also closely related to the understanding of extremism in the framework law.
 See: Resolution of the Plenum of the Supreme Court of June 28, 2011 No. 11 “On Judicial Practice in Criminal Cases on Crimes of an Extremist Nature.”
 It should be borne in mind that Article 3541 of the Criminal Code was amended in 2021 (see above), therefore, in the criminal cases mentioned in this chapter, different parts of this article may appear in both the old and new editions, depending on when the incriminating incidents took place.
 Sergei Reznik in 2013 and 2015 was sentenced under several articles of the Criminal Code to two years and 11 months in a minimum-security penal colony with loss of the right to engage in journalistic activities for a year and ten months; he was released in October 2016. The charges against him included bribery, deliberately false reporting of a crime, and insulting a government official. According to investigators, he was planning to attract public attention to himself and his journalistic activities by publishing information about the threats against him. Reznik pleaded not guilty. The Memorial Human Rights Center then classified him as a political prisoner, pointing out that he “is an opposition journalist and blogger who has criticized representatives of the Rostov political elite in a number of his materials,” and has been “repeatedly subjected to extrajudicial pressure in the form of attacks, threats, and destruction of his property since 2011.”
 See: Consolidated statistical data on the activities of federal courts of general jurisdiction and magistrates’ courts for the first half of 2021 // Judicial Department at the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. 2021 (http://cdep.ru/index.php?id=79&item=5896); Consolidated statistical data on the activities of federal courts of general jurisdiction and magistrates’ courts for 2020 // Judicial Department at the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. 2020 (http://www.cdep.ru/index.php?id=79&item=5461).
 Verdicts that were issued but then overturned are not included in the statistics.
 Our position is based, in particular, on the ECHR judgment on the activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir, which was made as part of 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.
 Here we provide information only about the principal punishment, without additional ones, although additional penalties, such as restriction of freedom or a ban on participation in public organizations for a certain period of time, were often assigned.
 For more on this, see: Natalia Yudina, The State Has Taken up Racist Violence Again: Hate Crimes and Counteraction to Them in Russia in 2021 // SOVA Center. 2021. January 31 (https://www.sova-center.ru/en/xenophobia/reports-analyses/2022/02/d45774/).
 See: Natalia Yudina, Protecting Oneself: The State against the Incitement of Hatred and the Political Participation of Nationalists in Russia in 2021 // SOVA Center. 2021. February 24 (https://www.sova-center.ru/en/xenophobia/reports-analyses/2022/03/d45954/).
 Some sentences are based on the aggregation of articles, including articles on public speech and articles on involvement in banned organizations.
 See: Consolidated statistical data on the activities of federal courts of general jurisdiction and magistrates’ courts for the first half of 2021 // Judicial Department at the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. 2021 (http://cdep.ru/index.php?id=79&item=5896); Consolidated statistical data on the activities of federal courts of general jurisdiction and magistrates’ courts for 2020 // Judicial Department at the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. 2020 (http://cdep.ru/index.php?id=79&item=5671).