Inappropriate Enforcement of Anti-Extremist Legislation in Russia in 2023

SUMMARY
LAWMAKING
On State Security
On Discrediting and “Fakes”
On Extremism
On Control over the Internet
On Non-Profit Organizations
LAW ENFORCEMENT
Sanctions for Anti-Government Statements :
Calls for Extremist and Terrorist Activities : Incitement of Hatred : Displaying Banned Symbols : Discrediting the Military and Government Agencies : Spreading “Fake News” about the Special Military Operation Motivated by Hatred : Other Anti-Government Statements : Vandalism Motivated by Hatred : Hooliganism Motivated by Hatred
Involvement in Banned Oppositional Organizations :
Persecution of Alexei Navalny and His Supporters : Sanctions against Vesna Movement Participants
Banning Oppositional Organizations
The State on Guard of Morality :
Sanctions for “Rehabilitating Nazism” : Ban on the “International LGBT Movement” : Sanctions for Insulting the Religious Feelings of Believers
Persecution against Religious Associations :
Jehovah’s Witnesses : Scientologists : Allya-Ayat : Hizb ut-Tahrir : Followers of Said Nursi : Tablighi Jamaat
A BIT OF STATISTICS


Summary

This report presents an analytical review of anti-extremist legislation and its misuse in 2023.[1] SOVA Center has been publishing these reports annually to summarize the results of monitoring carried out by our center continuously since the mid-2000s.

We define anti-extremist legislation as the policy of criminalizing actions that are politically or ideologically motivated in a broad sense. Our analysis goes beyond the formal framework – we also monitor restrictions relating to acts not classified by the law “On Countering Extremist Activities” as “extremist crimes.”[2]

The trends that emerged in 2022, when efforts by all three branches of government to maintain control over society focused on suppressing anti-war protests, generally continued in 2023. Despite these efforts, various protest activities also continued in 2023, but individually or in small groups rather than as mass events.

Legislation in our area of interest developed less rapidly than a year earlier, although we cannot say that the repressive legislative potential was exhausted in 2022. Deputies simply did not introduce new norms but expanded and tightened existing ones. The new legislative activity included amendments to articles that covered discrediting the army, “fakes” about the army, and attempts to establish responsibility for justifying extremism, newly introduced fines to social networks for evading content moderation, and amendments to the legislation on NGOs. However, in addition to that, several entirely new norms were incorporated into the Criminal Code (CC) and the Code of Administrative Offenses (CAO).

The widespread implementation of repressive law enforcement, as detailed in our report from a year ago, naturally influenced the number of sentences handed down in 2023. As of the publication of this report, our records indicate that 360 people were convicted in 2023 (compared to 240 in 2022) under anti-extremist and related articles without proper grounds. Additionally, we noted another 350 individuals (compared to 265 in 2022) facing charges whose cases have not yet proceeded to trial.

The above number includes 172 people arbitrarily convicted for public statements (compared to 55 in 2022) and 195 convicted for involvement in banned organizations' activities (compared to 185 in 2022), with the majority of these cases involving religious associations. Thus, we see that both the total number and the percentage of individuals convicted for speech have increased sharply. This increase can be attributed to the widespread application of criminal provisions in cases involving repeated discrediting and “fakes” about the army, opened back in 2022, that reached the courts in 2023. We also noted a large number of inappropriate convictions under articles on the rehabilitation of Nazism, mostly for disorderly conduct at the Great Patriotic War memorials and for anti-war actions that were qualified as vandalism motivated by political or ideological hatred.

Targeted sanctions against opposition activists persisted throughout the year, with a noticeable increase in the number of individuals charged in the “extremist community” cases against Alexei Navalny and his supporters. The court sentenced Navalny to 19 years in prison; while serving this sentence, he died in a maximum-security penal colony in February 2024. Several regional coordinators of his headquarters also received harsh sentences. Approximately 20 activists of the Spring (Vesna) movement were charged with organizing an extremist community.

The persecution campaign against Jehovah's Witnesses continued throughout the country throughout the year and even intensified compared to the previous year. 153 believers were sentenced (vs. 116 a year earlier), and at least 107 more became involved in new criminal cases (compared to at least 77 a year earlier).

The number of cases under anti-extremist articles of CAO decreased in 2023, in particular, we saw a sharp drop of almost 50% in the cases under the article on discrediting the army, which was so popular a year earlier. The change is due to the above-mentioned absence of mass anti-war actions. Meanwhile, the equally numerous sanctions for displaying prohibited symbols remained at approximately the same level. In this report, we note inappropriate punishments for the publication of images with swastikas used as a means of visual criticism of the authorities and for Ukrainian slogans and symbols. People continue to face sanctions under the administrative article of incitement to hatred for expressing strongly worded criticism of the president, officials, and law enforcement officers.

Moscow became the absolute leader in the number of wrongful convictions in 2023, primarily due to verdicts on the dissemination of “fakes” about the army motivated by hatred. Such verdicts were issued in large numbers in absentia against prominent residents of the capital, who have left Russia – public figures, journalists, political scientists, etc. In general, prosecution and imprisonment of prominent opponents of the regime for their public statements, including anti-war ones, has become a trend in the last two years. It could be argued that the authorities use “show trials” as a means of ideological prevention. High-profile examples of such cases include the cases of Igor Strelkov and Boris Kagarlitsky, who opposed the authorities from opposite sides of the political spectrum, for incitement to extremism and justification of terrorism respectively; the case of theater director and author of famous anti-war poems Evgenia Berkovich and her colleague screenwriter Svetlana Petriychuk on trumped-up charges of promoting Islamic terrorism; and criminal charges against Oleg Orlov, a co-chair of the HRDC “Memorial” for the repeated discrediting of the army.

Crimea ranked second among regions in terms of the number of arbitrary convictions. While Moscow saw more sentences issued under articles related to public statements, Crimea had a higher number of cases related to involvement with the Islamic party Hizb ut-Tahrir, recognized as a terrorist organization in Russia.

Crimea was among the leaders in the number of those facing administrative sanctions illustrating another important trend of the past two years, particularly noticeable on the peninsula: the increased activity of initiative groups aligned with law enforcement agencies. These groups identify fellow citizens perceived as disloyal to the authorities and file legal complaints against them.

Overall, the search for internal enemies—a characteristic manipulation tactic of authoritarian regimes—is increasingly entrenched in the country as a daily practice. The apex of the Russian authorities' efforts to uphold moral purity in 2023 was the ban imposed on the “international LGBT movement” as an extremist organization. This ban effectively stripped LGBT individuals of the opportunity not only to openly advocate for their rights but also to live their lives without hiding or constant risk of persecution.

Lawmaking

In 2023, new norms were adopted, continuing the course set in the preceding year and directly related to military actions in Ukraine. These norms were primarily aimed at supporting state security and combating any form of obstruction against the “special military operation.”

On State Security

In April, the president signed a law that increased responsibility for sabotage and terrorist crimes[3] and introduced a new legal norm into the Criminal Code against assisting foreign entities that prosecute Russian officials and military personnel. The new Article 2843 CC punishes “assistance in carrying out decisions of foreign government entities or international organizations, in which the Russian Federation does not participate, that involve criminal prosecution against government officials of the Russian Federation in connection with their official activities, or against other persons in connection with their military service or participation in volunteer formations that contribute to the fulfillment of the tasks assigned to the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.” At the same time, the effect of Article 2804 CC (public calls to carry out activities directed against the security of the state) was extended to calls to commit a crime under the new Article 2843 CC.

In the same month, the president also signed a new federal law “On Citizenship of the Russian Federation.” Among other considerations, this law clarifies and expands the grounds for terminating Russian citizenship acquired either by application or as a result of a federal constitutional law or an international treaty. The grounds include a court verdict, which has entered into legal force, issued under one of the Criminal Code articles specifically listed in the law. The list includes many articles regulating and limiting public statements and events, as well as organizational activities.[4] Thus, according to the new law, offenders convicted under a wide range of Criminal Code articles can be deprived of their acquired Russian citizenship. Some of these norms, in our opinion, should not have been introduced at all, while others have been poorly worded, and still others are often applied inappropriately. We also believe that many crimes covered by the articles later added to the list do not pose sufficient danger to society to warrant depriving people who committed them of their acquired Russian citizenship. It should be noted that many people who acquired Russian citizenship at some point in their lives have no other citizenship at this point; some of them have lived in Russia since childhood. Separately, we should pay attention to the fact that the procedure for canceling the decision to grant citizenship will also apply to residents of territories recently annexed to Russia who have acquired Russian citizenship, starting with Crimea.

Another basis for the termination of citizenship is “committing actions that pose a threat to the national security of the Russian Federation,” and the statute of limitations does not apply to these offenses. The FSB is expected to submit a conclusion that such actions indeed took place. Previously, a temporary residence permit could be revoked based on undisclosed FSB orders, and now this practice will expand to revoking one’s citizenship. This norm reinforces the department’s full discretion over an issue that affects basic human rights.

The adoption of the new law on citizenship did not stop the flow of new parliamentary initiatives in this area. Some even proposed depriving offenders of their birth citizenship on the same grounds in order to bring the rights of all Russians in line with those of residents of the annexed territories, but this idea did not receive support.

On Discrediting and “Fakes”

Legislators continued to pay particular attention to suppressing criticism of the special military operation.

Thus, according to the laws signed in March, public dissemination of knowingly false information and repeated discreditation are criminalized not only when pertaining to activities of the armed forces and Russian state bodies abroad but also to activities of volunteer formations, organizations, and individuals, who support the armed forces of Russia in carrying out their assigned tasks.

Meanwhile, sanctions under Article 2073 Part 1 CC became more severe with the maximum punishment under it increasing from three to five years of imprisonment. The change meant that the acts punishable under Part 1 of both articles ceased to be a crime of minor gravity. Therefore, it became possible to use arrest as a preventive measure and impose real prison terms in the absence of aggravating circumstances. The terms of imprisonment under Article 2803 Part 2 CC (discreditation of the army resulting in death by negligence and (or) causing harm to the health of citizens, property, mass violations of public order, and (or) public security) increased from five to seven years of imprisonment. The terms under Parts 2 and 3 of Article 2073 CC remained the same, from five to ten and from ten to fifteen years of imprisonment respectively.

Liability under Article 20.3.3 CAO, used to punish public discreditation committed for the first time in 12 months, was expanded to statements about volunteer formations, individuals, and organizations that contribute to the fulfillment of the Russian Army’s objectives. The punishment under this article remained the same.

In December, the President signed two laws to expand the scope of Article 20.3.3 CAO, Article 2803, and Article 2073 CC, as well as the recently introduced Article 2843 CC, which punishes assistance to international organizations in executing their decisions on criminal prosecution of Russian officials and military personnel. Volunteer formations, which the Russian Guard had been authorized to create, also came under the protection of all these norms.

We should also note that in May, the Constitutional Court of Russia issued rulings refusing to accept for consideration 13 complaints by citizens against Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO that the claimants saw as violating their constitutional rights. The applicants argued that the clause on “discrediting” was discriminatory and violated their rights to freedom of speech, the right to freedom of assembly, and the constitutional prohibition on the introduction of compulsory ideology. They emphasized that the state could not rank value judgments and beliefs as correct or incorrect, and criticism of the use of the military should not form the basis for stigmatization and ostracism. The Constitutional Court ruled that this article does not contradict the Russian Constitution. The court found that the article used the concept of discreditation in its generally accepted meaning, “undermining the confidence of individual citizens and the society as a whole in someone's actions (activities).” According to the Constitutional Court, the assertion that decisions of state bodies are motivated by the need to protect the interests of Russia, peacekeeping and security considerations should not be questioned “arbitrarily, solely based on subjective assessment and perception,” and, additionally, the military requires public support to uphold their morale and psychological condition. A negative assessment made in public can “support the forces that oppose the interests of the Russian Federation and its citizens,” even if the author of the statement had no such intent. The Constitutional Court believes that Article 20.3.3 CAO does not introduce a mandatory ideology, is not aimed at war propaganda, is not discriminatory, and does not encroach on the freedom to hold certain beliefs, “because such freedom does not presuppose that a person commits an offense. The latter assertion by the Constitutional Court could be construed as permitting any additional limitations on freedom of belief, if a law categorizes the expression of certain beliefs as an offense, regardless of the limitations’ compliance with the Constitution. This approach calls into question the very purpose of the Constitutional Court.

The order of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs changing the instructions for the community police inspectors was signed in November. The innovations included imposing on district police officers the responsibility to carry out individual preventive work with citizens who have committed administrative offenses under Article 20.3.3 or Article 20.3 (public display of prohibited symbols). Those facing responsibility for offenses that infringe on the order of governance, committed during public and sports events, also became subject to preventive efforts – primarily for the offenses under Article 19.3 CAO (disobeying a lawful order of a police officer). Previously, prevention measures targeted offenders charged after public events specifically under Article 20.2 CAO (violation of the procedure for holding public events) or Article 20.31 CAO (violation of rules of conduct by spectators at sporting competitions).

On Extremism

Deputies from the United Russia party took another decisive step in the fight against extremism in 2023. In July, a bill was introduced to the State Duma to expand the scope of Article 280 CC, which covers public calls for extremist activity. The deputies suggested that the article should also cover public justification and propaganda of extremism. In addition to changing the scope, the deputies proposed to supplement Article 280 CC with notes to provide definitions of justification and propaganda of extremism similar to those found in Article 2052 CC (public calls for terrorism, public justification of terrorism, or propaganda of terrorism). They proposed to define public justification of extremism as “a public statement that recognizes the ideology and practice of extremism as correct and deserving of support and imitation,” and propaganda – as “the activity of disseminating materials and (or) information aimed at imparting on others the ideology of extremism, belief in its attractiveness or the idea that extremist activities are permissible.”

The bill was adopted in the first reading in September, but its discussion resulted in a heated debate, both in the Committee on State Building and Legislation and at the plenary session. Representatives of the Communist Party faction noted that the proposed “vague wording can lead to law enforcement abuses.” They further expressed their indignation against the current anti-extremist legislation for allowing the punishment of their fellow communists and stated that the amendments would criminalize “mentioning in a positive context such events in Russia’s history as the Decembrist uprising, the February Revolution, the 1991 State Emergency Committee coup attempt or the shelling of the White House in 1993, as well as works of art such as “The Internationale.” The Communist Party of the Russian Federation voted against the bill; the majority of deputies from the SRZP (Spravedlivaya Rossiya – Za pravdu, “A Just Russia – For Truth” Socialist Political Party) abstained, while New People (Novyye lyudi) and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia did not take part in the vote. The bill was adopted in the first reading only by the votes of United Russia members.

It should be noted that the concept of “ideology of extremism,” which the deputies propose to use in the footnote to Article 280 CC, is not defined by law and can be interpreted broadly. The same is true for the concept of “ideology of terrorism” from Article 2052 CC. However, the very definition of extremist activity (extremism) in the relevant federal law is formulated more expansively and less clearly than the definition of terrorist activity – the factor that could also lead to law enforcement abuses.

We should also add that, under the amendments that came into force in December 2021, materials that contained “defense and (or) justification” of extremist activity are already subject to extrajudicial blocking. Another law adopted in 2022 gave the Prosecutor General's Office the authority to suspend and revoke the registration of media outlets for disseminating such materials.

In 2023, the State Duma adopted, after a number of changes, a bill to change the procedure for recognizing materials as extremist, initiated in January by the Chechen parliament (the president signed it into law in February 2024). According to this law, the courts of the Federation’s constituent entities, rather than district courts, are authorized to consider cases of declaring materials extremist. Copyright holders, publishers, authors of works and (or) translations of materials, if they are known, should be involved in the process. They get the status of interested parties rather than defendants and thus incur no legal costs unless their actions “caused” the claim. If the claim pertains to a publication of a “religious nature,” the court needs to involve an expert “with special knowledge of the relevant religion.” In our opinion, all these provisions of the bill are justified. However, in general, we also believe that problems with the composition and use of the Federal List of Extremist Materials will remain, since the very mechanism for recognizing materials as extremist is ineffective and leads to inappropriate sanctions.

Meanwhile, in June, the president signed a law broadening the scope of Article 20.29 CAO that covers the production and mass distribution of extremist materials. A person became liable not only for distributing materials included on the Federal List of Extremist Materials, as was the case before, but also for materials not yet included on the list, if a court decides that their content meets the definition provided in the law “On Countering Extremist Activity” (or other relevant federal laws that might be adopted in the future).

We also note that Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin signed a decree in March introducing new forensic examination restrictions. Experts from non-state institutions were deprived of the right to conduct linguistic or psycholinguistic forensic examinations in criminal cases related to terrorism and extremism. In our opinion, these innovations might have a negative impact on the adversarial system of justice since the parties lost an opportunity to involve independent experts.

On Control over the Internet

In July, the president approved a law that introduced fines for social networks for evading content moderation. According to another law, in force since February 2021, a social network is defined as a service that includes personal pages of users, advertising aimed at a Russian audience, and daily traffic of over 500 thousand users from Russia. Roskomnadzor maintains the register of social networks. The entities included in it must, upon notifications from Roskomnadzor or based on user complaints and results of their own monitoring, block a wide range of content that is considered illegal in Russia. In mid-July, the deputies suddenly undertook the second reading of the bill on fines, which had seen no movement since April 2018, and promptly adopted it. The amendments introduced administrative liability for the owners of social networks; new articles were added to the CAO with fines ranging from 50 thousand for citizens to eight million for legal entities.

In December, three bills aimed at countering online broadcasts of illegal violent actions or calls for such actions were submitted to the parliament. Primarily, the legislation targets trash-streaming, but they are not the only materials that can fall under the proposed wording.

The first bill introduces a new aggravating circumstance into the Criminal Code (clause “t” of Article 63 Part 1) worded as follows: “committing an intentional crime with its public demonstration, including in the media or on information and telecommunication networks (including the Internet).” The same formula is proposed as a qualifying feature for many intentional violent crimes. At the same time, the proposal allows for imposing an additional punishment under most of the relevant articles of the CC in the form of the loss of the right to hold certain positions or engage in certain activities for a period of up to three years. We consider this bill useful since public displays of violence can – or even should – be considered an aggravating circumstance.

The second bill introduces a ban in the sphere of mass media, namely a new Part 12 of Article 13.15 CAO: “Illegal distribution of information on telecommunication networks, including the Internet, of photos and videos depicting illegal acts committed with cruelty, their consequences, calls to commit such acts for material gain or as hooliganism, as well as actions motivated by racial, national, or religious hatred or enmity, or by hatred or enmity against any social group, unless these actions constitute a criminal offense.” Sanctions for citizens and officials involve fines of up to 700 thousand rubles “with confiscation of equipment used for production of such materials.”

The new part of the article is accompanied by an important note that it does not apply to “works of science, literature, or art that have historical, artistic or cultural value, materials by registered media, as well as photographic and video materials intended for academic or medical purposes, or for study stipulated by federal educational standards and federal educational programs.”

This bill raises some doubts. The word “illegal” at the beginning of the proposed formula is unclear and will inevitably produce controversy and abuse. We believe that public display of violence can only be an administrative offense, if the material in question contains, at the very least, an approval of such violence. If this consideration is taken into account and included in the formula, the word “illegal” becomes unnecessary. Obviously, these changes would mean that the list of exceptions included in the note is unnecessary or needs revision. Currently, the particularly alarming part of the note is the clause stipulating that works of science, literature, and art must possess historical, artistic, or cultural value. It is unclear who and how will determine this value, especially in the context of a rapid trial for an administrative offense.

The two aforementioned bills were adopted in the first reading in January 2024, unlike the third bill from the same package that pertains to the extrajudicial blocking of online materials. The deputies proposed adding a new paragraph to the list of information prohibited for distribution and subject to blocking contained in the Law “On Information”: “photos and videos depicting illegal acts committed with cruelty, their consequences, or calls for the commission of these acts.” The authors of the bill propose blocking such materials by adding them to the Unified Register of Banned Websites. Social networks will also have to identify these materials independently. In addition, such information must be regarded as prohibited for distribution among minors with appropriate legal consequences. We believe that this bill is fundamentally misguided. It lacks reservations and assumes the blocking of all scenes depicting violence. However, the language on blocking in the legislation should not be broader than the language used in the Criminal Codes and the Code of Administrative Offenses. This bill can be amended in the same manner as the second one.

On Non-Profit Organizations

As in recent years, a significant part of the measures to strengthen control over society involved further tightening the legislation on NPOs; the relevant laws were signed by the president in July–August.

An article was added to the current federal law "On Control over the Activities of Persons under Foreign Influence," requiring not only government agencies but also any organizations, office holders, and individuals to take into account the restrictions associated with the "foreign agent" status.

Simultaneously, the Ministry of Justice was empowered to exercise state control not only over "foreign agents" but also over overall compliance with the legislation regulating their activities. Upon request from citizens, organizations, or authorities, the Ministry must conduct unscheduled inspections of any persons or entities that, through their actions or inaction, contribute to violations of the "foreign agents" legislation. The Ministry must then issue warnings with orders to rectify the violations within a month.

In addition, Article 19.5 CAO was amended to include a new clause, Part 42, regarding liability for not complying within the prescribed period with warnings or orders from an agency overseeing the activities of "foreign agents." This new part stipulates fines and, if the offenders acted in their official capacity, their disqualification for up to two years. Liability is imposed if the violations communicated by the Ministry of Justice to a "foreign agent" or another contributing entity are not rectified within a month.

Administrative and criminal liability was introduced for participation in the activities on Russian territory of foreign or international non-governmental non-profit organizations (NGOs) that have no structural subdivisions registered in the country. First, liability for such a violation follows under the new Article 19.34.2. Offenders, already punished twice in the past 12 months or previously convicted under Article 2841 CC (involvement in the activities of an organization recognized as undesirable in Russia), are also liable under Part 1 of the new Article 330.3 CC. Part 2 of the same article established liability for organizers of the work of NGOs that have no registered branches in Russia; it does not require prior administrative sanctions. Thus, involvement in the activities of any foreign or international NGOs that have no branches in Russia entails liability almost as severe as participation in “undesirable organizations.”

In October, a group of deputies and senators introduced in the State Duma a bill on NPOs, which defined the procedure for the withdrawal and expulsion from the list of NPO founders, including religious organizations. The bill also stipulated the case of expulsion from the founders of an NPO of a person whose actions contain signs of extremist activity, according to a court decision. In addition, the bill proposed banning any legal entity included in the list of “undesirable organizations” from being a founder (participant, member) of an NPO or civic association.

Law Enforcement

Sanctions for Anti-Government Statements

Calls for Extremist and Terrorist Activities

The Supreme Court statistics[5] show the law enforcement dynamics in cases related to calls for extremist activity (Article 280 CC) and calls for terrorism, its justification, and propaganda (Article 2052 CC). The number of people convicted on the main charge under Article 280 CC increased for five years until 2022, when their number reached 276 (this article appeared as an additional charge in the sentences of approximately eighty additional individuals). The number of people convicted on the main charge under Article 2052 CC, has grown steadily over eleven years and reached 274 people in 2022 (an additional charge under this article appeared in the sentences of two people). The Supreme Court has not yet published its statistics for the entire year of 2023, only for its first half. A simple doubling of these figures can only be viewed as a very rough estimate, but based on it, we can assume that the number of those convicted under Article 2052 CC has increased again, while the corresponding number under Article 280 CC has decreased slightly.[6]

The Ministry of Internal Affairs has already published its crime rate for 2023,[7] and it shows the same trend, but only for the cases initiated during the year, not for the verdicts issued.

The number of reported extremist crimes in 2023 totaled 1340 (a drop of 14.4% compared to 2022), but, in 2022 we saw not just an increase but a 48.2% jump. Among the extremist crimes committed in 2023, 367 were classified under Article 280 Part 2 CC as public calls for extremism made on the Internet (25.6% decrease). In 2022, this indicator showed an increase of 8.4%.

In 2023, 2,382 terrorist crimes were registered (a 6.7% increase over 2022), of which 548 (an 11.8% increase) were classified under Article 2052 Part 2 CC as a public justification of terrorism committed on the Internet. For comparison, the overall increase in terrorist crimes in 2022 constituted 4.5%, while the number of crimes under Article 2052 Part 2 CC grew by 55.6%.

Thus, the scope of prosecution under terrorism charges increased in 2023 even more than in 2022, but mainly no longer due to Article 2052 Part 2, although charges under it showed some increase as well. On the other hand, we see fewer cases under anti-extremist articles, including under Article 280 Part 2 CC. This situation is expected to affect the number of convictions later, in 2024–2025, when cases filed by law enforcement agencies in 2023 reach the court.

It is worth reiterating that, as much as we criticize the definitions and norms of Russian legislation related to the concepts of “extremism” and “terrorism,” we believe that there are some instances, in which the state, in accordance with the norms of international law and the Russian Constitution, can legitimately prosecute public statements under criminal procedure as socially dangerous incitement.

In our “Misuse of Anti-Extremism” section on SOVA website, we report only the cases opened for acts that either presented no danger to the state and society, or the danger was clearly insufficient to merit criminal prosecution. However, court decisions in such cases are mostly not published due to the broadly interpreted ban on publishing the texts of judicial acts issued in cases “affecting the security of the state.” The information available from other sources is often insufficient to assess the legitimacy of these decisions.

Meanwhile, law enforcement actions related to the two articles specified above remain not only closed but also particularly repressive. First, there is a accusatorial bias in the proceedings: in principle, public danger should be assessed based not only on the content of the incriminating statement but also on other parameters, including its form, as well as the size and type of the audience or the likelihood that this public statement will lead to grave consequences. However, practice shows that courts very rarely take into account the small likelihood of serious consequences resulting from a statement. Next, a very significant percentage of verdicts under these articles lead to imprisonment, although both articles provide for other punishments as well. The law does not establish clear criteria to determine if incarceration is justified. A court obviously takes into account many circumstances when determining punishment, including the situation in society, which it perceives as tense, and strives to act in line with the legislative and executive branches of government. However, SOVA Center believes that imprisonment, even in case of public calls for violence, is appropriate only when it represents deliberate propaganda of violence (more or less systematic and having at least some chance of implementation) rather than individual emotional outbursts.[8]

More information about sentences under these articles for 2023 is provided in the simultaneously published report by Natalia Yudina.[9]

Prosecutions under Article 2052

We classified only four sentences handed down in 2023 against four people under Article 2052 Part 2 as decidedly inappropriate. All these verdicts pertain to the cases, in which the courts not only failed to assess the extent of the statement’s danger but also classified it incorrectly even from a purely formal standpoint. Two people were fined 300 thousand rubles, while two others were sent to a penal colony.

In particular, the Western District Military Court, at its visiting session in Syktyvkar in December, sentenced left-wing publicist and political scientist Boris Kagarlitsky, the editor-in-chief of Rabkor media to a fine of 800 thousand rubles, which was later reduced to 600 thousand rubles taking into account the fact that the defendant had been in pre-trial detention since July. However, the state prosecutor appealed the verdict and, in February 2024, succeeded in imposing a tougher punishment. The political scientist was sentenced to five years in a penal colony and taken into custody in the courtroom.

Kagarlitsky was punished for the video dedicated to the explosion on the Crimean Bridge that took place on October 8, 2022. The video titled “Explosive Congratulations of Bridgie (Mostik) the Cat: Nervous People and Events, Strikes against Infrastructure” was posted on October 19, 2022, on the Rabkor YouTube channel, as well as on VKontakte and Telegram.

We believe that the verdict is inappropriate, because, in the video, which served as the basis for the prosecution, the political scientist only discussed the circumstances, military-strategic significance, and political consequences of the explosion on the bridge but did not express his approval of it. According to Kagarlitsky and his lawyer, the investigation claims were primarily based on the video's title. However, in our opinion, neither the video nor its title contains any statement “recognizing the ideology and practice of terrorism as correct, in need of support and imitation” (the definition of “justification of terrorism,” according to the note to Article 2052 CC).

The actions of Prokhor Neizhmakov – a refugee from the war zone in Ukraine and another person sentenced to imprisonment – also did not correspond to the article’s provisions. The Western District Military Court sentenced him to three years of imprisonment for messages he sent in November 2022 to the “Vladimir Gang” (Vladimirskaya banda) Telegram chat. Neizhmakov wrote that Russia with its “imperial ambitions” was destroying Ukraine, that due to Vladimir Putin’s policies, he had “no home, education and everything else,” and that “Ukraine will negotiate with Russia only after Putin is overthrown.” In our opinion, the phrase “we will not negotiate with Putin... overthrow him and then let’s go ahead” is too abstract to be considered a call to terrorism – in fact, it says nothing about the methods of “overthrowing.”

In 2023, seven new similar cases against eight people were opened but not tried in courts by the end of the year.

The most notorious of them is the case of the play Finist the Bright Falcon. In May, the creators of the play – director Evgenia Berkovich and the play’s author Svetlana Petriychuk (who is also a screenwriter and a theater teacher) were detained and then placed in pre-trial detention.

The case was based on the video of the Finist the Bright Falcon reading at the Lyubimovka Young Drama Festival, published online in 2019. The corresponding performance was staged by the SOSO Daughters Theater project in 2021. The play tells the story of women who were recruited into militant Islamic organizations recognized as terrorist. The authors raise the question of what exactly allows recruiters – often also women, who conduct correspondence, including love letters, posing as men – to successfully deceive their correspondents, convincing them to get married online and then reunite with their virtual spouses in Syria. The play is partially documentary as it draws inspiration from various sources, including court decisions under Article 208 CC (regarding participation in illegal armed groups) and messages from peaceful Islamic educational websites. It weaves together these documentary textual elements with fragments from Russian folk tales and scenes from well-known Walt Disney Studio cartoons.

In our opinion, the play contained no elements of propaganda or endorsement of the ideology of ISIS or militant Islamism. On the contrary, the play clearly aims to combat the ideologies and actions of terrorists. Moreover, the performance also received the national Golden Mask award in 2022 and had a successful three-year theater run. The sudden keen interest in this play, clearly unfounded law enforcement claims, and the fact that the defendants have been subject to the most severe measure of restraint can likely be explained by the public activities of the director. Evgenia Berkovich is a well-known blogger and a poet renowned for her series of anti-war poems.

The prosecution initially based its arguments on the expert opinion compiled by religious scholar Roman Silantyev, a notorious fighter against “sects” and “non-traditional Islam,” and his colleagues at the Moscow State Linguistic University. The head of the Human Rights Center of the World Russian People's Council, Silantyev invented his own field of science, “destructology,” which he now applies to a wide range of social phenomena including various banned associations. According to the expert opinion, the play contains “signs of destructive ideologies,” namely the ideologies of ISIS, jihadism, and caliphism, as well as “signs of the destructive subculture of Russian neophyte wives of terrorists and extremists.” In addition, the experts found elements of the “radical feminist ideology” in the materials of the performance. After the text of the examination was made public and caused predictable public outrage, a new examination was ordered.

The next expertise was conducted by Svetlana Mochalova, an expert at the FSB department for the Sverdlovsk Region, whose conclusions have been repeatedly used as evidence of guilt in “extremist” cases, in particular, in cases against Muslims or cases on recognizing Islamic materials as extremist. Mochalova felt that the playwright and director specifically created a “romantic image of a terrorist” in the play to make him “interesting and attractive to girls and women,” in contrast to Russian men, whom the play’s female characters characterize negatively. Mochalova’s expert opinion offered exceedingly dubious interpretations of Islamic traditions, ignored the general and quite obvious idea of the play, and made not only linguistic but also legal conclusions, thus stepping outside her area of expertise.

The final version of the charges against Berkovich and Petriychuk was brought only in late February 2024. In March, their pre-trial detention was extended once again.

Prosecutions under Article 280

We classified three sentences handed down under this article in 2023 as inappropriate; all three offenders were sentenced to imprisonment.

The case of amateur military graves finder Oleg Belousov under Article 280 CC was based on three comments in the “St. Petersburg Diggers” (Piterskiye Kopateli) VKontakte community that criticized the actions of the Russian armed forces in Ukraine. In one of them, Belousov called Vladimir Putin a war criminal; in the second one, he spoke of Putin’s involvement in the murder of civilians in Ukraine; in the third comment, as part of a dispute with another social network user who accused Ukrainians of trying to “ban the Russian language,” Belousov rhetorically asked whether the appropriate response required the destruction of Russian-speaking cities of Ukraine.

Considering the first two comments, the court relied on the provision of the Law on Countering Extremist Activity, according to which publicly falsely accusing state officials of extremism constitutes extremist activity. We believe that the law should have no place for such a provision. False accusations of any crime brought by one person against another, regardless of the social status of either party, can be reviewed in court as a libel case. It should also be noted that Article 280 CC punishes calls for extremist activity, but Belousov's statement about the president being a criminal contained no appeals. Law enforcement agencies and the court interpreted the third comment, about Russian-speaking cities, as a call for the destruction of Kharkiv and Mariupol completely ignoring its context. Under the aggregation of Article 280 Part 2 CC and paragraph “e” of Article 207.3 Part 2 CC about “fakes about the army” (we write more about this norm below), the court sentenced Belousov to five and a half years in a minimum-security penal colony.

We classified as inappropriate charges under Article 280 CC filed against four more people.

A very well-known figure was among those inappropriately charged under this article. Strelkov (Girkin) – a popular military blogger and former Minister of Defense of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) was arrested in Moscow in July. Strelkov, the leader of the “Angry Patriots’ Club,” was one of the most ardent critics of the way the special military operation has been conducted, despite viewing it as necessary and even stating that its goals have been set too narrowly. The criminal case against Strelkov was based on his Telegram post dated May 22, 2022. The post, read by over 432 thousand people, discussed the non-payment of salaries to soldiers of the 105th and 107th regiments of the DPR Armed Forces. Strelkov wrote that an “execution is not enough” to punish those responsible for such situations. We believe that Strelkov, in this post, merely expressed his emotions. He was talking figuratively, and it is unlikely that his words could be regarded as a call to shoot people, even taking his combat experience and wide audience into account.[10]

Incitement of Hatred

In 2023, we recorded 58 instances of inappropriate charges under Article 20.3.1 CAO for incitement to hatred or enmity or for humiliation of human dignity based on belonging to a particular group (a year earlier we noted 65 such cases). 56 individuals faced punishment. A fine was imposed in 47 cases (in most cases of 10 thousand rubles), and arrest in nine. Two cases were closed.

In the vast majority of cases, inappropriate sanctions targeted internet users for their critical statements against the authorities and law enforcement agencies.

We classify sanctions for crudely worded critical statements about government officials as inappropriate.[11] In our view, unlike members of groups based on ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation gender identity, homelessness, or disability, people in positions of power do not have a vulnerability that requires special protection from expressions of hatred. We would like to reiterate that we advocate excluding the nebulous term “social group” from the norms on incitement to hatred due to its vagueness, which leads to an expansive interpretation.

In more than a third of all cases, the charges under Article 20.3.1 CAO were based on harsh statements about representatives of law enforcement agencies that contained no calls for violence. Sanctions were also imposed following immoderate remarks against officials, the military, representatives of the ruling party, the authorities in general, and the president personally; this speech was also regarded as inciting social hatred. The critics expressed dissatisfaction with the armed actions against Ukraine or addressed police brutality and abuses perpetuated by local officials.

Political or social criticism aimed at Russian citizens (expressed most frequently by other Russian citizens) for supporting the regime’s policies (especially toward Ukraine) or for passivity, cowardice, laziness, etc. also often incurred sanctions, since law enforcement agencies and courts interpreted it as inciting national hatred or hatred towards a social group (for example, towards groups defined as “the special military operation supporters,” “the citizens of Russia,” etc.)

In 2023, we recorded three inappropriate verdicts against eight people under Article 282 CC on incitement to hatred with aggravating circumstances.

In particular, a verdict in the Mayakovsky Poetry Readings case was pronounced in Moscow in December. The court sentenced Artyom Kamardin to seven years in a minimum-security penal colony, and Yegor Shtovba – to five and a half years. They were found guilty of inciting hatred by an organized group under paragraph “c” Article 282 Part 2 CC and of calls for anti-state activities, also as part of an organized group, under Article 2804 Part 3 CC. Earlier, the third defendant in the case, Nikolai Daineko, was sentenced to four years in a minimum-security penal colony; he entered a pre-trial agreement with the investigation. The poets faced criminal responsibility after the readings that took place on September 25, 2023 at Triumfalnaya Square (formerly Mayakovsky Square) in Moscow. Participants called them “anti-mobilization readings.” During the readings, among his other statements, Kamardin characterized the Donbas militia as terrorists and recited two poems. According to the investigation, Shtovba and Daineko repeated the words of one of the poems, “Kill me, Militiaman!” Law enforcement agencies concluded that the statements contained signs of inciting hatred or enmity against volunteer armed groups of the DPR/LPR and called for violence against them and their families. In our opinion, Kamardin's poem could be characterized as provocative, and seen as offensive, but it contained no incitement to violence. The charge under Article 2804 was related to the fact that law enforcement agencies found statements about the need to “resist” partial mobilization in the post on the Mayakovsky Poetry Readings Telegram channel announcing the event. However, Kamardin, Shtovba, and Daineko did not call for the commission of crimes. They wrote about a failure to report to a military enlistment office upon receiving a mobilization summons, which constitutes an administrative offense. Accordingly, we regard their prosecution under the criminal article as inappropriate.[12]

Six out of the seven remaining cases in 2023, which were not concluded before the end of the year, were opened under Article 282 Part 1 CC. This article is applied in cases of repeated charges for inciting hatred within a year. One case was initiated under Part 2 due to aggravating circumstances.

Thus, in October, a criminal case was opened in the Kemerovo Region under Article 282 Part 1 CC against Lenard Valeev, a resident of Prokopyevsk, The case was based on a comment left by Valeev on the “The Lower Depths” (Na Dne) VKontakte public page under a post about a criminal case opened in connection with the Wagner Group’s armed rebellion. Valeev wrote that “Prigozhin disturbed the Russian chicken coop, in which everyone sits on their allotted roost,” but nothing came out of it other than noise, since “in this semi-state made of plywood and cardboard” there are no citizens, “only fakes and the cowardly population, who can’t do a damn thing.” The experts who examined the comment concluded that “the post contains statements that incite hatred, enmity and humiliate the human dignity of citizens,” “residents of the Russian Federation.” Previously, Valeev had faced administrative sanctions for his comment under a video in a certain newsgroup, which contained a negative assessment of a social group identified “on the basis of being residents of Russia’s regions.”

Displaying Banned Symbols

The Judicial Department of the Supreme Court, in its statistics on the application of the CAO for the first half of 2023, as in 2022, for an unknown reason combined Article 20.3 CAO (propaganda and display of banned symbols) in the same group with Article 20.3.1 CAO on incitement to hatred. In the entire 2022, sanctions under these two articles were imposed 5,720 times, and in the first half of 2023, their number reached 2,617. So, the numbers remain approximately the same as last year even though, over the preceding years, the application of Article 20.3 had grown rapidly.

As usual, we know the details of the corresponding administrative cases and can assess their appropriateness only for some of these incidents. We view sanctions under Article 20.3 CAO for the display of symbols with no intent to promote Nazism or extremist ideology as inappropriate. We noted more cases opened inappropriately in 2023 than in 2022. According to our information, at least 147 people faced charges without proper justification (we recorded 120 such cases in 2022).

Courts imposed a fine in 99 cases, administrative arrest in 41 cases, a ban on “visiting the venues of official sports competitions on the days of their holding” in one case, and in one case, the punishment is unknown. Two cases were dismissed and one person was released from liability due to age.

Most cases involve the display of a prohibited symbol as part of a political discussion or in a neutral context that is for some reason perceived as extremist by law enforcement agencies.

As in previous years, public displays of Nazi symbols often took place not to promote Nazism, but as a means of visually criticizing political opponents – in most cases the Russian authorities. We counted 35 such episodes. Mostly, the images involved the swastika superimposed on a photo of the president or Russian state symbols, or the swastika compared with the symbols of the special military operation.

In 31 cases, the offense consisted of the use of the slogan “Glory to Ukraine” (in any form – oral or written, offline and online), or images with the Ukrainian national emblem, the trident. Both are often interpreted by law enforcement agencies and courts as attributes of banned Ukrainian nationalist organizations, even though the slogan has been ubiquitous in Ukraine in recent years and has been an official greeting in the Ukrainian army and police since 2018, and the trident is the central element of Ukraine’s state emblem. This approach provides law enforcement officers with yet another way to use sanctions against supporters of Ukraine.

According to our records, 25 of the cases involved the display of a white-blue-white flag (in images published on social networks, as well as in the form of ribbons, stickers, balloons, etc.) Russian law enforcement agencies and courts view it as the emblem of the Freedom of Russia Legion (recognized as a terrorist organization), although the Legion’s version of the flag has an image of a fist superimposed on it. The white-blue-white flag as such appeared among Russian emigrants in late February 2022, before the creation of the legion, and is still widely used as a symbol of opposition to the Russian authorities, including without any connection with the legion. Thus, people are often punished inappropriately.

In addition, many convicted offenders apparently did not display the white-blue-white flag intentionally but became victims of provocation. It is possible that, in 2023, activists in some regions pasted white-blue-white stickers on license plates of parked cars or covered up the red stripe on Russian flags. There were at least 13 such cases. A resident of Birobidzhan fined for this offense explained in court that he had recently bought a car with state license plates, paid no attention to the colors of the flags, and had never heard of the Freedom of Russia Legion. However, the court found that “the owner of the car did not show the necessary diligence required of him to know what was displayed on his car,” while “information about the symbols of this organization is available on the Internet.”

Another significant group consisted of 16 people who faced sanctions for demonstrating the symbols of Alexei Navalny’s structures. See below for more information on them.

We know of five cases initiated without proper grounds in 2023 under Article 2824 CC on repeated demonstration of prohibited symbols. Two of them were related to the demonstration of the white-blue-white flag on Telegram; three more were related to the repeated demonstration of Nazi symbols not aimed at promoting Nazism. Two of the five cases resulted in convictions in 2023.

There was one guilty verdict. Dmitry Lyalyaev from Kireyevsk of the Tula Region was sentenced to two years in an open prison under Article 2824 Part 1 and Article 280 Part 2 CC for multiple publications of images of Vladimir Putin with Nazi symbols and AUE symbols.

The other verdict was an acquittal. A “Citizen of the USSR,” Sanan Ulanov from Elista, published materials on VKontakte intended to prove that the Vlasov Army had used the Russian tricolor; these materials featured military personnel wearing the Russian Liberation Army chevrons. Ulanov was first fined for his post with a similar image back in 2020. Considering himself a “citizen of the USSR” and not recognizing the legitimacy of the Russian Federation’s authorities, he did not pay the fine and, thus, continued to be considered a convicted offender under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO. Thus, he faced criminal charges after posting on his VKontakte page, on two separate occasions, a link to a YouTube video of the song “Take the Vlasov banner off the Golden-Domed Kremlin!” that contained Nazi symbols. In September 2023, the city court sentenced Ulanov to two years in a settlement colony. In early December, the Supreme Court of Kalmykia considered an appeal against the verdict. The court rightly pointed out that the ban on displaying symbols does not apply to statements that formed a negative attitude to the ideology of Nazism and extremism and contained no signs of propaganda or justification of Nazi and extremist ideology. The court noted that the video disseminated by Ulanov was not intended to form a positive attitude toward Nazism, nor did it insult the memory of the Great Patriotic War victims. The verdict was overturned, and Ulanov was completely acquitted. The decision was made posthumously, as, according to the Federal Penitentiary Service, the defendant committed suicide in a pre-trial detention center.

Discrediting the Military and Government Agencies

We view punishment for disseminating knowingly false information about the actions of Russian military and government agencies abroad or discrediting them as an inappropriate restriction on the right to freedom of speech. In our opinion, the only reason for imposing these sanctions was the desire of the authorities to limit the dissemination of independent information about events in Ukraine and criticism of the actions of the Russian government and military forces.

According to the data of the State Automated System “Pravosudie” collected by the OVD-Info project, 2830 cases under Article 20.3.3 CAO on discrediting the use of the armed forces and government agencies, were submitted to Russian courts for review in 2023 (compared to 5518 in 2022, according to the data provided by the Mediazona portal in the second half of December 2022). OVD-Info attributes the almost 50% drop in the number of claims under Article 20.3.3 CAO in 2023 primarily to the absence of mass anti-war actions, for which people were punished in 2022. According to OVD-Info, the greatest number of cases were opened in Crimea, followed by Moscow, St. Petersburg, Krasnodar Krai, and the Sverdlovsk Region.[13] The courts reviewed 2,707 out of the 2,830 cases and punished 2,113 people (according to the Supreme Court data, 4,440 people were punished in 2022).

Most often, people face sanctions for their anti-war statements made online, but also for offline statements in front of audiences of varying sizes, for displaying posters, distributing printed propaganda materials, etc.

While in 2022, the courts managed to pass only three sentences against three people under Article 2803 CC on repeated discrediting of the actions of the Russian army and officials abroad, at least 67 people were found guilty under this article in 2023.[14] In addition, in one case the court terminated the proceedings due to the defendant’s death. Of the 67 convicted offenders, 63 verdicts were, in our opinion, clearly inappropriate; in four other cases, the charges included violence, dangerous vandalism, or threats of violence. One of the 63 had his conviction overturned in 2024; the case was remanded for a new trial.

Of the 62 wrongfully convicted individuals, 11 people were sentenced to imprisonment, two to compulsory labor, seven people received suspended sentences, 38 people were sentenced to fines from 100 to 500 thousand rubles, and we do not know the type of punishment imposed in the four remaining cases.

One of the most high-profile cases of repeated discrediting of the army was the case of Alexei Moskalyov, a resident of Yefremov in the Tula Region. In April 2022, after a scandal at his daughter’s school because of her anti-war drawing, Moskalyov was fined under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO for his posts on Odnoklassniki about the rape of Ukrainian women by Russian soldiers. The criminal charges were based on other posts he made on the same social network, in particular, regarding the events in Bucha and the death of prisoners of war in Yelenovka. After a search and interrogation by the FSB, Moskalyov and his daughter, whom he was raising alone, left the city, and he was put on the wanted list. In early March 2023, Moskalyov was detained and placed under house arrest the next day since he had failed to appear on time when ordered by the investigator. Meanwhile, his 13-year-old daughter was placed in a social rehabilitation center for minors. She remained there until her mother, who had not taken part in her upbringing for several years, took her out. On the eve of the verdict, Moskalyov escaped from under arrest and was detained in Minsk two days later. On March 28, the Yefremov Interdistrict Court of the Tula Region sentenced him to two years of imprisonment. In early 2024, the regional court reduced his term by two months.

Another high-profile case under Article 2803 Part 1 CC was the case of Oleg Orlov, a co-chairman of the HRDC “Memorial.” The case against Orlov was based on his Facebook post made in November 2022. The post contained the Russian text of Orlov’s article “They Wanted Fascism. They Got It,” previously published in French by Mediapart. On October 11, 2023, the Golovinsky District Court of Moscow sentenced Orlov to a fine of 150 thousand rubles. The prosecution appealed this verdict, demanding a tougher punishment, and then asked the appellate instance to return the case to the prosecutors altogether, so that the investigation could establish a motive for the crime. The court granted this request overturning the sentence imposed on Orlov. The new version of the indictment added aggravating circumstances: according to investigators, Orlov committed a crime motivated by “ideological enmity towards traditional spiritual, moral and patriotic values,” as well as hatred of the social group “military personnel.” In late February 2024, the same Golovinsky District Court sentenced Orlov to two and a half years of imprisonment. The wording of the charge directly indicated that Orlov was punished for speaking out against the official ideology.

In addition to those convicted in 2023 under Article 2803 CC, we know of 59 people who were wrongfully prosecuted under this article but not yet sentenced by the end of the year (we knew of approximately 40 in 2022). Two of them died, and one case was dropped; thus, at least 56 people still face charges.

Spreading “Fake News” about the Special Military Operation Motivated by Hatred

We believe that allegations of defamation should be subject to civil, rather than criminal, proceedings. Moreover, regarding Article 2073 CC, it is not clear to us why the dissemination of false information about the activities of military personnel or officials requires a separate legal norm with disproportionately severe sanctions.[15]

SOVA Center includes in its monitoring only libel charges that are filed with a hate motive as an aggravating circumstance. In our view, when using Article 2073, the motive of ideological and political hatred is applied inappropriately. People who publish information about the military operations in Ukraine that differs from the official line obviously tend to ideologically and politically disagree with the course pursued by the authorities – that is, in most of these cases, their acts are a form of political criticism.[16] As for social hatred, groups such as military personnel or officials do not require protection from its manifestations being well-protected by other legal norms. However, we do not classify the cases under Article 2073 CC as inappropriate if the relevant statements contain obvious signs of inciting national hatred or calls for violence.

According to our information, at least 52 verdicts against 54 people were issued under clause “e” of Article 2073 Part 2 CC (disseminating knowingly false information about the actions of the armed forces motivated by hatred) in 2023, but one of them was overturned and sent for a re-trial. Five more people were released from criminal liability and referred for compulsory treatment.

Of the 51 guilty verdicts that remain in force, we consider 47 sentences to 49 individuals to be inappropriate. 44 offenders were sentenced to real terms of incarceration, mostly from five to ten years, often with additional sanctions, such as several-year bans on posting information online. Two defendants received suspended sentences, one was fined 1.8 million rubles, and we do not know what punishment was imposed on the remaining two.[17]

It should be noted that 17 sentences against 18 people were pronounced in absentia, mainly those targeting well-known opponents of the regime living abroad (including, for example, publicist Alexander Nevzorov, blogger Maxim Kats, media managers Nika Belotserkovskaya and Ilya Krasilschik, activist Ruslan Leviev, journalist Michael Nacke, writer Dmitry Glukhovsky, and others).

However, those who ended up behind bars were in the majority. For example, activist Olga Smirnova from St. Petersburg received six years in a minimum-security penal colony for publishing seven posts in the “Democratic St. Petersburg – Peaceful Resistance” group on VKontakte in March 2022. They were dedicated to the destruction in Ukrainian cities, victims in Zaporizhzhia, Kharkiv, Kyiv, and Izyum, the fire at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, damage to the Babi Yar Holocaust memorial, and deaths of Mariupol residents. Blogger Alexander Nozdrinov from Novokubansk of Krasnodar Krai was sentenced to eight and a half years in a penal colony under paragraphs “e” and “d” (for financial gain) of Article 2073 Part 2 CC. He was found guilty of posting on his Telegram channel a photograph of a destroyed Ukrainian city and a comment underneath it. The blogger had allegedly received a thousand rubles for the post.

The charge of disseminating “fake news” also appeared in the case of politician and journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza sentenced to 25 years in a maximum-security penal colony and several additional punishments through the partial aggregation of sentences imposed under three articles – paragraph “e” of Article 2073 Part 2 CC (seven years), Article 2841 Part 1 CC on the activities of an “undesirable organization” (three years), and Article 275 CC on high treason (18 years). The case for spreading “fakes about the army” was based on Kara-Murza's speech in the Arizona House of Representatives in the United States on March 15, 2022, in which he said that Russian troops were committing war crimes on the territory of Ukraine.

Article 2073 CC has become an instrument of intimidation for the Russian authorities to limit the dissemination of independent information about the military operation in Ukraine. Hence the demonstrative initiation of criminal cases against well-known figures, and severe sanctions against ordinary citizens.

We know of at least 66 people charged under paragraph “e” of Article 2073 Part 2 CC in 2023, whose cases were not yet tried in courts by the end of the year. Once again, this group includes many prominent figures, who have left Russia (mostly journalists, political scientists, and public activists), as well as several well-known Ukrainians, but also numerous ordinary citizens who resided in Russia and were taken into custody. A separate group of 15 defendants in the case of the Vesna movement face charges under several criminal articles, including this one. For comparison, by the end of 2022 (Article 2073 was added to the Criminal Code in March), we also knew of more than 60 people charged with distributing “military fakes” motivated by hatred; courts managed to issue sentences against another nine defendants before the year ended.

Other Anti-Government Statements

According to our data, at least 28 cases were opened in 2023 under Article 20.1 Parts 3–5 CAO for disseminating information that expresses disrespect for the state and society in an indecent form on the Internet. There were at least 22 such cases a year earlier, at least 37 in 2021, at least 30 in 2020, and 56 in 2019. In 2023, fines were imposed in 27 cases (from 30 to 80 thousand rubles under Article 20.1 Part 1 CAO and from 100 to 250 thousand under Parts 4–5), and one case was dismissed. Almost all charges were related to disrespect toward the president, occasionally – disrespect toward other high-ranking officials, the authorities in general, and state symbols.

The majority of cases known to us took place in Crimea. This can be attributed to the activity of the “Crimean SMERSH” Telegram channel, which is owned by local activist Alexander Talipov. He actively monitors the social networks of Crimean residents and submits statements to law enforcement agencies. For instance, Crimean Olga Dibrova was fined 80 thousand rubles under Article 20.1 Part 3 CAO. She was detained after a video was published on “Crimean SMERSH,” which showed her using obscene language directed at President Putin when her electricity was turned off.

For the first half of 2023, the Judicial Department of the Supreme Court reported a total of 16 individuals punished under Article 20.3.2 CAO (calling for violation of the territorial integrity of Russia) and Article 20.3.4 CAO (calling for sanctions against Russia, its organizations and citizens), but we have no information about anyone facing sanctions under Article 20.3.4 CAO. According to the data provided by the State Automated System “Pravosudie,” no cases were opened on repeated calls for sanctions under Article 2842 CC. As for Article 20.3.2 CAO, we know of only five such cases. Three of them were not related to calls for any violent separatist actions, so we regard these sanctions for discussions on territorial issues as inappropriate (we also recorded three such cases in 2022). All three inappropriately charged defendants faced fines: one of 30 thousand rubles, and two – of 70 thousand rubles. The issue under discussion in all cases pertained to territories seized from Ukraine.

According to the data provided by the State Automated System “Pravosudie,” there were no cases of charges under Article 2801 CC for repeated calls for violation of the territorial integrity of Russia in 2023. There were no such cases in 2022 either.

Vandalism Motivated by Hatred

We know of 11 clearly inappropriate verdicts under Article 214 Part 2 CC (vandalism motivated by political or ideological hatred) issued in 2023 against 15 people for protests against the special military operation (in 2022, we recorded 12 such sentences against 13 people, but two sentences were subsequently overturned). Seven people were sentenced to restriction of freedom, four to imprisonment (for all four, Article 214 CC was not the only charge against them), and in one case we have no information about the punishment imposed. Two more cases were dismissed by the court due to the expiry of the limitation period, and one person was referred for compulsory treatment and released from liability.

Similarly to the preceding year, most of the offenses involved writing anti-war or pro-Ukrainian slogans in public places or inflicting damage on posters dedicated to the special military operation. We include in our monitoring only the cases, in which law enforcement agencies charge defendants with vandalism motivated by ideological or political hatred, although the presence or absence of the hate motive in such cases obviously depends solely on the discretion of specific law enforcement officers, and not on the actual circumstances of an incident. We see no need to prosecute people for vandalism motivated by political or ideological hatred. In our opinion, in most cases, such actions represent a form of political criticism. We also believe, as we wrote above, that the motive of political or ideological hatred should be used as an aggravating circumstance only in articles on violent crimes.

In addition, when property damage is minor, in our opinion, cases under Article 214 should be terminated for insignificance or with the imposition of a court fine. For those cases where the damage is relatively small, it might be helpful to introduce an article similar to Article 7.17 CAO covering the destruction or damage of other people's property or to clarify the existing article by adding vandalism that did not cause major damage.

One of the offenders sentenced in 2023 was Sergei Khozyaykin from Belovo of the Kemerovo Region, sentenced to six months of restricted freedom for throwing the shells from two eggs filled with red enamel at a banner with the image of Vladimir Putin “thus imitating blood as a symbol of bloodshed and violence.” The court found that Khozyaykin had acted “with the intent of creating false associations and inciting hatred and enmity in an indefinitely wide group of people.”

Meanwhile, Alexei Arbuzenko from Togliatti, who, together with his teenage son “motivated by hooliganism” threw paint on banners depicting Russian military personnel and covered them with certain “cynical slogans,” was charged not only under Article 214 Part 2 but also under Article 2803 Part 2 and Article 150 Part 4 CC (involvement of a minor in a criminal group or the commission of a crime motivated by political, ideological, racial, national or religious hatred). The court sentenced him to six years in a minimal-security penal colony.

We have information about 11 other similar cases initiated under Article 214 Part 2 CC in 2023 against 12 people that either did not go to trial by the end of the year, or of which we do not know the outcome. Once again, the charges are based on graffiti and damage to banners. The defendants in criminal cases, for example, include a 62-year-old woman, resident of Balaklava, who painted Ukrainian flags on the building walls, bus stops, benches, lamp posts, park fences, and town squares as well as famous Moscow graffiti artist Filipp Kozlov (Philippenzo). The case against Kozlov was based on his work “Izrossilovanie” [a wordplay based on the words “rape” and “Russia] – a graffiti under the Elektrozavodsky Bridge on the Yauza embankment depicting this caption and the Russian coat of arms. The artist has left Russia and was placed on the wanted list.

We also note that in 2023, the court issued a two-year suspended sentence followed by a two-year probationary period to retiree Irina Tsybaneva from St. Petersburg, whose case we mentioned in our 2022 report. The court found her guilty of desecrating burial places with the motive of political hatred (paragraph “b” of Article 244 Part 2 CC). Tsybaneva left a note on the grave of Vladimir Putin's parents at the Serafimovskoye Cemetery, in which she wished their son, “who has caused so much pain and trouble,” dead. In our opinion, Tsybaneva did not cause any harm to the grave.

Hooliganism Motivated by Hatred

We classify as inappropriate the cases under paragraph “b” of Article 213 Part 2 CC (hooliganism motivated by political, ideological, or social hatred) that were initiated against participants in public actions that, in our opinion, should not be regarded as gross violations of public order and disrespect for society. On the contrary, the purpose of such actions was obviously to draw public attention to important social and political issues. Besides, here, as in the cases of vandalism (see above), we consider the motive of ideological or political hatred unnecessary, since these are not violent crimes but a form of socio-political expression.

At least two criminal cases in this category were opened in 2023[18] (we recorded three such verdicts against four people in 2022; one more case was likely closed).

Konstantin Kochanov, an electrician from Moscow, was arrested in Moscow in May. On the night of May 9, he painted at least three red crosses on the pavement near houses on Bolshoy Kozlovsky Lane and Nizhnyaya Krasnoselskaya Street. Later, photographs of the graffiti were posted on Ukrainian Telegram channels as allegedly special marks to be used for a drone attack on the capital. According to law enforcement officers, Kochanov’s actions expressed “his disagreement with Russia’s ongoing special military operation in Ukraine,” and he “performed public actions that created a credible threat to the state security and a threat of harm to the life and health of citizens.” At first, the Ministry of Internal Affairs did not want to initiate a case; the Telegram channel “War on Fakes,” affiliated with the law enforcement agencies, wrote that the marks indicated geodesical points. Obviously, the signs painted by Kochanov had no practical meaning and did not lead to a gross violation of public order. Later he was also charged under Article 214 Part 1 CC, even though he painted crosses on the pavement rather than buildings or structures. Despite his serious illness, Kochanov spent about six months in pre-trial detention before his preventive measure was changed.

Artyom Lazarenko faced charges in September after he “took off all his clothes” and “began to demonstrate his naked body” in front of the FSB building. The investigation decided that he grossly violated public order and was acting out of hatred towards law enforcement officers. However, Lazarenko acted at night and therefore did not disrupt citizens’ work or leisure, or the work of institutions. In our opinion, the administrative charges under Article 20.1 CAO (disorderly conduct) would have sufficed.[19]

Involvement in Banned Oppositional Organizations

Persecution of Alexei Navalny and His Supporters

Throughout 2023, the authorities continued to persecute Alexei Navalny and his supporters. As we reported earlier, the structures associated with Navalny – the Alexei Navalny Headquarters, the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), and the Citizens' Rights Defense Fund (FZPG) – were recognized as extremist organizations in the summer of 2021.

Since September 2021, the Investigative Committee has viewed the activities carried out (even before the ban) by Navalny’s structures and supporters as the activities of an extremist community. Then the Main Investigation Department of the Investigative Committee opened a case under Article 2821 against Navalny personally and against a number of his supporters on the charges of creating an extremist community no later than 2014. This case was later combined with the cases of money laundering (paragraph “b” of Article 174 Part 4 CC),[20] creating a non-profit organization whose activities involved inciting citizens to commit unlawful acts and participating in such an organization (Article 239 Parts 2 and 3 CC), financing extremism (Article 2823 Part 1 CC), and involving minors in dangerous activities (paragraphs “a,” and “c” of Article 1512 Part 2 CC). Subsequently, regional activists, who had participated in Navalny's structures, and even his lawyers, became defendants in cases under Articles 2821 and, sometimes, also under Article 239 CC.

In our opinion, the reasoning used by the Investigative Committee to substantiate the charges brought against Navalny and his supporters is far from convincing. According to the Investigative Committee, the activists created an “extremist community” aiming to “discredit government bodies and their policies, destabilize the situation in the regions, and create the protest sentiment among the population.” However, according to the note to Article 2821 CC, an “extremist community” is a community created for the purpose of preparing or committing crimes of an extremist nature, that is, motivated by “political, ideological, racial, national or religious hatred or enmity, or hatred or enmity toward any social groups.” The aims that the investigation attributed to Navalny and his supporters do not correspond to this definition. The same applies to the vague wording “forming public opinion on the need for a violent regime change” – only publishing calls for a violent regime change constitutes an extremist crime. The goal such as “organizing and conducting protest actions that develop into mass riots,” is also insufficiently clear – since Navalny’s supporters were not charged with either the organization of mass riots or calls for them. Thus, we view the charges against Navalny and his supporters under Article 2821 as inappropriate.

In 2023, four sentences were issued to six defendants in these cases.

In August, the Moscow City Court announced a verdict against Navalny and Daniel Kholodny, the former technical director of the Navalny LIVE YouTube channel. Taking into account the previous sentence he was serving at that time, Navalny was sentenced to 19 years in a maximum-security penal colony, a fine of 500 thousand rubles, three years of restriction of freedom, and a ban on posting on the Internet for ten years. He was found guilty under Article 2821 Part 1 CC, Article 2823 Part 1 CC, Article 1512 Part 2 CC, Article 239 Part 2 CC, Article 3541 Part 3 CC (public desecration of symbols of Russian military glory), and Parts 1 and 2 of Article 280 CC. At the same time, Navalny was released from liability under Article 239 Part 2 CC, Article 3541 Part 3 CC, Article 1512 Part 2 CC, and Article 280 Part 1 CC due to the expiry of the limitation period.[21] In February 2024, Alexei Navalny died in a colony under questionable circumstances.

The court found Kholodny guilty under Article 2823 Part 1 and Article 2821 Part 2 CC (participating in the activities of an extremist community) and sentenced him to eight years in a minimum-security penal colony with a four-year ban on posting materials on the Internet.

In Ufa, the former head of Navalny’s local headquarters, Liliya Chanysheva, was sentenced in June under Article 2821 Part 1 CC, Article 239 Part 3 CC, and Article 280 Part 1 CC to seven and a half years in a minimum-security penal colony and a fine of 400 thousand rubles.[22] Activist Rustem Mulyukov, involved in the same case, was sentenced under Article 2821 Part 2 CC to two and a half years in a minimum-security penal colony despite his serious illness. In March 2024, the verdict was overturned in cassation and returned to the appellate court.

In July, the former head of Navalny’s headquarters in Barnaul, Vadim Ostanin, was sentenced under Article 2821 Part 1 and Article 239 Part 3 CC to nine years in a minimum-security penal colony. He was found guilty of collaborating with Navalny's team in Biysk in 2017–2018 and in Barnaul in 2019–2021.

In December, Ksenia Fadeeva – an ex-coordinator of Navalny’s local headquarters and a city Duma deputy – was sentenced in Tomsk to nine years in a minimum-security penal colony with a fine of 500 thousand rubles under Article 2821 Part 3 (creating an extremist community using official position) and Article 239 Part 3 CC. She was released from punishment on the second charge due to the expiry of the limitation period.

By the end of 2022, the number of defendants in such cases reached 23; nine more people joined their ranks in 2023.

Artemy Perevozchikov from Izhevsk, Alina Olekhnovich and Ivan Trofimov from Moscow, as well as Sergei Streknev from Rybinsk and Alexei Malyarevsky from the Moscow Region, were initially charged under Article 2822 Part 2 (participating in the activities of an organization recognized as extremist), but then their charges were reclassified to Article 2821 Part 2. Probably the same would have happened to the charge under Article 2822 Part 2 brought against ex-coordinator of the Lipetsk Navalny headquarters Ilya Danilov; however, he had left Russia even before the initiation of the case, and we do not know whether any investigative actions have been taking place.

In October, Alexei Navalny’s lawyers Igor Sergunin, Alexei Liptser, and Vadim Kobzev were arrested as defendants under Article 2821 Part 2 CC. According to the investigation, “the lawyers, using their status to gain access to the correctional facility, ensured regular transfer of information between the leaders and participants of the extremist community and A. A. Navalny, who thereby continued to exercise the functions of the leader and director of the extremist community.”

Two of Navalny's supporters were found guilty in 2023 of financing extremist activities under Article 2823 Part 1. Alexei Konovalov from Magadan was fined 500 thousand rubles, and hacker Andrei Kovalenko from Temryuk was fined 200 thousand rubles (at the same time, he received five years behind bars for his computer hacking activities). The latter’s sentence was overturned and sent for review. Nine more people, including the above-mentioned Malyarevsky, became defendants in new criminal cases under this article.

Navalny's supporters also faced administrative charges in 2023. Thus, we know of at least 16 people punished under Article 20.3 CAO for acts that law enforcement agencies and, subsequently, the courts interpreted as displaying symbols of Navalny’s banned structures. The cases could be based on posters and T-shirts in support of the politician (a series of such actions took place to mark his birthday in July) or leaflets and videos with the symbols of FBK or the Navalny Headquarters. Ten people were fined, five were placed under administrative arrest, and a ban on attending official sporting events was imposed in one case. Among the offenders was Yekaterinburg politician Yevgeny Roizman, whom the court sentenced to 14 days under arrest because an FBK video “Why is Putin imprisoning Navalny?” with the foundation’s symbols was found in a VKontakte group named “Yevgeny Roizman.” Roizman claimed that he had no connection to this group and did not use VKontakte at all but failed to convince the court.[23]

In addition, in 2023, law enforcement agencies continued to charge people under Article 20.29 CAO for distributing a banned video by Navalny’s supporters “Let’s Remind Crooks and Thieves about their Manifesto-2002.” We are aware of 20 cases (compared to 65 in 2022), but it is worth noting that Article 20.29 has seen decreasing usage in recent years. The perpetrators faced fines ranging from one to three thousand rubles. The video, recognized 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 consider the ban against this video and sanctions for its distribution unfounded. Law enforcement agencies are actively monitoring the distribution of this video, since searching for it on social networks makes it easy to carry out “prevention” in the form of administrative sanctions imposed on opposition-minded Internet users.

Sanctions against Vesna Movement Participants

In June 2023, a criminal case was opened against members of the Vesna youth democratic movement declared extremist in December 2022. Six people were arrested in different cities: Yan Ksenzhepolsky, Yevgeny Zateev, Valentin Khoroshenin, Anna Arkhipova, Pavel Sinelnikov, and Vasily Neustroev. In September, they and a number of other activists who left Russia – 21 people in total – were placed on the Rosfinmonitoring list.

The case involves six articles CC, with the main charge against all defendants falling under Article 2821 (extremist community), similar to the case of Navalny and his supporters. The charges under this article are based on the text of the Vesna manifesto, which, in our opinion, contains no calls for extremism or any illegal activity whatsoever.

The defendants in the Vesna case also face charges under several additional criminal articles in different combinations depending on the role assigned to each of them by the investigation.

  • Charges under paragraphs “b” and “e” of Article 2073 Part 2 were brought in connection with publishing reports on the number of dead Russian soldiers, as well as on the events in Bucha and other settlements of the Kyiv Region.
  • Charges under Article 2804 Part 3 CC (public calls for activities directed against the security of the state, committed by an organized group, motivated by political hatred towards the social group “representatives of the government authorities of the Russian Federation”) are related to Vesna’s calls for military personnel to refuse to participate in hostilities or to surrender. The call was distributed in September 2022; the movement disavowed it in November of the same year.
  • Charges under Article 3541 Part 4 CC (dissemination of information expressing obvious disrespect for society about the days of military glory and memorable dates of Russia, committed by a group of people) were based on posts on Telegram and VKontakte, which contained criticism of the state-sanctioned methods of celebrating Victory Day. We believe that such expression of opinion should not be limited.

Only Vasily Neustroev (chairman of the Frunzensky District Branch of the St. Petersburg Yabloko party, who, according to party comrades, was not a member of Vesna and had nothing to do with the movement for the past several years) faces charges under two additional articles: Article 239 Part 2 CC for calling for mass protests and Article 212 Part 1.1 CC (incitement to organize mass riots) for his message proposing to use violence against law enforcement officers following the example of Euromaidan.

One more criminal case against a Vesna supporter, initiated in 2023, should be noted. Polina Piskeeva, a resident of Ulyanovsk, was charged under Article 2822 Part 2 CC for posting anti-war leaflets produced by Vesna around the city in the summer and autumn of 2023. The leaflets contained criticism of the mobilization and the activities of the United Russia party.[24]

Banning Oppositional Organizations

In August, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Kalmykia upheld the claim of the republican prosecutor's office and recognized the Congress of the Oirat-Kalmyk People as an extremist organization. The Congress coordinated the people's congresses of national activists held in Elista since 2015.

A number of activists faced charges in 2022 for disagreeing with the government’s course and the special military operation. Some members of Congress emigrated. Thus, Altan Ochirov, an activist and ex-employee of the city mayor’s office, was sentenced in 2022 to five years in a minimum-security penal colony under clauses “b” and “e” of Article 2073 Part 2 CC for publications about the events in Ukraine in the “Volny Ulus” Telegram channel. Erentsen Dolyaev, a defendant in the same criminal case, has left Russia. The head of the Congress, Arslang Sandzhiev, and three of his deputies were fined under Article 20.3.3 Part 1 CAO after they published a collective anti-war appeal on March 7, 2022.

In addition, in June, the Elista City Court recognized the declaration “On State Independence of the Republic of Kalmykia,” adopted by the Congress in 2022, as extremist material. The declaration contained criticism of the policies of the Russian authorities and an unambiguous call for Kalmykia to gain independence. However, the document said nothing about methods of achieving independence, that is, contained no calls for violent separatism. Therefore, in our opinion, there were no grounds for its ban.

The text of the claim filed by the Republic’s Prosecutor's Office to ban the Congress of the Oirat-Kalmyk People was never made public but was likely based on the court decisions discussed above. Since we view all these decisions as inappropriate, we also consider the ban against the organization unfounded.

The State on Guard of Morality

Sanctions for “Rehabilitating Nazism”

In 2023, law enforcement agencies continued to prosecute citizens under Article 3541 CC on the “rehabilitation of Nazism” that punishes a wide range of acts: denying or approving Nazi crimes, disseminating false information about the activities of the USSR during the Second World War, desecrating symbols of military glory, insulting veterans, etc.

We view 23 sentences passed under this article in 2023 against 25 people, including two minors, as unfounded and unrelated to the actual justification of Nazism (in 2022 we recorded 18 verdicts against 21 people). The courts dismissed two more cases due to the death of the defendants.

Ten people received various terms of imprisonment, not exceeding three years in the absence of other charges, four people were sentenced to compulsory labor, three to community service, two to corrective labor, three were fined (one in the amount of 1.4 million rubles and two – in the amount of two million rubles), one was sentenced to restriction of freedom, one received a suspended sentence, and in one case we have no information about the punishment imposed.

In most cases, sanctions followed the actions that law enforcement agencies interpreted as “desecration of symbols of Russia’s military glory.”

It should be noted here that only the St. George Ribbon (and only since the beginning of 2023) has officially been granted the status of a symbol of military glory. However, most criminal cases pertain not to the ribbon but to various memorials for those killed during the Great Patriotic War, especially one specific element – the eternal flame. This element often arouses increased interest among adult citizens and children. These irresponsible adults and minors, in turn, have caught the increased interest of Alexander Bastrykin, the head of the Investigative Committee, who has taken their criminal cases under his personal control.

It must be said that in most cases, memorials suffer no noticeable damage from such antics. What's important for the authorities is the ideological component of such actions: they're regarded as an attack on historical memory and the memory of veterans. Amid military operations in Ukraine, the sanctity of this memory has become an integral part of the state ideology.

Meanwhile, only a small part of those convicted acted for ideological reasons, for example, Alexander Kudryashov, a resident of Vsevolozhsk of the Leningrad Region. He was sentenced to a fine of 1.4 million rubles under Article 3541 Part 3 CC (public dissemination of information expressing obvious disrespect for society about days of military glory and memorable dates of Russia related to the defense of the Fatherland, as well as desecration of symbols of Russia’s military glory that insult the memory of defenders of the Fatherland). Kudryashov painted graffiti that consisted of the letter “Z,” an equal sign, and a swastika on a kilometer sign and an anti-aircraft gun pedestal. These objects formed part of the “Broken Ring” memorial, erected on the shore of Lake Ladoga to commemorate the Siege of Leningrad. The paint washed off the memorial structures naturally, and thus no damage was caused. The court found that the crime was committed on January 27, 2022, i.e., on the anniversary of the liberation of Leningrad from the siege, and thus Kudryashov not only desecrated the symbols but also expressed disrespect for the memorable date. However, the investigation previously reported that the incident occurred in October 2022 – a much more likely scenario, since large-scale military operations in Ukraine did not yet start in January 2022, and the “Z” symbol was not used.

Often the offenders were simply hooligans. Thus, in Orenburg, the court sentenced Viktor Ogly to two years, and Ashraf Ibaev to a year of imprisonment, replacing this punishment with compulsory labor. On the territory of their local memorial complex, they climbed onto the memorial with their feet, smoked cigarettes, and ate sunflower seeds throwing out cigarette butts and husks “near the Eternal Flame.” They also used obscene language.

Another group of offenders clearly did not think about damage to monuments at all – homeless or unemployed people who warmed themselves, drank and ate near an Eternal flame, or burned off the insulation of the wire they had collected, before selling it for scrap. Denis Davydov, a previously convicted resident of Yoshkar-Ola, was sentenced under Article 3541 Part 3 CC to three years in a maximum-security penal colony simply for “stomping” on the pedestal of the memorial complex.

In our opinion, the actions described above, which served as the basis for 14 criminal sentences against 16 people under Parts 3–4 of Article 3541 CC (depending on whether they were accompanied by publications on the Internet) would have been best qualified under Article 20.1 CAO on disorderly conduct or Article 214 CC on vandalism, in cases of actual damage caused to memorials.

Six cases under Article 3541 Part 4 CC were based on actions committed exclusively online – social network posts with disrespectful statements about symbols of military glory or the Victory Day celebration.

Three people were convicted under paragraph “c” of Article 3541 Part 2 CC for disseminating on the Internet deliberately false information about the activities of the USSR during the Second World War. Thus, architect Sergei Volkov from Ivanovo was fined two million rubles for a post he made on his Telegram channel in 2021. The post stated that during the Great Patriotic War, German troops did not close a complete ring around Leningrad – it was no coincidence that the charges related to the siege of Leningrad against the defendants at the Nuremberg trial were dropped – so the Soviet authorities still had the opportunity to send food there, but “Stalin abandoned the city as useless and almost captured.” Volkov also said that until 1941, “Stalin and Hitler were tight allies,” and National Socialism during that period was “quite strongly celebrated in the USSR.” Finally, the author argued that Stalin was personally guilty of starting the war “no less than Hitler,” since he “fueled this mess without expecting that it would turn against him.” We would like to add that the case was tried twice. The first time, the jury acquitted Volkov, but then the judge dismissed the jury; the second time the guilty verdict was returned.

According to our data, the cases of at least 50 people inappropriately charged under Article 3541 CC in 2023, were not yet considered in courts by the end of the year. Many of them, as in 2022, faced criminal charges for hooliganism at war monuments. However, the majority was prosecuted under Article 3541 Part 4 CC for online attacks on symbols and dates.

Thus, the case of 23-year-old Samara resident Alyona Agafonova became widely known. Agafonova posted as her Instagram story a video, in which she stood near the monument “The Motherland Calls” and moved her fingers in a way that made it appear as if she was tickling the sculpture’s chest while humming a popular circus tune, the “Entry of the Gladiators” march by composer Julius Fučík. Agafonova then left Russia and was put on the wanted list. Upon returning to the country in February 2024, she was detained at one of the Moscow airports and then arrested.

One of the cases involves 18 defendants at once. They are the above-mentioned members of Vesna, charged for posing in the spring of 2022 texts on Telegram and VKontakte dedicated to the upcoming Victory Day. The posts criticized the state-sanctioned methods of celebrating it and suggested participating in the “Immortal Regiment” action by carrying veterans’ photographs with captions “They didn’t fight for this!”

We also would like to point out the only case known to us when an administrative norm, parallel to Article 3541 CC was applied – Article 13.48 Part 1 CAO (public identification of the actions of the USSR and Nazi Germany during the Second World War, denial of the decisive role of the Soviet people in the defeat of Nazi Germany and the humanitarian mission of the USSR in the liberation of European countries). In our opinion, this article excessively and unreasonably restricts freedom of speech in peaceful historical discussions. In August, a court in Moscow fined emigrated blogger and bodybuilder Alexander Shpak under this article; the amount of the fine is unknown. The case was based on a video with footage of parades in Nazi Germany and Victory Day celebrations in Russia. The video included Shpak’s comments on the footage, in particular, “This is horrible! You say, ‘We are for peace,’ while giving children weapons and dressing them in military uniforms!”

We should also add that law enforcement agencies continue to show increased vigilance in eradicating Nazi symbols displayed in a purely neutral context.

For example, history student and archaeologist Vladimir Panin was placed under arrest for five days under Article 20.3 Part 1 CAO. Panin was detained in a subway car for holding the book Peter Noyman. Chyorny marsh. Vospominaniya ofitsera SS. 1938–1945 [Peter Noyman. Black march. Memoirs of an SS officer. 1938–1945]. The book featured on its cover a historical photo of a German soldier in a helmet with double Sig runes – the symbols of the Nazi SS troops. The book is likely not a genuine diary of an SS officer, but a work of fiction with a pronounced anti-fascist message. The book was published in Russian in 2012 by Tsentrpoligraf in the series “Behind the Front Line. Memoirs”; it has been sold in bookstores and its distribution was never banned. A note to Article 20.3 CAO stipulates that the punishment does not apply to cases, in which banned symbols are used to form a negative attitude towards Nazism and extremism, and there are no signs of propaganda or justification of Nazi ideology. This case perfectly aligns with the description, in our opinion, but the court did not apply the note.

In Novokuznetsk, a model maker interested in the Second World War military equipment was fined a thousand rubles under the same article because a photograph of a tank model with the symbols of Nazi Germany was found on his VKontakte page.

In Volgograd, a court fined a music director and a senior teacher of a daycare center one and a half thousand rubles. Both were punished for inviting their acquaintances, one dressed in the Soviet army uniform and the other in the uniform of a Wehrmacht soldier, to a patriotic matinee dedicated to the 80th anniversary of the Stalingrad victory. A photographic report about the event was posted on the daycare center’s VKontakte page and attracted the attention of parents, who contacted law enforcement agencies. The court found the daycare employees guilty of posting photographs of a man in a Nazi uniform without any comments or explanatory notes that could have formed a negative attitude toward the ideology of Nazism.

Ban on the “International LGBT Movement”

On November 30, the Supreme Court of Russia satisfied the claim submitted by the Ministry of Justice and recognized the “international public LGBT movement” as an extremist organization. The case was considered behind closed doors.

The text of the Supreme Court decision became known only in January 2024. In it, the Supreme Court indicated that the international LGBT social movement, “which arose in the United States in the 1960s as part of a policy of birth control suggesting, among other measures, the encouragement of non-traditional family relationships,” has been operating in Russia since 1984, does not have a unified structure, “is decentralized,” but at the same time consists of well-organized cells, is active in 60 regions of Russia and 25 other countries, and also has 80 Internet resources. The Supreme Court also reported that “281 individuals, who promote LGBT ideology and participate in the activities of the Movement, have been identified.”

Most of the arguments given by the Supreme Court in support of the movement’s ban had nothing to do with the definition of extremism provided in the framework legislation. The court discussed morality, demography, traditions, value confrontation with the West and its ideological “expansion,” the protection of children, and even word coinage. All of this pointed to one idea, not substantiated by any scientific information or statistical calculations, that this movement was harmful and posed a threat to Russia’s national interests.

Charges of inciting hostility towards those who do not support LGBT people, hatred towards bearers of traditional values that leads to suppression (evidently, referring to certain phenomena outside of Russia), promoting exclusivity or inferiority based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and creating “preconditions” for inciting religious hatred were, to some extent, linked to the law on countering extremism. The Supreme Court wrote that the activities of LGBT activists to criticize the authorities and change laws, as well as calls for mass protests and non-compliance with laws, are aimed at inciting hatred towards government officials. However, not a single fact was cited about any specific offense committed by a specific LGBT activist.

SOVA Center believes that the LGBT movement does not have a unified structure and therefore cannot be considered a single organization. There is also no basis for charging LGBT activists with any extremist activity as a single community. We consider this decision a discriminatory measure that impedes the protection of the rights of LGBT people. The ban could lead to persecution of activists, human rights defenders, journalists, and LGBT people who simply express their views openly.

The date of entry of the Supreme Court decision into force was not reported, but this likely happened only around February 13, 2024, when the court refused to consider the last appeal filed against this decision. On March 1, 2024, the Russian Ministry of Justice included the “international public LGBT movement” and its structural divisions in the list of extremist organizations. Attempts to impose sanctions under Article 20.3 CAO for displaying rainbow-decorated objects as LGBT symbols began in mid-December 2023.

Sanctions for Insulting the Religious Feelings of Believers

As in 2022, prosecutions under Article 148 Part 1 CC (insulting the religious feelings of believers) in 2023 were mostly related to social media posts. As before, the attention of law enforcement agencies was often attracted by atheistic or anticlerical texts, memes, and comments. The flow of nude photos next to places of religious worship, so popular in 2022, has dried up, but various manipulations with religious literature and objects of worship have become trendy.

We would like to reiterate that we see no need to prosecute people for publishing “blasphemous” materials unless they contain aggressive appeals against believers. In our opinion, such materials pose no danger to society, and sanctions for their dissemination could constitute unjustified interference with freedom of expression. In addition, we are convinced that the concept of “insulting the feelings of believers” introduced into texts of Article 148 Parts 1 and 2 CC has no clear legal meaning at all and should be excluded from the legislation altogether. As for religious literature and objects, they are protected by the administrative legislation under Article 5.26 Part 2 CAO (deliberate public desecration of religious or liturgical literature, objects of religious veneration, signs or emblems of ideological symbols and paraphernalia, or their damage or destruction).

We classified nine sentences issued in 2023 against nine people as inappropriate (in 2022 we recorded five sentences against five people). One person was released from criminal liability and sent for compulsory treatment. Five offenders out of nine were sentenced to community service, two to a fine, one person to imprisonment, and in one case we have no information about the punishment.

Sayd Abdelrazek, a native of Egypt, was sentenced in Ulyanovsk under Article 148 Part 1 CC and paragraph “b” of Article 213 Part 1 CC (hooliganism motivated by religious hatred or enmity) to one and a half years in an open prison. Taking into account the time he spent in pre-trial detention, Abdelrazek’s final sentence was ten months of imprisonment. He was also fined 150 thousand rubles. Abdelrazek was found guilty of “committing public acts to offend the religious feelings of believers.” One night in July, on a bridge over the Sviyaga River, he trampled on the Quran, poured alcohol on it, and then threw it into the river. He filmed all this and later published a video on the Internet, where he accompanied his actions with statements that the Quran was a “dirty book” that needed to be “thrown underfoot” and “trampled with old boots.” We believe that Abdelrazek should have faced administrative rather than criminal liability. The grounds on which Abdelrazek faced responsibility under Article 213 CC are also unclear. He recorded his video at night, so his actions did not lead to a gross violation of public order.

Meanwhile, a nineteen-year-old Astrakhan man, who burned a pocket-sized paper icon of the Mother of God in broad daylight near a shopping center was not charged with hooliganism. His action remained unnoticed, but he posted the corresponding video on social networks and only faced 200 hours of community service. Again, in our opinion, Article 5.26 Part 2 CAO would have been sufficient.

We must say that this administrative norm is also not always applied appropriately. We believe that its use is appropriate to punish damage to religious books or objects of worship but not against virtual actions such as creating and publishing collages with religious imagery, icons, crosses, and so on. However, law enforcement agencies classify such actions as desecration. Over the year, we noted several cases under Article 5.26 Part 2 CAO for posting images online.

In 2023, at least eight criminal cases were initiated inappropriately against nine people under Article 148 Parts 1 and 2 CC

The November arrest of singer Eduard Sharlot, who had returned to St. Petersburg from abroad, sparked a significant reaction. He was charged under three criminal articles and placed in pre-trial detention. Charges under Article 148 CC Part 1 (see below) were based on Sharlot’s Instagram video, in which the singer nails his military ID, a photograph of Patriarch Kirill, and a crucifix made of branches to a tree. As yet another demonstrative gesture, the authorities ordered an arrest of activist Nadya Tolokonnikova, convicted in 2012 in the case of the Pussy Riot punk collective and currently residing abroad, in absentia, for her social media posts.

Another resonant case, initiated in 2023 under Article 148 Part 2 CC was that of Nikita Zhuravel sentenced to three and a half years of imprisonment in 2024 for burning the Quran. In our opinion, the case was classified incorrectly. In May 2023, Zhuravel burned the Quran in front of a mosque in Volgograd and filmed the action. Later the video was published on the “Morning Dagestan” Telegram channel with the caption “Volgograd!! May Allah break your back – the country of Islamophobes!!!” During his interrogation, Zhuravel stated that he had burned the Quran at the instigation of Ukrainian intelligence services for a reward of ten thousand rubles and then handed over the recording to a representative of the Security Service of Ukraine.

As to the destruction of the book, we believe that it should have entailed liability under Article 5.26 Part 2 CAO rather than Article 148 Part 1 CC. We also believe that the charge under Article 213 Part 2 CC (hooliganism committed by an organized group by prior conspiracy based on religious hatred or enmity) was inappropriate, since the book burning per se did not violate public order. At the same time, since the video of the Quran burning was published with a comment aimed at inciting hostility, the young man could be punished under Article 20.3.1 CAO – or paragraph “c” of Article 282 Part 2 CC if he acted as part of an organized group. In our opinion, Zhuravel received a disproportionately severe sentence and faced additional extra-legal methods of pressure and punishment. By personal order of the head of the Investigative Committee, the case was transferred for investigation and trial from Volgograd to Grozny, where Ramzan Kadyrov’s son beat him up in a pre-trial detention center.

Persecution against Religious Associations

According to our information, at least 90 guilty verdicts were issued inappropriately against 195 people on charges of involvement in organized extremist and terrorist activities in 2023 (compared to 87 verdicts against 185 people in 2022). 85 of these sentences against 188 people pertained to involvement in religious organizations (compared to 85 sentences against 183 people in the preceding year).

Jehovah’s Witnesses

In 2023, authorities continued to persecute Jehovah's Witnesses whose registered Russian communities were banned in 2017, as extremist organizations. Believers were charged with continuing the activities of banned organizations for holding religious ceremonies (including online), joint reading and discussion of religious literature, preaching, and collecting money for community needs – that is, for peaceful religious practice, which poses no danger to society but, nevertheless, leads to criminal prosecution and severe sanctions. We believe that the ban on Jehovah's Witnesses organizations had no legal basis and regard it as a manifestation of religious discrimination. In June 2022, the ECHR issued a ruling on the Jehovah's Witnesses’ complaint, in which it recognized that the ban on their materials and organizations and the persecution of believers contradict the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and demanded that Russia discontinue the criminal cases under Article 2822 CC against Jehovah's Witnesses and release the imprisoned believers.

According to the calculations by SOVA Center, at least 107 believers faced new criminal charges for continuing the activities of banned Jehovah’s Witnesses organizations or financing them (Articles 2822 and 2823 CC) in 2023. Jehovah's Witnesses, whose calculation method is somewhat different from ours, report that 376 such criminal cases were initiated against 789 believers from 2017 through the end of 2023. As of late February 2024, their statistics present the following trend: criminal cases were initiated against one believer in 2017, against 131 in 2018, against 187 in 2019, against 146 in 2020, against 162 in 2021, against 79 in 2022, and 83 in 2023. In any case, we can point out an increase in the number of people facing criminal charges in 2023 compared to the previous one. In 2023, there was a notable occurrence of clustered individual cases against believers residing in the same locality, as well as collective cases involving about ten individuals simultaneously. Approximately one-third of those prosecuted in 2023 were women, and approximately twenty were elderly, with the oldest being 85 years old.

In 2023, there were at least 74 verdicts against 156 Jehovah's Witnesses under Article 2822, as well as under Article 2823, which appeared in the charges against 24 believers along with Article 2822, and, in one case, constituted the only charge. Two sentences against three believers were overturned (with the prospect of tougher punishment); 72 sentences against 153 believers remained in force. In 2022, according to our calculations, there were 58 verdicts against 116 believers.

Of the 153 convicted offenders, 48 people were sentenced to imprisonment. 33 of them serve their terms in penal colonies. The majority faced six to seven years behind bars, eight years in one case. The courts sentenced two believers to compulsory labor for a period of three years – the first time such a punishment had been imposed on Jehovah’s Witnesses. 80 defendants received suspended sentences, 43 of them for terms of six to eight years. For 22 people, the main punishment was a fine, most often in amounts of 300 to 550 thousand rubles. We lack information regarding the punishment given to one convicted offender.

In 2023, we recorded only one acquittal of two people. Even this one case was overturned on appeal and sent for a new trial. One person was released from liability based on a note to Article 2822 CC, according to which a person, who has committed a crime for the first time and voluntarily ceased participation in the activities of an extremist organization, is exempt from criminal liability unless their actions contain another crime. Only four sentences against five believers were significantly commuted on appeal.

The most severe punishment of 2023 – eight years of imprisonment – was imposed on Dmitry Barmakin from Vladivostok, who was fully acquitted in 2021, but then his acquittal was overturned and the case was sent for re-trial.

Scientologists

In August, a guilty verdict was issued in St. Petersburg in the case of members of the local Church of Scientology, which was initiated back in 2017. The court sentenced the head of the church, Ivan Matsitsky, under Article 2821 Part 1 CC to six and a half years of imprisonment with a two-year ban on activities in civic associations and religious organizations but took into account the time he had spent in custody and under house arrest and released him in the courtroom. Four more people were sentenced to fines ranging from 600 thousand to 1.3 million rubles, three of them under the same Article 2821 Part 1 CC and one – under Article 2821 Part 2. They were all also released from punishment.

All the defendants were found guilty under paragraph “c” of Article 282 Part 2 CC (incitement of hatred or enmity by an organized group). They were also charged with illegal entrepreneurship, but the limitation period for prosecution on these charges has expired; only the church accountant was also convicted of money laundering on a particularly large scale.

Scientologists were charged with creating an extremist community intending to humiliate the dignity of certain followers of the doctrine categorized as the social group “sources of trouble” (obviously, we are talking about the category “potential trouble source” used by Scientologists). In their regard, Matsitsky issued and signed “ethics orders,” one of which banned the offending community members from participating in auditing (the spiritual practice of communicating with a Scientology consultant). Another order prohibited them from studying certain aspects of L. Ron Hubbard’s philosophy. Church members were also charged with distributing Scientology literature, recognized as extremist, and promoting the exclusivity of their religion.

SOVA Center believes that any religion asserts its own exclusivity. The sanctions against Scientologists and the banning of their literature on this basis are unjustified. We doubt the validity of the investigators’ decision to separate certain adherents of Scientology subjected to psychological pressure into a social group protected by anti-extremist legislation. Based on Hubbard's concept, Scientologists are indeed not supposed to allow certain people to audit and study the teachings and are recommended to ignore such people altogether. However, most religions impose certain restrictions on access to church life and rituals, and the advice to ignore someone cannot be viewed as a call aimed at inciting hatred or humiliation of dignity.

Allya-Ayat

In 2023, we recorded only a couple of cases against sun-worshiping adherents of the Allya-Ayat teaching. The believers advocate a cure for all illnesses through the use of special tea, saying the “life formula,” invoking the sun energy, and repeatedly reading and applying to sore spots the issues of the Zvezda Selennoy magazine published by the doctrine’s founders.

In January 2023, the European Court of Human Rights issued a ruling on a complaint that pertained to seven issues of the Zvezda Selennoy magazine, recognized as extremist materials, and to the ban on an Allya-Ayat (Elle-Ayat) religious group in Novosibirsk. The regional court banned the group as extremist. Next, the Supreme Court of Russia overturned the decision to recognize it as extremist but upheld the ban against it for inciting citizens to refuse medical care. Considering the validity of banning the journals, the ECHR once again emphasized that the Russian court based its decision entirely on expert opinions and did not analyze the texts or indicate which specific statements in them encouraged intolerance and proclaimed the superiority of Allya-Ayat followers over other people. The Russian courts also never evaluated the need for a ban and its impact on the applicants' rights. Thus, according to the ECHR, in this case, Russia also violated Article 10 of the Convention interpreted in the light of Article 9. As for the ban imposed on the religious group in Novosibirsk, according to the ECHR, the fundamental question in the case was whether Allya-Ayat adherents refused medical intervention freely or under pressure. Since no evidence of pressure was ever established, the ECHR decided that there was no urgent public need to ban the religious group. Therefore, this prohibition violated Article 9 of the Convention, interpreted in the light of Article 11, which protects freedom of assembly and association. Russia does not implement ECHR decisions adopted after March 15, 2022, but the court believes that Russia must comply with all decisions relating to events that occurred before September 16, 2022.

The Novosibirsk group is just one of several banned Allya-Ayat groups. Thus, in 2023, the appellate court approved a ban on the activities of the Altay Allya-Ayat group on the same grounds.

Some criminal cases are related to the ban of the Allya-Ayat group in Samara recognized as an extremist organization in 2019. Based on this decision, the teaching’s followers from different regions of Russia started facing charges under Article 2822 CC even though their connection to the Samara group was unclear. It was reported in February 2023, that a criminal case under this article had been opened in Kazan. According to investigators, the local believers organized two Ayat centers in the city and thus continued the activities of the Samara Allya-Ayat group.

Activities related to Allya-Ayat are also prosecuted without bringing charges of extremism. Thus, in 2023 they tried to charge an Orenburg resident under Article 239 Part 1 CC for creating a religious association that harms the health of citizens, but, already in early 2024, the court returned her case to the prosecutor’s office. She had previously served time in a penal colony on a similar charge.

Hizb ut-Tahrir

In 2023, Muslims continued to face criminal prosecution under charges of organizing the activities of a terrorist organization, participation in it, and involvement of others in it, based on their involvement in the activities of the Islamic religious party Hizb ut-Tahrir. This party is banned in Russia as a terrorist organization, despite the absence of any information about its involvement in terrorist activities.[25]

The position of SOVA Center regarding such prosecution is as follows: when we know that people who continue their involvement in a banned organization (or face the corresponding charges) are charged only under 2055 CC and not substantively charged with any other terrorist crimes, we consider their case inappropriate, especially since it involves a disproportionately severe punishment.

Those involved in criminal cases as followers of Hizb ut-Tahrir face charges for holding meetings and discussing party literature and ideology. Such activities are qualified under Article 2055, which implies very severe sanctions. They are also charged with planning a forcible seizure of power in Russia merely because Hizb ut-Tahrir preaches the idea of establishing a worldwide Islamic caliphate. Law enforcement officers and courts do not ask for evidence of any actual plans. The majority of those persecuted in recent years are from Crimea – obviously, charges of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir make a convenient tool for suppressing the oppositional activity among the peninsula’s Crimean Tatar population.

We know of 10 sentences issued in 2023 under Article 2055. One convicted offender received four years of imprisonment, the rest were sentenced to terms from 10 to 20 years behind bars, with part of the term to be served in prison and various additional restrictions. A total of 21 people were convicted, 17 of them Crimean Tatars. For comparison, a year earlier we knew about 20 verdicts against 52 people (25 of whom were convicted in Crimea in a single criminal case), and two years earlier – about eight verdicts against 23 people. Let us note that sentences to all 17 Crimeans convicted in 2023 also included Article 278 with the use of Article 30 Part 1 CC (preparation for a forcible seizure of power). Ansar Osmanov from Sevastopol, an activist of the Crimean Solidarity association, received the maximum sentence of 2023 – 20 years of imprisonment with the first five years to be served in prison and the rest of the term in a maximum-security penal colony.

We must also point out the verdict issued in Moscow in May against human rights activist Bakhrom Khamroev. The court found him guilty under Article 2055 Part 2 CC and Article 2052 Part 2 and sentenced him to 14 years of imprisonment, with the first three years to be served in prison and the remainder in a maximum-security penal colony. On appeal, the sentence was reduced by three months. Khamroev has defended the rights of migrants from Central Asia and Russian Muslims for many years, including those accused of participating in Hizb ut-Tahrir, but he always personally distanced himself from this organization, and no convincing evidence of his involvement in it was presented in court. The investigation tried to present his human rights activities as a party activity, but the court did not accept most of these arguments. As for several Facebook posts by Khamroev written in Uzbek, which became the basis for the charges under Article 2052 Part 2 CC as Hizb ut-Tahrir propaganda, we had no opportunity to get acquainted with their exact text, but they could hardly provide the grounds for punishment involving loss of liberty.

During 2023, we learned of two new criminal cases opened under Article 2055 CC in Crimea against 12 Muslims. In addition, a new criminal case under Article 2051 Part 1.1 CC on incitement to terrorist activities was opened against Rais Mavlyutov from Tatarstan, who was previously sentenced to 23 years in prison under two parts of Article 2055 CC; possibly, he faced charges for recruiting other prisoners into Hizb ut-Tahrir.

It was reported in November that a criminal case had been opened in Moscow under Article 2052 CC against Anna Loiko, an editor of the online news site SOTA. The journalist, who is currently outside Russia, was arrested in absentia. The prosecution against Loiko was based on her 2021 material describing the persecution against Hizb ut-Tahrir supporters. As stated in the text, Russian human rights activists believe that the activities of this party should not be considered terrorist and classify those convicted under terrorist articles in connection with their involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir as political prisoners. According to the investigation’s version, Loiko thereby defended those convicted in the Hizb ut-Tahrir cases and thus justified terrorist activities. However, the note to Article 2052 CC defines public justification of terrorism as “a public statement recognizing the ideology and practice of terrorism as correct, in need of support and imitation.” We found no such statements in the journalist's article.

Followers of Said Nursi

In 2008, following the unjustified bans against the books of moderate Islamic Turkish theologian Said Nursi, the Supreme Court of Russia decided to recognize an alleged organization of his followers, Nurcular, as extremist for promoting the superiority of Islam over other religions. Russian Muslims studying Nursi’s legacy did not form a single organization, but the Supreme Court banned the non-existent entity. As a result, the authorities can prosecute Muslims who read and discuss Nursi’s books under Article 2822. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2018 that by banning Nursi’s books the Russian courts had violated Article 10 of the European Convention which guarantees freedom of expression. However, the sanctions against Muslims who study Nursi’s books have continued.

In 2023, two such verdicts were issued under Article 2822 CC. Three people were convicted in Naberezhnye Chelny; the court sentenced two of them to two and a half years in a penal colony and one received a suspended sentence of one and a half years. Six more people were sentenced in Moscow to terms ranging from two and a half to six and a half years of imprisonment.

In July, during a migration control raid in Cheryomushkinsky District of Moscow, law enforcement agencies detained and then arrested two Muslims, charging them under Parts 1 and 2 of Article 2822 CC for their alleged participation in meetings of Muslims, where they studied Nursi’s books.

Tablighi Jamaat

In 2023, not a single sentence was passed under Article 2822 CC for continuing the activities of Tablighi Jamaat, a religious movement recognized as extremist in Russia (a year earlier, we recorded six sentences against 15 people). We know of one newly initiated criminal case with nine defendants arrested in Moscow in July.

Tablighi Jamaat 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 sanctions against its supporters inappropriate.

A Bit of Statistics

Let us start by reviewing the general criminal law enforcement statistics collected by SOVA Center in 2023.

We know of 17 sentences[26] for violent hate crimes against 53 people, 19 sentences against 49 people for attacks on material objects with the same motive (in both cases we include the verdict only if it takes the hate motive into account), 369 sentences against 406 people for public statements, 182 sentences against 344 people for involvement in prohibited organizations or extremist or terrorist communities.[27] Several sentences fell into more than one category.

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.[28] 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. On the other hand, the department does not include in its statistics all sentences issued during the year, but only those that have come into force.

Of the known guilty verdicts for public statements, we regard 23 verdicts against 36 people as appropriate and intended to stop manifestations of xenophobia. Another 55 verdicts against 59 people, in our opinion, are likely appropriate and issued in connection with the propaganda of another kind of violence, usually against government officials. We regard 159 verdicts against 172 people as inappropriate. We are not sure about the appropriateness of three verdicts against three people, and we do not know (or have insufficient information on) the charges that led to 167 sentences against 179 people.

Of the sentences issued for involvement in banned organizations and extremist or terrorist communities, 13 sentences against 24 people were, in our opinion, justified. We cannot evaluate another 33 sentences against 46 people due to missing or inconclusive information. We regard 90 verdicts against 195 people as inappropriate. Another 46 verdicts against 79 people, strictly speaking, cannot be classified as countering extremism: they were based on charges of involvement in either openly terrorist organizations (including the Islamic State) or the AUE subculture, which has been classified as an extremist organization on unclear grounds.

It's worth noting that one person's sentence might include details of varying appropriateness.

Our statistics on misuse of anti-extremist legislation include a number of attacks against material objects inconsistently categorized by law enforcement agencies. On the one hand, some cases under Article 214 Part 2 CC, taking into account the motive of hatred, are related to protest graffiti and other actions that caused only minor damage. On the other hand, there were cases under Parts 3 and 4 of Article 3541 CC on the desecration of military monuments, in which people were prosecuted for inflicting minor damage motivated by hooliganism or political sentiment but not intended to promote Nazism (court decisions on this article do not take the motive of hatred into account).[29] What the two categories, activists and hooligans, have in common is, in our opinion, an attitude of the authorities toward them – the state sees an ideological component in their actions and qualifies them accordingly. Thus, in our opinion, the relevant court decisions may be viewed as issued to punish public statements. In our general statistics below, we include these 27 verdicts against 33 people in our totals for public speech. On the same grounds, we also include in the same category the wrongful convictions for hooliganism motivated by hatred.

Now let us review the information on the criminal sentences indicated above that we view as inappropriate.

If we take into account the problematic decisions made under both anti-terrorist and anti-extremist articles, the total for 2023 will be 247 verdicts against 360 people (vs. 137 verdicts against 240 individuals in 2022). At the same time, it is worth repeating that 159 verdicts against 172 people (compared to 50 verdicts against 55 people in 2022) were related to public statements, 90 verdicts against 195 people (we recorded 87 sentences against 185 people in 2022) were issued for involvement in the activities of banned (in the vast majority of cases – religious) organizations.

Moscow, Crimea, Tatarstan, the Kemerovo Region, St. Petersburg, and Khabarovsk Krai took the lead in the number of inappropriate verdicts issued in 2023.

If we exclude sentences involving charges of terrorist crimes, it turns out that in 2023, 233 inappropriate sentences against 337 people were issued on charges of extremism and related crimes (compared to 114 sentences against 186 people a year earlier). Among these, 155 sentences against 168 people were issued for “extremist” statements (including the attacks against material objects and hooliganism motivated by hatred, as mentioned before; there were 48 such sentences against 53 people in 2022), and 80 sentences against 174 people – on charges in involvement in the activities of extremist organizations and communities (there were 66 such verdicts against 133 individuals in 2022).

In addition, we recorded a total of 350 people who faced inappropriate prosecution in 2023 under articles on terrorism or extremism or similar ones, whose cases were not considered by courts before the end of the year (vs. 265 in 2022). Of these, 330 people were charged only under articles of extremism or similar ones (vs. 255 people in 2022).

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).

Let's start with articles about public statements in anti-extremist and similar legislation. Grouping the sentences by article and presenting them in descending order by the number of wrongfully convicted, we arrive at the following picture.

The wrongful convictions in 2023 were most frequently issued under articles about repeated discrediting and “fakes about the army” motivated by hatred. This category now tops the list replacing the article on the rehabilitation of Nazism and the charges of vandalism motivated by hatred, which were the most “popular” categories in 2022.

Article 2803 CC on the repeated discrediting of the army was in the lead with 62 inappropriate verdicts against the same number of people (in 2022, courts managed to pass only three verdicts against three people under this, then recently introduced, article). Of those convicted in 2023, 11 people were sentenced to imprisonment, two to compulsory labor, seven received suspended sentences, 38 people were fined, and in four cases the amount of punishment is unknown to us. We know of another 56 people who faced inappropriate charges under this article in 2023.

The second place in terms of the number of wrongful convictions goes to sentences under paragraph “d” of Article 2073 Part 2 CC for the dissemination of “fakes” about the actions of the Russian armed forces, motivated by hatred. We view 47 sentences issued on this charge against 49 people as inappropriate (vs. seven sentences against seven people a year earlier). 44 offenders were sentenced to imprisonment (17 such sentences against 18 people were pronounced in absentia against individuals who left Russia), two received suspended sentences, and one person was fined; We do not know the details of the punishment imposed on two of the offenders. The court released four inappropriately charged individuals from liability and referred them for compulsory medical treatment. We know of at least 66 people charged in 2023 under paragraph “e” of Article 2073 Part 2 CC, whose cases were not tried by the year-end.

At least 23 verdicts against 25 people (vs. 18 against 21 in 2022) were inappropriately issued under Article 3541 CC on the rehabilitation of Nazism (i.e. denial or approval of Nazi crimes, dissemination of false information about the activities of the USSR during the war, desecration of symbols of military glory, insulting veterans, etc.) in 2023. Ten people received various terms of imprisonment, four people were sentenced to compulsory labor, three to community service, two to corrective labor, three were fined, one was sentenced to restriction of freedom, one received a suspended sentence, and in one case we have no information about the punishment. According to our data, at least 50 people faced inappropriate prosecution under Article 3541 CC in 2023, whose cases were not considered by the end of the year.

In 2023, 11 wrongful convictions were made against 15 activists (compared to 10 versus 11 people in 2022) under Article 214 CC on vandalism with the motive of ideological and/or political hatred. Seven people were sentenced to restriction of freedom, four to imprisonment, in one case we have no information about the punishment imposed. Two more cases were dismissed by the court due to the expiry of the limitation period, and one person was sent for compulsory treatment and released from liability. We also know of one inappropriate sentence under paragraph “b” of Article 244 Part 2 CC (violation of a grave motivated by hatred). We recorded 11 new cases under Article 214 Part 2 CC, opened without proper grounds against 12 people.

We recorded nine sentences against nine people (vs. five against five in 2022) issued in 2023 under Article 148 Part 1 CC, which punishes “insulting the feelings of believers.” Five of the nine convicted offenders were sentenced to community service, two to a fine, one person to imprisonment, and in one case we have no information about the punishment. One person was released from criminal liability and sent for compulsory treatment. We classified eight newly initiated cases against nine people as inappropriate.

We noted three wrongful sentences issued in 2023 against eight people under Article 282 CC, which punishes incitement to hatred, repeated or with aggravating circumstances (there was only one in 2022). Four individuals were sentenced to imprisonment (on a combination of charges), and three were fined. Seven new cases opened inappropriately against seven people were reported during this period.

Three wrongful verdicts under Article 280 CC on calls for extremism were reported in 2023, (compared to two verdicts against two people in 2022); all three defendants were sentenced to imprisonment. The courts did not have enough time to consider four additional new cases against the same number of defendants in 2023.

At least two verdicts against three people, which we see as clearly inappropriate, were issued in 2023 under Article 2804 CC (calls for anti-state activities). The court sentenced all of them to imprisonment. Another similar case did not reach court before the end of the year.

One inappropriate verdict was issued in 2023 under Article 2824 CC on the repeated display of prohibited symbols (the convicted person was sent to a penal colony based on the aggregated charges), and three more cases were initiated without proper grounds but not tried before the end of the year.

We classified one sentence issued under Article 213 CC on hooliganism with the motive of social and political hatred as inappropriate (vs. three verdicts against four people a year earlier); the offender was sentenced to an open prison. Three more similar cases against three people were not yet considered by the end of the year.

Not a single sentence was passed under Article 2801 CC on repeated calls for separatism in 2023, according to our information; there were no verdicts in the preceding year as well.

Also, not a single sentence was passed and not a criminal case initiated in 2023 under Article 2842 CC on repeated calls for sanctions; there were no such cases in 2022 as well.

Now let us review the enforcement of criminal articles on involvement in extremist organizations and communities.

In 2023, at least 74 wrongful verdicts were passed against 161 people under Article 2822 CC on continuing the activities of an organization banned for extremism (a year earlier, according to our data, 63 wrongful verdicts against 129 people were issued under this article). Of these, 72 sentences against 152 people were imposed for continuing the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses communities (57 against 114 in 2022): 48 people were sentenced to imprisonment (the maximum term was eight years in a minimum-security penal colony), 80 people received suspended sentences, 22 people were fined, and two were sentenced to compulsory labor; additional restrictions were often imposed. Two more verdicts were issued against nine followers of the Turkish Islamic theologian Said Nursi charged with involvement in the banned religious organization Nurcular. The number of people, who wrongfully faced criminal charges under Article 2822 in cases initiated in 2023 reached at least 120, the majority of whom – 107 people – were Jehovah's Witnesses. For comparison, in our 2022 report, we reported 88 persons charged in the new cases under Article 2822 CC, and 77 of them were Jehovah's Witnesses.

We view as inappropriate eight sentences under Article 2823 CC on financing extremist activities issued against 27 people. In 2023, charges under this article, along with others, were brought against at least 16 people.

We noted four wrongful verdicts against nine people under Article 2821 CC on organizing an extremist community and participating in it. One verdict was pronounced against a group of five Scientologists from St. Petersburg, and three other verdicts – against Alexei Navalny and three of his associates. We know of at least 30 more people who inappropriately faced charges under this article throughout 2023, and 21 of them are involved in the Vesna movement case, while the rest are Navalny’s supporters.

As for the anti-terrorist articles of the Criminal Code, as we mentioned above, we view as inappropriate the sentences issued for continuing the activities of the banned Islamic party Hizb ut-Tahrir. Hizb ut-Tahrir supporters are charged under Article 2055 CC (organizing the activities of a terrorist organization or participating in it), sometimes in combination with Article 278 with Article 30 (preparation for forcible seizure of power), less often – Article 2051 (support for terrorist activities). Ten such verdicts were issued in 2023 against 21 people (vs. 20 against 52 in 2022), 17 of whom were Crimean Tatars. The convicted offenders received from 10 to 20 years of imprisonment in a maximum-security colony (only one was sentenced to four years), most often with part of the term to be served in prison and, in some cases, with various additional restrictions. According to our information, at least 13 Muslims became newly involved in similar cases in 2023, 12 of them were from Crimea.

We regarded as clearly inappropriate four sentences against four people under Article 2052 CC on propaganda or justification of terrorism. Seven more such cases were opened against eight people, but courts did not consider them by the end of the year.

Before proceeding to our data on the use of articles of the Code of Administrative Offenses aimed at combating extremism, we would like to reiterate that, in reality, hundreds or even thousands of cases are filed under these articles. Thus, according to the statistics provided by the Judicial Department of the Supreme Court,[30] in the first half of 2023, sanctions under Article 20.3 and 20.3.1 CAO were imposed a total of 2617 times (vs. 5720 for the entire 2022), 1308 times under Article 20.3.3 CAO (vs. 4440 for the entire 2022), and 222 times under Article 20.29 CAO (vs. 869 times for the entire 2022). However, in many cases, we have insufficient information on the reason for the sanctions and are unable to evaluate the extent of their legitimacy.

We consider charges under Article 20.3.3 CAO inappropriate in general, since, from our point of view, statements that fall within its scope should not be limited by law.

According to our information, at least 147 people faced inappropriate sanctions for public display of Nazi, extremist, or other prohibited symbols, that is, under Article 20.3 CAO (we reported 120 in 2022). In 99 cases, the courts imposed a fine, in 41 – an administrative arrest, in one case – a ban on visiting the venues of official sports competitions on the days they are held, and in one case the punishment is unknown. Two cases were dismissed and one person was released from liability due to age.

In 2023, we counted only 38 people wrongfully punished under Article 20.29 CAO on the mass distribution of extremist materials or their storage for the purpose of distribution, which is much fewer than in 2022 (94 people inappropriately punished). In all cases the offenders were individuals. 20 cases pertained to the dissemination on social networks of the video by Navalny’s supporters about the promises of United Russia. In three cases, the law enforcement officers objected to the film Assassination of Russia which discusses the possibility of the FSB’s involvement in organizing the apartment bombings in Russia in 1999. In six cases, sanctions followed for the dissemination of peaceful religious materials. Several cases were related to sharing prohibited songs by rapper Oxxxymiron and the humorous song Kill the Cosmonauts by the Ensemble of Christ the Savior and the Crude Mother Earth on social networks. We know that in 35 out of 38 cases, the courts imposed a fine, in one – an arrest, and in another two cases we have no information about the punishment.

We regard as inappropriate 58 cases when sanctions were imposed under Article 20.3.1 CAO on inciting hatred, enmity, and humiliation of human dignity based on belonging to a social group (a year earlier, we counted 65 such cases). The defendants were 56 individuals. A fine (usually 10 thousand rubles) was imposed in 47 cases, arrest in nine cases, and two cases were closed. The overwhelming majority of cases were based on critical statements made by Internet users against the authorities – most often the president personally or law enforcement agencies.

According to our information, people were punished at least 28 times in 2022 (compared to at least 22 a year earlier) under Article 20.1 Parts 3–5 CAO on the dissemination of information expressing disrespect for the state and society on the Internet in an indecent form. 27 of them were fined (30–80 thousand rubles under Article 20.1 Part 1 CAO and 100–250 thousand rubles under Parts 4 and 5). One case was dismissed.

We know of three cases of sanctions imposed under Article 20.3.2 CAO for calls for violation of the territorial integrity of Russia not accompanied by calls for any violent separatist actions (in 2022, we also recorded three such cases). All three offenders were fined.

We know of only one case when Article 13.48 CAO was used to punish for equating the actions of the USSR and Nazi Germany during the Second World War. A year earlier, we counted five people punished under this article.

We have no information about anyone charged in 2023 under Article 20.3.4 CAO for calling for sanctions against Russia, its organizations, and citizens (a year earlier, it was applied in five cases).

In 2023, we classified as inappropriate the decisions to recognize two organizations as extremist: the “international LGBT movement” and the Congress of the Oirat-Kalmyk people.

The Federal List of Extremist Materials added 82 items in 2023 (entries 5335 through 5416), compared to 81 new entries in 2022. In our opinion, 13 items were included in the list inappropriately (vs. eight in 2022), including the declaration “On the state independence of the Republic of Kalmykia” of the Congress of the Oirat-Kalmyk people, “Citizens of the USSR” leaflets, an article from the Arsenyevskie Vesti newspaper, several satirical songs by rappers, etc. We must 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.




[1] The information provided in the report is based on the materials published in the “Misuse of Anti-Extremism” section of SOVA Center’s website. See: Misuse of Anti-Extremism, SOVA Center (https://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/). The principles of the section can be found on the following page: About Misuse of Anti-Extremism Section // SOVA Center, 2022 (https://www.sova-center.ru/static-pages/anti-about/).

[2] See: What is an “extremist crime” // SOVA Center (https://www.sova-center.ru/directory/2010/06/d19018/).

[3] The new law increases the penalties under certain parts of Article 205 CC (an act of terrorism), Article 2051 CC (contributing to terrorist activity), Article 2054 CC (participating in a terrorist community), Article 275 CC (high treason – up to life imprisonment), Article 281 CC (sabotage), Article 360 CC (assaults on persons or institutions enjoying international protection), and Article 361 CC (an act of international terrorism). The scope of Articles 281 and 360 CC was also expanded.

[4] Including Article 2052 Part 2 CC (propaganda or justification of terrorism), Article 208 CC (organizing an illegal armed formation), Article 212 Part 1 CC (organizing mass riots), Article 2821 CC (organizing an extremist community or participation in it), Article 2822 CC (organizing the activities of or participating in an extremist organization), Article 2823 CC (financing extremist activities), Article 2054 CC (organizing and participating in a terrorist community), Article 2055 CC (organizing the activities of a terrorist organization), Article 278 CC (forcible seizure of power), Article 2073 CC (“fakes” about the army), Article 2121 CC (repeated violation of “the rally legislation”), Article 239 Parts 1 and 2 CC (creation of a non-profit organization that infringes upon the liberties and rights of individuals), Article 2434 CC (destruction or damage to military graves), Article 280 (public calls for extremist activity), Article 2801 CC (public calls for actions violating the territorial integrity of Russia), Article 2802 CC (violation of the territorial integrity of Russia), Article 2803 CC (discrediting the use of Russian armed forces and the activities of government agencies abroad), Article 282 CC (incitement of hatred or enmity, as well as humiliation of human dignity), Article 2841 CC (carrying out the activities of an organization recognized as undesirable), Article 2842 CC (calls for sanctions against Russia, its citizens and organizations), Article 3301 CC (avoidance of responsibilities stipulated by the legislation on foreign agents), Article 3541 CC (rehabilitation of Nazism), and so on.

[5] See: Judicial Statistics // Judicial Department at the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. 2024. March (http://www.cdep.ru/?id=79).

[6] Summary statistical information on criminal records in Russia for the 1st half of 2023 // Judicial Department of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. 2023. October 17 (http://www.cdep.ru/index.php?id=79&item=7900).

[7] Brief description of crime in the Russian Federation for January–December 2023 // Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation. 2024. January 20 (https://xn--b1aew.xn--p1ai/reports/item/47055751/).

[8] For more details, see Commentary on the growing number of convictions under articles on incitement to terrorism and extremism by SOVA Center // SOVA Center. 2022. August 26 (https://www.sova-center.ru/en/misuse/reports-analyses/2022/11/d47023/).

[9] Yudina N, Along the Beaten Track. Anti-extremism law enforcement in Russia in 2023 with regard to countering public statements and organized activity, including radical nationalism // SOVA Center, 2024, March 14 (https://www.sova-center.ru/en/xenophobia/reports-analyses/2024/04/d47074/); hereinafter – Yudina N, Along the Beaten Track...).

[10] On January 25, 2024, the Moscow City Court sentenced Igor Strelkov to four years in a minimum-security penal colony under Article 280 Part 2 CC.

[11] The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly noted that law enforcement agencies should show exceptional tolerance to criticism unless facing a credible threat of violence. The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, in the Resolution “On Judicial Practice in Criminal Cases of Extremist Crimes” dated June 28, 2011, emphasized that the permissible limits of criticism against officials are wider than the permissible limits of criticism of private individuals.

[12] In 2023, we noted one similar new case under Article 2804: Ilfat Gareev from Naberezhnye Chelny left a comment on a social network in which he called on Muslims not to report to enlistment offices, because “to fight for Russia is like fighting for Satan.”

[13] Repressions in Russia in 2023. OVD-Info Review // OVD-Info. 2024. January 17 (https://en.ovdinfo.org/repression-russia-2023-ovd-info-overview#1).

[14] 64 people were convicted under Part 1 of Article 2803 CC and only three – under Part 2, i.e., taking into account the property damage.

[15] 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 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.”

[16] In addition, the manifestation of political or ideological hatred, in and of itself, is not criminalized, and we believe that this motive is appropriately used as an aggravating circumstance only in articles on crimes that pose a serious public danger, namely, in articles on the use of violence.

[17] Sentences for “fakes about the army” motivated by hatred issued in 2023 // SOVA Center. 2024. March (https://www.sova-center.ru/misuse/news/persecution/2023/02/d47622/).

[18] Paragraph “b” of Article 213 Part 1 CC also appeared in one clearly inappropriate verdict in 2023 but in combination with Article 148 CC, see below for more information.

[19] On January 29, 2024, the Tsentralny District Court of Omsk sentenced Artyom Lazarenko to 240 hours of community service under paragraph “b” of Article 213 Part 1 CC.

[20] Apparently, this charge was later excluded from the combined case.

[21] Navalny was charged under Article 280 CC Part 1 in connection with statements by Ufa activist Rustem Mulyukov, under Part 2 of the same article for tweets by FBK operator Pavel Zelensky that contained harsh criticism of the authorities, and under Article 3541 CC – in connection with the collage published by Volgograd activist Alexei Volkov depicting the “The Motherland Calls” monument covered in brilliant green. All of them had already been punished for these acts by the time the case was opened. The grounds, on which Navalny was found guilty of these actions of his supporters, are unclear.

[22] Chanysheva was charged with calling for extremist activities in connection with the same 2017 speech by Mulyukov, which also appeared in the Navalny case.

[23] Yevgeny Roizman was also among those convicted in 2023 under Article 2803 Part 1: in May the court fined him 260 thousand rubles.

[24] In January 2024, Polina Piskeeva received a three-year suspended sentence with eight months of restricted freedom.

[25] 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 and in early 2024 in the United Kingdom after supporting the October 7 attack on Israel), as well as their categorical rejection of democracy and equal rights and recognizing as legitimate violence against the countries, which the party considers as aggressors against the “land of Islam.” 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.

[26] Hereinafter, only sentences that remain in force at the time of writing the report are taken into account.

[27] Yudina N., Along the Beaten Track...

[28] Judicial Statistics // Judicial Department at the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. 2024. March (http://www.cdep.ru/?id=79).

[29] Here we include the case under paragraph “b” of Article 244 Part 2 CC (violation of burial places motivated by political hatred), the verdict on which was issued in 2023.

[30] Official statistics of the Judicial Department of the Supreme Court in the field of combating extremism for the first half of 2023 // SOVA Center. 2023. October 18.