Russian hate speech laws as an instrument of political repressionsTue, 06 Jun, 2017 | Posted By: The Times Of Earth (TOE)

Fyodor  Stolypin
Moscow, Russia  

Meshchansky District court of Moscow had sentenced former director of Moscow library of Ukrainian literature, Natalia Sharina, 60, to 4-year suspended sentence. The essence of the charge was that several books, restricted by the Russian law, were found in the library.  This trial looks like the plot of Ray Bradbury’s masterpiece “Fahrenheit 451”. Unfortunately, in Russia - this is far from a single such criminal case. Notorious Article 282 of russian Criminal code “Inciting hatred or enmity, or humiliation of human dignity” allows to punish for hate speech against such social groups like “hooligans”, “neo-nazis”, “marxists”, “policemen”, “deputies”, “ministers”, “officials” or even “president” (yes, “social group”, consisting of one man!)   

This article is widely used by Putin’s regime for political repressions against opposition and clampdown off all attempts of self-organization of Russian people. In Russian province regional officials also use 282 against political activists and simple citizens, who had went against local authorities or businessmen, affiliated with the governance. 

Wording of this article is very blurred and allows to sentence to a big fine, public works or a long-term imprisonment for practically every public statement including Internet-statements.  

All this actions in Russia are interpreted as an “extremism”. This term is very  blurred in Russian law. In the Shanghai Convention on Combating Terrorism, Separatism, and Extremism, signed by Moscow in 2001, extremism was defined only as violent actions, aimed at seizure of power or encroachment on public safety or separatism. But already by 2008 Russia had included many types of non-violent actions to the term of the “extremism”.

Enlarging of the punishment by Article 282 was among the law amendments of The Yarovaya's Act, adopted in 2016. Prison term has grown to 2-5 years. With aggravating circumstances punishment is already 3-6 years. In Russia you can get this term for the post in social media. For comparison - Russian Penal code provides the same punishment for rape and many other dangerous violent crimes.

In 2011-2015 the number of people, convicted under articles 282, 282.1, 282.2, 282.3, has grown from 137 to 414. Besides, number of people, convicted under articles 280 and 280.1 (“Exhortation to the  extremist  actions”) has also grown from 12 to 69. According to Office of the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation number registered “extremist” crimes in 2015-2016 has grown from 1308 to 1410. The “fault” of most, who was sentenced for the “extremism” was in making posts or comments in the Internet, or pressing buttons “like” or “share” - according to Russian law, such actions are called “distribution of extremist information”.

Criminal cases are often initiated only for statistics. Russian Centers for Combating Extremism (CCE) have to implement plans, so they use the path of least resistance. Instead of searching, for example, ISIS recruiters, they prefer to search simple users, who made Internet statements, which can be identified as “hate speech”.  As a result, even the schoolchildren, posting memes, can become “extremists”.

Practically all criminal cases are based on the posts and comments in the largest social network of Russia and Europe - VK (VKontakte, Russian: Вконтакте). It is 4th most popular site in the world with more than 410 million users. Founder of VK, Pavel Durov, 32, was forced to leave Russia because of political pressure - in 2011-2013, during mass protests in Russia, Durov refused to block protest groups, public pages and events.
  
First of all CCE official searches the statements, which can be regard as “hate speech”. Then he have to identify the author. It is very simple to do this - new VK administration immediately gives all requested information to the law enforcement agencies. For this reason it is hard to be punished for “extremist” posts in Facebook or Twitter in Russia. Administration of American sites usually don’t respond to the requests of Russian officials. Because of this, they often offer to block this sites in Russia. For example, Putin’s Internet counselor, German Klimenko, 50, several times have made such offers. Also, in March 2017 Russian officials has been rumored to plan to slow down foreign sites, which aren’t following the decisions of Russian courts. Of course, this measure will harm Russian Internet-users. Also, experts argue this step to be technically impracticable.

After receiving all requested information CCE officer sends “extremist” statement for examination. Usually “experts” recognize received material as hate speech. Russian lawyers, who specialize on hate speech criminal cases, for example famous advocate Matthew Tszen, often say, that the quality of this examination is very low. For example, one of such “experts”, professor Galina Melnik, 66, had established, that combinations of words like “great Russian folk” are inciting hatred. With justification of this examination, person receives the stigma of a criminal and serious punishment. Also suspected in “extremism” has his bank accounts blocked. Even the court pleads him not guilty, unblocking of the accounts comes not very soon.

Most “extremist” criminal cases amaze by their absurdity. In Moscow now is going a trial against group of left activists from organization “The Call” (Russian: “ Зов ”). Their “crime” is the attempt to organize referendum “About responsibility of government to the people”. Though officials responsibility to the folk is enshrined in Russian Constitution, prosecutor's office says, that members of “The Call” had been inciting hatred to the government officials.

In June 2016 Taganrog citizen Elizabeth Tsvetkova, 31 was sentenced to 1 year of  public works for criticizing police. She has been plead guilty in “Inciting hatred against social group “policemen”.

At the end of last year Moscow citizen Eugene Kort, 20, was condemned to a 1 year of prison for reposting a picture with two people - one of them looks like Russian nationalist Maxim Martsinkevich, 33, another looks like great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. After appeal the sentence was changed to the 200.000 rubles fine (about $3.600). For comparison medium Russian salary is about $650. Money for payment of this fine for Kort had been collected by not indifferent Russian users of the Internet.

At the same time Russian blogger from Tyumen, Aleksey Kungurov, 40, was sentenced to 2,5 years for the Internet-post, in which he said, that Russian Air Forces in Syria are bombing not ISIS, but anti-Assad opposition.

In Perm assistant professor of local university and human rights activist Roman Yushkov, 46, was sentenced to the 350.000 rubles ($6300) fine for calling to boycott of shops, owned by  natives of Azerbaijan, former Soviet Central Asia and Caucasus. Also he is prohibited from teaching for 2 years.

Article 282 is often called “Russian”, because it is widely used against Russian nationalists - for example for еexhortation of introduction of a visa regime with former Soviet republics of Central Asia and  Transcaucasia. For example in January 2017 Saint-Petersburg activist and nationalist  Nikolai Bondarik, 51, was condemned to 5-year suspended sentence with 5 years of probation for VK post, in which he sharply criticized  natives of Russian North Caucasus, who killed Russian MMA-fighter, Ivan Stanin, 20. Young sportsmen had been stabbed in March, 2015.

In April 2017 Russian nationalist Dmitry Demushkin, 38, was condemned to 2,5 years of prison for publishing photos of Russian march-2014. He was punished, though that march was legal procession of Russian right-wing political organizations and police hadn’t complained about it’s slogans.

In 2016 activists of organization “Attack” was sentenced to the terms from 10-month  suspended sentence to 2,5-years real sentence.  “Attack” consisted of young Russian  nationalists, who created internet media about actual political, economic and social problems of Russia. Authors called for democratic reforms, respect of human rights, stopping degradation of Russian social sphere. Also “Attack” members had created discussion club and advertised their organization online and offline. Some of “Attack” members had also participated in war in Donbass on the side of pro-Russian unrecognized republics. But even this fact had not saved activists from the political repressions.

In 2013 founder of National-Democratic party, Konstantin Krylov, 49, was sentenced to 120 hours of public works for statement on the rally, which he had made 2 years before. Krylov had doubted the effectiveness of large-scale subsidies, which federal government sends to Russian  North Caucasus regions, like Chechnya, ruled by Ramzan Kadyrov, 40. Immediate cause for criminal case became Krylov’s phrase “Let’s abandon this strange economic model”. In this way, though many Western politics call president Putin “Russian nationalist”,  it is very dangerous to be real nationalist in Russia. 

282 is not only article, providing for the punishment for the words in Russia. Number of such laws is constantly growing during last several years. Another example is an article about  blasphemy (“Insulting of believers feelings”). It had appeared in Russian Criminal code after the famous action of Pussy Riot punk rock group inside Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior in 2012. This article  provides for punishment till 3 years of imprisonment or public works, or fine. Even though it’s impossible to give juridical evaluation of terms like “feelings” or “insulting”, criminal cases under this article appearing in Russia more and more often. All the more so, small but active groups of Russian religious activists are always ready to “be insulted” for every reason or even without it.

One off the last examples is the case of popular YouTube vlogger from  Yekaterinburg Ruslan Sokolovsky, 22. In August 2016 he posted video in which he is playing Pokemon Go in one of the city Orthodox Churches. Now this video has about 2 million views, 60.000 likes and 16.000 comments. Soon  Sokolovsky had been arrested and placed to  pre-trial detention. Later Sokolovsky was placed to house arrest. Apart from hate speech and insulting of believers feelings he had been accused in possession of a pen with camera (according to absurd Russian law, it’s also a crime). Prosecutor demanded to sentence Sokolovsky to 3,5 years of prison. The final punishment was 3,5-year suspended sentence. Though UN had repeatedly recommended to Russian Government to abolish the article about blasphemy, the situation isn’t changing.

Furthermore, in Russia you can also be punished even for publication of anti-Nazi caricatures or archive photos of World War II - if the image contains Nazi symbols like swastika. Even you had published this files in the context of the condemnation of Nazism, law enforcement organs can convict you in “distribution of the extremist information” (to 15 days of prison). Also this law allows to punish for distribution of many other images, which looks like Nazi symbols - for example Buddhist symbol of the sun or ancient Slavic runes, or finish swastika which is still depicted on the president's standard of Finland.

Also Russian officials constantly offer with new mad initiatives, directed against the freedom of speech. For example, deputy of the State Duma, Vitaly Milonov, 43, had  come up with a bill, restricting of pseudonyms in social networks under the threat of the 5.000 rubles (90$) fine. Also Milonov had offered to require users to provide passport data during the registration in social networks. Either his bill consists the ban of social media for the users under 14 and restriction of informing about protest rallies through social networks. Fortunately this law had not been adopted. But in itself the fact, that Russian deputies are spending their working time (which is paid for by Russian  taxpayer’s money) for inventing insane initiatives, is scandalous. 
 
Russian nationalistic and part of liberal opposition insisting on the cancellation of the article 282 and similar laws. The most famous Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, 41, is known as the sequential opponent of the article 282. Also in March 2017 head of the campaign headquarters, Leonid Volkov, 36, had been charged under article 282. Well-known Russian blogger, Anton Nosik, 50, in 2016 sentenced under article 282 to the 300.000 rubles ($5400 fine), had placed a petition  for cancellation of article 282 to the roi.ru - official petitioning system of Russian government. For now this petition is signed by 14.000 people. But for example another oppositionist, Lev Shlosberg, 53, in one of his interviews said, that article 282 should stay in Russian Criminal code. His point of view is supported by the part of Russian liberals. 
  
Also in Russia there are several organizations, defending freedom of speech in the Internet. For example, Roscomsvoboda (it is named in the tune with the government agency Roscomnadzor (Russian: “Роскомнадзор”),  Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Telecom, Information Technologies and Mass Communications, which is responsible for blocking of Internet-sites ). Volunteers of this organization are conducting various campaigns against restrictive government measures, monitoring the activities of government agencies on Internet regulation, protecting human rights.

Unfortunately, Russian government is still ignoring the demands of civil society. It is  continuing to engage in the suppression of freedom of speech and fighting any activity, including non-political.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect The Times Of Earth's editorial policy. 
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