By Paul Goble
Despite widespread expectations to the contrary, amendments in 2013 to Russian law setting criminal punishments for offending the religious feelings of others have not generated a large number of cases or become an instrument of repression, according to the first-ever study of the law’s application.
Compiled by the Agora Human Rights organization, the 13-page report which the group entitles “Liberalization Russian-Style” (docs.rferl.org/ru-RU/2019/05/15/2c34ddd0-e18a-479a-949f-9bef068e6cad.pdf) reports that despite or perhaps because of the publicity surrounding the application of this law, there have been few cases, especially over the last several years.
Official Russian government statistics should there were 27 sentences imposed in 2014, the first full year of the law’s applicability. That number fell to 10 in 2017 and eight last year. Moreover, in contrast to the first years, most of the cases in the last two have involved Internet posts rather that personal interaction or the traditional media.
Damir Gaynutdinov, one of the report’s authors, says that Agora decided to conduct this study for two reasons. On the one hand, many people believe that the peak of the law’s application has passed, something that the numbers do not confirm. And on the other, no such study had been prepared before (svoboda.org/a/29940416.html).
He adds that one of the reasons that the number of cases brought under this paragraph of the criminal code is relatively small is that the judicial authorities have many other paragraphs they can use and are themselves more familiar with. If they knew more about this paragraph, there might be more cases brought under it
Fortunately, they don’t. But unfortunately, many of the other paragraphs impose even more lengthy sentences and thus are even more chilling in their application.