By Paul Goble
Mariya Kravchenko, a specialist on extremist crimes for the SOVA monitoring center, says that approximately 95 percent of all charges of extremism brought by Russian officials involve postings of various kinds on the Internet, just one of the reasons why the country’s anti-extremism laws are being applied indiscriminately and incorrectly.
Not only does it mean that most charges in this area are about speech rather than action, but it allows the authorities to define the nature of the charges they want to make before doing any investigation, she says. As a result, “ever more people are being convicted of extremism” (https://mbk.media/suzhet/pochemu-vse-bolshe-lyudej-sudyat/).
Her conclusions are based on analyses SOVA experts have performed on data recently released by the Russian Supreme Court (sova-center.ru/religion/news/extremism/counter-extremism/2018/04/d39283/ and kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5AE43BB23475C). They show the following:
- The number of people charged for inciting hatred rose from 502 in 2016 to 571 in 2017;
- The number charged in 2017 for public calls for conducting extremist activities rose to 170;
- And the number charged with propagandizing terrorism rose to 96. In addition, eight were convicted of calling for separatism, eight for the rehabilitation of Nazism, and ten for offending the feelings of believers.
Kravchenko says that “the term ‘extremism’ is in general very problematic, and we try not to use it,” even though Russian investigators, prosecutors and courts employ it in an indiscriminate fashion. Especially elastic is the paragraph of Article 282 about inciting hatred, and that may be why it is used more often than the others.
Despite the fact that this law has been on the books for more than 15 years and that the Supreme Court has issued a special order on how it is to be applied, there remain many problems connected with its application and sometimes clear evidence of direct misuse, the SOVA analyst says.
Similar if somewhat few problems involve the application of other paragraphs. The one about violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation has been used to block any discussion of the regions, that about rehabilitating Nazism to prevent discussing historical issues, and the one about offending believers has been applied often without justification.
Igor Golovko, a lawyer for the FMG Group, says that another problem with the application of anti-extremism laws is that investigators often interview someone they plan to charge without an attorney being present and thus get a confession before any legal procedures are in place.
Kravchenko says that “the growth in the number of prosecutions for propaganda over the Internet since the mid-2000s is connected with the fact that the number of users has grown while the number of independent spaces for discussion has contracted. As a result, independent discussion has shifted to the Internet.”
The authorities are frightened by this trend and they also have discovered that going after people who post things on the Internet is far easier than going after those who may actually be engaged in extremist activity.