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Russian Blogger Launches Campaign to Annul Anti-Extremism Law He Was Convicted of Violating

Source: VKontakte

Source: VKontakte

Anton Nossik, a leading blogger who was fined 500,000 rubles ($8,000) in October for a LiveJournal post in which he called on Russia to “wipe Syria from the face of the earth,” has launched a campaign to remove from the Russian Criminal Code the law he was convicted of violating.

The law, Article 282, is a catch-all statute that prohibits “Actions aimed at the incitement of hatred or enmity, as well as abasement of dignity of a person or a group of persons on the basis of sex, race, nationality, language, origin, attitude to religion, as well as affiliation to any social group, if these acts have been committed in public or with the use of mass media,” and has been widely condemned for being overly harsh and infringing on fundamental rights: an individual can be found guilty even if her action does not lead to any violence and, since the introduction of the so-called Yarovaya Law earlier this year, sentenced to up to five years in prison.

After being fined, Nossik submitted his proposal to “Russian Public Initiative” (ROI), a website designed to filter proposals from the private citizens through to the federal government. Nearly two months later, he received a response from ROI saying that his proposal had been approved and that a petition would be posted on the website beginning on November 30. Russian citizens over 18 years old who register through a government portal will be able to vote for or against the petition until November 30, 2017. The proposal needs 100,000 supporting votes in order to be sent to the federal government for discussion.

The petition reads:

Статья 282 УК РФ о «действиях, направленных на возбуждение ненависти либо вражды» сформулирована таким образом, что допускает огромное количество злоупотреблений, произвольных трактовок, и создаёт почву для уголовных дел за «преступления мысли». Не существует ни одного документа и ни одного судебного решения, в котором было бы внятно прописано, какие высказывания подлежат квалификации как «экстремистские», а какие подпадают под конституционную норму защиты свободы слова. В последние годы мы видим постоянный рост числа случаев, когда эта статья использовалась для преследования инакомыслящих, подавления свободы печатного слова, просто сведения личных счетов между региональными силовиками и критикующими их общественными деятелями. Также известно немало случаев, когда совершенно случайных людей преследовали по этой статье просто «для галочки», для выполнения плана определённых силовиков по «борьбе с экстремизмом». За 21 год её существования статья многократно переписывалась, и каждый раз — в сторону ужесточения наказания. Но внятного определения «экстремизма» в ней как не было, так и не появилось.

Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code, “actions aimed at the incitement of hatred or enmity” is formulated in such a way that it allows for a huge amount of abuse, arbitrary interpretation, and lays the groundwork for the prosecution of “thought crimes.” There is not a single document and not a single court decision that spells out which statements qualify as “extremism” and which are constitutionally protected as freedom of speech. In recent years, we have seen a constant increase in the number of times this article has been used to prosecute dissidents, to suppress freedom of the press, including of personal accounts that criticize regional security officials and their public activity. There have also been a number of times that completely random people have been prosecuted under this article simply “for show,” as part of the security services’ “fight against extremism.” In the 21 years of its existence, this article has been rewritten numerous times, and every time it becomes more severe. Still, however, it does not contain a clear definition of “extremism.”

“The time has come to act together,” Nossik wrote on his LiveJournal account on Saturday. “Links, shares, retweets, likes, maximal reposts of information about the fact that the initiative is up for a vote, could and are needed to support it…Creative visual agitation is also welcome. So please, draw banners [and] pictures for Instagram, any kind of beauty to be spread…”

Russian courts have increasingly used Article 282, often known as an “anti-extremism law,” to silence opposition: in 2015 alone 414 people were convicted under the law, up from 137 in 2011. In addition to international opposition, some Russian lawmakers have criticized the law as being overly broad, allowing courts to convict individuals for political rather than legal reasons. Earlier this year, Mikhail Degtyarev, Alexei Didenko and Ivan Sukharev, politicians from the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, introduced a bill that would annul Article 282 into the State Duma. The bill called for its nullification because it opens the door to the prosecution of “any citizen because of his different ideological views.” The bill has not been adopted and Article 282 remains on the books.

On Tuesday, Nossik posted a Q&A for his readers on his LiveJournal page outlining reasons to vote for the petition. Article 282, he said, is a law “whose benefits have not been observed, but whose abuses are huge in number. The elasticity of Article 282 makes it possible to prosecute art curators and VKontakte users who post anti-racist caricatures equally.”

Как же бороться с экстремизмом, расизмом, ксенофобией, если эта статья будет отменена? В российском законодательстве предусмотрено больше дюжины разных статей для уголовного и административного преследования за экстремистскую деятельность, позволяющих привлекать к ответственности правонарушителей за конкретные совершённые ими деяния, а также за членство в экстремистских и террористических организациях. Особенность 282-й статьи состоит в том, что она приравнивает к делам высказанные вслух мысли, мнения, и даже простое выражение согласия с чужими словами. Таким образом, практика по 282-й статье, в сущности, мешает реальной борьбе с преступлениями на почве расовой и религиозной нетерпимости, отвлекая правоохранительный ресурс на деяния, не представляющие никакой общественной опасности.

How would authorities fight extremism, racism, and xenophobia if the law is annulled? There are more than a dozen Russian criminal and administrative laws on extremist activity that allow violators to be held responsible for specific acts and for participation in extremist and terrorist organizations. Article 282 equates actions with the expression of thoughts, opinions, and even agreement with others’ words. So in practice, Article 282 interferes with the real fight with criminality motivated by racial and religious intolerance, diverting law enforcement resources to activity that does not present any danger to society.

Насколько эта проблема вообще актуальна? Ведь по 282-й статье привлекают к уголовной ответственности всего несколько сотен человек в год. Практика уголовного преследования за преступления мысли чрезвычайно соблазнительна для карательных органов. Назначать «злодеев» с помощью Гугла и Яндекса проще, чем ловить настоящих преступников на улице, вести агентурную работу в экстремистском подполье, собирать улики. Поэтому практика по 282-й растёт в последние годы как раковая опухоль, в то время как профилактики реальных преступлений на почве нетерпимости мы вообще не видим. С учётом тенденции роста дел по 282-й за последнее пятилетие, уже в 2017 году счёт обвиняемым пойдёт уже на тысячи, а процент оправданных по этой статье к сегодняшнему дню равен нулю.

Is this really real problem? Only a couple hundred people are found guilty of violating Article 282 per year. Criminally prosecuting thought crimes is extremely tempting to security organs. Identifying “villains” using Google and Yandex is easier than catching real criminals on the street, doing undercover work in the extremist underground, and gathering clues. And so prosecutions under Article 282 have grown like a cancerous tumor in recent years, while at the same time we have not see the prevention of any real crimes. Given the increased tendency to prosecute under Article 282 over the past five years, in 2017 we could see the number of accused rise into the thousands, while the percent of justified prosecutions according this law approaches zero.

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