Unjust, Surreal, Sublime, Ridiculous (USSR): Anti-Extremism Laws In Modern Russia

The Kremlin doesn’t want you to listen, watch, or access dissent.

Today, the Moscow-based SOVA Center for Information and Analysis released its annual overview of Russia’s Misuse of Anti-Extremism Laws. Over the past four-six years, inappropriate enforcement of anti-extremist legislation in Russia has practically become a universal repressive instrument to be used against dissenting groups. A greater share of such repressions still has to do with religion than with political affiliation, despite the fact that political repressions and cases involving artists and civil activists get much greater publicity.

Here are twelve examples of Russia’s abuse of anti-extremism legislation that made big-ticket international press over the years.

1. Pussy Riot Convicted

The case heard around the world, Pussy Riot’s prosecution is a great example of how Russia misuses anti-extremism legislation. In 2013, three women from the collective were convicted under article 213 (part 2) of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred or hostility.” While all the women are now free, their videos are still banned from distribution in Russia.

2. Political Opponents Supressed

Andrey Smirnov / AFP / Getty Images

The SOVA Center’s report notes that in 2012, 14 activists of Eduard Limonov’s banned National Bolshevik Party were prosecuted for various forms of “extremism.” In 2013, only two of Limonov’s comrades were convicted (receiving suspended sentences) for incitement to hatred.

Instead, the government’s focus shifted to the supporters of Alexei Navalny, a blogger turned Moscow mayoral election candidate whose “Crooks and Thieves in The Kremlin” slogans are drawing more attention by law enforcement.

3. Religious Believers Drowned in Lawsuits

AFP / Getty Images

Forum 18, a religious freedom watchdog, has been following multiple cases of anti-extremism misuse directed at religious believers. It’s incredibly easy to declare official materials as “extremist” and go after proselytizing members of “imported” faiths. As Forum 18 notes, “Official pursuit of religious ‘extremism’ may continue widening beyond the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslim readers of Said Nursi’s works now routinely facing prosecution. Possession of ‘extremist’ texts renders the possessor liable to criminal prosecution.”

4. The Bhagavad Gita Put On Trial

Indranil Mukherjee / AFP / Getty Images

In June 2011, the prosecutor’s office in the Siberian city of Tomsk charged a translation of The Bhagavad Gita As It Is with religious extremism. Local university scholars scrutinized the text, finding passages that incited religious, social, and racial intolerance. Thankfully, the case was dismissed and the prosecutor’s final appeal denied in 2012.

5. Sochi Pride House Denied Registration

The 2012 Krasnodar regional court decision denying registration to Sochi Pride House states that “propaganda of nontraditional sexual orientation” is a direct threat to Russian society, while calling attempts to confront homophobia “extremist” because they inherently “incite social and religious hatred.” The court went on to argue that such extremist activities present a threat to “Russia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

6. Art Curators Fined

Oxana Onipko / AFP / Getty Images

In 2009, museum director Yury Samodurov and prominent curator Andrei Yerofeev faced up to five years in prison for “inciting hatred and offending human dignity.” They organized a controversial art exhibit in Moscow. Samodurov and Yerofeev were ultimately convicted and punished with hefty fines ($6,500 and $5,000).

7. Mickey Mouse Banned

Alexander Savko’s controversial painting depicting Mickey Mouse preaching as Jesus Christ was banned as extremist and religiously offensive from exhibitions, TV, and magazines. The work was included in the 2007 Forbidden Art show, which landed Erofeyev and Samodurov in the courtroom.

8. ‘Extremist Materials’ Blacklisted

The Federal List of Extremist Materials currently stands at 2,294 entries describing works that are banned in Russia. Producing, storing, or distributing the materials on the list is an offense. Critics continue to stress the utility of the list, citing numerous concerns over the way items are added and how cases are prosecuted in courts.

9. Voina Activists Harassed and Jailed

Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert / Getty Images

According to street-art group Voina, there have been at least 20 criminal investigations into their activities since 2008. Oleg Vorotnikov and Leonid Nikolaev spent four months in detention for the Palace Revolution action, but charges were dropped because the damage claim didn’t stand up in court. Voina’s police-baiting giant penis graffiti on a drawbridge that rose in front of the Federal Security Service’s (FSB in Russian) headquarters in Saint Petersburg won them a state-sponsored “artistic innovation” prize of $14,000, which the group donated to a legal defense fund in support of civic activists.

10. Bloggers and Journalists Exiled

This is how the government got rid of Mark Ames and The Exile magazine:

“The officials asked us why Limonov was in our paper. Did we know much about him? Why did we publish him? Why was he on our masthead as a contributor? They asked to see an example of a recent Limonov column—the first one I pulled out was titled ‘Mr. Limonov on Mr. Medvedev’—I quickly shoved it under a pile and grabbed the next column I could find. They took that issue, and two others, with them, and told us that they’d have experts translate and check to see if we’d violated laws on printing ‘extremism,’ ‘inciting national hatred,’ ‘pornography,’ and ‘pro-drugs propaganda.’”

While Ames returned stateside, Russian bloggers and journalists facing similar persecution have fewer options. Maxim Efimov, for example, had to flee Russia and seek asylum abroad.

11. High-Profile Neo-Nazi Framed

David Gannon / AFP / Getty Images

Maxim “The Hatchet” Martsinkevich is a controversial hero of Russia’s Neo-Nazi underground. But the latest case against him is likely rigged and unfair. Martsinkevich is currently held in pre-trial detention, where he went on a hunger strike protesting the trial for posting three self-made videos, which he distributed on his page on Vkontakte, the Russian Facebook-like platform where he has more than 100,000 subscribers.

12. Everybody and Their Brother Warned by ROSKOMNADZOR

ROSKOMNADZOR — The Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media — has already blocked 85 websites in 2014. The agency is routinely in the news with wag-of-the-finger warnings about “extremism” found online and in mass media. Trust Mark Ames: you don’t want to be “warned” about “extremism.”

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