Human rights activist: ‘Absurd’ application of extremism laws in Russia today threatens everyone

While Russian law enforcement agencies fight "extremism" in the Internet, libraries, and museums, they authorize annual marches of far-right nationalists in the streets of the country's major cities. (Image: EPA)

While Russian law enforcement agencies fight "extremism" in the Internet, libraries, and museums, they authorize annual marches of far-right nationalists in the streets of the country's major cities. (Image: EPA) 

2015/06/18 • Analysis & Opinion, Russia

Aleksandr Verkhovsky of the SOVA human rights monitoring organization says that the Ukrainian crisis and competition among Russian force agencies to distinguish themselves has led to a dramatic rise in the number and “absurdity” of extremist cases, thereby creating a situation in which today almost any Russian could fall victim to such charges.

In today’s “Novyye izvestiya,” journalist Elena Ryzhkova, who interviewed the SOVA expert provides some appalling recent examples of just how far the FSB, prosecutors and others are now prepared to go to bring charges under the provisions of the country’s anti-extremist legislation.

Among the “absurd” cases she describes are the following:

  • A Sochi antiquarian was charged with promoting Nazi ideas and thus violating the law because he attempted to sell online a Nazi-era uniform. Fortunately, a local court tossed out the charges but not because judges found this application of the law ridiculous but on a technicality: the statute of limitations had expired.
  • An Omsk museum director was threatened with similar charges for displaying a copy of the statue of Christ in Rio de Janeiro made out of trash.
  • A Rostov businessman with a reputation as “a grammar Nazi” was called in by the state prosecutor’s office and asked “whether or not he experienced a desire to destroy people who make language mistakes.”
  • A Jewish high school in Yekaterinburg had its copies of the Torah and Tanah confiscated because local officials wanted to examine these ancient holy texts for “extremism.”
  • The operator of the Museum of Anti-Bolshevik Resistance had his copy of “Truth and Lies about ‘De-Cossackization” confiscated by authorities who said that book was “extremist.”
  • School officials in Chelyabinsk were questioned about a survey they did about extremism and countering it because law enforcement personnel said that the poll itself contained “extremist” questions. The head of the education administration there was let off with a warning.
  • A Moscow journalist investigating deaths in Russian prisons had her research notes and other documents confiscated because the law enforcement agency involved said all of them needed to be examined for “extremism.”
  • And a Smolensk journalist was fined for “the public demonstration of Nazi symbols” after she posted online an archive photograph of the yard of her home during the time of the German occupation of her city 70 plus years ago.

Until relatively recently, Verkhovsky says, the authorities used “extremism” legislation primarily to go after nationalists and radical religious activists, but now they are prepared to use it against all and sundry. The only positive aspect is that so far most of the new wave of charges are administrative rather than criminal, but how long that will last is anyone’s guess.

Edited by: A. N.

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  • John Shirley

    It would seem that “Communism” this time around may be worse than the last.

  • Dean Venture

    Is every day in Russia ‘opposite day’? Domestic NGOs are enemy foreign agents, and progressives are labelled extremists?

    • Nowhere Girl

      It would seem so. They also say they are “fighting against fascism in Ukraine” while bordering on fascism themselves…

      • Dean Venture

        I’m never sure if they are just really cynical, or crazy enough to believe their own hype. I’m starting to lean towards crazy.