22.11.22 Repressions Review

The Fight Against Vandalism, Punitive Psychiatry, and the Criminalization of Geography: Major Trends in the Repressive Activities of the Russian Authorities

The repressive strategies of the Russian authorities are aimed at squeezing famous people who openly oppose the war out of the country, the increasing use of prejudice mechanisms — the institution of criminal cases based on existing administrative penalties, and the brutal fight against anti-war visual agitation with the help of an article on "vandalism". Once again, the scope of "anti-extremist" articles is expanding, through which the authorities, among other things, want to criminalize the image of Ukraine and Russia on geographical maps within their internationally recognized borders. The trend toward the restoration of punitive psychiatry practices is becoming increasingly noticeable. These conclusions can be made from regular monitoring of the Russian authorities' repressive activity by the "Sova" Information and Analytical Center.
In its reviews of the Russian authorities' repressive activities in September and October, the "Sova" Center mentions at least 18 criminal cases opened during that time under Article 280.3 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation on discrediting the armed forces. The grounds for these cases included posts on social media, destruction of "patriotic" banners, distribution of leaflets, and demonstration of the Ukrainian flag. Most cases were initiated against people who had already been brought to administrative responsibility for demonstrating an anti-war stance. That's how the order of prejudice was established when a repeated administrative offense leads to criminal prosecution. Since the beginning of the war Russian courts have handed down about 5000 administrative sentences under anti-war articles; all of their defendants can now face criminal prosecution if they clash with the police again.

"Sova" review also suggests that the Russian authorities are increasingly deliberately using these or other charges as a way to push unwanted people out of the country or to prevent them from returning. For example, Tverskoi district court in Moscow has twice sentenced politician Leonid Gozman to 15 days in jail under Article 13.48 of the Code of Administrative Offences of the Russian Federation ("Identification of goals, decisions, and actions of the USSR and Nazi Germany"). Gozman's post on LiveJournal from May 12, 2013, has served as a clearly far-fetched ground. Meanwhile, numerous searches of the "Golos" movement members in various Russian cities, including its Moscow office, were carried out as part of the criminal case initiated in Ivanovo against election observer Mikhail Gusev. Apparently, this is how the authorities want to end the movement's activities in Russia — by forcing its members to leave the country, as it has been done previously against numerous Anti-Corruption Foundation activists and organizers. 

The "historical" article was used against Gozman, but in its "criminal" variation (Art. 354. 1 of the Criminal Code, "spreading deliberately false information about the activities of the USSR during World War II") was used against Arkhangelsk activist Ruslan Akhmetshin, who was sentenced to two and a half years in a penal colony for VKontakte post where he called the Victory Day parade "a vulgar carnival" and also wrote about the interaction between the USSR and Nazi Germany before June 1941. The prosecution described these posts as "deliberately false statements about the involvement of the USSR in the World War II outbreak. So, as expected, the article starts to be used to criminalize mentions of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

In September and October 2011 Article 20.29 of the Administrative Code of the Russian Federation, "on production and distribution of extremist materials," was significantly amended. Previously, the article only applied to the distribution of materials from the official list, but now it implies liability for the distribution of materials that are not on the list, but which, according to law enforcement officials, fit the deliberately vague definition of "extremism". The same package of legislative initiatives proposes that the definition of "extremist materials" in the frame law include "cartographic and other images and products that challenge the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation". Therefore, maps depicting Ukraine and Russia in their internationally recognized borders would be illegal on Russian territory, and only maps showing Russia in its internationally unrecognized borders would be allowed.

"Anti-extremist" articles of the Criminal Code (Articles 280, 282-282.4) continue to be used to prosecute Navalny's supporters. Article 282.1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation ("organization of an extremist community") was imputed to Alexey Vorsin, the former head of Navalny's headquarters in Khabarovsk (he is currently outside the country). In addition, in September and October, five people were searched under the same articles, two of them were sent to jail, one was released with a written undertaking not to leave, and two more were released without any preventive measures. One guilty verdict was overturned: the court of the Jewish Autonomous Region has approved the appeal of Natalia Krieger, convicted under Article 282.2 part 2 of the Criminal Code.

The Russian authorities wage an unexpectedly brutal war against visual propaganda, using the article on "vandalism motivated by political hatred" (Article 214.2 of the Criminal Code). For example, in October in St. Petersburg, the court sentenced Nikolay Vorotnev, who painted shield covers of two howitzers from World War II times, located near the museum of artillery, in the colors of the Ukrainian flag. It is requested that compulsory medical measures in the form of treatment in a psychiatric hospital will be applied to Kizelvater. The Russian repressive machine's return to the practice of punitive psychiatry, widespread in the late Soviet Union, becomes increasingly assertive.