27.07.23 Repressions Review

Scope and Duration: Analysis of repression in Russia reveals that although the overall magnitude of these actions has not significantly increased, their severity has heightened over time

In late 2022 and early 2023, the frequency of new criminal cases linked to the persecution of anti-war views showed a steady increase. However, in recent months, monitoring by OVD-Info indicates a slight reduction in the number of both newly opened cases and court verdicts related to such matters. This slowdown could be attributed to possible seasonal effects during the summer. Nonetheless, it is crucial to note that the severity of repressive measures has significantly intensified during the first half of 2023. This increase is evident not only in the number of verdicts issued but also in the notable rise of sentences imposing actual prison terms, with a sharp upsurge in the duration of these sentences. In 2023, the average term of imprisonment in cases related to anti-war views surpassed five years, while it was limited to two years during the initial months of the anti-war crackdown in 2022. While the number of administrative prosecutions for anti-war stances decreased in 2022, it stabilised at approximately 300 cases per month in 2023. As a result, the overall extent of repression is not expanding, but is becoming more severe, seemingly attempting to compensate for the stabilisation in the frequency of these cases through intimidation. Notably, the most common reason for both criminal and administrative prosecution is statements made on social media, accounting for about 40% of all cases.

July data confirms the trend of declining numbers of new criminal cases brought under the 'anti-war' articles. According to the most recent monthly repression monitoring conducted by OVD-Info, there were 26 newly reported cases in July. By comparison, in June, 29 cases were recorded, in May, 47, and in April, 50. During July, approximately 20 cases were initiated under the articles related to discrediting the army (Article 280.3) and spreading false information about the army (Article 207.3). The project's database indicates that the number of individuals involved in criminal cases concerning their anti-war views has increased to 636 people since the beginning of the conflict. This marks an increase from 603 individuals last month, with some cases being discovered retrospectively.

As per the monthly summary provided by OVD-Info, there were 14 new criminal verdicts in July related to the prosecution of anti-war views. Furthermore, a separate specialised analysis delved into the nature and trends of verdicts in anti-war cases spanning from March 2022 to June 2023. During the period from March to December 2022, there were 73 verdicts, with 20 of these resulting in actual prison terms (28%). In the first six months of 2023, the number of verdicts increased to 114, with 58 resulting in actual prison sentences (50%). This indicates that, in 2022, the intensity of criminal repression amounted to an average of nine verdicts per month, with 2.2 resulting in actual prison terms. In stark contrast, in 2023, the monthly figure rose to 19 verdicts, with 9.5 resulting in real prison sentences.

Dynamics of court sentences for protesting against the war, 2022-2023

Moreover, not only has the number of verdicts resulting in actual prison terms increased, but the length of these sentences has also grown. From March to August 2022, the average sentence was 25 months (two years), while between September and November 2022, it rose to 37 months (three years). In the period from January to June 2023, the average sentence increased further to 63 months, which exceeds five years. Various offences led to these real prison terms, including posts on social media (35 cases, over 40%), public statements (13 cases), arson (13 cases), or attempted arson (7 cases), destruction of patriotic symbols (6 cases), and violence against a police officer (5 cases). Among the 63 verdicts, 43 were issued under the article on the creation of 'fakes about the army' (Article 207.3), 24 for vandalism (Article 214), 14 for 'discrediting' the armed forces (Article 280.3), 18 for justifying and promoting terrorism or calling for it (Article 205.2), and 11 for the destruction or damage of property (Article 167).

Those who managed to avoid actual imprisonment were more commonly sentenced to fines (46 verdicts), probation (37), house arrest (29), and community service (13).

The number of cases involving administrative prosecution for anti-war views (Article 20.3.3 of the Code of Administrative Offences) in the OVD-Info database increased to 7,430 in July, up from 7,182 cases the previous month. Looking at a broader trend, in the initial months after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, around 900 cases were initiated each month. From June to October, this figure dropped to 450 cases, and from November 2022 to June 2023, it plateaued at around 300 cases per month. In July, 135 new cases were registered, but this number is expected to increase significantly in retrospect, based on the experience from previous months. Therefore, it is premature to identify any new trend at this point. Nonetheless, over the 17 months of the war, there has been a downward trend in the number of administrative cases being recorded.

Dynamics of new administrative cases opened under the article on 'discrediting the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation' (Article 20.3.3 of the Code of Administrative Offences), 2022-2023

Anthropologist Alexandra Arkhipova has presented the findings of a volunteer-led assessment of 'themes' identified in administrative cases, based on the analysis of 6,900 cases from the 'Justice' automated system. First place is confidently occupied by 'posts, comments, likes, avatars,' in other words, statements on social media (42% of all cases). Protests and rallies, i.e. public demonstrations, have fallen into second place (30%), followed by graffiti, stickers, blue and yellow clothing, or the use of symbols (12%), and 'conversations: schools, courtyards, churches,' that is 'verbal expressions' in semi-public spaces (9%). Arkhipova notes that the increase in the proportion of the latter type of cases compared to a year ago indicates a rise in 'informing on others.'

Thus, several conclusions can be drawn about the dynamics and characteristics of anti-war repression in Russia. The trend of opening new criminal cases showed a steady rise in late 2022 and early 2023, but in recent months there has been a slight decrease in both the number of convictions and new cases (although this decrease could be attributed to seasonal effects during the summer). At the same time, the severity of repression experienced a notable increase in the first half of 2023. This escalation was evident not only in the overall number of sentences but also in the growing percentage of sentences resulting in actual prison terms, along with a sharp increase in the length of these terms. In 2023, the average prison term handed down by the court was five years, compared to two years in the initial stages of anti-war repression in 2022. The number of administrative prosecutions for anti-war views saw a decline in 2022, before stabilising at 300 cases per month in 2023. As a consequence, the overall scope of repressive actions does not appear to be increasing, but their severity has intensified, seemingly aiming to compensate for the stabilisation in the frequency of these cases through intimidation. At the same time, the most frequent reason for both criminal and administrative prosecution is statements made on social media, making up about 40% of all cases.