26.10.23 Repressions Review

Dictatorship's Routine: The number of convictions and new cases against disloyal individuals is declining, but repression remains high

The stabilisation and even slight decrease in actual repression, including the number of new administrative and criminal cases and convictions, is becoming an increasingly apparent trend. This aligns with what Re:Russia has previously reported and is now establishing itself as a consistent pattern. So far, 38 new criminal cases are known to have been opened for the expression of anti-war views in October, a slight increase on the level observed in previous months. The number of convictions handed-down, which stands at 14, is in line with the past few months and is significantly lower than the monthly average during the first half of the year. Moreover, the number of 'anti-war' administrative cases is continuing to decline. However, the level of repressive pressure remains high, a matter which is manifested in the severity of sentences, the systematic use of physical violence by law enforcement against those critical of the war, and ongoing extrajudicial pressure related to anti-war views. There has been a noticeable shift in focus, with the repressive authorities increasingly targeting journalists and activists who have left the country, making them subjects of new criminal and administrative cases and adding them to lists of 'foreign agents’.

In Russia, the dynamics of persecution for expressing anti-war sentiments remains stable, with 38 individuals facing new criminal cases in October, according to the latest update from OVD-Info. This figure is only slightly higher than the numbers seen during the summer months (26 in July, 29 in August, and 36 in September). Of these cases, 12 were brought under Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code, which concerns 'spreading knowingly false information about the armed forces.' Five cases were brought under Article 280.3, 'discrediting', eight for 'justifying terrorism' (Article 205.2), and six for 'rehabilitating Nazism' (Article 354.1, although it pertains to 'defilement' of the monument to 'heroes of the SMO'). Prominent animators Oleg Kuvayev (creator of 'Masyanya') and Pavel Muntyan (creator of 'Mr. Freeman') are among those who have been targeted, as is municipal deputy Alexey Gorinov, who is facing a new case.

In addition, the courts have handed down 16 new convictions to individuals for holding anti-war views, with half of these resulting in actual prison sentences. This is on par with the previous month's figures (14 new convictions) and is almost half the average number of monthly convictions seen over the past six months (an average of 28 convictions per month). As of the end of October, OVD-Info has recorded 748 criminal cases and 208 convictions related to anti-war views. Nearly half of these cases (350) concern the dissemination of 'knowingly false information' about the Russian military (Article 207.3) and 'discrediting' the armed forces(Article 280.3). These two seemingly similar articles hark back to the logic of repressive Soviet legislation, which also distinguished between 'evaluative judgments' (Article 70 of the USSR Criminal Code concerning 'anti-Soviet agitation') and their dissemination (Article 190.1, concerning 'spreading knowingly false fabrications').

The number of administrative cases for 'discrediting' (Article 20.3.3 of the Administrative Code) has continued to decline, with OVD-Info reporting 112 such cases in October. In the three months prior, the average was 233 cases per month, while from January to June, OVD-Info documented an average of 284 cases per month. In October, 15 cases were immediately drawn up against Ilya Khrapko, a resident of St Petersburg, for various posts on Vkontakte.

Extrajudicial persecution for anti-war views also remains a widespread practice, but reliable statistics are lacking on this issue, as human rights organisations are only able to capture the most high-profile incidents. In October, Viktor Kornienko, a teacher at St Petersburg University who has worked there for 42 years, was dismissed for his anti-war views following a report by Duma Deputy Yana Lantratova. Philologist Svetlana Drugoveiko-Dolzhanskaya was dismissed from the same university after she provided an expert opinion in Sasha Skochilenko's criminal case. In Novosibirsk, Vladimir Kaluzhsky, the artistic director of the Novosibirsk State Philharmonic, was fired. OVD-Info maintains a database of extrajudicial persecutions, which currently contains 558 such cases.

After its summer break, the Russian State Duma resumed its expansion of repressive legislation. A new version of the 'anti-extremism' article in the Russian Criminal Code (Article 280), addressing 'public promotion of extremism and its justification', was adopted at its first reading. Statements related to members of the Russian National Guard were equated with statements about the armed forces. The charges of 'incitement' and 'justification' are systematically used to prosecute dissent. OVD-Info has reported 12 prosecutions for 'incitement to terrorism and extremism' in September alone, of which nine were related to statements about the war in Ukraine, two involved statements about the murdered blogger Vladlen Tatarsky, and one centred on criticism of law enforcement. In total, since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began, the State Duma has already considered and continues to consider 49 repressive bills and packages of legislative amendments.

In October, the Russian Ministry of Justice designated 15 individuals as 'foreign agents'. Among the most prominent on the list are human rights advocate Olga Romanova, former Vice President of Gazprombank Igor Volobuev, who is fighting on the side of Ukraine, and journalist and host of the YouTube channel 'Khodorkovsky Live', Elena Malakhovskaya. Having expanded the repressive measures against 'foreign agents' with the adoption of a special law in July 2022 and subsequent amendments to this in July 2023, Russian authorities continue to actively update the 'foreign agent registry'. In total, since the full-scale invasion began, over 200 individuals have been added to the registry, with 177 designated ‘foreign agents’ after the law was passed in July 2022 and 48 following the latest amendments.

Generally speaking, the first months of autumn have shown that the trend towards stabilisation and even slight decline in the level of actual repression (the number of administrative and criminal cases and convictions), as previously reported by Re:Russia, is not merely a summer anomaly but rather is a sustained trend. It seems to reflect a decline in the number of anti-war statements across the country, indicating that citizens are adapting to new censorship rules. Nevertheless, repressive pressure remains high, a fact which is evident in the severity of sentences, the systematic use of physical violence by law enforcement against those critical of the war, and ongoing extrajudicial pressure. There is a discernible shift in focus among repressive agencies towards journalists and activists who have left the country, as they increasingly become the subjects of new criminal and administrative cases and are added to the 'foreign agent' lists.

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