Staunton, March 29 – In its new 11,500-word report on the ways in which Russian officials are misusing the country’s anti-extremism laws, the SOVA human rights monitoring organization concludes that one of the most important trends of the last year is a dramatic increase in the role of the FSB in such actions.
There are two basic sources of such misuse: excessive actions by poorly trained law enforcement personnel who are given little guidance by the laws themselves and “the conscious formation of mechanisms for suppression of opposition and simply independent forms of activity”.
The latter has become “much more in evidence from the middle of 2012” when the authorities used anti-extremism laws to suppress opposition protests. “Unfortunately,” SOVA writes, “with the falloff in opposition activity, the growth of the repressive component did not cease” but in fact increased.
Russia’s involvement in Ukraine has been the occasion if not the cause for five distinct trends that the SOVA report details. First, since the Crimean Anschluss, the anti-extremist laws have been made harsher and “’the space of illegality’ has been broadened,” something Russian courts have not prevented but rather facilitated.
Second, the Russian authorities have extended the application of this legislation into the Internet even though the nature of that sphere makes it almost impossible for them to achieve their ends unless they are prepared to shut down all access to the world wide web, something that would entail serious negative consequences for Russia.
Third, the SOVA report continues, because of Russia’s involvement in Ukraine, Moscow and its officials have used anti-extremist laws as a way of suppressing any criticism of their actions.
Fourth, in the face of an ever more xenophobic environment, Moscow has doubled the number of cases it has brought against people for stirring up hatred of one kind or another. Not only has the number of such cases increased, SOVA says, but the share of them which are unjustified has as well.
And fifth, because the Ukrainian events intersect with concerns about Russian national security, the FSB has significantly increased its involvement in anti-extremist cases, something that has added yet another reason why such cases constitute a misuse of the law for political ends.
But Moscow’s focus on Ukraine in this area has not led to a reduction in the number of cases brought inappropriately under this legislation against religious minorities and against individuals for statements that in no reasonable way can be said to fall within the terms of the poorly drawn laws, SOVA argues.
There are two places where the situation appears to have become somewhat better over the past year, the report suggests. On the one hand, the rate at which items are being added to the Federal List of Extremist Materials has slowed. And on the other, the number of cases being brought against librarians has fallen.
But overall, the SOVA report concludes, Russian officials continue to misuse anti-extremism laws and are “obviously not prepared either to liberalize” them or even work to reduce the most obvious violations of even the formulations of existing laws by the police and the FSB.