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Sova Centre Presents Report on Anti-Extremism

Vera Vasileva, 21/09/10


· Human Rights Defenders

On the 21 September at the Independent Press Centre in Moscow, Sova Centre presented its latest report entitled: “Unlawful application of anti-extremist legislation in the first half of 2010.” Taking part in the event were the director of Sova Centre, Aleksandr Verkhovsky, head of the History Library department, Elena Strukova, and Lev Levinson, an expert with the Institute of Human Rights.

The report focuses on issues arising from new legislation and on the banning of publications as the chief mechanism of repression, and other unlawful sanctions used by government bodies in the first half of 2010.

In their discussion of new legislation, the report’s authors remarked that the new law passed in July 2010 widening the FSB’s powers provoked most public discussion. Sova Centre’s experts believe that, even though the bill’s most egregious elements were removed during the process of discussion and amendment in the State Duma, nonetheless “even in its amended form the extended powers of the FSB are fraught with excessive pressure on citizens, organizations and mass media.” They also note that warnings issued by the FSB “violate the logic of existing legislation according to which the function of oversight belongs solely to the Prosecutor’s Office.”

Another cluster of problems that have become more urgent over the course of the first half of 2010 has stemmed from the Federal List of Extremist Materials, around 700 titles compiled by the Ministry of Justice. In particular, the Sova Centre pointed to the low quality of the bibliographical descriptions of the listed materials. The report states that a significant number of the listed publications are simply impossible to identify. In addition, “there is no mechanism to enforce the ban on distributing the materials deemed extremist.”

Addressing this problem, Aleksandr Verkhovsky said that this list “has no use in terms of combating some kind of evil or other. However, it does constantly create problems for people who have nothing to do with insidious deeds of any kind.”

“The legislation on combating extremist activities is an example of how police measures are used to deal with what is a major social issue.” As a result, it turns out that “the problem isn’t getting solved, and the work of the police isn’t getting any easier either.” This is the reason why anti-extremist legislation must be radically revised, Aleksandr Verkhovsky stated at the press conference.

Elena Strukova provided a clear illustration of Aleksandr Verkhovsky’s argument that the inadequacies of anti-extremist legislation create problems, in the first place, for law-abiding citizens, and not for criminals. She said that Russian libraries are particularly vulnerable. There are no clear guidelines laying down what they should do with materials that figure in the extremist list. On the one hand, libraries are obliged to give readers access to everything they have in their collections. On the other hand, libraries must limit access to literature recognized as extremist. As a result, official reprimands for library staff have become widespread.

“It is more convenient to catch extremists in the library than in the streets,” said Elena Strukova.

Lev Levinson spoke about violations of freedom of conscience that have occurred under the guise of the struggle with extremism. According to his data, in the first half of 2010 Jehovah’s Witnesses suffered most from persecution. Scientologists were in second place. Levinson stressed that a religious affiliation such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses suffers persecution in Russia, while its members enjoy an untroubled existence in other countries. After the eradication of the Jehovah’s Witness community in Moscow, the members of the community, which in Russia numbers about 150,000, filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights. On 10 July this year the court ruled that the community had been closed down unlawfully. However, this ruling has yet to enter into force since the Russian government has appealed against it.

Despite the fact that Sova’s report focused mainly on the unlawful application of anti-extremist legislation, some positive aspects of legislation in this area were also mentioned at the press conference. In particular, Aleksandr Verkhovsky pointed out that on 15 July the Plenum of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation ruled that the mass media bear no responsibility for extremist statements that they quote, or for omments by readers over which the media have no control.
Rights in Russia,
28 Sept 2010, 13:02