Thursday, April 11, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Judicial Attention to Extremist Materials Varies from One Russian Region to Another

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 11 – The Russian edition of “Esquire” on Tuesday published a map of the Russian Federation showing the number of times courts in various regions and republics declared materials extremist, an indication, the magazine said, of variations in the amount of extremism across the country (

            But experts at the SOVA Center, which tracks violations of human rights in the Russian Federation, argue that the rating offered by “Esquire” reflects the level of the activity of local law enforcement officials in bringing charges of extremism rather than that of extremists as such (

            SOVA’s critique is almost certainly correct, but the “Esquire” map is striking because it shows that with regard to extremism, something that President Vladimir Putin has made central to his rule, the Russian Federation is far from the common legal space that he has claimed he has made it into.

            On the one hand, there are certainly variations in the amount of “extremist” literature to be found in the regions.  But on the other, the “Esquire” map shows that some places where one might expect such judgments are not issuing them while others where expectations of that would be lower are doing so.

            According to the calculations of “Esquire,” “judges in certain regions have not even once recognized anything to be extremist.”  Among them are the Chukotsky autonomous district, Magadan oblast, Sakha, the Jewish autonomous oblast, Buryatia, Tuva, the Nenets autonomous district, Kalmykia, Belgorod oblast, Smolensk oblast and Pskov oblast.

            The Altay Republic, in contrast, had more instances of a judicial finding of extremism than any other federal subject as measures by court actions per capita.  Orenburg and Bashkortostan had the most such declarations, when not adjusted for population size, with 148 and 100 findings respectively.

            The large number of cases in the latter two as reported by “Esquire” may indicate that these two federal subjects lie across a major route for the importation of Islamist extremist literature into the Russian Federation from Central Asian countries, which two adjoin. But the situation elsewhere likely reflects prosecutorial preferences rather than reality on the ground.

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