Staunton, May 8 – In what may be a harbinger of things to come in the Russian capitals, the leaders of the regions of the Russian Federation are using the extremely elastic provisions of the country’s anti-extremism law not against real extremists but rather against their political opponents of whatever stripe, according to a Moscow commentator.
In an article in “Yezhednevny zhurnal” on Monday, Grigory Durnovo reaches that conclusion on the basis of his examination of the latest SOVA Center 2012 report on abuses of Russian anti-extremism laws by officials (ej.ru/?a=note&id=12901 sova-center.ru/misuse/publications/2013/04/d26952/sova.)
Although the overall numbers of the abuse of the law did not rise significantly, in part because of the slow moving quality of most Russian jurisprudence, Durnovo says, “especially in the regions, it was easy to settle accounts with political opponents and critics with the help of the paragraphs [of the law] about extremism.”
The “Yezhednevny zhural” writer suggests that this means that while SOVA is reluctant to make predictions, “it is not to be excluded” that a serious attack on participants in protests which began after the elections to the Duma” will thus be registered in next year’s report rather than this one.
“Up to now,” the report continues, “the main victims of the law” overall have been various religious organizations, even though in 2012 the number of convictions among religious groups under the terms of this law actually fell while those against secular activists “on the contnrary were greater.”
At a press conference on the occasion of the release of the SOVA report, Aydar Sultanov, a law who specializes in the application of extremist legislation, provided yet another explanation for the rise in prosecutions in the regions: competition among them inspired by officials from the center.
Thus, Moscow officials may say to the leaders of one region where the number of prosecutions are lower than in neighboring ones, “How can this be? In the neighboring region, there are so many extremists! Does this mean you aren’t doing your job?” Perhaps you need to arrest more.
Such competition was a regular feature of the Soviet Union during its most repressive periods. It could become even more widespread now given that Moscow has said that it is monitoring what the regions and republics do with respect to extremism and that the future careers of their leaders depend upon how well they are fighting it.
That opens the door to abuse as does the ever-increasing number of materials on the extremist list, a list that some authors do not learn they are on until after the fact. The number of items on the list increased by 522 to 1802 during 2012. And the application of the law is becoming ever more cumbersome as many in the legal system do not know how to apply it.
And as the authors of the SOVA report concluded with regret, Durnovo notes sadly, as long as the compilation of such lists gives advantages to those in power who can apply them as they wish against those they choose, “a review of even the most odious elements of the anti-extremist legislation and practice are unlikely.”