Staunton, December 17 – The list of materials Russian courts have declared extremist and therefore banned that the Russian justice ministry has maintained since July 2002 this week quietly passed a major milestone, when officials there added four more items to it bringing the total to 5003.
The SOVA religious and human rights monitoring center keeps regular track of this list which includes items that criticize the Russian government, opposition portals like Grani.ru, the publications of the Jehovah’s Witnesses including that group’s translation of the Bible, and anti-Semitic broadsides (sova-center.ru/racism-xenophobia/news/counteraction/2019/12/d41843/).
The very existence of such a list, of course, is dangerous because it allows the authorities to threaten those it doesn’t like with having their materials put on it, thus violating their constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and giving the powers that be a whip hand in dealing with those it doesn’t happen to like or approve of.
But as SOVA regularly points out, there are other problems as well. Despite the list, there are no real standards. Items identified by courts in one part of Russia as extremist may not be in others, and materials put on it are often not removed even when higher courts do overrule lower ones about the extremist nature of this or that publication.
Despite these problems and other shortcomings, there is no indication that the Kremlin plans to dispense with this list anytime soon. Instead, it seems committed to identifying ever more things new and old as extremist and therefore banned; and the number of items on the list seems destined to climb.