Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Proposed Modifications in Russian Anti-Extremism Strategy Point to Broader Crackdown Ahead, Rights Activists Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 18 – Amendments to the Russian government’s anti-extremism strategy offered by the interior ministry put in place the basis for a new wave of attacks on NGOs which have foreign funding and on all those who organize demonstrations the authorities don’t approve of, according to Nadezhda Kuzina and Aleksandr Verkhovsky.

            The Russian interior ministry has prepared amendments to the Putin-approved government strategy for countering extremism in the period up to 2025. It did not say why it was doing so now, five years before the document’s term is up, but the changes are potentially at least very significant (

            Kuzina, a lawyer for the OVD-Info group which tracks political persecution in Russia, says the proposed changes will make it more likely the government will shut down NGOs which receive foreign funding, block internet sites carrying materials the regime doesn’t like, and charge with extremism Russians who organize protests that aren’t approved by the authorities.

            Most worrisome, she suggests, is that the amendments dramatically expand the definition of extremism to include any action or statement criticizing any social group. Since social group isn’t defined in Russian law, that means criticism of officials or the police can be interpreted as extremism by the authorities, a truly chilling development.

            Verkhovsky, the director of the SOVA information-analytic center which follows repressive actions in Russia as well, says that he welcomes two aspects of the proposed changes – the greater focus on opposing force and enhanced discussion of the need to oppose discrimination on various grounds.

            But he continues, there are three major “minuses” in the amendments.  First, the changes talk about the negative influence of NGOs and especially those with foreign funding on stability in the country, an indication that these are likely to be the subject of greater regime attention and repression in the future.

            Second, the changes for the first time make attacks on undefined traditional values a form of extremism, radically expanding the possibilities for official abuse in making charges.  And third, they call for Russia to adopt as domestic law the anti-extremism convention of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization adopted in 2017.

            That convention identifies anything which gives rise to ethnic, religious or political hostility as extremism, radically expanding the meaning of that term beyond anything contained now in Article 282 of the Russian criminal code, Verkhovsky continues, even though the Shanghai convention was never intended as a normative document. 

            The same is true of the strategy document. It is not law by itself. But to the extent that it indicates the directions the Russian government wants to go, its most troubling features are likely to be transformed into law by the Kremlin in the coming months.  And then what is today only a statement of intention will become a new and unfortunately more repressive legal framework.

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