Russia: amendment to anti-extremism law amid protests in Far East
A recent amendment to Russian anti-extremism legislation categorizes alienate the territories of the country like extremism. The change arguably has a chilling effect on the current mass protests in the far eastern city of Khabarovsk, a persistent threat to the stability of the regime, as well as a new legal provision for anti-extremism legislation that has already been used. .
Legislative changes and internal opposition
The 31st In July, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an amendment to the country’s anti-extremism law, according to which alienation of territory from the Russian Federation amounts to extremism. The legislative change complements the country’s strict anti-extremism laws, which arguably have been used as an instrument to combat political dissent. The amendment was introduced amid an environment of ongoing anti-government protests in the far eastern city of Khabarovsk, located in a region with a prominent local identity and an accumulation of grievances against the Kremlin.
Russia’s anti-extremist approach
Russia‘s system of anti-extremism legislation includes the 2002 Federal Law on Combating Extremist Activities, as well as other provisions contained in the Russian Criminal and Administrative Code and other laws. Russia’s anti-extremism law does not define extremism itself. Yet instead, it incorporates a list of violent and non-violent offenses such as the mass distribution of extremist material, the organization and preparation of extremist acts, criticism of government officials and politicians, and incitement. hatred based on social status, ethnicity, religion or race among others. The law received an amendment in 2014, which provides authorities with the legal provision to independently ban websites and social media platforms, without a court order.
The vague language of Russian anti-extremist legislation and the government’s tendency to exploit it for political gain inevitably shaped the Kremlin’s approach to extremist threats. In 2006, Russian human rights journalist Stanislav Dmitrievsky was convicted under anti-extremism law for publishing two statements by leaders of Chechen separatists. However, he was not related to those interviewed. Additionally, members of feminist punk rock group Pussy Riot have been accused of religious hatred after performing a song criticizing Russian clergy support for President Putin in an Orthodox cathedral. The provisions of the law against extremism have been used against the religious denomination of Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses, as good as blacklist translations of the Quran, a decision which was subsequently overturned. In addition, authorities have targeted both LinkedIn and Telegram over their refusal to share their users’ data with the Russian government.
The recent amendment to Article 1 of the Anti-Extremism Law complements the Kremlin’s ability to fight political opposition. The change adds another element to the list of what qualifies as extremism – the violation of the territorial integrity of Russia, including protests or speeches in favor of secession of a territory of the country, thus penalizing separatism. The amendment, therefore, targets those who openly call for the separation of the Federation. The amendment to the anti-extremism law, which entered into force on 11e The month of August was implemented during the mass anti-government protests that lasted more than two months in the far eastern city of Khabarovsk. He therefore presented the authorities with another legal provision to deal with political dissent, and more particularly to calls for secession in the region.
Far East protests challenge the Kremlin
Protests in Khabarovsk, which started on July 11e, were triggered by the questionable arrest of the governor of Khabarovsk Kray (federal subject), Sergei Furgal. Since his election in 2018, Furgal, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party, has notably refused to rig last year’s local parliamentary elections, which has led President Putin‘s United Russia Party to win just two seats. He also cut his salary, among other populist movements, resulting in his support surpassing that of Putin in the region. However, he was not even a critic of Putin’s regime. Furgal’s arrest for his involvement in a murder 15 years ago and his current detention to stand trial in Moscow, nearly 5,000 kilometers from Khabarovsk, met with popular disapproval.
Socio-economic grievances and antagonism towards the Kremlin also drove the protests. Khabarovsk Kray had the lowest average participation rate to July 1st constitutional amendment vote, which extended the presidential term limits and also gave the president more control over law enforcement and the judiciary. In December 2019, President Putin moved the administrative center of the Far Eastern Federal District from Khabarovsk to Vladivostok, a blow to the pride of the region. Also, the economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the dramatic fall in oil pricesand low wages affected the living conditions in Khabarovsk.
Although not greeted with force, the protests resulted in convictions for extremism. In September, very few arrests were made and protests continued despite coronavirus restrictions. In addition, the media and the police have tried to downplay the protests, which are believed to number around 30,000. Nonetheless, independent journalists, activists and bloggers covered the events. This led journalist Ivan Safronov to be charged with treason and journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva convicted on grounds of terrorism.
Although the protests in Khabarovsk are the most sustained form of political dissent under President Vladimir Putin‘s regime, they are unlikely to present a long-term challenge for his regime. Authorities are unlikely to use force to fight the protests, due to the weakness of the regional security apparatus and a strategy to let political dissent wane over time. However, if the protests spread across the country, they are likely to be met with force. The new amendment to the anti-extremism law serves both as a warning to ambitious regional protesters in Khabarovsk and as a legal provision to deal with future attempts at secessionism.