Extreme ways go on in russia with misuse of anti extremism laws

“Seven bad things, one answer” is a Russian proverb. It’s about standing firm and taking a risk to defend a principle when it’s being attacked from many different directions. When it comes to how the Russian government fights “extremism,” this is exactly what it does. In this case, though, the Kremlin is staying strong on air.

The goal of Russia’s anti-extremism laws is to deal with violent crimes committed by radical, right-wing, and almost-terrorist groups. If you’re lucky enough to take the Trans-Siberian train from Vladivostok to Moscow, the first thing you’ll hear when you arrive at the Yaroslavsky Rail Terminal in Russia’s capital is a warning that “extremist activities” won’t be tolerated by law enforcement, which sounds like it’s the government’s top priority right now. It’s kind of true.

Russia’s fight against right-wing violence is well known and still going on. Since 2008, when civil society groups started keeping track of more than 100 racially motivated murders a year, the Russian government has gotten a lot of praise for cracking down on right-wing vigilante groups that were behind most of the attacks. But, man, it’s Russia, so take everything with a grain of salt.

The SOVA Center for Information and Analysis is the best source of information about hate crimes in Russia. It is based in Moscow. The group’s leader, Alexander Verkhovsky, is a member of Vladimir Putin’s presidential human rights council. This means that both the government and independent civil society groups respect the group he leads.

SOVA’s annual report on how Russia broke anti-extremism laws in 2013 came out this week. The problems keep coming back, and there are no solutions in sight. According to the group, people accused of violent acts are less likely to be prosecuted for “extremism,” while freedom of speech cases against bloggers, journalists, and libraries that are thought to have “extremist” texts are on the rise.

The number of ridiculous cases like the trial of the Bhagavad Gita has gone down since the Supreme Court made it clear what should and shouldn’t be prosecuted as extremist. However, state authorities still tried to go after groups like “man-haters” and critics of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Still, SOVA says that if you want to see how the Russians are misusing their anti-extremism laws, you should look at the cases of Ivan Moseev, Pavel Khotulev, Vasily Purdenko, and Guzaliya Galimova. All of them were prosecuted for expressing their opinions online.

SOVA’s report says that the number of questionable Internet prosecutions grew by a third in 2013. This raises red flags about how Russia treats dissent in general. Internet companies and news outlets are being extra careful to avoid these kinds of situations, which has led to self-censorship. SOVA found 83 times when the government shut down web content without any reason, citing “extremism.”

Also, 590 new items were added to Russia’s Federal List of Extremist Materials in 2013. The government can’t really control how its people access banned information, since the Internet is still free and easy to use even when information is officially blocked, but the list is a good way to see who’s making the Kremlin mad. SOVA’s report says that there are 26 Muslim texts, 2 Jehovah’s Witnesses brochures, a number of right-wing documents, 11 publications by opposition activists like the Pussy Riot music videos, and a number of historical manuscripts, most of which were found at the Ukrainian library in Moscow.

It’s a long report, and since it’s in Russian, most of you can’t read it yet. But SOVA’s careful monitoring of how Russia breaks anti-extremism laws is important for understanding how complicated Russia’s situation is when it comes to freedom of speech, religion, and association.

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