Deputies from the ruling United Russia party, led by Vasiliy Piskarev, chair of the Duma’s security committee, proposed the changes on 18 July. The amendments concern Article 280 of the Criminal Code, which covers “public calls to carry out extremist activity” and currently carries penalties of between R300,000 and five years in prison.
The deputies want to expand the Article to also criminalise “public justification of extremism” or propaganda of extremism. Specifically, they want to punish any “public statement that accepts the ideology or practice of extremism as correct, [and] needing support and imitation.” Propaganda is understood as “activity to disseminate material and information intended to develop in a person an ideology of extremism, a conviction of its attractiveness, or an idea of the permissibility of carrying out extremist activity.” The authors claim the measures are necessary to combat school shootings and the way they are discussed online (1).
The measures, moreover, are intended to obstruct corrosive foreign influences. The deputies explicitly want to prevent “targeted activity, including with foreign participation, directed at corrupting our society, at the levelling [nivelirovaniye] of Russian cultural and historical values.”
According to business daily Kommersant, the Russian Government is generally supportive of the changes, but considers existing Articles of both the Criminal and Administrative Code sufficient to deal with some of the supposed activity. In its response to the proposals, it has cited potential clashes with those existing provisions and difficulties in limiting their application in practice. However, the newspaper also cited the claims of the proposals’ authors that all the concerns raised have already been addressed (1).
This would be just the latest of a regular parade of amendments to the Criminal Code for offences related to terrorism and extremism. Article 280 was, for example, among a number of Articles updated in July 2022, when a new clause was introduced addressing public calls for actions directed against state security. Supreme Court statistics, gathered by the SOVA Center, show that 255 were prosecuted under the article in 2021, up from 90 in 2018. The Interior Ministry reported 493 cases in 2022 for part 2 of the Article alone, an 8.4% increase on the previous year (2).