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Russia: Flags with Depiction of Cross Outlawed

(Aug. 24, 2009) On August 14, 2009, the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation updated the federal list of prohibited extremist materials to include all flags with an image of a cross. Inclusion on the list entails a ban on production, distribution, and storage for the purpose of distribution of the item in question. Violators may be punished by detention for up to 15 days, a fine in an amount equal to US$4,000, or suspension of activities of the organization deemed extremist for a period of three months.

This ban applies to the so-called St. Andrew Flag, which is the official banner of the Russian Navy; national flags of such states as Great Britain, Australia, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, and Georgia; the flag of the International Committee of the Red Cross; and flags of three constituent components of the Russian Federation. If the Russian Orthodox Church banners are considered to be flags, they will also be subject to the ban. However, this ban does not extend to the display of flags. Under Russian law, only the display of Nazi symbols is prohibited.

It appears that the inclusion of flags with a cross on the list occurred by accident, after a flag with a Nazi cross was seized by police from someone during a street rally in the Ural city of Ufa. A local court described it, in a list with other confiscated items, as a simple flag with a cross in its ruling of December 8, 2008, which sentenced an individual who carried this flag with the crime of participation in extremist activities. Following the Ufa city court ruling, the Ministry of Justice added this type of flag to the list, which at present includes 414 items. Another court order would now be required to repeal this decision of the Ministry; therefore, a case would have to be initiated by an organization that has a flag with a cross and believes that the decision violates its rights, in order for the repeal to be brought about. (Ministry of Justice Prohibited Flags with Crosses [in Russian], NEWSRU, Aug. 17, 2009, available at