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Russia: Government Takes Measures Against Extremism

(Aug. 16, 2011) On July 29, 2011, President Dmitri Medvedev of the Russian Federation signed a decree ordering the creation of an interagency governmental commission on counteracting extremist activities in the country. The commission, which will include the heads of 16 government agencies, is charged with the duty to propose anti-extremism policies, develop relevant concepts and strategies, evaluate current activities, review measures undertaken and legislation adopted, and prepare annual reports for the President. (Decree of the Russian Federation President No. 988 of July 29, 2011 on the Interagency Commission to Counteract Extremism in Russia [in Russian], Russian Federation President's website [official publication].)

The commission will be headed by the Minister of Internal Affairs (the police). In addition to law enforcement ministers (those of the Ministry of Justice, National Investigation Committee, and Federal Security Service), it will include the Ministers of Culture, Education, Tourism, and Communications, as well as heads of the federal intelligence, customs, and tax services. (Id.). It is also possible that representatives of the four traditional religious denominations that are officially recognized in Russia (Orthodox Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism) will be allowed to participate in commission meetings. (Sergei Smirnov, Ministers Are United by Extremism [in Russian], GAZETA.RU (July 29, 2011).)

It is expected that the Commission will coordinate the activities of more than 15 government agencies presently counteracting extremism separately. Russia's Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, recently proposed the establishment of a parallel commission under the office of the Prime Minister. (Id.)

Russian experts believe that the proposed commission will not be efficient because, instead of working to counteract extremism generally, its efforts will be aimed at combating those who use violence against specific groups of the population. Others are afraid that the coordination work among the law enforcement agencies will turn into a simple exchange of information on suspects and lead to restrictions on freedom of speech. (Smirnov, supra.)

The government has also proposed legislative amendments among other measures to fight against extremism. On July 29, 2011, the government approved a bill prepared by the Ministry of Internal Affairs that introduces punishments for the financing of extremism and the distribution of extremist information through the Internet. Further control of Internet resources, including measures aimed at restricting some aspects of user activities, were recommended by the commission's chairman on August 2. Additionally, he recommended that employers and admissions advisors at universities monitor the reading and music preferences of young Russians. (Nurgaliev Cares About Youths' Education [in Russian], NEWSRU.COM (Aug. 2, 2011).)

The above-mentioned developments followed a landmark ruling issued by the Russian Supreme Court on June 28, 2011, on official guidelines for application of the Criminal Code's article 282, which prosecutes extremist activities. (Ruling No. 11 of the Russian Federation Supreme Court [in Russian], Supreme Court website [official publication] (last visited Aug. 15, 2011).) The ruling is viewed by observers as showing “more relaxed attitudes towards prosecution for extremism.” (Tom Washington, High Court Lightens Up on Extremism Cases, MOSCOW NEWS (June 29, 2011).) The Court stated that extremist rhetoric can be prosecuted only if used publicly, for example, in a meeting, in the media, or on the Internet. Extremist statements made at private gatherings are not subject to this article's jurisdiction. In the same ruling, the Court stated that because government authorities are not a social group and their interests are no different from that of the state, criticizing them cannot be deemed to constitute extremism. (Id.)