When the Russian Security Services Torture You, It’s Not a Crime

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FSB and Russian Interior Ministry Oppose Criminalizing Torture
Mediazona
January 29, 2019

The FSB (Russian Federal Security Service) and Russian Interior Ministry have opposed amending the Russian Criminal Code to define torture as a discrete instance of official criminal misconduct, arguing it would be “superfluous,” according to the security service’s published response to a recommendation made by the Russian Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights.

According to the FSB, torture was covered by Russian Criminal Code Articles 117.2.d (“maltreatment involving torture”) and 286.3.a  (“abuse of authority involving torture”).

The Interior Ministry voiced a similar opinion, listing the articles of the Criminal Code that, in its opinion, “fully” treat actions meeting the definition of torture.

The FSB has also opposed establishing a single database of detainees that would enable  loved ones of criminal suspects and people charged with crimes, as well as lawyers and members of the Public Monitoring Commissions, to discover their whereabouts.

The FSB argued this would enable people not involved in criminal investigations but who had a stake in their outcome, including criminal accomplices, to access information. It noted a database of this sort could threaten national security when cases of treason and espionage were investigated.

In September 2018, the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights held a special sixty-fourth session dealing with observation of the principles of openness and legality in penal institutions.

The council made a point of recommending the criminalization of torture per se in order to bring Russian criminal law into compliance with the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

The UN Committee against Torture has on several occasions recommended that Russia explicitly criminalize torture, but Russian authorities have ignored the recommendations, citing the articles in the Russian Criminal Code dealing with “maltreatment.”

“The conclusion here is that the Russian Federation is unable to explain how it prosecutes torture. This is simply not good enough,” Jens Modvig, chair of the UN Committee against Torture, said during a July 26, 2018, meeting in Geneva to discuss the sixth periodic report by the Russian Federation on its efforts to implement the Convention against Torture.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Illustration by Anna Morozova. Courtesy of Mediazona

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Everyone Wants to Like and Be Liked

Mail.ru Group Speaks Out against Punishments for Likes and Reposts
Company Proposes Changing the Law and Law Enforcement Practice
Olga Churakova and Yekaterina Bryzgalova
Vedomosti
August 6, 2018

Mail.ru Group не раз критиковала громкие законодательные инициативы, касающиеся интернетаMail.ru Group has repeatedly criticized high-profile law bills and laws affecting the internet. Photo by Yevgeny Yegorov. Courtesy of Vedomosti

Mail.ru Group, which owns the largest social networks in Russia, VK and Odnoklassniki [“Classmates”], has harshly condemned the practice of filing criminal charges against social media users for likes and reposts on social networks.

“Often the actions of law enforcement authorities have been clearly disproportionate to the potential danger, and their reaction to comments and memes in news feeds are inordinately severe,” reads a statement on the company’s website. “We are convinced laws and law enforcement practices must be changed. We believe it necessary to grant amnesty to people who have been wrongly convicted and decriminalize such cases in the future.”

Recently, the number of convictions for posts and reposts on social networks has reached a critical mass, explained a Mail.ru Group employee. Most of the convicitions are not only unjust but also absurd. He would not explain what specific corrections the company was going to propose.

“We believe current laws need to be adjusted, and we are going to make pertinent proposals,” VK’s press service told Vedomosti.

Mail.ru Group has repeatedly criticized high-profile laws and law bills affecting the internet. In 2013, for example, the company opposed an anti-piracy law. In 2015, it teamed up with Yandex to criticize the “right to be forgotten” law. In 2016, it opposed a law bill that proposed regulating messengers and search engines.  But punishing people for likes and reposts has become a political issue. Members of the opposition and social activists have often been the victims of Criminal Code Article 282, amended in 2014 to allow prosecution of people for incitment to hatred or enmity while using the internet.

Communist Party MP Sergei Shargunov addressed the problem during the President’s Direct Line in June of this year.

“If Article 282 were taken literally, certain zealots would have to convict Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Mayakovsky, and have their works removed,” he said.

Putin agreed it was wrong to reduce such cases to absurdity. Subsequently, he tasked the Russian People’s Front (ONF) and the Prosecutor General’s Office with analyzing how the notions of “extremist community” and “extremist crime” were employed practically in law enforcement.

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“Prosecutions for Incitement to Enmity (Criminal Code Article 282 Part 1) in Russia. Numbers of People Convicted, 2009–2017. Source: Trials Department, Russian Supreme Court.” Courtesy of Vedomosti

An Agenda for the Autumn
On June 25, Shargunov and Alexei Zhuravlyov, leader of the Rodina [“Motherland”] party, tabled draft amendments in the Duma that would decriminalize “extremist” likes and reposts. The MPs proposed transferring the violation described in Criminal Code Article 282 Part 1 to the Administrative Offenses Code, where infractions would be punishable by a fine of up to 20,000 rubles or 15 days in jail, while leaving only Part 2 of Article 282 in the Criminal Code. Part 2 stipulates a punishment of up to six years in prison for the same actions when they are committed with violence, by a public official or by an organized group. The government, the Supreme Court, and the State Duma’s legal department gave the draft amendments negative reviews, pointing out that the grounds for adopting them were insufficient. A spokesman for Pavel Krasheninnikov, chair of the Duma’s Committee on Legislation, informed us the committee would start working on the amendments when MPs returned from summer recess.

The ONF, which held a meeting of experts in July, has begun drafting a report for the president. The legal community, the General Prosecutor’s Office, the Interior Ministry, telecommunications watchdog Roskomnadzor, and the Russian Supreme Court must send their proposals to the Kremlin’s control directorate before September 15.

Leonid Levin, chair of the State Duma’s Committee on Information Policy, agreed there was a problem.

“The law is repressive, and there is no misdemeanor offense, although the Supreme Court issued an opinion that different cases should not be treated identically,” he said.

While there has been no lack of proposals, no one is in a hurry to abolish the law completely. A source in the Kremlin said dissemination of prohibited information should be punished. But a way of relaxing the law must be devised and, most important, a means of avoiding random convictions, he added.

A Demand for Liberalization
Recently, VK had been under pressure from the public due to the huge number of criminal prosecutions for posting pictures and reposts, said Pavel Chikov, head of the Agora International Human Rights Group. He argued the statement issued by Mail.ru Group was an attempt to defend the company’s reputation. According to the so-called Yarovaya package of amendments and laws, since January 1, 2018, VK has been obliged to provide law enforcement agencies with information about its users upon request, but the question of the legality of providing information having to do with people’s private lives remains open, since under Russian law a court order is required for this, Chikov noted.

Political scientist Abbas Gallyamov argued political decentralization and moderate opposition were now fashionable.

“Even the most cautious players sense the dictates of the age and have been trying to expand the space of freedom. Mail.ru Group is trying to be trendy,” he said.

Gallyamov predicted that, as the regime’s popularity ratings decline, the screws would be loosened, and the number of people advocating liberalization would grow.

Part of the political elite realizes many things have gone askew, agreed political scientist Alexander Kynev. A number of people hoped the circumstances could be exploited to push the idea of moderate liberalization. This could be a way of showing the regime was ready to talk, he argued.

“A lot will depend on what the autumn brings, on the results of regional elections. Now it would appear to be a topic that is up for discussion, but there are no guarantees. There are people in the government interested in having the topic discussed, but this doesn’t mean a decision has been taken,” Kynev said.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Decriminalizing Battery in Russia: What Does It Mean for the Fight against Domestic Violence?

"100% Real Man." Sign on a security guard's booth, May 6, 2016, central Petrograd. Photo by the Russian Reader
“100% Man’s Man.” Sign on a security guard’s booth, central Petrograd, May 6, 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader

Putin Reclassifies Battery as Misdemeanor
Amalia Zatari
RBC
July 4, 2016

Russian President Vladimir has signed a law reclassifying battery, nonpayment of alimony, and petty theft as misdemeanors. The corresponding document has been posted on the Official Legal Information Portal.

According to the document, battery is excluded from the Russian Federal Criminal Code if it has not resulted in the consequences stipulated in Article 115 of the code (intentional infliction of bodily harm). In this case, the offense carries a fine of 5,000 to 30,000 rubles, a jail term of 10 to 15 days or compulsory community service of 60 to 120 hours.

Nonpayment of alimony, according to the law, will be punishable by compulsory community service for a period of up to 150 hours or a jail term of 10 to 15 days. Persons to whom these forms of punished cannot be applied will be fined 20,000 rubles.

The articles in the Criminal Codes stipulating liability for petty theft of property have also been transferred to the Administrative Offenses [Misdemeanors] Code. If the property stolen is worth less than 1,000 rubles, then it will be punishable by a fine of up to five times the value of the stolen goods, but not less than 1,000 rubles, a jail term of up to 15 days or compulsory community service of up to 50 hours.

If the property stolen is valued between 1,000 and 2,500 rubles, the theft is punishable by fine of no less than 3,000 rubles, a jail term of 10 to 15 days, or compulsory community service of up to 120 hours.

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Source: Pinterest

For more information on domestic violence in Russia and the background to the new law decriminalizing battery and other crimes read:

UPDATE. Here is an alternative viewpoint on the new law by Mari Davtyan, as published on her Facebook page earlier today. Thanks to Varya Mikhaylova for the heads-up.

Mari Davtyan
Facebook
July 5, 2016

Battery Redux

Yesterday, the Russian president signed amendments to the Criminal Code. And yet, everyone, including certain media, are confused as to what happened.

The new law introduces a number of changes to the Russian Federal Criminal Code. As for Article 116 (battery), it has been preserved in the Criminal Code, but in a modified form. Now battery per se will not be punished under criminal law, as opposed to battery committed against intimates or motivated by hooliganism, hatred or enmity. Battery committed against strangers will be punished as a misdemeanor, but if it is repeated, then it will be punished as a criminal offense. It is a debatable law, but this is not the point now, but battery against relatives and loved ones.

The best thing that has happened is that battery committed against relatives has now been redefined as a matter of private-public prosecution rather than a private prosecution. Previously, it was extremely difficult to file battery charges due to the private prosecution system, which assigned the duty of investigating the crime and proving the guilt of the accused to the victims themselves. We have written many times that the procedure was so complex that most victims of domestic violence refused to go through it, and the perpetrators went unpunished.

Now that battery against relatives and loved ones has become a matter for private-public prosecution, victims need only to file charges (that is obligatory), but then the police will take over investigation of the crime, and subsequently, in court, the charges will be supported by the prosecutor, meaning a standard criminal trial will be the outcome. Another good point of the new law on battery is that it does not stipulate paying a fine as a form of punishment. A domestic tyrant will thus be unable to pay his way out of the problem using the family budget. (I have inserted the wording of the new law in the comments, below.)

Does the new law on battery mean that domestic violence will disappear tomorrow. No, it doesn’t. The article will encourage more effective punishment of perpetrators, but punishment is not the only thing. The issues of prevention, effective interagency cooperation, and protection and support of domestic violence victims have not be solved. All these things can be remedied only by a separate law against domestic violence.

But there is a little fly in the ointment in the shape of the following legislative nonsense: Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 115 (Intentional infliction of bodily harm), which is considered a more grievous crime than battery, but has remained a matter for private prosecution. Why? I don’t know. Search me.

So the battle continues.

Mari Devyant is a lawyer and member of a working group drafting a federal law on prevention of domestic violence.

Article 116: Battery
Battery or other violent acts, causing physical pain but not entailing the consequences stipulated in Article 115 of this Code, and committed against intimates or motivated by hooliganism, political, ideological, racial, ethnic or religious hatred or enmity, or by hatred or enmity towards a social group, are punishable by compulsory community service of up to 360 hours, correctional labor of up to one year, restriction of freedom of up to two years, a jail term of up to six months, or imprisonment of up to two years.

NB. In this article, “intimates” refers to close relatives (spouses, parents, children adoptive parents, adopted children, siblings, grandparents, grandchildren), foster parents and guardians, as well as persons related by marriage to the person who committed the act stipulated in this article, or persons sharing a household with the person.

Source: Official Legal Information Portal

Translated by the Russian Reader

Walk

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Walk, May 29, 2016, Saint Petersburg, Russia. The city’s famous Church on Spilled Blood is in the background. Photo by David Frenkel

Varya Mikhaylova
Vkontakte
May 29, 2016

Petersburg female activists have staged the performance Walk to call for a humane attitude towards women involved in the sex industry, the prosecution of pimps, and the decriminalization of prostitutes themselves.

Wearing dresses pasted over with advertising flyers for brothels, and sporting painted bruises and black eyes, the five female performers were marched by a “pimp” through downtown Petersburg.

The young women bore placards on their backs featuring such quotations from real interviews with prostitutes as “I have always been raped, now I’m getting raped for money,” and “We are not human beings to them.”

"My rate is 1,300 rubles an hour. I get paid a 100 rubles." // "We are not human beings to them."
“My rate is 1,300 rubles an hour. I get paid a 100 rubles.” // “We are not human beings to them.” Photo by David Frenkel

On Arts Square, the young women slipped away from the supervision of their “pimp.” They turned their placards arounds, revealing the inscriptions “Not a commodity,” “Not a thing,” “Not a criminal,” “Not a slave,” and “Human being.”

At this point, the other performers, depicting prosperous citizens who have a contemptuous attitude towards prostitutes and their problems, shouted angrily at the young women and pelted them with dirt.

Rapes, beatings, fear, constant threats to their lives, no protection from law enforcement, a lack of medical care, and endless public scorn: these are the real lives hidden by brightly colored flyers advertising “Masha,” “Sevinch,” “Girls,” “Relaxation,” and “Massages.”

Prostitutes lead closed and stigmatized lives. Our prosperous society is irritated more by the flyers and ads that disfigure our beautiful city than by the slavery and human trafficking occurring behind its disfigured façades.

The recent raid by “defender of morals” Vyacheslav Datsik has returned the subject of sexual slavery, which society and the media persist in calling “sex work” to the public discourse and underscored the fact that society has no sympathy for these women. It only feels contempt for them. If Datsik had forced any other women to walk naked down the street, everyone would have been up in arms. But prostitutes are not people. No one cares about their misfortunes.

Datsik has even seemed like a savior to many people, because he liberated the residents of a building from a brothel. And indeed, although brothels operate outside the law, politicians and policemen are also involved in the profitable business of selling women. So complaints against brothels filed by ordinary people are ignored and drown in bureaucratic rigmarole. However, a new brothel will open to replace the one Datsik, allegedly, shut down. And it will be that way until there is the political will to denounce and prosecute the people who trick and force women into slavery and sell their customers the right to violence. People should realize that the last thing they should do is blame the prostitutes themselves. They should stop seeing these women as criminals.

Pay attention to the slaves who live invisibly in our midst. And don’t call them “workers.” But do call them human beings.

Walking past St. Catherine’s Catholic Church on Nevsky Prospekt, the city’s main drag. Photo by David Frenkel
Walking past the Chamber Concert Hall of the Petersburgh Philharmonic (right) and a poster advertising a “gala concert” celebrating the 140th anniversary of the translation of the Russian Synodal Version of the Bible by the Russian Orthodox Church. Oddly, the concert was held on May 26 at nearby St. Peter’s Lutheran Church. Photo by David Frenkel
Walking past the entrance to the city’s premier hotel, the Grand Hotel Europe. Photo by David Frenkel
Enraged “citizens” pelt the “prostitutes” with dirt.
“Human being.” // “Not a criminal.” // “Not a thing.” Photo by David Frenkel
“Not a commodity.” // “Not a slave.” Photo by David Frenkel
“Igor is married but goes to prostitutes because his wife is not willing to give him the humiliating, painful sex he likes, which one can only endure out of fear or for money.” // “Yulduz does not speak Russian and does not understand how to escape from the brothel. Human trafficking is a global problem.” // “Round-the-clock rape for money. Using another person’s body to masturbate while ignoring their needs is rape.” Flyers handed out to passersby during the performance Walk. Photo by Ksenia Chapkevich

Translated by the Russian Reader. For more on this subject, see my post “Let’s (Not) Talk about Sex,” from December 2014.

Decriminalizing Domestic Violence in Russia?

Women in Petersburg Celebrated February 23 by Paving the Way to a Church with “Dead” Bodies 
Rosbalt
February 24, 2016

Photo courtesy of protest organizers

A protest action against discrimination and the [proposed decriminalization of] battery and homicide threats took place outside St. Nicholas Maritime Cathedral in Petersburg. Feminists thus marked Fatherland Defenders Day.

During the performance, two men laid out young women, who depicted the fatal victims of beatings, on the steps leading to the church. At the end of the protest action, the protesters raised placards bearing slogans such as “My man made threats, my man killed me,” “Who will defend us from the defenders of the fatherlands?” “I said no: he broke my arm,” “97% of abuse cases never make it to court,” and “Thank you, legislators, for our happy deaths.”

Фото предоставлено организаторами акции
Photo courtesy of protest organizers
Фото предоставлено организаторами акции
“My man threatened me, my man killed me.” Photo courtesy of protest organizers

The organizers told Rosbalt they were protesting against the [proposed] removal of battery and homicide threats from the Russian Criminal Code.

“The decision as to whether women can find protection from law enforcement agencies or not is being made by legislators and priests who do not suffer from beatings by their partners. How is this possible? Do the lives and health of the country’s citizens not interest the government? Every fourth woman in Russia faces domestic violence,” the organizers noted.

According to them, it is extremely difficult for women to file battery complaints. And most often the perpetrator is not duly published: the charges are limited to a misdemeanor.

Whereas “women put up with violence their whole lives and often die at the hands of their partners.”

“We believe such a law is a crime,” noted the organizers.

Фото предоставлено организаторами акции
Photo courtesy of protest organizer

The Way to the Church

Russian women marked February 23 by paving the way to a church with dead bodies. 

The women were thus protesting the [proposed] exclusion of battery and homicide threats from the Criminal Code, a measure actively lobbied by the Russian Orthodox Church. 

The chairman of the Patriarchal Commission on the Family and the Defense of Motherhood and Childhood has opposed ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic violence. (From the commission’s website, February 26, 2015)

[President Putin] urged [lawmakers] not to delay passage of the law, which would decriminalize such articles of the Criminal Code as battery, homicide threats, and willful failure to pay alimony. (Kommersant, February 16, 2016)

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade SJ and the Nihilist for the heads-up

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Russian Supreme Court proposes to decriminalize minor offences
RAPSI
July 31, 2015

MOSCOW, July 31 (RAPSI) – Russia’s Supreme Court suggested decriminalizing minor offenses such as battery, the threat of homicide, failure to pay alimony or child support, RAPSI learnt in the court on Friday.

In a meeting with President Vladimir Putin, Supreme Court Chairman Vyacheslav Lebedev proposed that minor crimes such as battery and petty theft be decriminalized and classified as administrative offenses [misdemeanors]. He said this would reduce the number of cases sent to court by 300,000 annually.

A bill, which the Supreme Court has drafted, would decriminalize petty crimes such as battery, the use of forged documents, the threat of homicide and failure to pay alimony or child support. Penalties for these offenses would only include fines, correctional labor or community service.

Justice Vladimir Davydov said at the plenary meeting that this would free up half of all investigators to deal with serious crimes and would help over 300,000 people avoid criminal penalties and negative consequences for employment, education and the issuance of passports or loans.

A deputy prosecutor general said he supported the idea, adding that approval would allow investigators, who claim to be too busy with petty crimes, to investigate more serious crimes.

Petty crimes accounted for 46 percent of all cases sent to court last year.

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Putin suggests decriminalization of Russian Penal Code
TASS
December 3, 2015

Russian President Vladimir Putin has asked Russian lawmakers to support a proposal to decriminalize a number of articles of the Russian Penal Code.

“I am asking the Russian State Duma to support the proposal of the Russian Supreme Court to decriminalize some articles of the Russian Penal Code and transfer some of the crimes that pose no great threat to the public or society to the category of administrative offenses but with one major reservation: the offense will be classified as a crime if it is committed for a second time,” Putin said in the annual state of the nation address to the Russian Federal Assembly (parliament) on Thursday.

The head of state clarified that practically every second criminal case, which is taken to court today, is linked to minor and inconsiderable offenses while people, including youth, are sent to prison.

“The confinement and the fact of criminal conviction affect their future fate and often encourage them to commit further crimes,” the president concluded.

Russian penitentiaries have around 660,000 inmates. According to the Federal Penitentiary Service, 55% of them are recidivists. Approximately 25% of the offenders serve prison sentences for minor offenses and crimes of medium gravity; 1,800 people have been convicted for terrorism and extremism.

Excessive acts of law enforcement agencies destroy business climate in Russia

Putin said excessive acts of law enforcement agencies destroy the business climate in Russia.

“That is a direct destruction of the business climate. I am asking the investigation and prosecution authorities to pay a special attention to it,” he said.

The President said that in 2014 nearly 200,000 criminal cases on economic crimes were initiated in Russia. Of this number 46,000 reached the court and 15,000 cases “collapsed” in courts.

“It turns out that only 15% of cases ended with verdicts,” Putin said.

He added that most of the defendants in these cases – about 83% – fully or partially lost their businesses.

“That means that there were bullied, robbed and released,” the head of state said.

He called on prosecutors to make a wider use of their authorities to monitor the quality of the investigation.

The president also recalled the discussions on additional powers of prosecutors.

Today, a supervisory authority has the authority to cancel decisions on initiation of criminal proceedings, to dismiss indictments or not to uphold the charges in court.

“We need to use what we have more intensively. After that we will be able to analyze what is happening in practice,” he said.

According to Putin, detention at the stage of investigation of economic crimes should be used as a last resort and preference should be given to such methods as pledge, subscription on parole and house arrest.

[…]