On 3 October prominent blogger Anton Nossik is due to be sentenced and could face up to two years imprisonment for posting content allegedly inciting to “hatred or enmity” on his blog. ARTICLE 19 calls on the Russian government to drop all charges and amend its legislation on incitement and extremism to adhere to international human rights standards.
Anton Nossik is a well-known Russian blogger and internet expert. He is considered to be one of the “founding fathers” of the Russian-language internet, having helped to establish some of the most popular independent online news sites including Lenta.ru and Gazeta.ru. He is also known for his civil rights and opposition activism, most recently supporting protests against the so-called “Yarovaya Law” (legislation which grants sweeping new powers to the security services, and introduces new or harsher punishments for mobilising people to protest or vaguely defined “extremism”).
Nossik was charged in February for publishing a blog post entitled “Wipe Syria from the Face of the Earth.” He compared Syria with Nazi Germany and welcomed bombing launched by the Russian government, which would give Syrians the punishment “they deserve”. Prosecutors allege that Nossik violated Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code, “Incitement of Hatred or Enmity, as well as Abasement of Human Dignity,” and have called for a 2 year prison term.
ARTICLE 19 points out that under international human rights standards, restrictions on the right to freedom of expression must be limited to very narrow circumstances and should be limited to only those acts that reach a certain threshold. In particular, must prohibit certain severe forms of “hate speech,” including through criminal, civil, and administrative measures – namely direct and public incitement to genocide (under international criminal law) and advocacy of discriminatory hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence (under Article 20(2) of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). States may also prohibit other forms of “hate speech,” provided they comply with the requirements of Article 19(3) of the ICCPR.
Other speech (including speech that offends individuals or hurts their feelings) should not be prohibited on the basis of “hate speech”, although it can often raise concerns in terms of intolerance and discrimination, and merits a critical response by the State.
As for incitement, it is recommended that the severity of speech is assessed under the standards outlined in the UN Rabat Plan of Action, adopted in 2012. Specifically, the Rabat Plan advises States to ensure the three-part test for restrictions on freedom of expression, developed under Article 19, also applies in cases under Article 20(2) and it outlines a six-part test to assess whether expression reaches the level of severity prohibited under Article 20(2).
ARTICLE 19 finds that these standards have not been met in Nossik’s criminal prosecution case.
We also find that this case is unfortunately symptomatic of a growing trend in Russia to abuse “incitement” provisions as well as legislation that targets content deemed “extremist” or “separatist.” For instance, new legislation passed in June (the so-called “Yarovaya Law”) drastically increases the maximum sentence for “extremism”,- which is defined in broad and vague terms. The vague nature of the definitions of incitement can and have allowed for interpretation beyond what they should be intended. Recent analysis showed the number of Russians sent to prison under the same provisions as Nossik and under “extremism” provisions has tripled over the last five years. A growing number are also being sentenced on clearly political grounds having criticised government policy on Ukraine such as Rafis Kashapov who condemned the annexation of Crimea in a social media post, or Darya Polyudova, who only reposted someone else’s comments (both currently still in prison).
ARTICLE 19 calls for the individual charges against Anton Nossik to be dropped, for legislation on “incitement” and “extremism” legislation in Russia to be amended in order for it to meet international standards and for all similar cases to be reviewed.