Activists are being tried for old posts with links to “undesirable organizations.” Do I need to delete something too? What exactly? Or is it too late?

In Chuvashia, a number of trials are taking place over the head of the human rights project “Apology of Protest” Alexei Glukhov. It amounted to ten administrative protocols, all – because of the posts and repost in social networks Glukhov. One of the protocols is for retweeting a photo of the politician Vitaly Milonov in a T-shirt with an extremist slogan. Nine more – for links to the site of “Open Russia”, declared an “undesirable organization” . Glukhov worked there for two years as a lawyer – even before Open Russia was recognized as “undesirable.” He also did most of his posts with links to the organization’s website before. At the same time, it is still impossible to follow the links: the organization’s website has not been working for a long time. At Meduza’s request, a lawyer at the Center for the Protection of Media Rights Svetlana Kuzevanova explains how Russian laws allow the prosecution of Glukhov – and why it concerns everyone.

Svetlana Kuzevanova

Senior Associate at the Center for the Defense of Media Rights

In the very norm  – the Russian Code of Administrative Offenses – it is precisely “participation in the activities of [an undesirable organization]” that is prohibited. But the practice is developing in such a way that “participation in activities” is also recognized as the distribution of materials from an “undesirable organization”.

The law enforcement logic is very straightforward. Unwanted organizations create materials, and you, by distributing these materials [on social networks], help to spread the word about their activities. This means that you are participating in their activities.

Can even be held accountable for old posts with links?

This huge practice – where distributing posts [viewed] as “engaging in activities” – started in 2017. The specificity lies in the fact that people are held accountable for posts published before the organization was recognized as “undesirable”. People don’t even remember these posts anymore. And this is the game itself.

There are postulates on which all legislation and legal system in the country is based. One of them is “the law has no retroactive effect”. This dogma of lawyers is taught at the university. That is, [theoretically] a person cannot be held accountable for distributing some materials when their publication was not yet illegal. 

At the same time, we have very selective enforcement in recent years. We see that the same laws – for example, the law on “unwanted organizations” or the law on “foreign agents” – are applied selectively. Only to those who are “lucky” more than others. If you look in retrospect the practice under Article 20.33 of the Administrative Code, you can see that it was applied either to people who were related to Open Russia, or to the coordinators of its headquarters.

But does it make us calmer? Of course not. In theory, this is unsafe for everyone. In my opinion, you need to remove all links and reposts to materials of “undesirable organizations” from your social networks. Because if there is such a practice, it can affect anyone.

How to understand what exactly to remove from social networks?

It is necessary to look at the register of “undesirable organizations” maintained by the Ministry of Justice. But there is a certain specificity here. For example, in the  case of Team 29, a Czech organization was recognized as “undesirable,” which in no way coincides with its name. But the site of the “Team” is blocked because the state believes that it is “a product of the activities” of that Czech organization.

How an ordinary person who does not follow the news and does not understand the intricacies of law enforcement should understand that the site of “Team 29” is banned because, according to the state, it is a resource of an “unwanted organization”?

HOW THEY ARE PROSECUTED UNDER THE “UNDESIRABLE ORGANIZATIONS” LAW

Isn’t it too late to delete such posts?

We cannot know when the regulatory authorities or law enforcement officers will record [post with link or repost]. You will now rush to [delete these materials], or maybe 15 minutes ago your post was already recorded.

But I can’t say that deleting posts is useless. Minimum security measures should be taken by all. Laws that restrict or prohibit the dissemination of information apply to everyone who posts something. 

And if the link no longer works, can they still be judged?

From the point of view of common sense, fairness and the normal application of the law, of course, [whether working link] matters.

At the same time, I have not come across cases where this was analyzed and influenced the decision. If a site is blocked, but you can get information on it using a VPN, I think most likely it will be considered an offense.

If, in principle, the site is closed and does not function – and almost all “undesirable organizations” have closed their sites – in theory, the [offense] is gone.

But this is how a lawyer defending a person in court would reason. It is very difficult to say what the court will think. Because, unfortunately, such cases are considered at the “right” and “as they said” levels. All this is far from right. 

What can threaten for such posts?

Primarily brought to administrative responsibility. If there is a repeated case – to a criminal one. 

Any punishment is imposed by the court. The court determines it on the basis of all the circumstances of the case, and, of course, must justify its decision. It can also be influenced by the volume of offenses committed – for example, that there are many of them. And the repetition – that you are not doing this for the first time. And also “special malice” – if, say, you have a lot of subscribers. Etc. 

What if the protocol has already been drawn up?

You need to call a lawyer, resort to the help of a professional lawyer. Of course, not the fact that it will save. Unfortunately, these cases are too politicized to be considered and ended fairly. But with legal help, it will be more difficult to break the wood and do something wrong. A lawyer or lawyer will help you to represent yourself in court competently and will provide protection where it is really needed. There is always a chance, hope is the last to die.

(C)MEDUZA 2021

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