The Putin administration has submitted draft legislation to the State Duma that would amend Russia’s controversial Criminal Code 282, which makes “hate speech” and “extremist speech” a crime. The statute is commonly used to open felony cases against Internet users.
The Kremlin’s proposal would make first-offense violations of Code 282 a misdemeanor, and felony penalties would only take effect if an individual commits an “extremist” crime twice within a period of 12 months. The maximum misdemeanor penalties for Code 282 violations would be a fine as high as 20,000 rubles (about $300), up to 100 hours of community service, or 15 days in jail.
Extremist crimes by organized groups, with the use or threat of violence, or by a person through their “official position” would still be treated as felonies, even as a first offense.
Update: Pavel Krasheninnikov, the chairman of the State Duma's State Construction and Legislation Committee, told the television station Dozhd that federal officials plan to reclassify the relevant extremism cases already on file, once Putin's Code 282 amendments are adopted.
In recent years, Russian courts have increasingly handed out misdemeanor and felony convictions to Internet users for “liking,” reposting, and commenting on social media. According to the Russian Interior Ministry, police opened 762 extremism cases in the first half of 2018, and 1,521 cases in all of 2017.
Russia’s Presidential Human Rights Council previously drafted legislation that would have completely decriminalized “extremist speech” where there’s no credible threat of violence. Mail.ru, meanwhile, has advocated a general amnesty for everyone convicted of “illegal reposts,” and its subsidiary Vkontakte recently started allowing users to hide their profiles from strangers, including Russian law enforcement agencies.