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Russian lawmakers approve second reading of legislation making it a felony to ‘insult WWII veterans’

The Russian State Dumas has approved in its second reading a package of draft laws on amending the administrative and criminal liabilities for publicly “insulting the memory of the defenders of the Fatherland.” The package of bills was spearheaded by lawmaker Irina Yarovaya, who’s best known for pushing for controversial “counter-terrorism” legislation in 2016 that broadly expanded police powers and data collection.

The first draft law outlines changes to article 13.15 of the Administrative Code: abuse of freedom of the media. The amendments increase the maximum fine for legal entities five fold — up to five million rubles ($68,800) — in the event that they are found guilty of the following violations:

  • Disseminating information that disrespects Russia’s “days of military glory and memorable dates”
  • Publicly desecrating “symbols of Russia’s military glory”
  • Publicly insulting the memory of “the defenders of the Fatherland” or publicly slandering Great Patriotic War (World War II) veterans
  • Publicly disseminating “knowingly false information” about war veterans

The second draft law outlines changes to article 354.1 of the Russian Criminal Code: rehabilitating Nazism. The amendments call for up to three years in prison as punishment for disseminating knowingly false information about World War II veterans, publicly insulting the memory of “the defenders of the Fatherland,” or publicly slandering World War II veterans. If any of these crimes are committed using mass media (including the Internet), this will be punishable by up to five years behind bars.

Russian law doesn’t contain a clear definition of the term “defender of the Fatherland.” Lawmaker Irina Yarovaya said that her draft laws provide punishment “for actions that will defile memory, insult veterans, and insult the memory of not only living veterans, but also insult and defile the memory of the departed.”

The status of “veteran of the Great Patriotic War” has been extended to people who took part in half of all the military conflicts involving the Soviet Union, beginning with the Russian Civil War (1917–1922) and ending with the border conflict between Soviet and Chinese troops near Lake Zhalanashko in 1969. 

The legislative initiative on making “insulting war veterans” a felony was announced two days after a Moscow court fined imprisoned opposition politician Alexey Navalny 850,000 rubles (about $11,380) for insulting WWII veteran Ignat Artemenko. Navalny’s supposed speech crime was saying that the people who appeared in a promotional video last year supporting the government’s constitutional reforms were “corrupt bootlickers” and “traitors.” (Artemenko briefly appeared in the video.)

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