Lev Ponomarev: Governmental Extremism

posted 1 Nov 2017, 08:06 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 1 Nov 2017, 09:32 ]

17 October 2017

By Lev Ponomarev, executive director of For Human Rights

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [extract] 

An extended version of Lev Ponomarev’s speech at a special session of the Presidential Human Rights Council on the subject “Public participation in counteracting extremism and terrorism,” October 17, 2017. Lev Ponomarev is the leader of the movement “For Human Rights” and a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group.

The fight against terrorism and extremism is now being widely discussed, and has been declared one of the main duties of the government. However, for me, as a defender of human rights, the problem is that this fight, and the methods it employs, often promote and push citizens to radical behaviour and extremism. This is because the fight against terrorism and extremism serves as the rationale for constant crackdowns in the realms of legislation and law enforcement, directed exclusively toward curtailing civic freedoms.

According to the justice department’s statistics, the number of people charged under Articles 275-284.1 of the Russian Criminal Code (“Crimes against the foundations of the constitutional system and the security of the state”) have increased by a factor of 28 since 2003.

In many cases, the assault on civic freedoms is so excessive that the government itself is performing extremist actions against its own citizens.

Governmental extremism may be divided into several tendencies: legislative extremism, law enforcement extremism, and violence on the part of police and the Federal Penitentiary Service.

1. Legislative Extremism

Among those laws aimed at the fight against terrorism and extremism (so-called “anti-extremism” laws), not a single one can be formulated appropriately — so as to avoid unjustified criminal prosecution. The list of these laws includes Articles 205.2 (incitement to terrorism), 275 (treason), 280 (incitement to extremism), 280.1 (incitement to violating territorial integrity), 282 (extremism), 148 (blasphemy), and 354.1 (reviving Nazism) of the criminal code of the Russian Federation. [Read more in Russian

II. Law Enforcement Extremism

It is obvious that changing the texts of these laws would take a long time, if it is possible at all. But to stop the “witch hunt,” we need to do so as quickly as possible. Today, the fight against extremism is essentially the enactment of political and ideological repression. The Department for Countering Extremism within the Russian Federation’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, founded in 2008, is the main organ for the fight against extremism. How do employees of the department determine who is an extremist and who isn’t?
[Read more in Russian] 

III. Police and Federal Penitentiary Service Violence

In speaking of governmental extremism, we must not omit the Federal Penitentiary Service and the police. Police violence is widespread, but these occurrences are at least occasionally investigated, and police officers receive criminal punishments. Of course, only a very small fraction of such incidents are investigated appropriately. 
[Read more in Russian] 


If a government indiscriminately prosecutes Muslims who join Hizb ut-Tahrir and imprisons them on long sentences for no reason, this pushes others towards real extremism.

If, in the mountains of the Caucasus, the government often declares people to be terrorists who in reality are not, and viciously humiliates these people and their families, this pushes their relatives and friends towards real violence and terrorism.

If the government in dozens of prison colonies humiliates Muslims however they can, and I know for a fact that they do (they make them eat pork and beat those who refuse; they desecrate the Koran in front of them), this pushes them and their friends and relatives to real extremism.

If the government, as represented by the police and the Federal Penitentiary Service, inflicts various methods of torture on a person in order to beat a confession out of them, or just out of sadistic tendencies, these people become hardened, they are spurred to take revenge.

If the government imposes harsh repressive measures on a person with the help of the police and unjust court decisions—both criminal and administrative—all those who oppose the government who advocated peacefully will be pushed down a path of radicalism and violence.

If all of this develops further, a real radicalization of society, with which the authorities will not be able to cope, will become inevitable.

Translated by Julie Hersh