20 August 2020
We consider Svetlana Prokopyeva’s conviction for the offence of public justification of terrorism unlawful and politically motivated. Her prosecution is directly related to her work as a journalist.
Memorial Human Rights Centre considers Svetlana Prokopyeva a victim of unlawful, politically motivated prosecution.
Although Prokopyeva is not imprisoned, we believe it is important to make our position on her case clear:
- The prosecution of Svetlana Prokopyeva acquired a special importance in the eyes of the Russian journalistic community and had a strong impact on public opinion;
- Judicial harassment of Prokopyeva continues – the journalist was fined the huge sum of 500,000 roubles, her equipment was confiscated, her name included in the list of terrorists and extremists maintained by Rosfinmonitoring, and her case is yet to be considered on appeal.
The circumstances of Prokopyeva’s prosecution
On 7 November 2018 in her programme on Ekho Moskvy radio – ‘One Minute of Enlightenment’ – Svetlana Prokopyeva read out a piece she had written reflecting on the bomb explosion carried out by the 17-year-old anarchist Mikhail Zhlobitsky at the FSB building in Arkhangelsk. She linked the attack to the social and political situation in the country. The next day her text was published under the heading ‘Repression for the state’ on the website of the Pskov news agency.
This publication came to the notice of Roskomnadzor, which began an investigation, ordering a number of expert assessments to be carried out.
On 5 February 2019 a criminal case was opened against Svetlana Prokopyeva under Article 205.2, Part 2, of the Russian Criminal Code (public incitement to carry out terrorist activities; public justification of terrorism or advocacy of terrorism, committed using the mass media or electronic or IT networks, including the Internet).
On 20 September 2019 Prokopyeva was charged. She was left at liberty pending trial, but under travel restrictions.
All the experts employed by Roskomnadzor and the Investigative Committee argued in their conclusions that Prokopyeva’s texts contained evidence of the public justification and advocacy of terrorism. The assessments of alternative experts, whose conclusions indicated there was no such evidence, were included in the case file but the court did not take them into account when issuing judgment.
On 6 July 2020 the 2nd Western District Military Court found Prokopyeva guilty and imposed a fine of 500,000 roubles.
Why the prosecution of Prokopyeva is unlawful and politically motivated
After the terrorist attack in Arkhangelsk, law enforcers focused their efforts on finding possible accomplices or supporters of the dead anarchist. A number of criminal cases were opened for justification of terrorism (Article 205.2 of the Russian Criminal Code), one of which was that against Prokopyeva.
Today, instead of the partially decriminalised Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code, the main instrument of repression with regard to statements published on the Internet is Article 205.2 of the Russian Criminal Code.
Addendum 1 to this article states that ‘justification of terrorism is a public statement recognising the ideology and practice of terrorism as correct, in need of support and emulation.’
Svetlana Prokopyeva’s texts do not contain incitement to commit acts of terrorism or other acts of violence. They seek to analyse the causes of the terrorist attack in Arkhangelsk. This cannot and should not be qualified as approval or justification of terrorism.
The experts pointed out that it is only through the selection and extraction of individual fragments from the text ‘Repression for the State’ that it can be considered to contain psychological evidence of the justification of terrorism.
However, the court ruled that Prokopyeva had nothing to do with the layout and placement of her materials on the websites. Accordingly, Prokopyeva was declared guilty of an act with which she had no connection.
Prokopyeva’s rights to a legal defence and fair trial were grossly violated: a non-disclosure agreement prevented her from asking specialists to conduct independent analyses in the short period of time available.
One further way in which pressure was put on the journalist and her right to fair trial infringed was the inclusion of her name in the list of terrorists and extremists maintained by Rosfinmonitoring, with the consequent blocking of her bank accounts.
In our assessment, the prosecution of Svetlana Prokopyeva has been intended to obstruct her journalistic activities and is essentially an act of censorship. Analysis and awareness of the reasons that push people to commit terrorist acts are necessary in any society and the role of journalists in this process is exceptionally important.
Prohibition of public discussion of such events violates the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 29 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation and Article 10 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. For the journalistic community, such a ban means deprivation of the right to engage in professional activities without censorship.
We believe that the current pernicious practice of applying Article 205.2 of the Criminal Code, which has become one of the key instruments for intimidating civic activists and public critics of the authorities, must be urgently reviewed.
Inclusion in the list of victims of unlawful, politically motivated prosecution does not entail recognition as a political prisoner. Inclusion in this list does not mean Memorial Human Rights Centre agrees with, or approves of, the views, statements, or actions of the individual in question.
More information about this case is available on the website of Memorial Human Rights Centre.
Translated by Simon Cosgrove