5 October 2021
Alfyorov has been prosecuted more than twenty times for various alleged administrative offences because of his criticism of the authorities. Now he faces four criminal charges for ‘extremism’ and insulting public officials.
Source: Memorial Human Rights Centre
Memorial Human Rights Centre, in accordance with international guidelines, considers Kemerovo blogger and activist Mikhail Alfyorov [also transliterated as Alferov] a political prisoner. We believe he has been deprived of his liberty and placed under house arrest on political grounds solely for his opinions and the non-violent exercise of his rights to freedom of expression and dissemination of information.
The criminal prosecution of Mikhail Alfyorov is intended to force him to end his criticism of the authorities.
The pre-trial restriction imposed on him – house arrest – is clearly disproportionate to the public danger of the acts imputed to him.
We believe Mikhail Alfyorov should be immediately released, the charges of inciting hatred (Article 282, Part 1, of the Russian Criminal Code) and rehabilitation of Nazism (Article 354.1, Part 3) dropped, and the charge of insulting a public official (Article 319) considered impartially and appropriately reviewed.
The charges against Mikhail Alfyorov
For several years Mikhail Alfyorov together with a number of like-minded colleagues has been running a YouTube channel called ‘Enemy of the Pig-Dogs’ (now renamed ‘Fabulous Kuzbass’). The videos on the channel deal with right of assembly in the region and corruption in local and federal government and the work of law enforcement agencies. In addition, in Kemerovo, Alfyorov is known as a public defender who has repeatedly participated in the trials of local activists.
Since 2018 Alfyorov has been charged on 22 occasions with administrative offences for his activism and blogging and sentenced in total to 60 days in jail, fines of 150,000 roubles and 256 hours of compulsory work.
In July 2021 Alfyorov was arrested and then placed under house arrest on charges of inciting hatred or hostility ‘towards the social group of law enforcement officers and judges’ (Article 282, Part 1, of the Russian Criminal Code). The basis for the charges was a video entitled ‘Aleksei Navalny jailed’ that Alfyorov published on YouTube which supplemented fragments of Aleksei Navalny’s own video appeal with his commentary by Alfyorov.
The Investigative Committee found incitement of hatred and hostility in Alfyorov’s use of the phrases ‘organised criminal group’, ‘Putin’s gang’ and ‘band of criminals’, as well as in his opinion that ‘bearers of epaulettes and judge’s robes in Russia’ are more dangerous than criminals. Experts from the interior ministry also pointed as evidence of the crime to the fact that ‘in the opinion of the addressee, representatives of the law enforcement agencies publicly exceed their authority’ and that the video contains ‘a negative assessment of the state structure and the form of government of the Russian Federation called “Putinism”.’
By the time Alfyorov was placed under house arrest he also faced a number of criminal charges for other alleged offences.
For example, in July 2020 criminal proceedings were initiated against Alfyorov for the alleged offence of rehabilitating Nazism (Article 354.1, Part 3, of the Russian Criminal Code). According to the Investigative Committee, Alfyorov insulted veterans and the symbols of the victory in the Second World War when, on the eve of Victory Day on 9 May, he published a video in which he criticised the festive decoration of Kemerovo while walking round the city.
Two more charges were brought in 2020 for insulting a public official (Article 319 of the Russian Criminal Code), the alleged victim being a woman police officer who had drawn up charge sheets for administrative offences and operational reports in his regard.
Why Memorial considers Alfyorov a political prisoner
It is clear to us that Mikhail Alfyorov is being prosecuted for making public statements expressing his civic stance and political views.
When analysing the charges brought against him for alleged incitement of hatred and enmity (Article 282, Part 1, of the Russian Criminal Code), it is important to remember that in 2011 the plenum of the Russian Supreme Court noted that ‘actions aimed at inciting hatred or enmity should be understood to include, in particular, statements justifying and (or) asserting the need for genocide, mass repressions, deportations, the commission of other illegal acts, including the use of violence against members of any nation, race, religion or other groups of people whatsoever.’
Mikhail Alfyorov did not call for violence or any other actions against law enforcement officials and judges. His words were, exclusively, legitimate and permissible criticism of public officials on the matter of the illegal arrest and jailing of Aleksei Navalny in January 2021.
We note that the actions of the Russian authorities were severely condemned by the international community and a large part of Russian public opinion. A wave of mass protests swept the country. Memorial Human Rights Centre also demanded the release of Aleksei Navalny and currently considers him a political prisoner.
Nor is there any evidence that Alfyorov committed the offence of ‘rehabilitation of Nazism.’ As the experts’ assessment showed, ‘the video does not contain statements or images intended to humiliate any individual or group.’ Alfyorov makes no negative references to the symbols of victory in the Second World War and does not insult veterans. Rather, he expresses dissatisfaction with the organisation and form of the celebrations for Victory Day in Kemerovo.
Alfyorov, then, is not accused of insulting veterans, but of ‘profaning the way veterans are honoured’. What he is in fact accused of is criticising the actions of Kemerovo officials, which has nothing to do with justifying Nazism, nor with historical memory, nor with war veterans.
In the criminal cases against Mikhail Alfyorov for insulting public officials (Article 319 of the Russian Criminal Code) there is indeed some evidence of insults directed at a specific person. We demand an impartial and fair consideration of these charges against him. However, we stress that insulting a public official is a minor offence for which Alfyorov cannot be deprived of liberty.
More information about the criminal prosecution of Mikhail Alfyorov and the position of Memorial Human Rights Centre is available on our website.
Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner does not imply Memorial Human Rights Centre agrees with, or approves of, their views, statements, or actions.
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Translated by Simon Cosgrove