4 March 2022
by Leonid Nikitinsky, Novaya correspondent
Source: Novaya gazeta
Let me explain the Criminal Code articles just passed in order to make journalists’ work even more dangerous, if even possible
Yesterday my note on draft Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code on “the public dissemination of information known to be false regarding the use of the Armed Forces” was posted on the Novaya site, and today it has already passed on three readings–and not only it. In the State Duma base, these bills have only just been published, that is, after their passage. What’s there to discuss, to what end and with whom? The talking heads of the legislative assembly (if this mechanism can still be called that) has already promised that the amendments to the Criminal Code will go into effect the day after tomorrow, that is, not only will they be instantly approved by the Federation Council but they will also be signed by the president. Unlike other directives, its advance on the information field is successfully deploying at a speed that should put down the “conditional foe.” This means not only journalists working for registered media but in general anyone who out of old habit might call these things by their own names in the public arena – for instance, on social networks. More than likely, law enforcement practice will turn the weapons of the new Criminal Code articles in the opposite direction. More than likely, statements made before the law went into effect but not deleted due to forgetfulness will also be viewed as grounds for bringing charges.
And so, even before the people’s favorite International Women’s Day, three new articles of the Criminal Code will be waiting for us. Let’s analyze them briefly.
1. Article 207.3, about which we spoke in detail yesterday, will punish the dissemination of “fake news”–if there are no extenuating circumstances–by a fine of up to 1.5 million roubles or imprisonment for a term of up to three years. But if it is done for mercenary motives, which can be interpreted very broadly, or with the use of an official position, the fine increases to 5 million rubles and the term of imprisonment will now be 5-10 years. If the dissemination of “fake news” entails “serious consequences,” the term served will be 10-15 years, and the causal link between the statement and the “consequences” will be established as fact by the investigation.
2. Article 280.3 will be called “Public actions aimed at discrediting the use of the Russian Armed Forces for the purposes of defending the interests of the Russian Federation and its citizens and of supporting international peace and security.” For “discrediting the Armed Forces,” which can be expressed, among other things, in “calls for impeding their use,” it specifies an administrative fine: 30,000-50,000 roubles for citizens; 300,000-500,000 roubles for legal entities (and this means any editorial office). Accompanying these actions with calls to hold illegal (that is, unsanctioned) actions will increase the fines accordingly to 100,000 roubles for citizens and up to 1 million roubles for legal entities. And repeated actions like this following the “Dadin” mechanism invented back in 2014, which at one time, in peacetime, the Russian Constitutional Court tried unsuccessfully to break, will mean incarceration for up to five years–if the statements “lead to the infliction of harm on the health and life of citizens, damage to property, mass disorders, and damage to the work of the civil infrastructure, including communications and transport.”
3. On the backdrop of the first two innovations, sanctions for “calls to introduce measures of a restrictive nature with regard to the Russian Federation, Russian citizens, and Russian legal entities” (that is sanctions–Article 284.3) look almost vegetarian: a fine of up to half a million roubles and up to three years’ imprisonment following the “Dadin” mechanism.
As I explained yesterday, Article 207.3, Part 3, of the Russian Criminal Code, by force of its term starting at 10 years, would be categorized as especially severe and making pre-trial detention automatic: most often, imprisonment on remand will be applied to those who are incriminated by the Investigative Committee. Upon a determination of “severe consequences,” the investigation and courts most likely will be guided by the disposition of Article 280.3, attributing to them “infliction of harm to the health and life of citizens and damage to property and to the work of the civil infrastructure, including communications and transport” as well as “mass disorders,” under which it will be easy to subsume any unsanctioned public action.
Just now, the General Prosecutor’s Office “cautioned” how they are going to assess the actions of citizens who have heedlessly attended an unsanctioned rally or simply wound up somewhere near the riot police. Inasmuch as such actions, understandably, cannot be spontaneous, but are invariably organized by “associations whose activity has been deemed extremist and banned on the territory of the Russian Federation,” everyone who joins them will bear criminal responsibility for “participation in the activities of an extremist organization.”
If up until now there were still certain passes and paths through the mined fields of the information field, then in the light of the new articles on the “Armed Forces” it is forbidden to say more or less anything, starting with doubts about the justification for their use (see the disposition of Article 280.3), so any call for peace, might, in principle, be interpreted in the same way.
From now on, a journalist, like a mine-detector, can only be wrong once. But as I wrote yesterday, no one is going to serve 15 years under the new Article 207.3, and even five is unlikely. The country and the world have begun to change so fast that anyone still alive then will get their freedom before that.
Translated by Marian Schwartz