Leonid Nikitinsky: Stealing from Thoughtcriminals

22 January 2024

Only judicial practice will explain what is to happen to those who fall under the legislation on property confiscation 

by Leonid Nikitinsky

Source: Novaya gazeta

For brevity’s sake, we’re going to call the document that has been the subject of rumors but that appeared in the State Duma’s legislation base only on Monday “the plan to confiscate the property of unpatriotically inclined citizens.” Here, for information purposes, is a list of articles of the Russian Criminal Code widely applied of late under which (in addition to those legally defined crimes where it might also be applied) this kind of confiscation will be possible should the bill pass (which is hardly in doubt):

  • 207.3 — Public dissemination of knowingly false information under the guise of accurate reports . . . on the use of the Russian Armed Forces . . . (so-called fake news).
  • 280 — Public calls to carry out extremist activities (including campaigning for Navalny and, as of recently, “LGBT* propaganda”).
  • 280.1 — Public calls to carry out actions aimed at violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation (if repeated during the course of a year—this is about Bashkiria).
  • 280.3 — Public actions aimed at discrediting the use of the Russian Armed Forces . . .” (if repeated during the course of a year—this is about the “wives of mobilized men”).
  • 282 — Actions committed publicly aimed at inciting hatred or hostility, as well as at demeaning the dignity of a person or group of persons based on attributes of sex, race, nationality, language, origin, attitude toward religion, as well as membership in any social group . . . (if repeated during the course of a year).
  • 282.4 — Propaganda or public demonstration with Nazi attributions or symbolism . . . or the attributions or symbolism of extremist organizations . . . if these actions are committed by a person subject to administrative punishment for any of the administrative offences provided for in Article 20.3 of the Russian Code of Administrative Offences (this punishment will now also be threatened for LGBT symbolism).
  • 284.1 — Participation in the activities of a foreign or international nongovernmental organization against which a decision has been taken deeming it undesirable . . . committed by a person subject to administrative punishment for an analogous action or having a conviction for the commission of a crime provided for by the present article or Article 330 of the Russian Criminal Code.
  • 284.3 — Abetting the implementation of decisions of international organizations . . . or foreign state organs on the criminal prosecution of officials of Russian public organs . . . of other persons in connection with their performance of military service or service in volunteer formations . . .” (in the absence of evidence of more serious crimes).
  • 354.1 — Rehabilitation of Nazism . . . “as well as the public dissemination of knowingly false information on the activities of the Soviet Union during World War II or about veterans of the Great Patriotic War.”
  • Confiscation will also be provided for under Article 280.4 of the Russian Criminal Code – “Public calls to carry out activities aimed against the security of Russia, . . .” which [activities] are understood to mean actions categorized under all the “terrorist” ones but also several other articles of the Russian Criminal Code, for example, about the illegal crossing of a border, and others.

Article 280.4, which leads to an entire bouquet of “calls,” will be supplemented by such menacing circumstances as their dissemination “for motives of political, ideological, racial, or ethnic hatred or hostility or for motives of hatred or hostility toward a given social group,” and, separately: “out of avaricious impulses or for hire.”

In this respect, the new article can be applied to journalists (for hire) and popular bloggers (for publicity, that is, out of avaricious impulses). The escalated punishment (in addition to deprivation or restriction of freedom) could be substantial. Much here, though, will depend on judicial practice, although there is little doubt which direction that will take.

For now there is no need to burden or confuse the confiscation of property proposed by the bill with the so-called measure of punishment that applied in the late Soviet Union to a number of state and serious property crimes—at that time, all the property of those convicted was subject to confiscation regardless of its purpose or source of acquisition.

On first reading, the bill on confiscation will cover only property that was used in or intended for the commission of the above-listed crimes, as well as income from them when and if it was received. Thus, an apartment where there was a laptop from which a so-called fake went onto the Internet could hardly be categorized as a “crime weapon,” but the laptop more than likely would. I repeat, though, only judicial practice can answer this question precisely.

The problem, though, is that right now the bill is literally fairly hard to read. In its extremely important article concerning property subject to confiscation (amendment to Article 1041.1 [b] of the Russian Criminal Code), there is an obvious confusion. We read:

“. . . money, valuables, and other property used or intended for the financing of terrorism, of extremist activity, of an organized group, of an illegal armed formation, of a criminal association (criminal organization . . .).”

Along with State Duma head Volodin, the bill was also introduced by the heads of the main parliamentary factions and committees, and a 19-page supplement collects the signatures of all the deputies who have been familiarized with it. This whole lofty assemblage along with a considerable technical staff either overlooked the extra comma, or left out “creation” before “organized group,” or else there is basically something wrong with their brain.

The technical error can be corrected on the second reading, of course. However, that error does not just betray the poor level of the initiators’ work on this repressive legislation. In a certain sense it programs in the same practice of “courts and law enforcement agencies” according to the principle, “Whoever it is, we’ll find an article for him.”

*Recognized as extremist, its activities banned on the territory of the Russian Federation.

Translated by Marian Schwartz

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