Leonid Nikitinsky: A public-private whipping [Novaya gazeta]

30 May 2024

By Leonid Nikitinsky

Source: Novaya gazeta

And now here’s the first public initiative from the new chair of the Russian Federation Supreme Court, Irina Podnosova: the Supreme Court has presented an initiative to change the procedure for bringing (or terminating) cases of defamation (Criminal Code of the Russian Federation Article 128.1) from a private accusation to what is called a public-private procedure. The relevant bill will be submitted to the State Duma on behalf of the RF Supreme Court.

If the law is adopted (of which there is little doubt), a person who deems they have been defamed will have to turn not to a court of arbitration as they do at present but to the investigative agencies (most frequently the police). The latter, together with the investigative authorities in complex cases, will handle the gathering of evidence. This is of course simpler and far more effective than doing so oneself. The law-enforcement agencies will, having detected elements of “defamation” in someone’s utterances, be able to bring prosecutions under this article even without an alleged victim. 

The initiative is being presented as complying with the president’s instruction to consider how to free the courts from a backlog of cases. This is disingenuous: the new procedure will lead not to a reduction but to a rise in the number of cases of defamation, some of which will be transferred from the courts of arbitration to the district courts.

Furthermore, these cases will no longer be subject to termination on the grounds of reconciliation between the parties as has been the case to date for a substantial proportion of cases under Article 128.1 in the courts of arbitration. (The very name of this level of jurisdiction initially indicated the preference for resolving cases by arbitration. However, the courts of arbitration immediately became simply the lowest link in the judiciary system and this common sense was gradually lost.)

We are aware who “defames” whom in Russia today, if we adopt a politically literate stance. It will be journalists and social media users who will primarily fall victim to the proposed changes. And, conversely, should, let’s say, a Novaya Gazeta journalist consider themselves defamed by, say, the RIA Novosti news agency, the court of arbitration, as before, will not accept their statement or begin to examine it in any form. The statement will have to be submitted to the Internal Affairs Directorate “according to place of residence” where the chances of encountering any understanding whatsoever will rapidly disappear. 

It is a convenient addition to the spectrum of repressive norms that envisage nothing apart from words as the objective aspect of the crime. Bravo, Supreme Court! As for the deputies, their hands are of course tired with drafting bills of this kind, whereas this, of course, is “more robust”. 

Translated by Melanie Moore

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