Russia

 CountryType of Law 
 
 

Russia

Criminal Defamation

The Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (hereinafter referred to as the Criminal Code) presently foresees criminal liability only for slander (Art. 128.1) .

Slander is defined as dissemination of information known to be false which impugns the honour and injures the dignity of another person or damages his/her reputation.

Art. 128.1 of the Criminal Code consists of five qualifying paragraphs.

• The first paragraph of the article stipulates punishment by a fine of up to 500,000 roubles or in the amount of the wages or other income of the perpetrator for a period of up to six months or by compulsory community service for up to one hundred and sixty hours.
• The second paragraph defines the liability for slander that appears in public speech, publicly displayed piece of work, or in mass media. Such an offence is punished by a fine of up to 1 million roubles or in the amount of the wages or other income of the perpetrator for a period of up to one year or by compulsory community service for up to 240 hours.
• In accordance with the third paragraph, slander with abuse of an official position shall be punishable by a fine of up to 2 million roubles.
• As stated in the fourth paragraph, slander by suggesting that a person suffers from a disease which poses a hazard to society, likewise slander with accusing a person of sexual crimes shall be punishable by a fine of up to three million roubles or in the amount of the wages or other income of the perpetrator for a period of up to three years or by compulsory community service for up to four hundred hours.
• In accordance with the fifth paragraph, false accusation of the commission of a serious or particularly serious offence shall be punishable by a fine of up to 5 million roubles.

Cases under Art. 128.1(1) of the Criminal Code are mostly cases of private prosecution, i.e., prosecution is represented not by Prosecutor’s Office, but by a victim who him/herself files a suit in the Justice of the Peace Court. Thus, the victim him/herself shall prove the fact of slander in court.

Other constituent elements of the offence provide for public prosecution and public prosecutor’s participation in criminal proceedings for the prosecution.

 

Criminal Defamation of Public Officials

In the Criminal Code there are several articles that foresee criminal liability for defamation of public officials: 1) insult of a representative of the authority (Art. 319), 2) contempt of court (Art. 297), 3) slander against a judge, juror, public prosecutor, investigator, person conducting inquests, bailiff (Art. 298.1).

Insult of a representative of the authority (Art. 319) is defined as public insult of a representative of the authority during the discharge by him/her of his/her official duties, or in connection with discharge thereof. Insulting expressions (in oral or written form) and gestures shall be of an indecent manner, personalised, targeted at a particular person (persons) who represents the authority and shall suggest negative assessment of victim’s personal, professional, or official performance. Only actions or expressions made in an indecent manner shall be regarded as insulting. Nevertheless, consideration should be given to the fact that in terms of practice expressions need not necessarily be indecent in order to be acknowledged by courts as insulting to a representative of the authority.

Insult of a representative of the authority shall be punishable by a fine of up to 140,000 roubles or in the amount of the wages or other income of the perpetrator for a period of up to three months or by compulsory community service for up to 360 hours or by correctional labour for a period of up to one year.

Contempt of court (Criminal Code Art. 297) is also a form of defamation of a representative of the authority that manifests itself in insult of persons participating in judicial proceedings (par. 1). as well as in insult of a judge, juror or any other person involved in the administration of justice (par. 2).

Insult is understood in this article as any act that is expressed in verbal or demonstrative form and is aimed at disparaging the aforementioned persons’ honour or dignity and, thus, undermines the credibility of the judiciary. Only actions or expressions made in an indecent manner shall be regarded as insulting. Nevertheless, consideration should be given to the fact that in terms of judicial practice the notion of “insult” is interpreted broader and expressions need not necessarily be indecent in order to be acknowledged by courts as insulting to a judge or any party participating in criminal proceedings.

Contempt of court that has manifested itself in insult of a person participating in judicial proceeding (Art. 297(1)) shall be punishable by a fine of up to 80,000 roubles or in the amount of the wages or other income of the perpetrator for a period of up to six months or by compulsory community service for up to 480 hours or by arrest for a period of up to four months. If the insult is aimed at a judge, juror or any other person involved in the administration of justice (Art. 297(2)), possible punishment shall be a fine of up to 200,000 roubles or in the amount of the wages or other income of the perpetrator for a period of up to 18 months or compulsory community service for up to 480 hours or correctional labour for a period of up to two years or arrest for a period of up to six months.

Slander against a judge, juror, public prosecutor, investigator, person conducting inquests, bailiff (Criminal Code, Art. 298.1) .

This offence involves slander against a judge, juror or arbitration court assessor, public prosecutor, investigator, person conducting inquests, bailiff, i.e., dissemination of information known to be false which impugns the honour and injures the dignity of aforementioned persons or damages their business reputation. The offence of slander can be committed during judicial proceedings, conducting of investigative actions or other procedural actions in relation to legal proceedings, criminal prosecution or enforcement of judicial acts, as well as in other circumstances. Mandatory element which characterises such an offence is the fact that false information is disseminated in the light of legal proceedings (Art. 298.1(1)) or conducting pre-trial investigation or enforcement of judgement, decision or other judicial act (Art. 298.1(2)). In case of lack of the indicia the deed shall be qualified in accordance with the Criminal Code, Art. 128.1, as ordinary slander.

The offence of slander against a judge, juror or any other person involved in the administration of justice committed in the light of legal proceedings shall be punishable by a fine of up to 2 million roubles or in the amount of the wages or other income of the perpetrator for a period of up to three years or compulsory community service for up to 360 hours (Art. 298.1(2)). The same offence committed against a public prosecutor, investigator, person conducting inquests, bailiff in the light of conducting pre-trial investigation or enforcement of judgement, decision or other judicial act shall be punishable by a fine of up to 1 million roubles or in the amount of the wages or other income of the perpetrator for a period of up to two years or by compulsory community service for up to 320 hours (Criminal Code Art. 298.1(2)). The same offences, stipulated by par. 1 or 2 of this article in conjunction with the accusation of the commission of another serious or particularly serious crime shall be punishable by a fine of up to 5 million roubles or in the amount of the wages or other income of the perpetrator for a period of up to three years or by compulsory community service for up to 480 hours.

 

Criminal Defamation of the Head of State

No provisions.

 

Criminal Defamation of the State and its Symbols

Desecration of the State Flag of the Russian Federation or of the State Coat of Arms of the Russian Federation (Criminal Code Art. 329) . This offence involves the commission of actions that represent desecration of the aforementioned objects, i.e., commission of insulting and mocking actions, profanation of aforementioned state symbols (e. g. tearing down, trampling or any other destruction of the national flag or coat of arms; flinging mud at national symbols, spitting on them; adding cynical text and pictures on them etc.).

The penalty is restriction of liberty for a period of up to one year or by forced labour for the same period or by arrest for a period of three to six months or by deprivation of liberty for a period of up to one year.

There is presently no clear indication that this article could also be used against verbal or written insult of symbols.

 

Criminal Defamation of Foreign Heads of State

No provisions.

 

Criminal Defamation of Foreign States and Symbols

Art. 184 of the Norwegian Criminal Code provides criminal liability for “actions of violence or threatening or insulting acts towards representatives of foreign states”. The penalty is a fine or imprisonment for up to one year.

 

Criminal Defamation of the Deceased

No provisions.

 

Criminal Blasphemy

Violation of the right to freedom of conscience and religious belief (Criminal Code, Art. 148) . This offence is defined as public actions expressing marked disrespect for society that have been made with intention to insult religious feelings of believers. The law provides for the following elements of the offence: it shall be committed in public; it shall express explicit and unambiguous disrespect for society as a whole; and the actions of the accused shall be aimed exactly at an insult. This means that the actions are in and of themselves insulting to religious people and are committed exactly with the intention to insult them. For the application of the article dedicated to the offence of insult to religious feelings of believers it should be proven that the offence was committed with direct intent, i.e., the accused deliberately committed insult to achieve such a result.

Such an offence shall be punishable by a fine of up to 300,000 roubles or in the amount of the wages or other income of the perpetrator for a period of up to two years or by compulsory community service for up to 240 hours or by forced labour for a period of up to one year or by deprivation of liberty for the same period (Criminal Code Art. 148(1)). If the aforementioned offences have been committed at places specially dedicated to conducting worships, religious rites and ceremonies, they shall be punishable by a fine of up to 500,000 roubles or in the amount of the wages or other income of the perpetrator for a period of up to three years or by compulsory community service for up to 480 hours or by forced labour for a period of up to three years or by deprivation of liberty for the same period with or without restriction of liberty for a period of up to one year (Criminal Code Art. 148(2)).

 

Criminal Statistics

Art. 128.1 is almost the only article in the Criminal Code for which a number of acquitted persons is much higher than that of convicted ones. Generally, Russian justice reveals significant tendency towards conviction, the accused predominantly are found guilty (less than 1 percent per year) . For instance, in 2015 for all elements of slander, there were 94 convicted and 511 acquitted persons. In 2014, there were 141 convictions and 663 acquittals; in 2013, 107 and 520, respectively. Thereby 98 to 99 per cent of acquittals concerning cases of slander result from the first paragraph of the article; for other elements of the offence there is virtually no acquitted and just a few convicted .

For Art. 148 of the Criminal Code (insult to religious feelings of believers), only a few criminal proceedings are instituted. Since the last amendments made in Art. 148 of the Criminal Code in 2013, there were just several criminal proceedings. An Izhevsk resident who published an image insulting to Muslims has been punished most severely – by compulsory community service for 200 hours . More frequently, if there are elements of fomenting of religious discord, the offences are qualified in accordance with Art. 282 of the Criminal Code (hatemongering and disparagement); judicial practice concerning this article is better developed and the provisions are formulated more clearly .

 

Criminal Law and Media

Selected cases

• In 2015, the Leninsky District Court in Rostov-on-Don found journalist and blogger Sergei Reznik (Сергей Резник) guilty of insulting the authorities (under Art. 319 of the RF Criminal Code) – the deputy prosecutor of Rostov region, the criminal police investigator and deputy chief of the Centre for Extremism Prevention of the RF Ministry of Internal Affairs Main Directorate in Rostov region. The court found such statements of the journalist as “scoundrel”, “swindler”, “tractor driver”, “paedophile” etc. to be insulting. These offensive remarks were published by the journalist in his personal blog on the Internet. For the expressed insult the court inflicted the journalist with a penalty of deprivation of rights to engage in professional activities in media agencies for a period of one year and 10 months (in addition, Reznik was also found guilty and sentenced on other charges) .

• In August 2016 in the Chechen Republic a Kenhi villager Ramazan Dzhalaldinov (Рамазан Джалалдинов), who recorded a video message to the Russian President Putin, complaining about the corrupt practices of local officials, was sentenced. The judge found Dzhalaldinov guilty under Part 2 of Art. 128.1 of the Criminal Code (slander in a public statement) and sentenced him to 160 hours of compulsory work. This case in particular referred to the recording, in which the man reported that teachers with no professional education are working in rural schools in Chechnya .

• In spring 2013 the head of the Moscow NGO “Consumer Rights Protection Society” Mikhail Anshakov (Михаил Аншаков) was sentenced to a fine of 100 thousand rubles for slandering the executive director of the Christ the Saviour Cathedral Fund Vasily Poddevalin (Василий Поддевалин) (under Part 2 of Art. 128.1 of the Criminal Code). The court recognised as slander the words of Anshakov in his interview with “Novaya Gazeta” («Новая газета») about the abuse of rights of those consumers, who purchase “cheap Arabic gold” in jewellery shops at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral, where he stated that essentially there is a Cathedral-based business centre, which he sees as “a large-scale and serious fraud”, and spoke about the results of the Fund’s activities’ audit carried out by the “Consumer Rights Protection Society” .

• Currently, politician and blogger Alexei Navalny (Алексей Навальный) is a defendant in a slander case. In 2016, at the request of the investigator Pavel Karpov (Павел Карпов), included on the “Magnitsky list”, a case was filed against the opposition member under parts 2 and 5 of Art. 128.1 of the Criminal Code (public slander with the accusation of a grave or especially grave offence). The investigator was unhappy with the publication of data from the investigation documentary “The Untouchables” («Каста неприкасаемых») , stating that Karpov was involved in the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky (Сергей Магнитский), on the website of Navalny. In early November 2016 – after Navalny familiarised himself with the materials of the case – the prosecutor returned it to the investigator to eliminate violations. This case has not yet been closed .

 

Recent Legal Changes

1) Criminal liability for insult was repealed and removed from the Criminal Code in December 2011. Afterwards liability for insult is provided for by the Code of Administrative Offences of the Russian Federation (hereinafter referred to as the Code of Administrative Offences) (Art. 5.61) which stipulates punishment – depending on the type of insult – by a fine from 1,000 to 5,000 roubles for citizens and from 50,000 to 500,000 roubles for legal entities (move to Section 8).

2) In 2011, the article dedicated to slander (formerly Art. 129 of the Criminal Code) was decriminalised, removed from the Criminal Code, after which slander was recognised as administratively punishable offence with a fine as maximum possible punishment. Art. 129 of the Criminal Code provided for that slander shall be punishable by a fine, compulsory community service, correctional labour and in case of qualifying elements of the offence by deprivation of liberty. However, in July 2012 slander was reincorporated in the Criminal Code – presently it is stipulated in Art. 128.1. In comparison to the removed Art. 129, Art. 128.1 Of the Criminal Code contains two new paragraphs: a) slander by suggesting that a person suffers from a disease which poses a hazard to society, likewise slandering a person with accusing him or her of sexual crimes, b) slander with abuse of an official position. In accordance with the present version of Art. 128.1 of the Criminal Code, slander shall not be punishable by deprivation of liberty compared to the excluded Art. 129, but fine amounts were substantially increased and now they range from 500,000 to 5 million roubles.

3) The article dedicated to insult of a representative of the authority (Art. 319) initially appeared in the Criminal Code dated 13 June 1996 No. 63-ФЗ, and since its adoption has been amended three times. These amendments involve minor changes referring only to insignificant alteration of sanctions.

4) The article dedicated to contempt of court (Art. 297) also initially was included in the Criminal Code dated 13 June 1996 No. 63-ФЗ, and since its adoption has been amended three times. These amendments involve minor changes referring only to insignificant alteration of sanctions.

5) Art. 297.1 which provides for criminal liability for slander against judge, juror, public prosecutor, investigator, person conducting inquests, bailiff appeared for the first time in July 2012 in the Criminal Code.

6) The article dedicated to desecration of the State Flag of the Russian Federation or of the State Coat of Arms of the Russian Federation (Art. 329) was amended in 27/12/2009. Initially, maximum possible punishment for such an offence was deprivation of liberty for a period of up to two years, after amendments – up to one year.

7) Criminal liability for insult to religious feelings of believers (blasphemy). Violation of the right to freedom of conscience and religious belief (Criminal Code Art. 148) Formerly this article foresaw criminal liability only for the actions obstructing performance of religious rites or activities of religious organizations. However, later the content of the article was radically revised; the new version has been in force since 2013. Former element constitutes only the third paragraph of the article; the first paragraph states that actions committed in public, aimed at insult to religious feelings of believers and expressing explicit disrespect for society are regarded as criminal.

 

Notes and Acknowledgements

Information for Norway was originally collected by IPI as part of a study commissioned by the Office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). It is reprinted here with the permission of the OSCE. Last update: March 2017.

The information contained in this database is for informational and advocacy purposes only. If you are a journalist facing a defamation claim, you should seek legal advice from a qualified attorney. However, if you are unable to find such an attorney, IPI may be able to assist you in doing so. Please contact us at info(at)ipi.media.

 

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