July 15, 2022

Patching the Holes

Patching the Holes

Russia’s Criminal Code has more than doubled in length in the 25 years since it was first enacted. The Code of Administrative Offenses, adopted in 2001, has almost quadrupled. New laws are often added in response to political and cultural developments and public protests, rather than pressure from the public or practical necessity. The authors of this article have studied the introduction of repressive laws over the past ten years and write about the most dramatic examples of legislative “resourcefulness.”

In February 2012, Pussy Riot staged a performance-art protest titled “Mother of God, Drive Putin Away!” inside Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Four members of the group donned colorful balaclavas, climbed the steps to the iconostasis, and began dancing in front of it. A minute later the women were led away by security guards. Footage from the performance was used as part of a video that a court later designated “extremism.” In August 2012, three participants in the performance – Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich – were convicted of “hooliganism” and given two-year sentences. Samutsevich’s sentence was later suspended.

This high-profile criminal case prompted amendments to Criminal Code Article 148. Before 2013, “offending the feelings of the faithful” entailed administrative penalties, and Article 148 was applied only in cases of interference in the performance of religious observances or in the activities of religious organizations. After the Pussy Riot trial, the article was almost entirely rewritten to cover publicly “offending the feelings of the faithful,” which became punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment.

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