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Russia’s Constitutional Court claims invasion of Ukraine justifies anti-constitutional legislation

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Russia’s Constitutional Court has dismissed the complaints of 13 plaintiffs who had asked to declare Article 20.3.3 of the country’s Administrative Code on “discrediting the army” unconstitutional, according to a report by RBC. The plaintiffs noted the discriminatory nature of the legislation, as it allows the state to administer fines for an anti-war stance. Article 20.3.3 of the Administrative Code violates more than a dozen articles of the Constitution, such as the right to freedom of conscience, thought and speech, the right to freedom of assembly, and a ban on ideology.

However, the court determined that the operation of this article during the war (labelled a “special military operation” by Vladimir Putin and the Russian government) “cannot cause doubts in terms of constitutionality.” In fact, the court did not give explanations for violations of specific articles of Russia’s Constitution. According to the judges, the anti-constitutional article can be applied during “military operations” as they are aimed at “protecting the interests of the Russian Federation and its citizens, and maintaining international peace and security.”

The Constitutional Court concluded that public negative assessments of the actions of the army can “lower the decisiveness and effectiveness of the Armed Forces [...] of their tasks, the motivation of servicemen, and thus [...] assist the forces opposing Russia’s interests.” At the same time, the court considers that the article does not prevent one from “pointing out the flaws” in the activity of the Armed Forces, “if this does not involve an arbitrary denial of the constitutionally determined nature, goals and tasks of this activity and is based on open and reliable information.” According to the judges, Article 20.3.3 does not violate the constitutional rights of Russia’s citizens.

The Constitutional Court's ruling also states that the article does not infringe on “an individual's freedom to choose and hold and act in accordance with certain beliefs, since such freedom does not involve the perpetration of offenses.”

“A perfect argument,” lawyer Konstantin Zosin wrote in a Facebook post. “By the way, the court's only argument in terms of violating freedom of belief. So, for example, you could theoretically pass a law to shoot all those who write with their left hand. And this law would not violate the rights of left-handed people, since the exercise of the rights of left-handed people does not involve them committing an offense, that is, using their left hand when writing, which is forbidden by this law.”

Here are several cases of Russian citizens being persecuted under Administrative Code article 20.3.3.

  • In March 2022 in Moscow, an activist was fined for picketing with a poster reading “Fascism Will Not Pass” (“Fashism ne proydet”). The slogan was recognized as “discrediting the Russian army.” Earlier that month, activists from Krasnodar and Tula were fined under the article for spitting in the direction of the letter Z and using the slogan “No to War.”
  • In October 2022 in Tyumen, local resident Alisa Klimentova was found guilty of “discrediting the army” for writing “No to w*r!” (Нет в***е!) on a roadway. At first, she managed to convince the court that she meant “No to vobla” (Нет вобле) – meaning the Caspian roach fish that is salt-cured and commonly consumed with beer. Klimentova claimed that she had “a dislike for this type of fish,” but the local police then filed an appeal. The Tyumen Regional Court overturned the decision of the Central District Court, and sent the case back to trial, where Klimentova was found guilty and eventually fined.
  • In August 2022, lawyer Pavel Chikov reported that Russian courts had already reviewed 3,500 cases under Administrative Code Article 20.3.3. According to Chikov, the defendants have been found guilty in almost all cases. Repeated anti-war statements for those found guilty may result in criminal prosecution under Article 280.3 of Russia’s Criminal Code – “repeated discrediting resulting in dangerous consequences.”

On May 23, the head of Russia’s Constitutional Court, Valery Zorkin, showed President Vladimir Putin a French 17th century map created during the rule of Louis XIV. Looking at it, neither Zorkin nor Putin managed to “find” Ukraine as the country “did not exist.” However, this territory is actually present on the map shown to Putin, and is marked as “Vkraine ou Pays des Cosaques” (“Ukraine, land of the Cossacks”) in the then-existing Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The map also lists the Crimean peninsula as “Crimski tartares du Crim” (“Crimean Tatars of Crimea”).

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