The case in a process

Dangerous saves: the case of Kirill Ezhov

30 March 2020

Kirill Ezhov is an activist and a supporter of the headquarters of opposition politician Alexei Navalny. Despite the fact that the headquarters has not been active in the region since 2018, Ezhov still came to the attention of the FSB employees of Mari El Republic. Only during the trial, Kirill Ezhov found out that for several years he kept the extremist material in his videos of the social network “Vkontakte”, and seven views of the video became an act of its mass distribution.

Dangerous saves

On 25 June 2019, employees of the FSB of Mari El Republic found a prohibited video on the page of Kirill Ezhov during their search operations and sent an appeal to the Prosecutor's office of the city of Yoshkar-Ola with a request to bring the civil activist to justice.

The reason for initiating an administrative case was the video “Let's remind the cheats and thieves their Manifesto-2002”, which was recognized as extremist material on the territory of Russia. This video was posted by Kirill Ezhov in his personal account of the social network “Vkontakte” in the video section five years ago. During the entire storage period, the record received seven views.

The video “Let's remind the cheats and thieves their Manifesto-2002” is a criticism of election promises from the draft Manifesto of the "United Russia" in 2002 and a call “to go to the polling station and vote for any party except the “United Russia”. Politician Alexei Navalny published a video on his Youtube channel in December 2011 before the state Duma elections. On 21 June 2013, the Kirovsky district court of Novosibirsk recognized the video as extremist and included it in the Federal list of extremist materials based on national extremism. The Novosibirsk court found signs of national extremism in the following paragraphs: “Let's remind the cheats and thieves their Manifesto-2002” has statements in which a group of people belonging to the political party “United Russia” is negatively assessed; there are statements of a motivational nature that call for hostile actions of one group of people against another group of people united by belonging to the social group “Government” and specifically to the president Putin”.

Formal approach

On 8 July 2019, the Prosecutor's office of Yoshkar-Ola initiated administrative proceedings against Kirill Ezhov for possession and mass distribution of a prohibited video. Ezhov did not know that the video was considered extremist material until the trial began.

Despite the fact that the Prosecutor's office did not establish the fact of mass distribution of the prohibited video, did not determine the date, place and time of the administrative violation, on 24 July 2019, the Yoshkar-Ola city court accepted the case of Kirill Ezhov for consideration.

On 30 July, the Yoshkar-Ola city court fined civil activist Kirill Ezhov for mass distribution of extremist materials (article 20.29 of the Administrative Code of the Russian Federation) and ordered a payment of 3,000 rubles.

On 6 September 2019, the Supreme Court of Mari El Republic upheld the Yoshkar-Ola city court's decision. The court session lasted about 15 minutes, and the decision on the appeal was announced without the participation of Kirill Ezhov.

In February 2020, the sixth cassation court of the city of Samara also did not satisfy Ezhov's complaint and left the decision unchanged.

Defend the right to free political discussion and freedom of expression

Throughout the proceedings, the activist Kirill Ezhov is supported by human rights defenders of the organization "Man and Law". Having exhausted all legal remedies at the national level, Ezhov's lawyer, Sergei Poduzov, filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights to defend the rights to free political discussion, freedom of expression and a fair trial.

The video “Let's remind the cheats and thieves their Manifesto-2002” cannot be considered extremist, because the limits of permissible criticism of the party or government are initially wider than in relation to individuals. The ban on its distribution violates the freedom of political discussion in the Russian Federation, where pluralism of opinions is guaranteed. Moreover, despite being included in the Federal list of extremist materials, the video is still available on YouTube.

According to human rights activists, the trial was conducted formally: the mass distribution of the video was not proven, and Ezhov's actions did not contain the elements of an offense. In court, the activist could not prove that this video was not extremist material, because he had not had legal opportunities to challenge the forensic linguistic examination.

The activist Kirill Ezhov disagrees with the court's decision: "I am not used to turning a blind eye to injustice and lawlessness". He believes that the video does not contain extremist information; it does not call for hostile actions against the party. It only calls to come to the polling station and vote for any party other than the “United Russia”. And this is freedom of political discussion.

Navalny’s campaign video has become a gold mine for law enforcement officials: there are stable outbreaks of administrative offenses in the regions of Russia for distributing prohibited video recordings. So, in 2017 the European Court of Human Rights communicated to the Russian authorities questions on a similar case, where residents of Tatarstan were brought to administrative responsibility with a fine of 1000 rubles.