Russia: Administrative fines continue for Ukraine war protests

Victoria Arnold, Forum 18

Yekaterinburg-based artist Ivan Lyubimov has been fined three times for "discrediting" Russia's armed forces for protesting against Russia's war in Ukraine with posters with religious themes. Police have also taken him to court twice for conducting an illegal demonstration and jailed him for 30 days. A Moscow court fined 72-year-old Catholic Galina Borisova for pinning a note to the Russian flag outside St Louis' Church. Another Moscow court acquitted district deputy Konstantin Yankauskas, saying that reposting Pope Francis' words on social media had not "discredited" the army.

Almost all administrative prosecutions for opposing Russia's invasion of Ukraine from a religious perspective have ended in convictions and fines, Forum 18 has found. Only one person has been acquitted, while another's case was closed because too much time had passed since the alleged offence. Similarly, appeals in higher courts are almost invariably unsuccessful.

Among prosecutions for opposing Russia's renewed war on Ukraine, Yekaterinburg-based artist Ivan Lyubimov has been convicted and fined three times for "discreditation" of Russia's armed forces for protesting with posters with religious themes. Police have also taken him to court twice on charges of conducting an illegal demonstration (see below).

Courts have handed Lyubimov four fines totalling nearly three months' average local wage and, in September, for a non-religious protest, sentenced him to jail ("administrative arrest") for 30 days (see below).

Two of Lyubimov's anti-war posters included Biblical quotations, while another included a quotation from the English Metaphysical poet John Donne. In one of the cases, the judge claimed: "In his written explanations Lyubimov indicated that, in his opinion, in the current situation, the Russian Federation is the aggressor, and therefore is responsible for all the suffering of people in Ukraine" (see below).

On 25 August, a Moscow court fined 72-year-old Catholic parishioner Galina Borisova for "discreditation" of Russia's armed forces to punish her for pinning a piece of paper to the Russian flag outside the door of St Louis' Catholic Church. The paper read "No bellum" and "There is no place for the flag of an aggressor state beside the flag of the Holy See". The police identified her using facial recognition technology. Borisova is the first Russian Catholic known by Forum 18 to have been prosecuted for her religious opposition to the war in Ukraine.

The Moscow authorities often use facial recognition technology, for example to identify anti-government demonstrators or men evading mobilisation.

In contrast, on 1 September, a Moscow court acquitted Konstantin Yankauskas, an independent municipal district deputy, of "discrediting" the Russian Armed Forces by posting on social media (without comment) the text of an address by Pope Francis, including the remark: "In the name of God, I ask you: stop this massacre!" The judge noted that "it is impossible to conclude that the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation has been discredited" by quoting the Pope's remarks.

A court in Krasnodar Region closed the case against Russian Orthodox (Moscow Patriarchate) priest Maksim Nagibin – who gave an anti-war sermon at Easter – because the time for administrative prosecutions had run out (see below).

Despite the high likelihood of detention, administrative charges, and fines, and the danger of criminal prosecution if found to have "discredited" the Armed Forces more than once in a year, small numbers of Russians continue to protest against the war on the basis of faith.

As of 21 October, independent Russian media outlet Mediazona recorded 4,777 prosecutions under the new Administrative Code Article 20.3.3 ("Public actions aimed at discrediting the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation").

Of these, 24 are known by Forum 18 to have involved religious arguments, religious imagery, or quotations from the Bible or religious figures – 19 people have received fines in first-instance courts, 1 person was acquitted, 1 case was closed because the statute of limitations had expired, and 3 cases are yet to be considered.

Police have also brought cases against protesters under various Parts of Administrative Code Article 20.2 ("Violation of the established procedure for organising or holding a meeting, rally, demonstration, march or picket"). Forum 18 is aware of 3 prosecutions under Article 20.2, Part 5 for the expression of explicitly religious opposition to the war.

The police in various regions of Russia – who are responsible for taking alleged offenders to court under Administrative Code Article 20.3.3 – have repeatedly failed to answer Forum 18's enquiries as to why the peaceful expression of religious views on the war in Ukraine is considered "discreditation" of the Armed Forces. Similarly, no court has yet answered this question.

Between 24 February and 24 October, OVD-Info recorded 19,347 detentions of people protesting against the invasion of Ukraine and latterly against the "partial mobilisation" of men (announced on 21 September).

Author information

This article is a shortened version of an article first published on Forum 18 on 7th November. Read the full article here.

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This article is a shortened version of an article first published on Forum 18 on 7th November. Read the full article here.