RUSSIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT AGREES THAT WEBSITE MAY BE RULED EXTREMIST FOR CONTENTS OF A SINGLE PAGE
Lenizdat.ru, 31 January 2016
A decision about ruling a website to be extremist on the basis of materials that are contained on only one of its pages does not violate the constitution. The Constitutional Court of the RF came to this conclusion. A similar conclusion had already been made previously by the Supreme Court.
The decision was made in response to an appeal by the company Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York (it conducts economic affairs of the Jehovah's Witnesses). The organization is also known as the Watchtower Society.
In December 2014 a number of Jehovah's Witnesses' materials were ruled by the Supreme Court to be extremist. The topic involved three books: "What does the Bible really teach?" "Draw near to Jehovah," and "Come, follow me." In addition, the decision applied to the entire website of the organization, jw.org, as a whole.
"Recognizing as extremist only a portion of informational materials of an Internet site does not eliminate the threat of subsequent posting on it of similar materials," the court's decision says.
Representatives of the Watchtower Society tried to challenge this position in the Constitutional Court, but, according to a report from Fontanka.ru, it was unsuccessful.
"Not only individual informational materials posted on the Internet network and pages of the site on the Internet network may be ruled extremist, but also the entire website as a whole. The disputed legal regulation, conditioned on the necessity of guaranteeing the security of the state and the protection of the rights and liberties of an unrestricted circle of persons, may not be viewed as violating the constitutional rights of the plaintiff," the Constitutional Court's decision says.
We recall that this is not the first instance when Jehovah's Witnesses have challenged the decisions of Russian courts. In 2004, a court in Moscow disbanded their congregation and forbade its activity. The congregation was found guilty specifically of recruitment of children, encouraging believers to break with their families, and encouraging suicide and rejection of medical care.
In 2010 the European Court for Human Rights found this decision of the court illegal and required Russia to pay the victims 70 thousand Euros. (tr. by PDS, posted 1 February 2016)
CONSTITUTIONAL COURT REJECTS APPEAL OF JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES ON MECHANISM OF PROHIBITION OF WEBSITES FOR EXTREMISM
SOVA Center for News and Analysis, 1 February 2016
The Constitutional Court denied the Jehovah's Witnesses who were challenging several provisions of Russian laws on combating extremist activity and on information.
On 13 November 2015 the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York (the parent structure of Jehovah's Witnesses, registered in the USA) filed an appeal in the Russian Constitutional Court against provisions of federal laws "On combating extremist activity" and "On information, information technology and on protection of information." The reason for this was the confirmation by the Supreme Court of the prohibition of the official website of Jehovah's Witnesses, which was imposed by the Central district court of Tver in September 2013.
In the appeal Jehovah's Witnesses asked the court to examine the constitutionality of a number of provisions of laws which were the bases of the decision of the Tver court and the Supreme Court. First, the decision, referring to part 3 of article 1 and article 13 of the law "On combating extremist actions" pointed out that the law does not apply to foreign organizations and ruling a website as extremist does not affect the rights and legal interests of the foreign Watchtower Society, and thus its involvement in the trial is not required. In the opinion of the plaintiff such a procedure violates the principle of equality of all before the law and the court and it violates the constitutional rights of foreign organizations to protection of intellectual property and to judicial defense.
This position is supported by the conclusions of an expert analysis that was conducted by the senior scientific associate of the Institute of State and Law of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Irina Lukianova. Non-involvement in the trial of the Watchtower Society is, in the final analysis, a violation of the right to fair trial (article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights) and the reversal by the Supreme Court of the decision made on the results of an investigation with the participation of the owner of the website is evidence of the violation of the right to effective restoration of rights (article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), the expert indicated.
Second, according to the provisions of the same articles, it is permitted to consider a whole website to be extremist, even if only a few materials considered to be extremist are posted on it. In reviewing the case of the Jehovah's Witnesses' website, the Supreme Court pointed out that its "partial" recognition as extremist "implies a threat of further distribution" of extremist information on it, although the prohibited materials at that moment had been removed from the website. At the same time, a ban on a variety of materials on the largest social networks, which are much more popular than the Jehovah's Witnesses' site, does not lead to the blocking of social networks as a whole. Finally, the law does not at all define in which cases it is necessary to prohibit whole websites by court order and in which cases it is necessary to prohibit individual pages and in which cases blocking is done out-of-court. The Jehovah's Witnesses indicate that such legal indefiniteness entails a threat of a discriminatory approach, which violates the rights and liberties of citizens guaranteed by the constitution.
Third, the appeal points out that the laws do not contain procedures for removal of a website from the register of prohibited websites and the federal list of extremist materials, which leads to the restriction of freedom of speech.
On 22 December 2015, the Constitutional Court issued a decision on the Jehovah's Witnesses' appeal. It says, specifically, that "recognition of a website on the Internet to be extremist on the whole is possible both in the case of systematic posting on it of extremist materials and in the case where such a site was specifically created by a public or religious association or another organization which are considered to be extremist and whose activity is prohibited on the territory of the Russian federation for the purpose of disseminating information of an extremist nature." At the same time the Constitutional Court clarified that "in resolving the issues of recognizing material on an Internet site or a part of it to be extremist, the court should take into account the basic principles established by the federal legislature for combating extremist activity and proceed from the necessity of using the most effective way of combating extremism in the actual circumstances established by it, including removal of the causes and conditions facilitating the mass distribution of information that has previously been ruled to be extremist." As regards the removal of websites considered extremist from the federal list of extremist materials and from the integrated automated information system, as connected with overcoming the finality of judicial actions that have taken legal effect, the Constitutional Court limited itself to the consideration that it "is possible within the procedure provided by procedural legislation, . . . while the contested legal provisions, just like other norms of the said federal laws, do not establish the procedure of judicial investigation, including determining the participants of such an investigation and their procedural status." Thus the appeal was denied and important questions of the implementation of the law raised in it were left without an answer. (tr. by PDS, posted 3 February 2015)
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