Appeals against the judgment of Oktyabrsky District Court of Vladimir on the recognition of “Bailiff Piety” video linked to Portal-Credo.Ru as “extremist” were mailed to the court of higher instance on 25 December by Alexander Soldatov, Editor-in-Chief of Portal-Credo.Ru; Mikhail Baranov, author of the video; and Moscow Helsinki Group (MHG), our official partner, reports "Portal-Credo.Ru".
The 30-minute documentary video filmed in the autumn of 2012 by Mikhail Baranov and Anna Dombrovskaya is dedicated to the attempts of the court bailiffs to confiscate the relics of the Saints Euphymios and Euphrosynia of Suzdal from the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church (ROAC). The footage is interrupted by the author’s reasoning about the fate of the Russian Orthodoxy and the attempts of the state authorities to interfere with the spiritual lives of people. In February 2013 the Federal Security Service Directorate of Vladimir Region focused its attention on the video, in the summer of 2014 the relevant documents drawn up by the Directorate were submitted to the local Public Prosecutor’s Office and in September 2014 the trial was initiated in Oktyabrsky District Court of Vladimir. Based on the results of two sessions of the court that had taken place on 24 October and 21 November, the video was considered as “extremist material”, in spite of the fact that this conclusion made by Judge Maxim Ignatovich on the basis of his own "inner convictions" was contrary to the conclusions set out in six out of seven expert opinions attached to the case file. The final text of the judgment was issued on 26 November. The parties had one month to lodge their appeal against it.
Apart from respondents Alexander Soldatov and Mikhail Baranov, the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Vladimir and the Vladimir Regional Department of the Ministry of Justice of Russia also take part in the case. MHG’s petition for joinder as a third party was unlawfully (in the opinion of MHG) declined by the court.
The key arguments stated in the appeals concern the court’s erroneous interpretation of the notion of “extremist activity”. As follows from the RF Federal Law “On the measures against extremist activities” and from the respective decree adopted at a plenary meeting of the RF Supreme Court referred to in the statement of claim made by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, such activities imply direct calls for violence or other illegal actions. The “Bailiff Piety” video does not contain any such calls. Negative opinions and the author’s viewpoints expressed quite sharply at some points in the film cannot be regarded as calls for illegal actions.
Alexander Soldatov’s appeal cites numerous examples from the practices of the European Court of Human Rights and Russian courts, including courts in Vladimir Region. As follows from these examples, a plurality of opinions is accepted in Russia. Such plurality implies the right to express one’s opinions in sharp and sometimes even shocking words, and also implies the consent of political and public figures (e.g. Patriarch Kirill) to a broadening of the standard limits of criticism targeted at them due to the public nature of their activities. The appeal also points out that the judge has violated the procedural law by stating his preference to the opinions of the experts with low level of qualification and not to the opinions of the experts with higher professional skills and vast experience. Mikhail Baranov’s appeal mentions the violation of his right to prepare himself for the court session, the date and place of which was made known to him one day before the session itself.
Alexander Soldatov and MHG are represented in the case by Damir Gainutdinov, Cand. Sc. (Law), Legal Analyst of Agora Association. The date for the hearing at the court of second instance, i.e. Vladimir Regional Court, will most probably be set after the Christmas Holidays.
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