UN experts condemned Monday the Russian Constitutional Court’s decision to dismiss challenges to the constitutionality of recently enacted laws that criminalize any public act seeking to discredit the use of Russian Armed Forces. In the wake of the Russia-Ukraine War, these new laws have been used by Russian authorities to arrest over 20,000 people for speaking out against Russia’s military efforts.On May 30, the Constitutional Court adopted thirteen resolutions rejecting 24 cases filed against Article 20.3.3 of the Administrative Offenses Code and Articles 207.3 and 208.3 of the Criminal Code. The court reasoned that the special circumstances warranted the new laws. It noted that “subjective” and “arbitrary” doubts related to whether the actions of the state were aimed to preserving national interest are against the rule of law. It further held that the authority of the state under the constitutional order and the fundamental duty of citizens to defend the fatherland cannot be undermined by Russian people’s right to free speech.The UN experts criticized the grounds relied upon by the court to dismiss the challenges. The UN experts stated:We are seriously concerned about the implications of the decision for many legal cases brought against individuals for expressing themselves critically or for participating in demonstrations against the war in Ukraine.The Russian Constitution, by way of Article 29, protects the right to freedom of speech and expression and bans censorship. With that in mind, the UN experts noted, “The law has no other objective than silencing critical expression in relation to the war in Ukraine.”The laws the UN experts referenced were first introduced in March 2022—soon after the Russian invasion of Ukraine—by way of amendments to the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, the Criminal Procedure Code, and Code of the Russian Federation on Administrative Offences. Under the new regime, anyone who performs “public actions aimed at discrediting the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation” could face up to 15 years in prison, along with a fine. The regime also envisages “ongoing violations,” meaning Russian prosecutors could pursue charges based on materials published before the enactment of the laws. In March, further amendments were introduced to the regime to extend the application of the laws to actions discrediting entities supporting the armed forces, such as mercenaries— notwithstanding that Article 359 of the Criminal Code outlaws mercenaries. The law forbids the spread of “false information” about Russian forces.Practically, the introduction of these laws had the effect of censoring reporting on the Russia-Ukraine War. Domestic and independent media were forced to stop reporting on the war. The UN experts stated that, since the implementation of the laws, 20,000 people have been arrested for protesting the war in Ukraine and another 700 have been arrested “for actions that allegedly ‘discredited’ the Russian Armed Forces.”

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