An artist from Khabarovsk charged with justifying terrorism is a political prisoner

Memorial Human Rights Centre, in accordance with international guidelines, considers Maksim Smolnikov a political prisoner. We believe he is being prosecuted for exercising his rights to freedom of speech, thought and expression. So far as we know, he has been imprisoned, in the absence of any evidence of a crime, in order to obstruct his civic activism and to stop public discussion about security and terrorism matters. We demand Smolnikov’s immediate release from custody.

Who is Maksim Smolnikov and what are the charges against him?

Maksim Smolnikov is a Khabarovsk artist, civic activist, and employee of the regional Centre for Educational Quality Assessment. In the anarchist community he is known by the pseudonym Xadad.

The reason for Smolnikov’s criminal prosecution was a post he made on the Vkontakte social media site about the anarchist Mikhail Zhlobitsky, who blew himself up on 31 October 2018 in the headquarters of the Arkhangelsk FSB. The day of the attack, Smolnikov shared his thoughts on the causes and consequences of what happened. He described the 17-year-old student’s act as one of desperation, prompted by the government’s repressive policies.

Two and a half years later, on 11 May 2021 at about 7 a.m., the authorities conducted a search, without a warrant, of Smolnikov’s apartment. The next day the artist was remanded in custody by decision of the Central district court in Khabarovsk.

Smolnikov has been charged with an offence under Article 205.2, Part 2, of the Russian Criminal Code — public justification of terrorism — that carries a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment. According to the Investigative Committee, Smolnikov’s post could be seen as justifying terrorism.

Smolnikov himself did not plead guilty and refused to testify, relying on Article 51 of the Russian Constitution.

Why Memorial considers Smolnikov a political prisoner?

Maksim Smolnikov’s arrest coincided with a fresh wave of repression against opposition activists in Khabarovsk. Over the past three months, Aleksei Vorsin, former coordinator of Navalny’s headquarters, was placed under house arrest, activist Denis Posmetiukhin was sentenced to one year in a penal colony and a criminal investigation concerning violence against a police officer was initiated against Elmira Kyalunziga, a supporter of former Khabarovsk region governor Sergei Furgal.

We believe Maksim Smolnikov was deprived of liberty without having committed a crime and in the absence of any evidence of one being committed.

The explanatory note to Article 205.2 of the Russian Criminal Code defines the public justification of terrorism as ‘a public statement acknowledging the ideology and practice of terrorism as correct and something to be supported and imitated.’ There is no other legal definition of this concept in Russian law.

Smolnikov’s online publication does not state that the ideology or practice of terrorism is correct or should be imitated; neither does it express approval of Zhlobitsky’s act, nor call for his example to be followed. Moreover, the post clearly expresses regret that the young anarchist could not find a more constructive form of struggle against state repression. And in listing possible negative consequences of Zhlobitsky’s act — including increased pressure on left-wing activists and a worsening in the situation of those imprisoned in the Network case — Smolnikov concludes that what Zhlobitsky did will only exacerbate the injustice that gave rise to his anger.

Maksim Smolnikov’s prosecution violates his right to freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 29 of the Russian Constitution and Article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. In recent years, Article 205.2 of the Russian Criminal Code has become the main tool of the criminal law used as a means of repression with regard to statements made online. We now know of more than 20 criminal cases initiated for statements about what Zhlobitsky did.

We believe that an analysis of the reasons for a terrorist attack cannot and should not be considered an endorsement or justification of such an act. It seems obvious that any terrorist act has social or political causes that society needs to analyse and understand. Prohibiting public discussion of the factors that motivate terrorism is unlawful and harmful to society.

We oppose a broad interpretation of the term ‘justification of terrorism’ and unwarranted criminalization of public discussion about terrorism.

Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner does not imply Memorial Human Rights Centre agrees with, or approves of, their views, statements, or actions.

More information about the case and the position of Memorial Human Rights Centre is available on our website.

How to help?

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