Rights groups ask Russian court to strike down law against war protests

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Russian human rights groups have filed complaints to the Constitutional Court to seek the repeal of a law that bans people from speaking out against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

OVD-Info, one of the groups involved, said on Tuesday the aim was to abolish Article 20.3.3 of the code of administrative offences, which bans “public actions aimed at discrediting the use of the armed forces of the Russian Federation to defend the interests of the Russian Federation.”

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“This article should not exist at all since it prohibits criticizing the state, which is unacceptable in a democratic society,” Violetta Fitsner, a lawyer for OVD-Info, told Reuters.

The chances of repealing the censorship law - part of a package passed eight days after last year’s invasion - are remote. But if the complaints are rejected, Fitsner said, it will signal that human rights and the constitution no longer matter in Russia.

“In any case, we want to draw attention to the problem of persecution in Russia for anti-war positions and pacifist beliefs and state that such persecution is absolutely illegal.”

Basic freedoms

The rights groups - also including the banned organization Memorial and the prisoner support group Russia Behind Bars - want the Constitutional Court to rule that the ban on dissent against the war violates basic freedoms of conscience, expression and assembly.

Fitsner said they had submitted 10 complaints since the weekend, and planned to file 10 more. They expect to wait months for a reply.

Authorities have so far launched 6,561 cases under Article 20.3.3, OVD-Info said, including against people who staged solo anti-war demonstrations, posted their opinions online or wore anti-war symbols on their clothes.

Those convicted under the censorship law receive fines. If they repeat the offence of “discrediting the armed forces” within a year, they face prison terms of up to five years, while spreading “false information” about the army is punishable by up to 15 years.

In recent weeks, authorities have taken repression of dissent to a new level.

Last week Vladimir Kara-Murza, a prominent opposition figure, was jailed for 25 years for treason and spreading false information about the army - three times longer than any sentence previously imposed for speaking out against the war.

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