Case Summary and Outcome
On June 18, 2015, the Consumer Rights Protection Society, a Russian nongovermental group (NGO), referred to Crimea as an occupied territory in advisory note about travel to Crimea for Russian citizens. Due to this, access to the NGO’s website was blocked in Russia on June 23, 2015, which lasted for one day. The NGO filed a lawsuit against the Prosecutor General and the Russian information supervisory body, Roskomnadzor, for unlawfully blocking access to its website. The court, however, dismissed the complaint.
The Consumer Rights Protection Society is a Russian NGO with a mission to help and protect Russian consumers. To do that, the NGO publishes information on goods, holds seminars and conferences on consumer rights, and lodges complaints when rights are violated.
On June 18, 2015, the NGO published a travel note on Crimea that referred to it as an occupied territory. The note also stated that Russians traveling to Crimea might have issues receiving Schengen visas. The note advised travelers that it is best to enter Crimea from the Ukrainian border and to follow Ukrainian laws when traveling in the region. The NGO explained that this note was published because it had received multiple complaints from Russians about challenges they faced in obtaining Schengen visas after visiting Crimea.
The day the note was published, the Prosecutor General of Moscow requested the Russian information supervisory body, Roskomnadzor, to ban access to the website. The Prosecutor alleged that that the website violated the Russian Criminal Code Article 280.1, “Public calls to undertake activities to undermine the territorial sovereignty of Russia.” The request was granted and the website was blocked for a day.
A week later, in an official explanation from Roskomnadzor to the NGO, it was noted that the NGO’s website called for mass riots, extremist activities, and participation in unlawful public activities.
The Kremlin reacted to the website’s notice by stating that it’s characterization of Crimea was absurd and that visiting region poses no issues for Russian citizens. Vladimir Putin also opined that the NGO served foreign interests.
Although the website was only banned for a day, the NGO filed a claim against the Prosecutor General and Roskomnadzor alleging that their actions were unlawful.
At the trial, the Prosecutor General argued that by using the terms “occupied territory” and “occupation of the peninsula” implied that Crimea is a Ukrainian territory temporarily occupied by Russia and that Russian citizens should abide by Ukrainian law when visiting it. Thus, this reference undermined the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Russia and called for extremist activities.
The NGO argued that its reference to Ukraine as an occupied territory was for purely informational reasons to help Russian citizens avoid difficulties when applying for Schengen visas. It stated that nowhere in the notice has it directly called for extremist activities.
Roskomnadzor explained that it simply followed directions to block the website, per the Federal law, and that it did not participate in the review of the NGO’s reference.
The court found the government’s arguments valid and dismissed the NGO’s complaint.