Hate Speech, Indecency / Obscenity
Pussy Riot v. Russia
Closed Contracts Expression
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The Perm Regional Court in Russia convicted Vladimir Luzgin of intentionally disseminating false information about the USSR’s involvement in World War II by publishing an article that alleged that communists cooperated with Nazi Germany to invade Poland. The court reasoned that Mr. Luzgin was educated enough to know that the article contained false information and that its publication might have contributed to the rehabilitation of Nazi ideology. Mr. Luzgin was fined RUB 200,000 (approx. $3,400).
Mr. Luzgin shared an article entitled “15 facts about Stepan Bandera’s followers that the Kremlin is Silent About” on his personal page on Russia’s major social media platform, VKontakte. Stepan Bandera was a leader of the Ukrainian nationalist and independence movement who was persecuted and assassinated by the USSR in 1959. The article discussed the role of Stepan Bandera and his communist followers. It also stated that his followers cooperated with Nazi Germany to jointly attack Poland, which led to World War II. Twenty people viewed the article on Mr. Luzgin’s page.
Mr. Luzgin was charged under Article 354.1 of Russia’s Criminal Code, which penalizes denial of facts established by the Nuremberg Tribunal and intentionally disseminating false information about the USSR’s involvement in World War II. Particularly, the prosecution argued that the article falsely claimed that Poland was invaded jointly by the USSR and Germany, which led to World War II.
Mr. Luzgin denied the charges, claiming that he never read the findings of the Nuremberg Tribunal, and that the article talked about Stepan Bandera and communists who followed him, rather than the USSR specifically.
First, the Perm Regional Court (Court) established that the article was uploaded by Mr. Luzgin. The Court cited Mr. Luzgin’s admittance that he was the one who uploaded the article, as well as technical expert testimony that identified Mr. Luzgin as being responsible for the post.
The Court then reviewed the public element of the post. It explained that Mr. Luzgin’s page was public and, therefore, any of VKontakte’s 90 million monthly users could access it. Although Mr. Luzgin did not target anyone in particular when he shared the article, the Court equated the act of sharing online to the act of public communication targeting persons who share Mr. Luzgin’s alleged anti-government opinions and nationalist ideologies.
Then the Court reviewed the content of the article. It relied on expert testimony which concluded that the article contained false information about the actions of the USSR during World War II. Particularly, the experts held that in referring to “communists” the article meant the USSR and, therefore, accused the USSR of cooperating with Nazi Germany to spark World War II.
Mr. Luzgin argued that he lacked knowledge or intent to disseminate false information, since he has never read the actual text of the Nuremberg Tribunal decisions. However, the Court explained that the experts whom reviewed the article in question did not need to review the actual text of the Nuremberg Tribunal to identify the article’s falsity. Furthermore, the Court held that Mr. Luzgin was educated enough to understand that the article contained false information. Particularly, the Court determined that Mr. Luzgin took classes in history at secondary school and university, and received good grades. In light of this, the Court reasoned that he had knowledge of the false nature of his article. The Court further reasoned that Mr. Luzgin’s education made him aware of the risks of such misinformation, including the risks of reviving Nazi ideology and forming strong negative attitudes towards the role of the USSR in the war.
The Court convicted Mr. Luzgin and fined him RUB 200,000 (approx. $3,400).
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
The decision is problematic because Mr. Luzgin was penalized for attempting to participate in a historic discussion. The Court failed to attach value to the importance of historical debate to the right to freedom of expression, which may include questioning or challenging assumed historical facts. His article did not include any incitement to violence. Furthermore, the Court made broad assumptions as to the State’s position being true historical fact.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
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