16 January 2012
Experts have established that government officials and deputies of legislative assemblies do not constitute a social group. The Chelyabinsk region Investigative Committee has halted the prosecution of the blogger Andrei Ermolenko for lack of evidence. Andrei Ermolenko had been charged with “inciting hatred, as well as degrading the human dignity of a group of people on the basis of their belonging to a particular social group” (Article 282, Section 1, of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation).
This decision by senior investigator Rustam Gilmanshin of 16 January 2012 was handed by Andrei Ermolenko to the Agora Human Rights Association, which had acted as his legal counsel. The main reasons for halting the prosecution, a correspondent for Open Information Agency reports, were the failure by experts to find any evidence of extremism in Andrei Ermolenko’s blogs, and the fact that the experts found that officials of the Prosecutor’s Office, the courts, the police, or civil servants and deputies of the State Duma, could not be considered to constitute a distinct social group.
In the summer of 2009, Andrei Ermolenko denounced government and law enforcement officials in materials he posted on the Internet entitled “We declare war on you!” and “No to political impotence”. As a result, in 2011 criminal proceedings were instigated against Andrei Ermolenko, his apartment was searched and his computer, laptop and other personal items were confiscated.
Despite the position taken by the Plenum of the Supreme Court and numerous decisions by regional courts and investigators, Aleksandr Taradanov, chair of the sociology department at Chelyabinsk State University, found from the very start that representatives of the Prosecutor’s Office, the courts, the police, civil servants and deputies of the State Duma constituted a distinct social group. Moreover, his colleague, Diana Tsiring, chair of the psychology department, found in the blogs published by Andrei Ermolenko “public statements that aim to incite hatred, as well as degrading the human dignity of a group of people on the basis of their belonging to a particular social group.”
However, at the request of Andrei Ermolenko’s legal counsel, the views of experts who fundamentally contradicted the conclusions of Taradanov and Tsiring were added to the materials of the case. Then at the end of June 2011, the investigation initiated a fresh, all-round linguistic, psychological and sociological examination at the Southern Urals State University “due to the presence of contradictory conclusions among different experts and specialists.”
In the upshot, Anna Ryazanova, a lecturer in clinical psychology at the Southern Urals State University and a medical psychologist at Chelyabinsk Regional Psychiatric Hospital No. 1, and Ekaterina Prilukova, a lecturer in political science at the same university and a member of the Russian Academy of Political Science, concluded that Andrei Ermolenko’s blogs did not contain any judgements or statements calling for aggressive actions against those they criticized.
The experts said, citing among other things a ruling by the Plenum of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights: “The question of whether representatives of the Prosecutor’s Office, the courts, the police, civil servants and deputies of the State Duma belong to a specific social group cannot be decided unambiguously in the framework of the investigation of the given criminal case in the absence of a commonly accepted approach to the given issue. Representatives of the executive and legislative bodies cannot be considered to constitute a distinct social group.”
The investigator’s decision to drop charges against Andrei Ermolenko can be read here. The conclusions of the experts Aleksandr Taradanov and Diana Tsiring can be read here.