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Russia’s Legal Double Standard

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In a neatly-argued piece today in today’s Moscow Times, opposition member Vladimir Ryzhkov addresses the iniquities of the Russian justice system, drawing upon his own experience of taking Vladimir Putin to court for slander.  This was prompted by comments the Prime Minister made in his annual televised call-in show, where he compared Ryzhkov (along with fellow opposition leaders Vladimir Milov and Boris Nemtsov) to the robber barons of the 1990s.  Ryzhkov argues:

According to Article 152 of the Civil Code, the defendant in a defamation case — Putin — is required to prove that the claims he made are based on fact. But this is impossible to do because the charges he made against Milov, Nemtsov and myself were completely false. In accordance with standard judicial practices, Judge Tatyana Adamova had to offer an official explanation of why she ruled in favor of Putin. All she could come up with were ludicrous clams that she dug up from several questionable web sites, including those run by nationalist organizations.

Adamova fully sided with Putin’s lawyers, writing in her decision that he was not referring directly to the plaintiffs. The names Milov, Ryzhkov and Nemtsov were apparently used in a “general sense” only to represent a “certain class of public officials” who embezzled huge sums of money in the 1990s. Thus, the judge concluded, Putin is not required to prove that the three specific individuals whom he named stole anything. In this way, Putin was able to make blatantly slanderous statements on live television while avoiding completely legal responsibility for his defamation.

The same cannot be said of those who criticize the authorities. Kazan journalist and politician Irek Murtazin received 21 months in prison for speculating on his blog that the Tatarstan president might be dead. In Gorno-Altai, a criminal case is proceeding against journalist and politician Sergei Mikhailov for accusing Altai region Governor Alexander Berdnikov of alcoholism and doing a bad job of managing the regional government. In addition, a court ordered the closure of the Ingushetia.ru opposition web site, organizers of the controversial Forbidden Art exhibition were convicted, and criminal proceedings have began against artist Artyom Loskutov and members of the Voina art group.

Putin subscribes wholeheartedly to the slogan attributed to Spanishstrong-arm leader Francisco Franco: “My friends get everything; myenemies get the law!”

Imagine if a member of the opposition states clearly on televisionthat Putin is guilty of embezzlement and Putin decides to file slandercharges in the same Savyolovsky court to protect his honor and dignity.As a hypothetical exercise to test the court’s consistency, imagine ifthe defendant tried to use Putin’s tactic by claiming that Putin’s namewas invoked only in a “general sense” to represent a “certain class ofpublic officials.” Would the judge also rule in the defendant’s favor?

Read the whole article here.