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High court lightens up on extremism cases

Civil liberties groups have heaved a sigh of relief as the High Court has announced more relaxed attitudes towards prosecution for extremism, which critics claim were being used to curb political opposition.

The court adopted a resolution on Tuesday regulating criminal prosecutions for extremism, the document gives the green light to criticizing political organizations, religious associations, beliefs and practices, pointing out that criticism is not the same as incitement to hatred, Gazeta.ru reported.

It also says that the authorities are not a social group but represent the state and so are liable for criticism like others. Hitherto, the threat of being charged for incitement to hatred against a social group hovered over those who wanted to take the police or other arms of government to task.

At last

"It is the first decision of a Russian court which says that criticizing the authorities is not extremism and that the authorities do not constitute a social group because their interests are no different from that of the state," Evgeny Ikhlos, an analyst from For Human Rights, told The Moscow News.

Last week right-wing parliamentary party the Liberal-Democrats joined a growing chorus of voices to repeal existing extremism laws, saying they were too vague to be useful, Ekho Moskvy reported.

Human rights groups are more concerned about them being used to stifle opposition, "This decision will change the situation radically. I personally worked on the proposals and helped prepare the petition to the high court. We consider it our personal achievement especially considering what we went through," Ikhlos said by telephone.

Court concerned

The court took up the issue at the beginning of June, judges were concerned about the significant increase in crimes they were processing "against constitutional order and state security," the court announced, Kommersant reported. In 2004 there were 130 and in the first half of 2011 there have already been 656.

The decision from the High Court is to serve as a recommendation to lower courts and will make bloggers like Savva Terentyev breathe easier. Terentyev, 21, condemned a raid on an opposition newspaper's office in the northern city of Syktyvkar as politically motivated. He described the officers who conducted the raid as stupid and ignorant and he found himself facing charges for inciting enmity or hostility, Kommersant reported.

He received a one year suspended sentence in 2008, the New York Times reported.

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