Russia’s Controversial ‘Yarovaya Package’ Targets Missionaries, Threatens Privacy

№1, December 2016

The so-called ‘Yarovaya package’, containing a series of legislative amendments ostensibly designed to combat terrorism, is perhaps the most dramatic development in  Russian legislation in 2016. The respective bills were authored and initiated by Viktor Ozerov, Federation Council member from Khabarovsk Region, and Irina Yarovaya, State Duma MP from the United Russia Party, after whom the law is nicknamed. The amendments would severely limit privacy of correspondence and freedom of conscience, lower the age of criminal responsibility, and toughen punishment for failure to report a crime. The new rules – which many experts  say will be impossible to implement – for internet service providers and mobile network operators will come into force in 2018.  The government should have  drafted the implementing regulations, detailing the new requirements and enforcement procedures, by November 2016, but has not done so.1 Nevertheless, the amendments have already been  used to prosecute a number of non-Russian Orthodox religious groups and missionaries.

The package consists of two laws; No. 374-FZ amends certain federal laws and regulations, and No. 375-FL amends the Criminal and Criminal Procedure Codes.

 Anti-extremism and Anti-terrorism

As the bill made its way through the Duma, some of its most  contentious proposals – such as those allowing  Russians to be stripped of  citizenship for terrorist or economic crimes or to bar their exit from Russia by an administrative decision,  rather than judicial proceedings –  were deleted. But according to experts, other provisions which have remained in place could still have a huge impact on many Russians. The amendments impose tougher penalties for what the Russian law defines as “extremism”. For example, the maximum punishment for “inciting hatred or animosity” under Article 282 of the Criminal Code used to be up to four years  in prison, but now the penalty can be up to five years and may not be lower than two years. Today in Russia, one can  be charged and sentenced under Article 282 for as little as a repost in social media.2 In addition, fines for other types of  “extremist activity” have been increased dramatically, in some cases multi-fold.

A new type of offence has been added to the Criminal Code, namely, “inducing, recruiting or otherwise involving someone in a riot”, carrying a punishment of five to 10 years in prison.

Other amendments increase fines and prison sentences for terrorist crimes. Separately, the amendments toughen penalties for “justification of terrorism” online: the maximum fine has increased from 500,000 to one million rubles, and the maximum prison sentence from five to seven years.  A repost on social media can get one charged and sentenced for “justification”, and according to human rights defenders and lawyers, both the police and FSB agents deliberately search for this type of posting.

Another new provision, Article 361 of the Criminal Code, carries life imprisonment for “acts of international terrorism”, such as committing (or threatening to commit) actions such as “explosion, arson or others” outside Russia, if these endanger Russian nationals.

Yet another provision concerning terrorism is Article 205.6 of the Criminal Code: “failure to report a crime”, carrying penalties which range from a fine of up to a 100,000 rubles to a year in prison for failure to report crimes such  as armed rebellion and seizure of power, participation in illegal armed groups, and terrorist activities, including any justification of terrorism.

Notably, the “Yarovaya package” introduces criminal liability for children as young as 14 for failure to report a crime. Other types of offences for which one can be charged and sentenced before  the age of 14 include participation in riots and terrorist communities. Ten new offences have been added to the list (205.3, 205.4, Part 2; 205.5, Part 2; 205.6; 208, part 2; 211; 212, part 2; 277; 360; 361), bringing the total to 32.

Restriction of Religions Freedoms

Standing somewhat apart are amendments introducing a new definition of “missionary activity” (Federal Law No. 125-FZ on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations, Chapter III.1), which is quite broad and applies to virtually any religious practice, including rituals, sermons, reading of religious literature, and sharing religious views online. Missionary activities are restricted to premises occupied by religious organisations. In order to be allowed to engage in mission work elsewhere, the new law requires individuals to carry authorisation from their religious association and proof of the organisation’s registration.  Proselytising in residential areas – except for  prayer and ritual – is specifically forbidden, and violators could face fines of up to one million rubles.

According to the SOVA Centre, the law is actively enforced, in particular against Protestants: in August, those charged and fined included Ebenezer Tuah, head of the Christ Embassy Evangelical (Pentecostal) group in Tver, Baptist preacher Donald Ossewaarde in Orel, and pastors Alexey Teleus in Noyabrsk, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District, and Alexander Yakimov in the Republic of Mari El. In September, those fined for “illegal missionary activity” included Sergey Zhuravlev, archbishop of the Ukrainian Reformed Orthodox Church of Christ the Savior and the Russian Orthodox Reformed Church, in St. Petersburg, and Irina Tishchenko, leader of the Family and Women’s Ministry in the New Generation movement, in Kemerovo.  A few other cases are pending.3

Surveillance of Individuals

The law creates more opportunities for government to restrict privacy of correspondence and telephone communications.  Since 20 July 2016, mobile network operators  have been required to keep all metadata – i.e. data on text messages and phone calls, including date, sender and recipient – for three years, and  from 1 July 2018, they will be required to keep the content of text messages and recordings of phone calls for six months.

Similar rules apply to what Federal Law No. 149-FZ on Information, IT, and Data Protection defines as “organisers of information dissemination over the internet”, which may be interpreted to include virtually any website.  Now they are required to retain metadata of any communication they transmit for a year, and  from 1 July 2018, they will be  obliged to keep the content of any such communication for six months.

In addition, both mobile network operators and “organisers of information dissemination over the internet” are now required to make the data available to security agents upon request.

Moreover, since almost all of web traffic today is encrypted, the law also obliges” organisers of information dissemination” to provide security agents with “all the information needed for decoding encrypted messages”. Simply put, from now on, any social network, messaging service or website allowing visitors to exchange messages  is supposed to provide encryption keys to police and the FSB.

The new provisions also require postal operators – private as well as the state-owned Russian Post – to use scanners and metal detectors to check every parcel for money, weapons, drugs, poisons, perishable products, and any substances  that could harm postal workers or damage other parcels.

Public Reactions

The amendments have triggered  widespread condemnation in Russian society. Public figures who have voiced their criticism of the package include Internet Ombudsman Dmitry Marinichev 4, Business Ombudsman Boris Titov5 and a few others678, as well as Russia’s major mobile network operators9 and internet service providers10. Russian Post has estimates the cost of implementing the new regualtions at 500 billion rubles11.

Pavel Chikov, head of the Agora International Human Rights Group:

“Certain parts of the Yarovaya package, such as amendments restricting religious organisations, simply reinforce the repressive practices which are already there. Would it still be possible to suppress religious groups without the new law? Certainly. Russia’s Law on Pickets, Marches and Rallies had been enforced in particular against denominations which the Russian authorities deemed ‘non-traditional’ to Russia.

“It is a common feature of the vast majority of new legal restrictions recently imposed in Russia: they come on top of the already existing legal framework allowing the repressive practices in question. Roughly speaking, this is how it works: first, negative practices are piloted, then they are scaled up across the country, and finally new laws are introduced to support the already established patterns.

“Repressive laws follow a longstanding trend and make two types of impact. First, they produce a chilling effect in society and mass media. Such laws and underlying arguments make catchy headlines designed to dramatise the situation and cause a shock like a cold shower. Second, they are enforced selectively by design: we all understand, e.g. that we won’t see mass incarcerations of 14-year-olds for ‘failure to report a crime’. In my opinion, the former type of impact is worse, and it’s certainly not a bug, but a feature of such laws, perhaps supporting their essential purpose of allowing the authorities to keep the public on edge and claim they are doing their enforcement job. The trend is likely to continue: after the [Russian parliamentary] elections, we can expect ‘cold showers’ to grow into a new ‘ice bucket challenge’.”

Alexander Verkhovsky, director of the SOVA Centre:

“While the bill itself is political, its consequences will be much broader and not at all limited to political.

“First, the requirement for providers to keep metadata from all electronic communications will lead to massive leakages of these data.

“Second, the ‘failure to report’ clause, despite its apparently narrow definition, could potentially make anyone and everyone liable. For example, let’s suppose someone goes online and sees a post glorifying ISIS, which means the web surfer reliably knows of a crime committed, namely ‘justification of terrorism’, and must therefore report it to the police immediately – or must they?…. the text of the law does not make it clear. Therefore, we can expect selective enforcement, perhaps for the sake of intimidation, not necessarily in cases of political dissent, but in all sorts of other situations.

“I expect this article to be further expanded in the future beyond the dozen or so offences in currently covers. It’s a cause for concern: it is not accidental that ‘failure to report’ was at some point deleted from this and other country’s criminal codes as something incompatible with legal standards.

“Third, the law’s anti-missionary amendments allow the authorities to persecute anyone sharing their religion without the required paperwork. The law’s wording makes it extremely difficult to determine whether or not a specific communication falls under the definition of missionary activity.”

Artem Kozlyuk, head of RosKomSvoboda and member of Russia’s Pirate Party HQ:

“The package creates new risks [to user data security]. First, metadata will be retained and stored by operators without user consent or court order, in violation of Articles 23 and 24 of the Constitution [guaranteeing the right to privacy and confidentiality of communications – editor’s note.]

“Second, there are other foreseeable risks such as the leakage of private data stored by the provider to the public domain or to cyber data black markets. Cases of public and private database leakages have often been reported; the government is doing a really poor job of personal data protection, and we should never underestimate the human factor: some people will have access to private data collected, and there will be customers prepared to pay for such information. Huge amounts of data will be stored on each one of us, regardless of social status and income. I can guarantee that this type of databases will emerge in the future unless the law is changed before its full entry into force.

“Perhaps further consultations with the industry might lead to such changes lifting the data storage requirements. According to a new study released by IT companies, keeping more than 12 hours’ worth of communication data is impossible due to enormous costs.

“A few implementing regulations have been issued, including the FSB’s order concerning encryption keys. All ‘organisers of information dissemination’ required to hand over user data and encryptions keys upon security agents’ request are listed in Roskomnadzor’s special register – so far, it includes only domestic providers. This will encourage users to switch to foreign jurisdictions, giving foreign companies a competitive advantage.

“Now we all have virtual axes raised above our heads: regardless whether we are human rights defenders, business owners or ordinary citizens, such virtual axes will be used, if need be, to spy on individuals.”

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3. Ольга Сибирева, «Проблемы реализации свободы совести в России в июле – сентябре 2016 года», Информационно-аналитический центр Сова, 03.11.2016,
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6. Конгресс интеллигенции обратился к Путину по поводу «пакета Яровой». “Московский комсомолец”.
7. Минтимер Шаймиев раскритиковал «пакет Яровой». “Дождь”,
8. Министр связи Никифоров раскритиковал законопроект Яровой о хранении переписки пользователей и её расшифровке. 
9. «Большая четверка» сотовых операторов попросила отклонить закон Яровой. РБК,
10. «Пакет Яровой» убивает интернет-компании и покушается на частную жизнь. И вот почему. “Медуза”,
11. «Почта России» потратит более 500 млрд рублей на реализацию «закона Яровой». “Росбалт”,
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