Unprecedented repression. 2022 marks the darkest year in the history of the Russian Criminal Code
Елена Юришина
Unprecedented repression. 2022 marks the darkest year in the history of the Russian Criminal Code
15 March 2023, 15:21

Illustration: Maria V. / Mediazona

The amendments made to the Criminal Code in 2022 have made it the most repressive year in modern Russian history, according to Elena Yurishina, an analyst with “Komanda Protiv Pytok” (“Crew Against Torture”), a nongovernmental organisation that studied changes to the Russian legal system over the past 30 years.

In 2022, Russia witnessed an unparalleled surge in legal amendments as the government passed a record-breaking 653 bills, with a significant portion targeting the criminal justice system, according to Vyacheslav Volodin, the chairman of the State Duma.

The majority of the changes focused on crimes related to public order, safety, and state power. Experts from the “Crew Against Torture” see a direct link between the stricter legal framework and an increase in violations by the state itself in various areas, from freedom of expression to free occupational choice. As a result, the government’s priority shift towards protecting the state has inevitably curtailed the rights and freedoms of its citizens.

An analysis of the changes mad to the Criminal Code shows that 2022 was a record year in terms of the number of amendments. It was updated, supplemented, and rephrased more often than ever before. If we were to estimate the "punitive" textual growth of the Criminal Code it would amount to almost 10%, an unprecedented increase.

Record year for new criminal articles added

The current Russian Criminal Code came into force in 1997. Over the past quarter of a century, the document has undergone more than two hundred revisions. It is divided into two sections, the General one describing basic concepts of criminal law, and the Special one listing specific crimes and punishments. The Criminal Code is one of the most frequently updated Russian codes: over 25 years, the Special section was expanded from 256 to 391 articles.

In the 2010s, new criminal offenses were being added at a much faster pace. Then, in 2022, a staggering 19 new articles were introduced, the highest number to date. Almost all of them, 16 articles, were directly connected to the war in Ukraine.

85 new kinds of offenses were added to the Criminal Code in 2022

The revisions of the Criminal Code go beyond simple introduction of new articles, the existing ones are also being amended with new parts and clauses, or the wording gets updated. For instance, last year, articles 286 (“Abuse of power”) and 302 (“Compulsion to give evidence”) now contain specific mentions of torture, while “Treason” (article 275) now also covers defecting to the enemy. Several articles were amended to include mentions of mobilisation.

A total of 85 new offenses were added to the Criminal Code last year, which is a historical maximum. A similar surge occurred in 2012, but on a lesser scale.

The “punitive” power of the Criminal Code saw a nearly 10% increase, a record growth

In 2022, Russia passed 11 federal laws amending the Criminal Code, resulting in about a hundred amendments. The total number of amendments to the Code has now exceeded 2,500, with changes ranging from technical revisions to substantive motions either decriminalizing offenses or introducing new and harsher punishments. While 2022 may seem particularly harsh, it is part of a broader trend towards harsher punishments that has been ongoing for some time.

In 2022, the Russian Criminal Code saw an unprecedented 9.2% enlargement of its Special section, the part that covers specific offenses and punishments. As a result, the “punitive” section of the code has now swelled to 2.6 times its original size when it was first introduced in 1997.

Writing and data: Elena Yurishina (“Crew Against Torture”)

Infographics: Mediazona data team

Editor: Egor Skovoroda

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