Depriving and intimidating. Property confiscation is proposed as punishment for spreading “fake news” about the Russian army
Анна Павлова
Depriving and intimidating. Property confiscation is proposed as punishment for spreading “fake news” about the Russian army
22 January 2024, 22:02

State Duma session in Moscow. Photo: AP

A bill has been presented to the State Duma which would authorize the confiscation of assets from individuals convicted under laws related to spreading “fake news” about the military and activities undermining state security. This includes a variety of offences, such as those against military service. Here’s a brief outline of who the intended targets of the new law are and its potential risks.

Reasons for property confiscation

State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin has commented on the new property confiscation bill for those convicted of disseminating “fake news” about the Russian army and anti-state security activities, stating, “Anyone who seeks to destroy Russia, betrays it, deserves appropriate punishment and must compensate for the harm caused to the nation with their own assets.”

The bill was officially submitted to the State Duma today.

It proposes amendments to Article 104.1 of the Criminal Code, “Confiscation of property,” and seeks to broaden the range of crimes where it can be applied.
Net Freedoms, a human rights organization, points out a key difference from past Soviet practices: currently, confiscation is limited to assets obtained through or used for criminal activities. “This means that the confiscation of ‘all’ the property of a convicted person is not on the table, and in practice, this type of punishment is seldom used,” explain the lawyers.

The draft law suggests confiscation for those convicted under articles related to “fakes” about the Russian army (Article 207.3) and calls to action against state security (Article 280.4), particularly if “motivated by greed” or carried out “for hire.”

Article 280.4 encompasses various other offences, amounting to 32 in total, including:

  • Treason;
  • Covert cooperation with foreign entities;
  • Espionage;
  • Involvement in “undesirable” organizations;
  • Assisting with “enforcement of decisions” of international bodies that Russia is not a part of;
  • Illegally crossing borders.

This article also includes offences against military personnel such as “disobeying orders” and “desertion,” among others.

What will be subject to confiscation

“To curb the financing of such offences, as well as other activities threatening the security of the Russian Federation, the bill proposes adding a mechanism to the Russian Criminal Code. This mechanism would allow for the confiscation of money, valuables, and other assets used or intended for financing these crimes,” the bill’s executive summary states.

Moreover, the authors have suggested revoking special, military, or honorary titles, class ranks, and state awards from those convicted under the same articles for military “fake news,” anti-state security calls, and other similar offences, such as “discrediting” the army and “rehabilitating Nazism.”

The state will be permitted to seize any asset the investigators believe to be acquired as payment for a crime or bought with criminally obtained funds.

“A sincere confession and demonstration of assets or bank transactions can serve as evidence,” a Net Freedoms lawyer anonymously shared with Mediazona. “Without a confession, proving a direct causal link between the acquisition of assets or funds and the criminal act (or intention thereof) is necessary.”

The Faridaily project by journalists Farida Rustamova and Maxim Tovkailo highlights that “journalists and activists are likely the primary targets for ‘fake news’ and further calls made moticated by greed.” They recall that military personnel like Daniil Frolkin, who received a 5.5-year suspended sentence for admitting to IStories about looting and murdering a civilian in Ukraine’s Bucha district, were charged with precisely this offence.

Colombian national Alberto Enrique Giraldo Saray, sentenced to 5 years and 2 months, and blogger Alexander Nozdrinov, who received 8.5 years, faced similar charges of disseminating military “fake news” for financial gain. However, as the Net Freedoms lawyer notes, applying this clause is relatively rare in practice. Typically, accusations of “fake news” are based on “political hatred,” and fines are often more significant than property confiscation.

Besides journalists, activists, and public figures, the bill also targets military personnel, according to Farida Rustamova. “Confiscation now also threatens those guilty of desertion and disobeying orders, as well as sabotage. This seems aimed at deterring Russians who might assist Ukraine in any way. The reality of such crimes is uncertain—they are prominently reported by the FSB, but independent information is scarce.”

The application of the new law remains to be seen, as confiscation is a court-determined measure, the journalist notes: “Yet, the activation of this instrument is certainly intended to broadly intimidate citizens.”

Editor: Maria Klimova

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