Harsh new anti-terrorism laws in Russia

The Western political class/media is having a hard job managing two narratives. On the one hand the narrative about ‘aggressive’ Russia (always personalised onto ‘Putin’ of course). And on the other hand the narrative about the ‘death-cult’ of ISIS – which we are supposed to believe has sprung from nowhere and whose existence is entirely unconnected to US led interventions in the Middle-East.

Usually the solution is simply to decide which is more of a threat; “Putin’s Russia” or ISIS.

But what do they do when Russia is confronting terrorism? In Syria it was easy; they just claimed that Russia was ‘bombing civilians’. But what to do when Russia enacts anti-terrorism laws? At all costs they mustn’t admit that they are fighting the same enemy. That would destroy the narrative. So; they make the obvious switch. Russia’s anti-terrorism laws are presented as part of “Putin’s crack-down on freedoms”.

This is the Guardian spinning Russia’s anti-terrorist laws as if they are part of a “crack-down on Internet freedoms”.

There are several layers of deception in this.

Like Russia or not they have a real problem with domestic Islamic terrorism. Recent years have seen large-scale attacks on airplanes, an airport, tube-stations, a train, a theatre and a school. Hundreds of innocent Russians have been killed. If the UK faced a threat proportionally equivalent there would be ‘harsh anti-terrorism’ laws here too. (If the Guardian wants to argue that the people who killed 185 youngters in the Beslan school siege [1] were Chechen freedom fighters, let them).

And; wait. Don’t these ‘harsh’ laws have a familiar ring to them? The most striking aspect about these laws is how they are so alike similar measures being taken in the UK. The measures on requiring communications providers to retain customer data sound remarkably similar to proposals in the UK’s Draft Communications Data Bill currently going through Parliament. [2] The new Russian anti-terrorist law makes it an offence to call for terrorist acts or to justify them [3]. The Guardian mis-reports this as making it an offence to ‘approve’ of terrorist offences, burying the aspect of incitement. At this point we can recall that recently the UK police warned people that they would be committing an offence under anti-terrorism law if they shared ISIS executions videos. [4]

The Guardian reports that that the Russian anti-terrorism law contains measures restricting missionary work to certain designated areas. But there is no explanation of the context. Presumably if this is indeed part of the Bill it is an attempt to limit the spread of jihadi ideology under cover of Islamic missionary work. One is reminded of the UK’s Prevent campaign.

The Guardian also reports that the sentence for ‘extremism’ has been increased from four to eight years. The Guardian writes:

It also appears to take aim at Kremlin opponents and protesters. The maximum punishment for extremism, a charge that has been increasingly brought against social media users critical of Russia’s involvement in Ukraine, will be increased from four to eight years in prison.

The Guardian does not present any cases of this. But this is characteristic of the media narrative on Russian. It is a truism of this narrative that Russia’s anti-extremist laws are used to target ‘liberal bloggers’. Once something becomes a truism in the narrative it is just presented as self-evidently true. In some cases we can wonder if the original source of ‘truth’ was anything other than a State Department briefing. (This appears to be the source for the narrative about Russian bombing ‘moderate rebels’ in Syria). We can note that “Russia’s involvement in Ukraine” is taken as a given. The usual discreet silence about Western involvement in Ukraine  – which involves the full spectrum of political, diplomatic and military interference – is maintained. (It doesn’t, of course, need to be mentioned because it is ‘good’ and about ‘freedom’ – in contrast to the interference of Russia which is about ‘aggression’ and ‘expansion’ etc.) At any event – what are the cases of social media users being prosecuted for their criticisms of Russian policy in Ukraine? Without the cases we can’t comment.

And, again, we can note that the UK too is planning laws to control extremist speech and incitement. Such measures were announced in the last Queen’s speech in which a proposed counter-Extremism Bill was floated. [5] This is some reporting about Russia’s anti-extremist laws on Russian state media: https://www.rt.com/politics/169352-russian-extremism-financing-ban/. The laws on extremism in Russia may be more authoritarian than the ones proposed in liberal Britain but they are heading in the same direction – and dealing with the same problem. In particular they are attempting to deal with the problem of young people being radicalised by extremists via amongst other mediums – the Internet.

The Russian anti-terrorism Bill also dropped a measure to strip citizens convicted of terrorism of their citizenship. But similar laws already exist in the UK where the state can strip people of their citizenship on terrorism related grounds – even without their having a court conviction. [6]

All in all – Russia’s new anti-terrorism law and, to some extent, its existing anti-extremist laws are similar to legislation on the books or being drafted in the UK. This should not be surprising. Both the UK and Russia face a similar threat from Islamic extremism. Yes; there are differences. The Russian laws can seem more authoritarian that the liberally-framed laws we are accustomed to in the West. But – why should Russia be exactly the same? (This demand that Russia be exactly the same as the liberal West is one of the defining features of the current anti-Russia narrative). The Western political/media classes attempt to deal with terrorism and extremism (and yes the UK has laws on football hooliganism too) in, basically, much the same way as the Russians. This is natural; in both cases these are states, which rule via laws enacted in Parliaments, attempting to deal with threats to order and security, through enacting legislation. But while they defend such laws in the UK as being about “protecting freedom” when they are enacted in Russia the Western liberal elites derided them as being part of “Putin’s crack-down”.

One of the least attractive aspects of the current wave of Russia bashing is how the narrative is  so strongly driven against Russia at all costs that Western liberals end up giving tacit support to ISIS.


1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beslan_school_siege

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Draft_Communications_Data_Bill

3. https://www.rt.com/politics/348212-duma-gives-final-nod-to/

4. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/08/20/watch-james-foleys-beheading-online-and-you-could-get-arrested_n_5694871.html

5. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/05/14/queens-speech-cameron-promises-crackdown-on-extremists/

6. https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2016/06/21/citizenship-stripping-new-figures-reveal-theresa-may-deprived-33-individuals-british-citizenship/


Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer