Vienna, March 4 – Russia’s justice ministry on Monday added 50 new items to its “list of extremist materials,” boosting the total of that enumeration of works Russian courts have found extremist to 543 but also suggesting that Moscow’s concerns about what it deems “extremist” and thus subject to ban or confiscation may be shifting.
For the first time, none of the latest set of additions to this list involves Muslim publications. Instead, 16 of the works Russian courts have declared extremist are broadsides and other texts distributed by Russian nationalist, while 34 of them are materials produced and distributed by the Jehovah’s Witnesses (www.minjust.ru/ru/activity/nko/fedspisok/).
Because of the way the list is compiled – on the basis of reports of court decisions from around the country – the pattern shown by the latest editions may be an accident. At the very least, no one should assume that Russian courts from now on will ignore Islamist works or that they will devote their attention only to Russian nationalist or Protestant Christian ones.
But some, both the members of groups whose works have been found “extremist” and those in others which have not are likely to view this as a tilt, either in a direction they approve or disapprove, and draw conclusions accordingly about what the Russian powers that be are most concerned about.
Given Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill’s concerns about Protestant Christians and others he refers to as “sectarians,” many Russians and especially Russian judges may read the changed mix in the latest addition to the federal list as reflecting his influence – or, what is more likely, take the list as guidance for their own actions in the future.
In its coverage of the federal list, Moscow’s SOVA Center has noted that most titles in the first several hundred items on the list were either the works of Islamic writers, such as Nursi, or those by extremist Russian nationalist and anti-Semitic authors, with others relatively few in number (http://www.religion.sova-center.ru/events/13B74CE/14C8529/E735EB2).
The Federal List of Extremist Materials has been maintained by the Russian Justice Ministry since July 2007 and has been regularly updated. Even as a compilation, the list is not without its problems. For example, there have been cases where it includes the finding of more than one court about a particular document.
As a result, it has been sharply criticized both by rights groups which generally banning books and other publications on the basis of their content and by religious groups whose leaders say that no one outside of their particular faith is in a position to judge what is “extremist” and what is not.
That latter objection has spawned an entire cottage industry consisting of people who are prepared to offer “expert” evaluations of works the powers that be believe are extremist, but in many cases, as rights and religious groups have pointed out, the people involved in this effort have their own agendas and seldom know enough to provide honest and objective evaluations.