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Russia: surge in anti-terrorism laws used to jail dissenters - new briefing

Authorities have labelled more than 13,000 people ‘terrorists’ or ‘extremists’, denying them bank accounts and forcing them into poverty 

Hundreds convicted under ‘justification of terrorism’ charges, many in relation to Ukraine war 

‘The authorities have instrumentalised anti-terrorism and anti-extremism legislation as tools to stifle dissent’ - Oleg Kozlovsky

A disturbing escalation in the abuse of vague anti-terrorism and anti-extremism legislation in Russia has intensified since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Amnesty International said today.


In an eight-page briefing, “Terrorising the dissent”, Amnesty shows how the Russian authorities have increasingly targeted dissenters and peaceful protesters under the guise of “national security”.

As of December 2023, Russia’s Federal Financial Monitoring Service’s “List of Terrorists and Extremists” included 13,647 people, with 11,286 labelled as “terrorists”. 

Being included in this list, which happens without a judicial review, leads to the freezing of bank accounts and restricts monthly spending to 10,000 roubles (around £87), which means those listed are confronted with significant challenges in maintaining even basic living standards.

Among the most glaring examples of Russia’s abuse of anti-terrorism legislation is the case of Aleksei Gorinov, a local councillor sentenced to seven years in prison for criticising the Russian government’s actions in Ukraine. Already in prison and serving his sentence, he was accused under a new terrorism-related charge for allegedly sharing his views on the war with his cellmate. 

Similarly, writer Grigori Chkhartishvili, known by his pen name Boris Akunin, was charged in absentia with “justifying terrorism” through his public statements. Since trials on terrorism-related charges are closed by default, the essence of the charges remains unclear. The Ministry of Justice only reported that the writer “actively spoke out against the special military operation in Ukraine, disseminated false information aimed at creating a negative image of the Russian Federation, as well as the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation”.

Hundreds of people have been convicted under “justification of terrorism” charges for merely discussing or expressing sympathy towards specific actions or entities arbitrarily designated as “terrorist” by the Russian authorities. Following the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia, expressions of sympathy for Ukraine - such as displaying contentment about its military successes or support for the Ukrainian military units consisting of Russian volunteers - became enough for such prosecutions.

In the first six months of 2023 alone, Russian courts also convicted 39 people of committing or planning terrorist attacks, more than in any entire year in the last decade. Many such cases related to people who had protested against the war in Ukraine or military mobilisation by throwing “Molotov cocktails” at conscription centres and other official buildings. The designation of at least some of these acts as “terrorism” where they did not pose a threat of serious injury, raises concerns that the Russian authorities are abusing the charges.

No-one charged with terrorism-related offences in Russia has been acquitted since at least 2015, when statistics first became available.


The expansion of Russia’s anti-terrorism and anti-extremism laws, including the 2006 criminalisation of “justification of terrorism” and the 2023 proposal to criminalise the “justification of extremism”, further blurs the lines between terrorism and extremism - neither of which are well defined in international law, and both of which are frequently weaponised to stifle dissent. A stark example is the designation of the late Aleksei Navalny’s NGO Anti-Corruption Foundation as an “extremist organisation”, effectively criminalising one of the most vocal civil initiatives in Russia. People who have donated money to this and similar groups, taken part in them or shared their materials - even before their arbitrary designation as extremist - are now at risk of criminal charges and long terms of imprisonment.

Oleg Kozlovsky, Amnesty International’s Russia Researcher, said:

“The authorities have instrumentalised anti-terrorism and anti-extremism legislation as tools to stifle dissent and control public discourse in ways that are alarming and heartbreaking. 

“The authorities are able to label individuals as ‘terrorists’ and ‘extremists’ and cut them off from financial services and basic income without even needing a court order.

“The psychological and emotional toll on individuals and their families is immeasurable, and the chilling effect on the entire Russian society is profound.

“We urge the international community to address these abuses in all relevant forums, advocating for the rights of those unjustly targeted, and to take these practices into account when dealing with Russian counterparts, including in counter-terrorism initiatives.”

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