COVID-19: Criminal Liability Tightened


Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner (Russia) LLP advises that, on 1 April 2020, the Russian President signed Federal Law No. 100-FZ “Amendments to the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation and Articles 31 and 151 of the Criminal Procedure Code of the Russian Federation” to increase liability for disseminating false information if this results in public disinformation, panic and other consequences and for breaches of sanitary and anti-epidemic rules entailing a threat of mass disease or poisoning.

According to the lawmakers, these measures will help improve the safeguards protecting Russian people against the threat of infections spreading.

The Russian Criminal Code (RCC) has been supplemented by two new articles, Nos 207.1 and 207.2, introducing criminal liability for freedom-of-speech abuses jeopardising national and public safety. RCC Article 236 has also been amended.

RCC Article 207.1 imposes criminal liability for public dissemination of deliberately false information about circumstances threatening people’s life and safety and/or measures taken to ensure the safety and security of people and territories, as well as appropriate protection methods and safeguards.

Public Dissemination” here means untrue statements or messages addressed to the general public and communicated in a public space among a wide range of persons, such as in the media, on information and telecom networks, at meetings, lectures, via messengers and otherwise.

Circumstances threatening the life and safety of individuals are recognised as embracing natural, man-made or environmental emergencies, including epidemics, epizooties and other circumstances arising from accidents, natural hazards, disasters, natural and other calamities resulting (or potentially resulting) in fatalities, harm to human health, environmental damage, significant financial losses and human living environment violations.

This crime is punished by a fine of from RUB 300,000.00 to 700,000.00 and compulsory community service for up to 360 hours, correctional labour for up to a year or restriction of freedom for up to three years.

RCC Article 207.2 introduces criminal liability for public dissemination, in the guise of reliable messages, of deliberately false information of social significance, if this results in harm to human health, a fatality or has other grave consequences, through carelessness.

Information is “of social significance” when it satisfies people’s need to know and understand social processes. Each individual has the right to access true, complete and unbiased information unless subject to restrictions set by the law.

Depending on how grave the consequences, this crime is punished by a fine of from RUB 700,000.00 to RUB 2,000,000.00, corrective labour for up to two years, or forced labour or imprisonment for up to five years.

These amendments have brought criminal cases for the above crimes under the jurisdiction of justices of the peace1, while preliminary investigations are to be handled by investigators of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation2 (the RIC).

The government obviously intends to combat dissemination of untrue information via the Internet and messengers. Messages transmitted via messengers or social media should be treated more carefully. We recommend refraining from thoughtless reposting or forwarding of various messages about the spread of the coronavirus or actions taken by the authorities.

RCC Article 236 has also been revised: the previous version imposing punishment for breach of sanitary and anti-epidemic rules entailing mass disease or poisoning covered by Part 1 of the Article has been extended to include a socially dangerous consequence, i.e., creating a threat of such consequences.

Sanitary Rules” means mandatory requirements for a safe (harmless) human living environment, working conditions for people and legal entities, including sole traders, or territories, buildings, structures, installations, premises, equipment and vehicles used thereby, if non-compliance with these poses a threat of harm to human life or health or of an outbreak or spread of diseases determined by documents adopted under international treaties of the Russian Federation and technical regulations.

Laws regulating public sanitary and epidemic safety (the “Sanitary Rules”) are based on the Constitution of the Russian Federation and consist of Federal Law No. 52-FZ dated 30 March 1999 “Public Sanitary and Epidemic Safety”, other federal laws, as well as regulations of the Russian Federation and laws and other regulations of the constituent entities of the Russian Federation passed thereunder.

So breaches of any requirements set out in Decrees of the President, the Moscow Mayor or the Moscow Region Governor might be treated by law enforcers as violations of the sanitary rules.

If, previously, criminal cases were instigated and criminal liability imposed under the given article depending on the crime’s consequences (such as mass disease or poisoning), it is now sufficient merely for a threat of such consequences to be created.

In addition, the Article has been supplemented with Part 3 imposing liability for breach of the same rules if this results, through carelessness, in two or more fatalities.

Punishments have also been made more stringent. The given crime is punished by: a fine of from RUB 500,000.00 to RUB 2,000,000.00, disqualification from holding certain positions or engaging in certain activities for one to three years, forced labour for up to five years or imprisonment for up to seven years.

Investigative jurisdiction over the crimes under this Article is divided between: investigators of the law enforcement agencies of the Russian Federation for crimes under parts 1-2 and RIC investigators for part 3 crimes. Normally, such measures are designed to distribute the workload between the competent authorities.

In this context, it is important to remember that “creating a threat” might include such actions as the infected person coming into contact with the general public. We believe this provision might extend to people breaching the self-isolation regime when they arrive from countries listed in pertinent regulations.

1 Part 1, Article 31 of the Russian Criminal Procedure Code.
2 Part 2, Article 151 of the Russian Criminal Procedure Code.
3 Federal Law No. 52-FZ dated 30 March 1999 (as amended on 26 July 2019) “Public Sanitary and Epidemic Safety”.

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