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'Un-Tattoo You': Russian Convict's Swastikas To Be 'Confiscated'

Swastikas must be removed.

A court in the central Russian city of Cheboksary has drawn attention for ordering a prisoner to remove Nazi tattoos from his body.

District court Judge Vladimir Mitrofanov ordered a 1,000-ruble fine ($18) against R.R. Gabidullin -- an inmate at the No. 6 federal prison colony -- and for his tattoos to be " the form of self-removal [from] his body two images similar to Nazi symbols."

Although there have been several cases in Russia since 2014 -- when the law was tightened against the display of "extremist" symbols -- of prisoners being fined for having Nazi symbols tattooed on their body, this appears to be the first case in which the prisoner has also been ordered to remove the offending images.

Aleksei Glukhov, a lawyer in Russia's Chuvash Republic who specializes in human rights issues, tells RFE/RL that he sent a letter to Chuvash chief prosecutor Vasily Poslovsky urging him to appeal the February 8 court decision.

"If you believe the press release of the court [decision then]...the convict must remove the two tattoos himself," says Glukhov, who has represented dozens of people at the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg. "But I believe that the court is not entitled to demand this from the convict and also does not have the right to order, as punishment, the confiscation of the tattoos."

Russia's Nazi Furor

As in many prison communities around the world, tattoos are popular among Russian inmates, and it is not uncommon to see Nazi symbols, including swastikas despite Russian pride at having defeated Adolf Hitler's army in what Russians call the Great Patriotic War, on convicts.

Lawyer Aleksei Glukhov
Lawyer Aleksei Glukhov

"Before 2014, no one in Russia would have thought of penalizing prisoners for having swastika tattoos," Glukhov says. "But since November 2014, the wording of Article 20.3 of Russia's Code of Administrative Offenses was changed and now you don't have to be trying to promote Nazi ideology [with the symbol], you only have to display it in order to be prosecuted."

He adds that "now you can technically be prosecuted in Russia even for showing a swastika in a historical photo from World War II."

Glukhov says it was the 2014 events in Ukraine -- the ousting of pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych and Russia's takeover of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula -- that spurred the tougher federal legislation on fascist symbols.

"Article 20.3 has become one of the main ways to combat the opposition [in Russia], since it prohibits [someone in violation of the law from] being a candidate in an election and an activist from organizing a rally," Glukhov says.

He cites the case of opposition activist Dmitry Semyonov, who was convicted in March 2017 of the "mass distribution of extremist materials" for an online post he made of his earlier conviction for extremism, which was for posting a photo of a politician wearing a T-shirt bearing the phrase "Orthodoxy or Death," which was ruled to be extremist.

Opposition leader Aleksei Navalny recently highlighted a case in which a supporter was prosecuted for sharing a historical image used on the cover of a high-school textbook that included Nazi banners. He urged supporters to wage an "anti-idiocy campaign."

Hoping For Sanity

Although Glukhov has had no contact with Gabidullin -- the inmate faced with the seemingly difficult task of removing two swastika tattoos from his own chest -- he says he intervened in the prisoner's case because "human rights are not an empty phrase for me, so I try to react to [rights] violations, even if I do not know the victim."

A member of the region's Public Monitoring Commission of Chuvashia until 2016, the 34-year-old Glukhov is hopeful that the court order to remove the tattoos will be withdrawn on appeal.

He points out that a press release that was posted to the Chuvash court's website about the ruling that included the "confiscation" of the tattoos was removed shortly after he sent his letter to the prosecutor's office urging an appeal of the verdict.

And that hope for a change in the ruling action was bolstered on February 21 when the official website of the Chuvash court showed that someone -- though it does not say who -- had filed an appeal of the Gabidullin "tattoo removal" case.