Supreme Court upholds Sergei Seredenko ruling

Sergei Seredenko in the ETV+ studios.
Sergei Seredenko in the ETV+ studios. Source: ERR

The Supreme Court finds the punishment of a pro-Kremlin political activist was justified, does not go against the Constitution, and does not represent 'censorship.' The case has also created interest on the role of the Internal Security Service (ISS) in providing evidence, given this evidence could not in its entirety be viewed by the defendant in the case.

The 2022 conviction of Sergei Seredenko was upheld by the Tartu-based Suprem Court's criminal chamber on Friday.

Seredenko, heavily involved in the "Immortal Regiment" pro-Kremlin organization, was sentenced to five and a half years in prison for actions against the Estonian state

The court disagreed with the defense counsel's position that the penal norms on which the charges are based are unconstitutional. 

The court noted that the defense of Estonia's independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and the constitutional order are weighty constitutional values ​​which can provide a legitimate basis for restricting freedom of expression. 

The defense counsel's claims that Estonia has declared zero tolerance on the criticism of state institutions, and that that thie represents censorship, are not to be taken seriously.  

Leading state prosecutor Taavi Pern reiterated that the Supreme Court with its decision fully condemned the actions against the Republic of Estonia, committed by Seredenko.

"In Estonia, cooperating with foreign intelligence agencies and individuals working for them, is forbidden, as is supporting their activities in any way. It is against the law to create a relationship harmful to the state, since it harms Estonia's security. All three levels of courts have reached the same conclusion," Pern said.

Pern stressed that the security of Estonia is not only threatened by physical attack, but also by non-violent actions, as hinted by the long prison sentences meted out in such cases.

The Supreme Court in its decision touched at length on the use of information which has been collected by the Internal Security Service (ISS) in a criminal case. 

In the Seredenko case, among other aspects, two acquired information was used as evidence in summary, but a large part of the base information was not included criminal case file, since it derived from classified state secrets.

The court emphasized that, in general, the accused and their defense attorney should be able to see the evidence in question, but exceptions are allowed for, for instance due to witness protection issues or, as here in the case of national security.

The court must still be able to verify which interest outweighs the need to ensure the right of defense when barring defense counsel from viewing evidence.

Moreover, if the equivalent information could be gathered via normal criminal procedure procedures, then this should be done. 

The dual competence of the ISS both as a security agency and an investigation and surveillance agency may not be used to artificially curb a defendants' access to information that he or she could otherwise have seen in the course of the case, if this would have been processed by another investigative agency. 

The county court which passed the original sentence refuted the defense claim that Seredenko had acted as an independent researcher or lawyer. Seredenko worked closely with Russian state institutions and organizations and was often prescribed the topic, content and tone of the articles, the first tier court found. 

This meant it constituted commissioned work to order, not independent expertise or analysis. Furthermore, Seredenko was clearly engaged in promoting the image of a so-called Russian world, and not in protecting the rights of individuals against supposed arbitrariness on the part of the Estonian state.

Seredenko's activities covered the period 2009-2021.

According to the indictment, Seredenko participated in Russian influence activities, preparing and publishing articles supporting Russia's foreign and security policy goals based on instructions received from that country's authorities, which were intended to divide Estonian society and discredit its state institutions.

He also took part in the events relating to influence activities and helped plan their activities. 

In addition, he collected and transmitted information of interest to Russia about what was happening within Estonian society and politics, the court found.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Aleksander Krjukov

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