Limitation of Freedom of Speech and of the Press by Penal Law in the Final Decades of the Russian Empire

Author:Olja Kivistik - Marju Luts-Sootak
Olja Kivistik Marju Luts-Sootak
Doctoral student, University of Tartu Professor of Legal History
Senior Communication Of cer University of Tartu
of Central Criminal Police
Police and Border Guard Board
Limitation of Freedom
of Speech and of the Press by
Penal Law in the Final Decades
of the Russian Empire
1. Introduction
At what point does open criticism of governmental power become a crime instead of exercise of freedom
of speech and a display of the citizen’s courage? Is criticism a crime only when it is followed by a call to do
something to change the current political situation? These questions may seem out of place or even weird
in the 21st century, but just a hundred years ago, expressing one’s convictions in either oral or written form
was relatively restricted, not only in autocratic Russia but elsewhere too. In the case of several Scandinavian
countries, for example, a situation in which criticism levied against the government remained criminalised
even in a situation of overall freedom of speech and the press has been identi ed in connection with mon-
archist regimes and with the state’s near embodiment in a speci c ruler.*1 Patterns manifested in such cases
and beyond may be of relevance for many parts of the world where these issues are relevant today – even,
to some extent, in societies where they may seem far removed from day-to-day life..
The territory of modern-day Estonia belonged to the Russian Empire in the early years of the 20th cen-
tury and was subject to regulation by tsarist Russia’s law. Although Russia had already begun a project of
modernisation and attempted perfection of its penal law in the rst half of the 19th century,*2 this process
The research for this article has been supported by Estonian Research Council (IUT-).
This is addressed in the work of Lars Björne, who is about to complete his extensive review of the history of the freedoms
of speech and the press in the Nordic countries, ‘Ytringsfrihet i Norden  – en oversikt’. His undertaking is part of
a larger project, titled ‘O entlighet og ytringsfrihet i Norden, ’, under the leadership of Oslo University’s Profes-
sor of Legal History Dag Michalsen and the same institution’s history research fellow Ruth Hemstad (see http://www.uio.
no/forskning/satsinger/norden/forskning/forskergrupper/o entlighet-og-ytringsfrihet-i-norden--, most recently
accessed on ..). The initial results of the project, including the positions taken by Björne, have already been intro-
duced. T. Nickelsen, M.S. Smedsrud. Diamanten i frihetens diadem [‘The Diamonds in the Diadem of Freedom’]. – Apollon.
Forskningsmagasinet ; online:/_diamanten-i-diademet-introsaken.html
(most recently accessed on ..).
S.V. Poznyshev. Osnovnye nachala nauki ugolovnogo prava: Obshchaja chast’ ugolovnogo prava [‘The Fundamental Principles
of the Science of Criminal Law: General Criminal Law’]. Moscow ; Rossiskoe zakonodatel’stvo X-XX vekov. V devjati
tomah. T. [‘Russian Legislation of the th to th Centuries, in Nine Volumes: Parts ’]. Moscow ; R. Pipes.
Russia under the Old Regime. New York , pp.  . For discussion focused primarily on the penal law in force in the
Baltic provinces, see M. Luts-Sootak, M. Sedman. Ambivalences of the legality principle in penal law of the Baltic provinces

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