In this thesis, the author digests first-hand experiences of the Russian legal system through the concept of selective law enforcement, investigating the link between informal interests and the formal legal system. More specifically, the thesis discusses the phenomenon of selective law enforcement, which it defines as the selective pursuit of legally imposed punishment for personal or political ends. The empirical material for the study is obtained through interviewing representatives of non-governmental organizations who believe that legal punishment of NGOs is guided by ulterior motives.
Law defines the boundaries of what is accepted and what is not within the state. In Russia, however, much legislation has been vague and inconsistent since the 1990s – the lines of legality are not clearly drawn. Furthermore, Russian law is often unaligned with society’s actual norms and standards. As a result, Russia experiences massive non-compliance with its legal framework. When compliance is the exception rather than the norm, how can one determine whom to punish? In the investigated legal environment, the criteria for such selection are determined outside official channels, influencing both the initiation and conduct of legal cases. In a weak formal system, the law can be wielded selectively for many purposes, be it political, economic or personal.
In investigating the legal foundation and the punishment imposed on the NGOs, the thesis discusses how regulatory regimes can be wielded for extra-legal purposes – even where no law is broken and no official punishment has transpired. By imposing bureaucratic measures selectively, the law enforcers can both stigmatize and preoccupy their targets, reducing their capabilities and overall influence. Explaining the extra-legal criteria for punishment, the informants link their legal problems to the political authorities. The thesis therefore analyses how and why the government can influence the enforcement patterns. While selective law enforcement clearly contradicts principles of rule of law, it draws upon the legality associated with legal systems. Thus, by means of selective law enforcement, hybrid regimes find themselves in possession of a perfect tool to pursue their undemocratic interest within the constraints imposed by formal democracy in a law-bound state.