The Crime of Speaking Up in Russia: Solidarity with Dadin and Polyudova

Vadim F. Lurie
Facebook
March 23, 2016

The people’s assembly [to publicize an appeals hearing in the case of Ildar Dadin, sentenced in December 2015 to three years in prison for the heretofore unknown offense of “repeat unauthorized protesting”] did not come off. [Nor did Dadin’s appeals hearing in Moscow City Court: it was postponed to a later date.] There were fewer people in attendance than the day before yesterday, the day Nadiya Savchenko was sentenced. But the picketers decided to spread out along the Nevsky, and members of the National Liberation Movement (NOD) wandered around searching for them, trying to pester and troll them.

The most successful at this was a bearded specimen, who yelled, “Look, a real live national traitor! A Maidanite, a Banderite, funded by the State Department!

The passerbys, who usually do not pay much attention to people standing holding placards, mostly regarded them sympathetically thanks to this spiel.

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“What a viper sentenced Dadin! Free Ildar Dadin!” Local police detain veteran democratic activist Igor “Stepanych” Andreyev. Petrograd, March 23, 2016. Photo by Vadim F. Lurie
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Petersburg police surround a picketer, demanding he produce his documents. Petrograd, March 23, 2016. Photo by Vadim F. Lurie
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A member of the so-called National Liberation Movement (NODS) scans the Nevsky for “national traitors.” Petrograd, March 23, 2016. Photo by Vadim F. Lurie
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“Free [Ildar Dadin! No to Article 212.1!” A picketer stands in front of Our Lady of Kazan Cathedral. Petrograd, March 23, 2016. Photo by Vadim F. Lurie
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“Free Ildar Dadin!” Petrograd, March 23, 2016. Photo by Vadim F. Lurie
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“Down with Article 212.1!* Free Ildar Dadin! Congratulations, Nastya and Ildar!” Petrograd, March 23, 2016. Photo by Vadim F. Lurie
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“Free Darya Polyudova,** sentenced to two years in a work-release prison as an extremist for a repost on Vkontakte.” Image of Polyudova with placard: “Ukraine, we are with you.” Petrograd, March 23, 2016. Photo by Vadim F. Lurie

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Vadim F. Lurie for his kind permission to republish his photos here.

*Despite the obstacles, Russia’s opposition continued to organize protests. So last summer in 2014, the Kremlin effectively criminalized all peaceful protests and assemblies. Article 212.1, which went into effect in January 2015, amends the previous law in a considerably more punitive manner, carrying up to 5-year criminal prison terms for repeated protests. This law has a “3 strikes” feature, stating that anyone who has been convicted 3 times for the administrative offense of ‘violating the regulations governing public rallies,’ within a six month period is subject to criminal liability. With these laws and their particular application against political critics, the Putin regime is sending a powerful message heard throughout Russia of a repressive new reality unseen in decades: If you dare to speak out against government policies or leadership, the authorities will ruthlessly treat you as a common criminal and send you away for years in penal colonies. [] A young protester named Ildar Dadin became the first person to be convicted under Article 212.1 for having protested 3 times within a 6-month span. Ildar Dadin engaged in a completely benign peaceful protest, mostly standing alone holding a sign expressing his opinions, specifically about releasing political prisoners, the need to change power in the Kremlin, and to end the war in Ukraine. Until his trial in December, Dadin had been confined to house arrest. But on December 7, Dadin was sentenced to 3 years of actual prison time in a penal colony for simply exercising his constitutional right to express his opinion. Yes, Russia’s Constitution under Articles 29, 30 and 31 guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. But the new laws make those guarantees not worth the paper they’re written on. (Paula Chertok, “New Normal in Russia: Putin Critics Punished with Harsh Prison Terms,” Euromaidan Press, January 6, 2015)

**Dispatches: The Crime of Speaking Up in Russia
Tanya Lokshina, Russian Program Director
Human Rights Watch
December 22, 2015

A left-wing political activist has been convicted of inciting separatism and extremist activities, the latest in a series of criminal prosecutions in Russia against people who dare speak their minds online.

Unless the December 21 ruling by a court in Krasnodar in southern Russia is quashed on appeal, the accused, Darya Polyudova, 26, will spend the next two years behind bars. The charges against her derived from three posts she published on her page in VKontakte (VK), Russia’s most popular social network.

All three posts had to do with Ukraine. The one that triggered the incitement to separatism charge – in Russian law, making “public, online calls aimed at violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation” – was not even written by her. It was a flippant comment by another user, which Polyudova shared on her page, about supposed demands by local ethnic Ukrainians of the Krasnodar region to be incorporated into Ukraine.

The second post, deemed by authorities as “public calls to extremist activities,” was a photo of Polyudova with a poster that said, “No war in Ukraine but a revolution in Russia!” The slogan did not include any advocacy of violence.

The third one was a commentary about how the situation in Russia was intolerable and Russians needed to follow the example of Ukraine’s Maidan activists, take to the streets, and bring down the government. These are strong words, but didn’t include any specific action plan.

Polyudova’s VK page has all of 38 followers, and most of her posts draw very few comments. Her words can’t be taken as inciting violence, and they certainly didn’t pose a “danger to the public,” as Russian law requires for criminal prosecution.

Polyudova’s prosecution is one in a growing number of cases where Russians are being punished for speaking their mind. This autumn, a court in Tatarstan sentenced an activistto three years in prison on very similar charges. Since the return of Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin in 2012, the Russian government has instituted an unprecedented and sweeping crackdown on critics of the government, and one of its tools has been overbroad and vague anti-extremism legislation. As the space for freedom of speech in the traditional media narrows, the government is now going after the Internet and targeting individuals who try to stir public debate about sensitive issues, especially Ukraine.

Until her trial, Polyudova was relatively unknown. But by criminally prosecuting her, the government is sending a chilling signal to Internet users across country – if you think you can speak your mind online, think again.

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