No Kidding

Russia for the Rueful: A Map of Fear | Ivan Davydov | Republic | 7 December 2021

Once upon a time, an influential, respected person and I came up with a project meant to illustrate the absurdity of the Russian Criminal Code’s infamous Article 282, the one about “inciting hatred and enmity.” Oh, what a long time ago it was. Back then, there were simply no other articles in the Criminal Code that covered thought crimes. Can you imagine?

The idea was simple: gather quotes from classic Russian literature that were obvious violations of Article 282, make a website, and send an angry letter to the authorities. How long must this go on? we would write. Enough is enough! Ban books that sow hatred!

Actually, that’s why we focused on the Russian classics. It would have been easy to find the same kind of incitement in Homer, but uniformed readers might not react to his name. But they had definitely heard the surname Pushkin.

When everything was almost ready, however, my senior colleague (a wise person) said, “You know, let’s not do this. After all, they might just up and ban these books. But we have to go on living. How will we live with ourselves then?”

Patriot Games

I recalled this story while reading the amazing news about the Investigative Committee’s war on Russian rap. First, an alarming dispatch appeared on the newswires: the head of the Investigative Committee, Alexander Bastrykin, after receiving an appeal from a “pressure group of patriots,” had ordered an inquiry into the new albums by Oxxxymiron and Noize MC. The pressure had informed the general that the rappers had whitewashed Nazism and promoted extremism.

It was a news item like any other. There is no other kind of news nowadays in Russia, nor can there be any other kind of news.

But then there was more news: the text of the letter by the “patriots” turned up on the LiveJournal blog of a moderately successful online humorist. The country’s chief investigator was not bothered, it transpired, by passages such as the following: “To tell the truth, the faces of Russian law enforcement chiefs are really not always so elegant, and when they start talking, they sometimes seem like aggressive morons, thus generating depression and suicidal moods [among the populace]. It’s also good that they’ve stopped showing the MP Irina Yarovaya on TV. Something needs to be done in this case, because our enemies exploit this weakness.” Famous for his habit of viewing publications on the internet through a magnifying glass, Bastyrkin failed to notice the ridicule.

Alexander Bastyrkin, checking whether the internet is whitewashing Nazism. Photo: Russian Investigative Committee

The author of the “letter” has now been making the rounds of the media, trying to prove that he had been joking. But it doesn’t matter: Veterans of Russia, which is a real (not fictional) pressure group, said that they would write an actual denunciation against the rappers.

Forbidden Topics

It’s basic knowledge that you don’t kid around with policemen, judges, and border guards. Lately, everyone has been recalling what they did during the “snow revolution” protests, ten years ago, so I’ll indulge in remembering what I did too. In the spring of 2012 (not the winter of 2011), I was tried and fined for being involved in an “unauthorized” protest in which I was not involved. At the trial, I decided to take issue with the arrest report, according to which it had taken the paddy wagon ten minutes to transport me from the Nikitsky Gate (in the very center of Moscow) to a police station in the suburbs.

I contacted experts, who calculated that the unfortunate PAZ bus would have had to race at a speed of 600 kilometers per hour. I presented my thoughts to the judge.

The stern lady looked up at me with tired eyes. “Are you questioning the capabilities of the domestic automotive industry?” she asked. I resigned myself to my fate. Plus the fines were humane back then, nothing like the current ones.

But the list of those who cannot be trifled with is outdated. On Monday, the supremely pro-Kremlin polling agency VTSIOM published data on what things Russians now consider it impossible to laugh at.

Many of our fellow Russians are sure that they have a sense of humor. Overall, forty percent of the respondents said they had a sense of humor, and more than half of the young people surveyed said the same thing. And yet, Russians laugh at the jokes of the Ural Dumplings and love KVN, which makes one wonder about their assessments of their own sense of humor. But let’s get to the point.

A screenshot of VTsIOM’s polling data about subjects that Russians consider off-limits for humor. It should be kept in mind that it was VTsIOM that compiled this list of “forbidden” topics, not the people who were surveyed. And Ivan Davydov says as much, below.

In first place on the list of forbidden topics are jokes about the “health characteristics of other people,” and this is probably a good thing. It gets more interesting from there. Eighty percent of those surveyed believe that it is impossible to joke about the [Russian Orthodox] Church. Sixty-nine percent do not see anything funny about “the ethnic traditions and peculiarities of different peoples.” The same number are convinced that there is also little funny about the history of Russia, the USSR and the Russian Empire. (Here, by the way, I agree: there is little that is funny about Russian history.) This includes the sixty-three percent who are against jokes about “historical figures who are not living now.” Fifty-three percent would not touch “the army and the armed forces.” And fifty-one percent consider President Putin off limits (or untouchable?). Reverence for government in general is so strong that forty-five percent are afraid to joke about “other heads of state.”

Joking Aside

The list is quite revealing. But it has nothing at all to do with a special species of hypocrisy peculiar to our population. It has to do with the state’s attempts to train the populace like animals. After all, the list perfectly correlates with the news about the campaign that the state has been waging against thought criminals. The feelings of religious believers are fragile, and the more that official spokesmen of traditional confessions talk about love and mercy, the higher are the chances that they would tear you apart for making an innocent joke. Or their particularly zealous adherents would do this: it makes no difference to the targets of their outrage. There has been a lull in the “buttocks war,” but the echoes of this war are still capable of scaring people.

Why people would steer clear of “ethnic traditions” also needs no explanation, nor is it an example of their outstanding political correctness. They understand that some traditions have their own specifics. Some peoples have a tradition of taking offense and demanding an apology on camera after having conversation with the offender that is fraught with bodily injuries of varying severity.

Nor is our reverent love of history love at all. “Whoever remembers old things, pluck out his eyes,” says the proverb. “Or maybe give him five years for whitewashing Nazism,” the Investigative Committee would add. We now have our own favorite stories on this score. The stories about the Investigative Committee and Alexander Bastrykin’s personal campaign against “Hitler’s accomplices” are well known to everyone. In the Chelyabinsk region, a homeless man who decided to dry his socks at the Eternal Flame was charged with whitewashing Nazism. What can we say about smart people who risk talking about the past? Yes, it’s better not to say anything—you’ll be safer. And if you think that all this concerns only the Second World War, then you’re thinking wrong. In Novosibirsk, investigators had a strict conversation with a scholar who dared to speak about Alexander Nevsky without sufficient respect. In St. Petersburg, the probe into the blogger who hung his own portrait in the Hermitage’s Gallery of Heroes of 1812 so that he could take selfies has not yet been completed. And so on.

The fact that the Russian President rounds out the list of topics forbidden for humor is a direct rebuke to Federation Council member Andrei Klishas. The law he wrote on mandatory respect for the authorities is not really working. (Although the police on the ground have been trying: they have been catching jokers on VKontakte and rolling out gigantic fines for them.) The Investigative Committee should probably take a closer look and figure out whether there has been any sabotage on Klishas’s part. Times are turbulent: there’s a hybrid war underway, and the enemy can entrench itself even at the Federation Council. You can’t let your guard down for a minute.

A Map of Fear

I don’t know what the pollsters at VTsIOM hoped to achieve when they did their survey. But they have produced a perfect map of fear. The state has been trying to intimidate its subjects, and, as we can see, its efforts have not been in vain. Although we should note that the Church, the “traditions of certain peoples,” and their own history frighten Russians more than the authorities, which is evidence that the state cannot finish the job even in this case. They cannot pull off everything: the police-state vertical has not yet been built. But I have to give them credit: they keep on working, they don’t give up.

What can I say. Let’s remember that laughter is the most effective cure for fear. By setting traps for pranksters, the country’s current proprietors do not demonstrate their own strength. They only point up their own weak spots. By intimidating us and nurturing our fears, they demonstrate their own fear. It’s good to see this. Although this is cold consolation for someone who has been imprisoned for making a joke.

But to avoid succumbing to excessive pessimism (and thus delighting government officials), let’s recall these lines of verse by Nikolai Karamzin, the founding father of Russian historiography:

He who, bored, summons the Muses
And the gentle Graces, their attendants,
With poems and prose amuses
Himself, strangers, and dependents,
And laughs in all sincerity
(Laughing is really not a sin!)
At everything that makes him grin
Will get along with the world in amity,
And won’t cut short his days
With sharp blades or poisons…

Translated by the Russian Reader

New Greatness Trial Ends in Guilty Verdict and Harsh Sentences

New Greatness Members Get from Six to Seven Years in Prison
RBC
August 6, 2020

ngNew Greatness defendants Vyacheslav Kryukov, Ruslan Kostylenkov, and Pyotr Karamzin in the cage at the Lyublino District Court in Moscow. Photo by Sergei Ilnitsky for EPA/TASS. 

The Lyublino District Court in Moscow has sentenced members of the organization [sic] New Greatness, Vyacheslav Kryukov, Pyotr Karamzin, and Ruslan Kostylenkov to six, six and a half, and seven years in prison, respectively, reports our correspondent. According to the verdict, they will serve their sentence in a medium-security penal colony.

The other defendants in the case—Dmitry Poletayev, Maxim Roshchin, Maria Dubovik, and Anna Pavlikova—received suspended [i.e., probationary] sentences of four to six and a half years. They should be released from custody in the courtroom.

The judge found all the defendants guilty of “creating an extremist community” (punishable Article 282.1 of the Russian Criminal Code). At the same time, the court acknowledged that there were mitigating circumstances: the fact that the defendants had no criminal records, the positive character statements made on their behalf, and the fact that some of them suffered from chronic illnesses.

“She is very upset. Even though it’s a suspended sentence, you can only be away from home from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. She wanted to work the night shift at the Moscow Zoo, but she won’t be able to do that. They will have full-fledged live only when all of them are free: a suspended sentence is still a sentence,” Anastasia, Anna Pavlikova’s sister, told RBC.

According to her, Pavlikova plans to appeal the verdict.

Our correspondent reports that the people gathered outside the courthouse are chanting “Shame!”

“In terms of standards of proof, the incident of provocation [by FSB agents] was the hardest to prove. It’s very hard to prove anything under the auspices of the security services. We did a great deal, we asked lots of questions. [Our] most important argument has been that such crimes are committed with a specific motive, but no motive was specified in the indictment. Therefore, there is no evidence of a crime,” Maxim Pashkov, Maria Dubovik’s lawyer, told reporters.

Translated by the Russian Reader

In the World of Animals

tiktokmashaA screenshot of the TikTok post by Petersburg blogger @youngmasha (Maria Magdalena Tunkara) that prompted an ominous visit from the prosecutor’s office

Petersburg Blogger Summoned to Prosecutor’s Office over TikTok Post on Racism in Russia
Mediazona
June 17, 2020

Petersburg blogger Maria Magdalena Tunkara has told Mediazona that officials from the prosecutor’s office visited her mother to “have a conversation” about a parody of TV presenter Nikolay Drozdov that Tunkara had posted on TikTok.

[. . .] They also wanted to talk to the blogger herself to persuade her not to publish “extremist materials.” The Petersburg resident noted that the prosecutor’s office employees came without a summons, promising to send the paperwork later.

According to Tunkara, she was told that her post, in which she parodies Drozdov’s program In the World of Animals, could lead to her being charged under Article 282 [of the Russian Criminal Code, which punishes the “incitement of ethnic, religious, or other forms of hatred or public discord”]. In the video that prompted the visit by prosecutor’s office employees, the young woman replies to a comment made by viewer of her previous videos, who called her “black.”*

“Good afternoon, dear viewers. With you is the program In the World of Animals, and today we are looking at a Russian who has seen a mulatto for the first time. Look how agitated he is and how he tries to laugh it off. Don’t scare him—he’s already stressed,” says Tunkara, imitating Drozdov’s trademark delivery.

In addition, according to Tunkara, the prosecutor’s office had concerns with the last six last videos she had posted. In them, she talks about racism and nationalism in Russia and responds to comments.

Translated by the Russian Reader

 

BARS: Pro-EU Monarchist Stencilers

Court Hands Down Sentences in BARS Trial: From Three to Eight Years in Prison
OVD Info
April 17, 2020

In a circuit session at the Baltic Fleet Court, the Second Western Military District Court has sentenced the defendants in the trial of the Baltic Vanguard of the Russian Resistance (BARS) to up to eight years in prison, reports Mediazona, citing attorney Mikhail Uvarov from the Agora human rights group.

barsNikolai Sentsov and Alexander Orshulevich. Photo by Oleg Zurman. Courtesy of Mediazona and OVD Info

Alexander Orshulevich was sentenced to eight years in a medium-security penal colony, while Alexander Mamayev and Igor Ivanov were sentenced to six years. Although Nikolai Sentsov was sentenced to three years in a work-release colony, he was freed in the courtroom for time served in remand prison.

Orshulevich, Mamayev, and Ivanov were found guilty of making public calls to engage in terrorist and extremist activity, punishable under Articles 205.2 and 280.1, respectively, of the Russian Criminal Code. Orshulevich was also found guilty of creating an extremist community (Article 282.1.1), and Mamayev and Ivanov were found guilty of involvement in a terrorist community (Article 282.1.2). Sentsov was charged only with possession of firearms and explosives, punishable under Articles 222.1 and 222.1.1, respectively.

The prosecutor’s office had asked for sentences between six and ten years in prison for the accused men, who denied all wrongdoing.

abars-2Alexander Mamayev and Igor Ivanov. Photo by Oleg Zurman. Courtesy of Mediazona and OVD Info

According to investigators, the members of BARS, a monarchist organization, were planning to forcibly annex Kaliningrad Region to the European Union .  To achieve their goals, according to investigators, the accused were planning to use stencils to paint extremist inscriptions on walls. The defense claimed that these stencils were planted by law enforcement officers during searches.

Initially, all four men were charged with “extremism,” but then the indictment was changed to more serious charges—organizing and being involved in a “terrorist community.”  Orshulevich was then indicted on five charges. In early April, the court reclassified the charges: three of the defendants now faced “extremist community” charges, while Sentsov faced only the possession charge.

Orshulevich, who is accused of organizing BARS, said that during the search of his flat, police put a plastic bag over his head and roughed him up.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Ivan Ovsyannikov: How Russia’s New Laws on Disrespecting the Authorities and Fake News Will Play Out

markischer bunny

Russia: How Will the Laws on Disrespecting the Authorities and Fake News Play Out?
Ivan Ovsyannikov
Eurasianet
March 26, 2019

Six months after easing punishments for speaking out on the internet, Vladimir Putin has signed laws that would restrict freedom of speech in Russia, argue civil rights activists.

People who are deemed to have disrespectfully criticized the Russian authorities and disseminated fake news face blocked websites and stiff fines.

The new laws do not explain how to distinguish ordinary criticism of the authorities from disrespectful criticism, and fake news from honest mistakes or the truth, in cases in which the authorities have decided to declare it fake. Defining disrespect and unreliable information has been left to the discretion of the authorities.

How the New Laws Are Worded
According to Russian Federal Law No. FZ-30 and Russian Federal Law No. FZ-31, which have amended the previous law “On Information, Information Technology, and Information Security” (Russian Federal Law No. FZ-149, dated July 27, 2006), people who disseminate “unreliable socially significant information in the guise of reliable news” could be fined, under the corresponding amendments to the Russian Federal Administrative Offenses Code, between 30,000 rubles and one million rubles, while people who voice their “flagrant disrespect” for society, the state, its authorities, and its symbols “improperly” could be fined between 30,000 rubles and 300,000 rubles.

On March 18, 2019, Putin signed the corresponding law bills, as previously passed by the State Duma and the Federation Council, into law.

Russia’s federal communications watchdog Roskomnadzor now has the power to restrict access to a website that has published “false” or “disrespectful” claims, according to law enforcement agencies, without a court’s sanction.

Both law bills were tabled in the Russian parliament by Andrei Klishas, who formally represents Krasnoyarsk Territory in the Federation Council, the parliament’s nominal upper house. Klishas had previously coauthored law bills on making the Runet autonomous, on stiffening punishments for advocating separatism, on breaking rules for holding political rallies, on desecrating the national anthem, and on declaring media outlets “foreign agents.”

klishasAndrei Klishas, a member of the Russian Federation Council for Krasnoyarsk Territory. Photo courtesy of Ilya Pitalev/RIA Novosti and RBC

The Russian Government Will Be Able to Pinpoint and Block Bad News
Despite the prohibitive bent of MP Klishas’s lawmaking, he heads United Russia’s “liberal platform,” stressing that his law bills are not attempted crackdowns. When discussing the law criminalizing disrespect for the state and society, Klishas pointed to European precedents.

“The rules existing in Europe say you can criticize the authorities as much as you like and demand their resignation. […] But when you communicate with the authorities, you should show respect, because they did not appear out of the blue. They are the outcome of people’s choices,” Klishas told Znak.com in an interview published in February 2019.*

As for the law on so-called fake news, MP Klishas stressed only people who distributed knowingly false information that engendered panic and endangered society had to fear prosecution, not reporters and bloggers who made honest mistakes, he told the website.

Klishas’s stance is not shared by the Russian Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, which described his law bills as unacceptable, anti-constitutional, and a threat to the public.

“The way in which these innumerable, insane law bills are tabled reveals a simple desire to curry favor with the regime. They generate a sense of legal uncertainty. First, swearing was criminalized. Then ‘extremism’ and ‘foreign agents’ were targeted. Now fake news and ‘disrespect for the authorities’ have been added to the list. Give the well-known practice of selectively charging and convicting people for these crimes, no one knows what might get them in trouble,” says journalist and presidential human rights council member Leonid Nikitinsky.

The law on fake news does not stipulate how real news should be differentiated from counterfeits, which makes the law a bogeyman, argues Nikitinsky. The authorities can use it to trip up undesirable journalists and silence unwanted news.

Nikitinsky notes that, while Russian state propaganda is chockablock with fake news, it is is independent media that are primarily at risk of being penalized for violating the new law.

New Prohibitions Make Up for Easing of Old Bans
Pavel Chikov, head of the Agora International Human Rights Group, argues the penalties for disrespecting the authorities and fake news are meant to compensate for the partial decriminalization, in November of last year, of “extremist” statements published on the internet.

After first-time convictions for public incitement to hatred or enmity (Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 282 Part 1) were reclassified as administrative offenses, Russian police lost part of their workload. Under the so-called quota system, in which law enforcers are evaluated according to the number of crimes they have solved, the introduction of new offenses in the Administrative Offenses Code can generate new possibilities for fudging the statistics on cleared cases and conviction rates.

On the other hand, the amended law appears “liberal” only when compared with its earlier redaction, which stipulated a maximum of five years in prison for careless statements on the internet.

Improper Does Not Mean “Obscene”
If the law against fake news would probably be applied selectively, administrative charges of disrespect for the authorities and society could be a large-scale phenomenon within a few years, argues Alexander Verkhovsky, head of the SOVA Information and Analysis Center.

“People are punished five times more often under the ‘anti-extremism’ articles in the Administrative Offenses Code than under the corresponding articles in the Criminal Code. The partial decriminalization of Criminal Code Article 282 shifts the proportion even more heavily toward administrative punishments. The introduction of new articles in the Administrative Offenses Code means there will be fewer criminal prosecutions and many more administrative prosecutions,” Verkhovsky predicts.

Last year’s easing of anti-extremist laws was justified by the fact that the mechanical application of Article 282 had produced a proliferation of inmates who had no relation to extremist groups. The administrative prosecution of “disrespect for the authorities” could also balloon into a crackdown against rank-and-file Russians.

“It is difficult to predict the extent to which such cases will be politically motivated,” says Verkhovsky.

Prosecuting people of disrespect for the authorities is complicated by the lack of clarity over what can be said and what cannot. According to Roskomnadzor’s official clarification, which was not issued in connection with the new law, “four well-known words (kh.., p…., e…., and b….), as well as the words and expressions derived from them,” are considered obscene.**

Verkhovsky stresses, however, that improper does not mean obscene. The new law does not define what it means by “improperly.”

Nikitinsky agrees.

“You can arbitrarily call anything improper,” he says.

The Authorities Are More Sensitive to Criticism 
According to Chikov, the passage of Klishas’s law bills is the regime’s knee-jerk reaction to its dwindling popularity. After the pension reform of summer and autumn 2018, the ratings of Russia’s supreme executive and legislative authorities took a severe hit. Also, according to a poll done by VTsIOM, a year after the last presidential election, in March 2018, Putin is trusted by 33.4% of Russians, a drop of 21.9% from March 2018.

For example, in March 2018, a court in Naberezhnye Chelny sentenced activist Karim Yamadayev to twenty-eight days in jail for erecting a fake headstone for President Putin by way protesting the law bill that would create a “sovereign” Runet, if passed into law.

putin doa“Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, 1952–2019.” Image courtesy of BBC Russian Service

In summer of 2018, Petersburg activist Varya Mikhaylova was fined 160,000 rubles for publicly displaying the picture 9 Stages of the Supreme Leader’s Decomposition, which also depicts Putin, during the city’s annual May Day march. Despite the fact the march itself was legal, the picture had not been vetted by the police. As Mikhaylova admits, she was completely surprised when she was detained, since she has a poor sense of the line between what is acceptable and what is forbidden.

The Kremlin is likely to use the new laws to crack down on its most audacious critics.

varyaVarya Mikhaylova (center, with megaphone), carrying {rodina}’s 9 Stages of the Supreme Leader’s Decomposition as she marched with the Party of the Dead bloc in last year’s May Day demo in Petersburg. Photo by Elena Lukyanova. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

_________________________

* Members of the Federation Council are not “chosen by people” in the sense of free and fair elections, but appointed by President Putin via highly stage-managed “elections” in the legislatures and parliaments of the Russian regions they only nominally represent. Aided and abetted by lazy journalists and political spin doctors, the thoroughly non-elected members of the Federation Council, whose only function is to rubber-stamp destructive law bills like the two described in the article, have taken to calling themselves “senators” in recent years, although Russia has no senate or senators. TRR

** I.e., khui (“dick”), pizda (“cunt”), ebat‘ (“fuck”), bliad‘ (“bitch”), all of which are indeed incredibly productive roots in colloquial Russian. TRR

Ivan Ovsyannikov is a member of the Russian Socialist Movement (RSD) and a trade union organizer. Lead photo and translation by the Russian Reader. All other photos featured in the translation were selected by me and were not included in the original article, as published on Eurasianet.

Russia, Great and Beautiful

 

velikaa-prekrasnaa-rossia_med_hrExhibition view of Vasya Lozhkin, Russia, Great and Beautiful (2010). Photo courtesy of Ekho Moskvy

The Case of the Repost Following a Picket: The Story of an Activist Who Has Sought Asylum in the US
OVD Info
August 28, 2018

Vladimir resident Victoria Lobova was involved in two events in the Don’t Call Him Dimon campaign, and now she has been forced to ask for political asylum in the US. The placard the activist took to the events caught the eye of law enforcement. Lobova faces criminal charges for posting images of it on the social media website VK. OVD Info asked Lobova to tell her own story.

I was involved in an anti-corruption rally on March 26, 2017. I was not punished in any way at the time. Then, on June 12, 2017, the country was swept by a wave of anti-corruption rallies, and I held a solo picket. I was approached by two policemen who asked me to identify myself. I told them my name, and they said I had to go with them. I refused, since I had not violated any laws. They telephoned somebody, asked him what to do, and read him the text of my placard over the phone.

I stood with the placard in downtown Vladimir. The slogan on the placard read, “I’m a young woman. I don’t want to decide anything. I want lace panties, and I want [Prime Minister Dmitry] Medvedev to respond to the country about yachts, vineyards, nonsense, malarkey, and hodgepodge.”

In the evening, I had a visit from the security services, who said I had to report to the police. When I arrived there I was written up for committing an administrative offense: violating the rules for public rallies. I won the court case. Later, in July, a policeman came to my home and said “extremist” matter had been spotted on my VK page.

I had told the police my address and my name during my solo picket. Subsequently, they staked out my social media page. That was how it all kicked off. If I had not carried out a solo picket and mixed with the crowd at the protest rally instead, othing would have come of it. Before I was involved in protest rally, I had a page on VK where I covered political news, but the authorities paid me no mind.

I was cited for a picture that drew a parallel between Putin’s politics and Hitler’s politics. There were Nazi symbols in the photo. Two weeks later, four police officers came and drove me to a temporary detention facility.

I didn’t know till the last minute I would be spending the night there. They took my fingerprints, catalogued the entire contents of my bag, and photographed me. I was told that an ethnic Russian would never publicly display Nazi symbols and that children could have seen them. I replied that the picture had a completely different message. If you read the text, you would easily conclude Nazism was condemned by the authors. I also said that children hardly became Nazis the second they saw a swastika somewhere. Then I was taken to a cell and locked up till morning.

Lozhkin-1Detail of Vasya Lozhkin’s Russia, Great and Beautiful. Russia is shown as surrounded by countries inhabited by “slant-eyed monkeys,” “wogs,” and other peoples identified by equally offensive terms for non-Russian peoples and ethnic groups. Image courtesy of New Chronicle of Current Events

There was a court hearing in the morning. I was sentenced to three days in jail. Then, in January 2018, the FSB filed criminal charges against me under Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code (“incitement of hatred or enmity”) for Vasya Lozhkin’s picture Russia, Great and Beautiful, which they had also found reposted on my VK page. (In August 2018, a court ruled the picture could not be considered “extremist.”)

The FSB investigator was unable to get me to confess, and the case seemingly died down. But then the police again paid visits to my house. I would not open the door, which they photographed, probably by way of reporting to their superiors. When they left they would first make the rounds of the neighbors. That was when I realized they would not leave me alone and would send me to prison come what may.

I left Russia in May. I just bought tickets and flew away. There are opportunities for obtaining political asylum. In this sense, I think everything will be fine. I have lots of evidence that I was persecuted.

VK handed over all the information needed to the FSB, so my case was no exception to established practice. I continue to use VK, but now I am somewhere safe. I advise people in Russia to be more careful.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Mind What You Post Online, or You’ll Be Sent to the Loony Bin

watchingThey’re watching your every word.

Police Investigators Request Compulsory Psychiatry Treatment for Joke on VK Social Network
OVD Info
20 August 2018

Police investigators in Petersburg have asked a court to commit Eduard Nikitin, a disabled man charged with arousing enmity by posting a joke on the VK social network, to compulsory psychiatric treatment, writes Interfax news agency.

Petersburg’s Nevsky District Court is currently hearing the case in closed chambers.

The charges against Nikitin were filed in 2017. He was accused of violating Article 282 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code for posting a caricature and joke on his personal page on the VK (Vkontakte) social network in 2015.

“He was given a psychiatric evaluation. Police investigators have asked the court not to criminally prosecute him, but to have him committed to compulsory treatment,” Maxim Kamakin, the accused man’s attorney, explained to Interfax.

Forensic examiners discovered “extremism” in a joke in which a character doubts the positive changes after an election, as well as in the use of the word vatnik in a caricature.

“This is the first time I have heard of charges like this being filed for a joke, albeit not the most decent joke and a political one to boot,” Kamakin added.

Nikitin said he was summoned by police investigators as part of an enquiry in 2016. Subsequently, the investigators did not contact him for over a year. In late 2017, however, Nikitin received notification of criminal proceedings.

Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

Everyone Wants to Like and Be Liked

Mail.ru Group Speaks Out against Punishments for Likes and Reposts
Company Proposes Changing the Law and Law Enforcement Practice
Olga Churakova and Yekaterina Bryzgalova
Vedomosti
August 6, 2018

Mail.ru Group не раз критиковала громкие законодательные инициативы, касающиеся интернетаMail.ru Group has repeatedly criticized high-profile law bills and laws affecting the internet. Photo by Yevgeny Yegorov. Courtesy of Vedomosti

Mail.ru Group, which owns the largest social networks in Russia, VK and Odnoklassniki [“Classmates”], has harshly condemned the practice of filing criminal charges against social media users for likes and reposts on social networks.

“Often the actions of law enforcement authorities have been clearly disproportionate to the potential danger, and their reaction to comments and memes in news feeds are inordinately severe,” reads a statement on the company’s website. “We are convinced laws and law enforcement practices must be changed. We believe it necessary to grant amnesty to people who have been wrongly convicted and decriminalize such cases in the future.”

Recently, the number of convictions for posts and reposts on social networks has reached a critical mass, explained a Mail.ru Group employee. Most of the convicitions are not only unjust but also absurd. He would not explain what specific corrections the company was going to propose.

“We believe current laws need to be adjusted, and we are going to make pertinent proposals,” VK’s press service told Vedomosti.

Mail.ru Group has repeatedly criticized high-profile laws and law bills affecting the internet. In 2013, for example, the company opposed an anti-piracy law. In 2015, it teamed up with Yandex to criticize the “right to be forgotten” law. In 2016, it opposed a law bill that proposed regulating messengers and search engines.  But punishing people for likes and reposts has become a political issue. Members of the opposition and social activists have often been the victims of Criminal Code Article 282, amended in 2014 to allow prosecution of people for incitment to hatred or enmity while using the internet.

Communist Party MP Sergei Shargunov addressed the problem during the President’s Direct Line in June of this year.

“If Article 282 were taken literally, certain zealots would have to convict Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Mayakovsky, and have their works removed,” he said.

Putin agreed it was wrong to reduce such cases to absurdity. Subsequently, he tasked the Russian People’s Front (ONF) and the Prosecutor General’s Office with analyzing how the notions of “extremist community” and “extremist crime” were employed practically in law enforcement.

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“Prosecutions for Incitement to Enmity (Criminal Code Article 282 Part 1) in Russia. Numbers of People Convicted, 2009–2017. Source: Trials Department, Russian Supreme Court.” Courtesy of Vedomosti

An Agenda for the Autumn
On June 25, Shargunov and Alexei Zhuravlyov, leader of the Rodina [“Motherland”] party, tabled draft amendments in the Duma that would decriminalize “extremist” likes and reposts. The MPs proposed transferring the violation described in Criminal Code Article 282 Part 1 to the Administrative Offenses Code, where infractions would be punishable by a fine of up to 20,000 rubles or 15 days in jail, while leaving only Part 2 of Article 282 in the Criminal Code. Part 2 stipulates a punishment of up to six years in prison for the same actions when they are committed with violence, by a public official or by an organized group. The government, the Supreme Court, and the State Duma’s legal department gave the draft amendments negative reviews, pointing out that the grounds for adopting them were insufficient. A spokesman for Pavel Krasheninnikov, chair of the Duma’s Committee on Legislation, informed us the committee would start working on the amendments when MPs returned from summer recess.

The ONF, which held a meeting of experts in July, has begun drafting a report for the president. The legal community, the General Prosecutor’s Office, the Interior Ministry, telecommunications watchdog Roskomnadzor, and the Russian Supreme Court must send their proposals to the Kremlin’s control directorate before September 15.

Leonid Levin, chair of the State Duma’s Committee on Information Policy, agreed there was a problem.

“The law is repressive, and there is no misdemeanor offense, although the Supreme Court issued an opinion that different cases should not be treated identically,” he said.

While there has been no lack of proposals, no one is in a hurry to abolish the law completely. A source in the Kremlin said dissemination of prohibited information should be punished. But a way of relaxing the law must be devised and, most important, a means of avoiding random convictions, he added.

A Demand for Liberalization
Recently, VK had been under pressure from the public due to the huge number of criminal prosecutions for posting pictures and reposts, said Pavel Chikov, head of the Agora International Human Rights Group. He argued the statement issued by Mail.ru Group was an attempt to defend the company’s reputation. According to the so-called Yarovaya package of amendments and laws, since January 1, 2018, VK has been obliged to provide law enforcement agencies with information about its users upon request, but the question of the legality of providing information having to do with people’s private lives remains open, since under Russian law a court order is required for this, Chikov noted.

Political scientist Abbas Gallyamov argued political decentralization and moderate opposition were now fashionable.

“Even the most cautious players sense the dictates of the age and have been trying to expand the space of freedom. Mail.ru Group is trying to be trendy,” he said.

Gallyamov predicted that, as the regime’s popularity ratings decline, the screws would be loosened, and the number of people advocating liberalization would grow.

Part of the political elite realizes many things have gone askew, agreed political scientist Alexander Kynev. A number of people hoped the circumstances could be exploited to push the idea of moderate liberalization. This could be a way of showing the regime was ready to talk, he argued.

“A lot will depend on what the autumn brings, on the results of regional elections. Now it would appear to be a topic that is up for discussion, but there are no guarantees. There are people in the government interested in having the topic discussed, but this doesn’t mean a decision has been taken,” Kynev said.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Is Maxim Shulgin an “Extremist”?

Maxim Shulgin

Open Russia Human Rights (Pravozashchita Otkrytki)
July 20, 2018

Remember the story of Maxim Shulgin, the Left Bloc activist from Tomsk? He was charged with violating Russian Criminal Code Article 282 for posting songs on the VK social network. When Center “E” officers searched his flat in April and took Shulgin to their headquarters, they beat him up on the way there and pushed him against the heater in their car, causing burns to his body. We published his account.

Other Left Bloc activists were detained the same day. When they refused to testify against Shulgin, they were threatened with violence and told they would be charged with criminal offenses as well. When Shulgin was delivered to Center “E” headquarters with a bandaged arm, they decided the threats were real and answered the investigator’s questions.

Now the witnesses have recanted their testimony, recording a video in which they recounted what happened that day.

Our attorney Andrei Miller has been working on the Shulgin case. We immediately had Shulgin’s beating certified by a physician, and the evidence has been submitted to the Investigative Committe’s military investigation department. However, the issue of whether charges will be filed in connection with Shulgin’s bodily injuries has not yet been resolved.

_________________________

Human Rights Open Russia (Pravozashchita Otkrytki)
April 30, 2018

“‘Guys, I can’t breathe,’ I said. They kicked me and said, ‘Are you alive down there?'”

Maxim Shulgin, a 28-year-old Left Bloc activist from Tomsk, recounted how Center “E” officiers detained him and what happened to him afterwards.

Tomsk Center “E” officers raided the Left Bloc’s offices yesterday.

“We were standing there smoking when a GAZelle van without license plates roared into the yard at full speed. The door opened, and guys wearing masks and caps came running out. I thought it was neo-Nazis who had come to shut us down. But then I realized they don’t drive around in GAZelle vans.”

The Center “E” officers forced the Left Bloc activists to lie face down on the floor. They confiscated their telephones, meaning the detainees had no connection with outside world until later that night and were unable to tell anyone what had happened to them. The detainees were taken to Center “E” headquarters, while Shulgin was handcuffed and taken home for a search of his flat.

“There were four field officers, wearing balaclavas, caps, jeans, windbreakers, and sneakers. They were carrying pistols, and their faces were covered. They addressed one of their number as ‘Pasha’ or ‘Pavel.’

“The worst nightmare was in the van. I lay between the front and back seats, and the men put their feet on me. They deliberately turned on the heater under the front seat, although it was three or four in the afternoon and eighteen degrees Centigrade outside. They did this on purpose, so I would find it hard to breathe, and if I hadn’t put my arm against the heater, one whole side of my body would have been burned. ‘Guys, I can’t breathe,’ I said. They kicked me and said, ‘Are you alive down there? Be patient, bro. We’ll arrive soon, and everything will be okay.’ They also beat the left side of my body. When I took too long answering their questions, they would beat me just like that, apparently because they enjoyed it.

“On the way, they asked about our plans for May Day. They commented that Russian extremists had degenerated. Now I can’t really remember [what they said], because I could not breathe and my arm was burning.”

The Center “E” officers confiscated all the equipment and political campaign materials in Shulgin’s flat. Then they took him to their headquarters, where the other Left Bloc activists were waiting.

“When [the Center “E” officers] saw my arm was burnt, they got a bit scared. I rode in the back seat on the way from my house. One of them said, ‘Sorry, bro.’ Another one laughed and punched me in the side. Good cop, bad cop, in short.”

The field officers and a public defender forced Shulgin to testify, threatening to arrest him. He was shown an order to instigate criminal proceedings, dated April 27. The charge was violation of Criminal Code Article 282 Part 1, allegedly, for saving songs on the VK social network that “incited hatred towards a particular social group, i.e., law enforcement officers.”

“After they thrashed me, my thought was to get out of there first thing. I signed a form releasing me on my recognizance. The idea that policemen are a social group is laughable, of course. Apparently, there is the proletariat, the bourgeoisie, and police officers.”

Along with the charge sheet, Shulgin was shown the results of a forensic examination that concluded that four of the songs on his VK page were “extremist”:

  • Chetverio, “Fuck, Pigs!”
  • Dukhi tsekha (Spirits of the Shop Floor), “Cop President”
  • Nichego Khoroshego (Nothing Good), “Molotov Cocktail”
  • Plokhie Dyadki (Bad Guys), “Cop”

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Kids Are (Not) Alright, Part 3: Are You Ready to Defend the Motherland?

30707960_10156005294207203_9089823561300341523_nThe third page of a questionnaire focusing on “patriotism” and “extremism,” allegedly administered to schoolchildren in Petersburg’s Moscow District. Photo courtesy of Daniel Alexandrov, Jr.

Daniel Alexandrov, Jr.
Facebook
April 20, 2018

The most monstrous thing currently in the works is the forthcoming ban on imported drugs. Much has been written about it, emotions have flared, and I have nothing to add. I would imagine we have seen nothing like it in recent Russian history. People are cynicallly willing to sacrifice tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of lives, by sending medical care forty or fifty years back in time, in order to increase the profits of several Russian companies.

But what kicked off the other day in Petersburg’s schools is no less vicious, although it is not such an obvious case of cannibalism. As Marina Tkachova, on whose page I saw the link, wrote correctly, a witch hunt has been launched.

In violation of Article 29 of the Russian Consitution,* which directly prohibits forcing people to voice their political views, the Moscow District Administration, assisted by the Center for Psychological, Pedagogical, Medical, and Social Aid, made schoolchildren fill out a questionnaire.

The questionnaire asked the schoolchildren, for example, to voice the extent to which they agreed with the following statements.

  • Russia’s interests are greater than my own.
  • I am ready to defend the Motherland and the people [narod = das Volk].
  • I feel proud of Russia’s current political influence.
  • I am proud of Russia’s culture and traditions.
  • I live in Russia and I do not plan to emigrate to another country.

31068869_10156005294157203_338838680958886823_nPart 12 of the questionnaire reads, “I don’t consider a person a patriot if . . . ” 1) He experiences no feelings for his country; 2) Believes the interests of ordinary people are more significant than the state’s interests; 3) The historic past of his people makes him ashamed; 4) The policies of our state towards its own citizens abolish patriot sentiments; 5) he want to leave Russia; 6) Other (specify).” Students could chose more than one answer. Photo courtesy of Daniel Alexandrov, Jr.

In addition, the pupils were asked to determine what social phenomena and psychological traits (!) generate nationalist or extremists moods among young people. The people who compiled the questionnaire openly provoked teenagers into violating Article 282 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code [which forbids “inciting the hatred and enmity” against other people based on ethnicity, religion, etc.] by asking them, “Are their religions or ethnic groups you dislike?” and “When faced with people different from you in appearance, ethniicity or religion, you usually . . .” One of the possible answers was, “I act aggressively.”

30742559_10156005294177203_1430095687740250696_nThe fourth and final page of the questionnaire focuses on the attitude of students toward different ethnic, religious, and social groups, thus encouraging them to violate Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code, as Mr. Alexandrov points out. Photo courtesy of Daniel Alexandrov, Jr.

The Education Committee at Petersburg City Hall explained to Fontanka.ru that the questionnaire was part of a “comprehensive plan for preventing juvenile delinquency among minors during the 2017–2018 academic year.” It is a program for monitoring and identifying potential “extremists” among schoolchildren.

I have the sense these people either do not realize what they are saying or they do realize it, which is even worse.

Even the Soviet Union was bereft of such idiocy and meanness, as when minors were asked to fill out questionnaires with questions like, “How much do you love the Motherland on a scale from one to five?” or “Whom do you love more, the Motherland or Mom?”

I have learned the schools on Vasilyevsky Island have not administered the questionnaire—yet—but since the Education Committee has adopted the plan, it means the questionnaire will be administered, if not now, then in September.

This cannot be ignored. We cannot stay silent about this. Interrogating schoolchildren about their love of the Motherland and their willingness to sacrifice themselves, and suggesting they should rat on themselves are real manifestations of fascism, and there are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Friends, city council members, human rights activists, public figures, and local journalists: do something about it.

Article 29 of the Russian Constitution:

1. Everyone shall be guaranteed freedom of ideas and speech.

2. Propaganda or agitation instigating social, racial, national or religious hatred and strife shall not be allowed. Propaganda of social, racial, national, religious or linguistic supremacy shall be banned.

3. No one may be forced to express his views and convictions or eject them.

4. Everyone shall have the right to freely look for, receive, transmit, produce and distribute information by any legal means. The list of data comprising state secrets shall be determined by federal law.

5. The freedom of mass communication shall be guaranteed. Censorship shall be banned.

Thanks to Valery Dymshits for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. I slightly edited the excerpted quotation from the Russian Constitution to make it more readable.