“Joking Is Not a Crime”: Standing Up for Stand-Up Comedy in Russia

“Idrak is not the enemy”: stand-up comedians of different ethnicities support Idrak Mirzalizade, jailed for a joke about ethnic Russians
Novaya Gazeta
13 August 2021

Russian stand-up comedians Garik Oganesyan, Mikhail Shats, Danila Pererechny, Ilya Sobolev, Alexei Smirnov, Timur Karginov, Ruslan Bely, Slava Komissarenko, Alexei Shcherbakov, Garik Hovhannisyan and others have released a video in support of their colleague Idrak Mirzalizade, who has been jailed for ten days for joking about renting an apartment and ethnic Russians.

“There is a punishment for a comedian: if he tells an unfunny joke, no one laughs at that moment. But you can’t deprive people of their freedom for a joke. […] Being jailed for jokes is the penultimate step before being jailed for scientific theories. The ten days [in jail] that the court imposed on [Mirzalizade] is not a terrible punishment, but a very terrible precedent that says that it will now be officially possible to jail or punish someone for making joke. […] Today it’s us, tomorrow it’s you,” the stand-up comedians say in the video.

“Joking is not a crime”: #IdrakIsNotTheEnemy: the YouTube video released on August 13 by Russian comedians in solidarity with Idrak Mirzalizade, jailed for ten days on August 9 for insulting ethnic Russians

Among those who have stood up for Mirzalizade are his colleagues of different ethnicities: Russians, Armenians, Ossetians, Jews, and Yakuts. And yet Idrak himself has been jailed for “inciting hatred or enmity,” punishable under Article 20.3.1 of the Administrative Offenses Code.

On August 9, the Taganka District Court in Moscow jailed Mirzalizade for ten days for a joke about a mattress stained by ethnic Russians. He pleaded not guilty to inciting ethnic hatred. “The performance was humorous and was meant to ridicule xenophobia, in fact,” the comedian said. According to him, people of different ethnicities were present in the audience during his stand-up routine and they understood that the joke was directed against xenophobia. On appeal, the court refused to repeal the jail sentence.

The prosecutor’s office announced on July 30 that it had found “signs of humiliation of a group of persons singled out on an ethnic basis, as well as propaganda of their inferiority” in Mirzalizade’s joke about a mattress that ethnic Russian tenants had stained with feces. In the joke, the comedian is outraged that an ethnic Slavic neighbor looked at him with contempt while he and his brother threw out the mattress.

In late June, the comedian reported that unknown people had attacked him for a reward of fifty thousand rubles. He also stated that he had received numerous threats.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Idrak Mirzalizade. Courtesy of RFE/RL

Comedian Of Azerbaijani Origin Jailed Over ‘Anti-Russian’ Performance
RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service
August 9, 2021

A court in Moscow has sentenced a Russian stand-up comic of Azerbaijani origin, Idrak Mirzalizade, to 10 days in jail for allegedly inciting ethnic hatred.

The Taganka district court issued the ruling on August 9 after several pro-government media outlets accused Mirzalizade of insulting ethnic Russians in one of his performances.

Mirzalizade pleaded not guilty to the charges, but offered apologies to “all who felt insulted by some parts of my performance which were taken out of context.”

In June, he wrote on Instagram that two unknown men attacked him after he received several threats because of his performance.

He also posted a video showing the moment of the attack.

‘Over the past three weeks, I have received several thousand threats. A man went to a solo picket in Penza carrying a placard with the slogan “Idrak Mirzalizade is an enemy of the Russian people!” And a monetary reward was announced for my head, due to which I was attacked on June 23 in downtown Moscow. In this video, I tell you what happened.’  Posted on June 27, 2021, by Idrak Mirzalizade

Mirzalizade has said the performance that caused the controversy was about problems faced by non-Russians when they want to rent an apartment in the Russian capital.

In his performance, the comedian joked about what would happen if the perception of Russians by others was based on separate incidents, drawing a parallel with situations that shape prejudices about non-Russians living among Russians.

Is Lydia Bainova an “Extremist”?

lydia bainovaLydia Bainova. Photo courtesy of Newsru.com and Tayga.info

FSB Files Charges against Khakassia Woman for Social Media Post Defending the Republic’s Indigenous Population
Newsru.com
July 24, 2018

The secret services have opened a criminal investigation into Lydia Bainova, a 30-year-old Abakan resident, after she published a post on the VK social media network. The mother of a young child, Ms. Bainova promotes Khakas culture. Tayga.info reports she has been accused of inciting ethnic hatred. According to the website, the FSB’s Khakassia office has charged the young woman with violating Article 280 Part 2 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code, which forbids public calls for “extremism” through the media or interent.

Tayga.info quotes the FSB’s indictment, which alleges Bainova “realized her criminal intentions using an Asus brand laptop with access to the internet.”

She posted a text containing the following passage: “At such moments, one feels like organizing a revolution, a coup, giving back power and land to our people, winning them back.”

FSB Investigator Marov decided the passage was a public call for “extremism,” Tayga.info reports.

However, the indictment does not quote Bainova’s entire post, which largely deals with cases of harassment suffered by Khakassia’s indigenous inhabitants. Bainova, for example, told her readers that children were told that only ethnic Russians were allowed in the playroom of an Abakan establishment.

“Some have been lucky not to encounter nationalism. During the twenty-nine years of my life in Abakan, I have encountered it constantly. My mother and father have constantly been the target of trenchant comments, like, ‘You’re Khakas and you got a three-room flat in the center of town,” or, ‘You’re a Khakas woman, but you dress so well,’ and so on,” Ms. Bainova wrote  on VK.

Ms. Bainova has denied her guilt. She believes it was her public outreach work that attracted the FSB’s attention. She popularizes Khakas culture, has been involved in an ethnic music festival, and advocates the preservation of Khakas traditions and the Khakas language.

Investigators commissioned a psycho-linguistic forensic examination of Ms. Bainova’s post. The examiners reached the same conclusion as the FSB. Ms. Bainova’s defense counsel said the forensic examination was performed “extremely unprofessionally.”

The maximum penalty for violating Article 280 Part 2 of the Russian Criminal Code is five years in prison. In early June, a court in Tver Region sentenced a local electrician to a two-year suspended sentence for publishing a post against Vladimir Putin. Earlier this year, a resident of Sevastopol was sentenced to two years in prison, while a Petersburg resident was sentenced to ten months in a penal colony on the same charges.

Translated by the Russian Reader