Wednesday, October 4

“Witch hunt” in Russia against journalists, graffiti artists and teachers with Putin’s new law

At least 46 people face criminal charges in Russia for taking a stand against the war in Ukraine. Russian criminal justice accuses them of crimes such as defamation, incitement to extremist activities, incitement to mass riots, hate and fraud, among others, as reported on Wednesday International Amnestywhich denounces the “witch hunt” that is taking place in the country.

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In at least 10 of these cases, people critical of the government have been investigated through the new information control law that can punish those who “spread” a version of the war different from the that of the Kremlin. The legislation was approved unanimously on March 4 by both chambers of the Russian Parliament and was signed that same day by President Vladimir Putin, thus triggering the interruption of most international media coverage in the country and of the few media independents left in the country. This week the newspaper Novaya Gazetaled by Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitri Muratov, announced that it was no longer publishing because it cannot report on the war.

On Tuesday of last week, in addition, the law was expanded to criminalize the dissemination of what it calls “fake news” about any activity by Russian government officials also abroad.

“Vladimir Putin’s persecution of those who oppose Ukraine’s invasion goes far beyond his previous efforts to crack down on protesters and activists. Those caught criticizing the war face an absurd number of arbitrary charges just for speaking out. They are not only accused of ”discrediting” the armed forces, but also slander, fraud or accusations of ‘terrorism’”, says Marie Struthers, director of Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Programme.

Little more than a month after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, at least 60 criminal cases have already been initiated for peaceful protests against the war or for public criticism of the Russian authorities, according to reports. Agoraa Russian human rights organization.

Surveillance in networks and messaging platforms

The latest version of the information control law now contemplates fines of 1.5 million rubles (about 13,000 euros) and prison sentences of up to 15 years for those who spread what the authorities consider “false information” about those state agencies. Russians operating abroad. The new regulation may take until the end of the week to enter into force, according to the NGO Net Freedoms Project, although its previous version has already affected at least 10 people.

According to Amnesty International, on March 16, Veronika Belotserkovskaya, food blogger with 910,000 followers on Instagram, he became the first person charged under the new law. She was accused of sharing “knowingly false information about the use of the Russian Armed Forces to destroy cities and the civilian population of Ukraine, including children.” Sergey Klokov, a technician with the Moscow City Police Department, was the first person to be arrested. According to his lawyer, on March 18 he was accused of spreading “fake news” during phone calls with residents of Crimea and the Moscow region.

They were followed by Aleksandr Nevzorov, a prominent journalist who rose in popularity during perestroika (state-sanctioned political reforms in the 1980s) and was charged on March 22 for sharing information about Russia’s attacks on a maternity hospital. in Mariupol after criticizing the bombing in an Instagram post.

On March 25, Izabella Yevloyeva, a journalist from the Russian Republic of Ingushetia, was charged after sharing a post on social media in which she described the pro-war symbol “Z” of the Russian armed forces as “synonymous with aggression, death, pain and blatant manipulation”.

Opinions against the war are also persecuted using other repressive articles of the Penal Code, according to the human rights defense organization.

On March 18, Kazan activist Andrey Boyarshinov was charged with two incidents of “justification of terrorism” and placed under house arrest for two months for the anti-war messages he shared on a Telegram channel.

On March 24, Irina Bystrova, an art teacher from Petrozavodsk, was accused of sharing “fake news” and “justifying terrorism” in connection with messages she shared on VKontakte, a Russian social network.

Street graffiti, also persecuted

As public criticism of the war mounts, Russian authorities have also sought to criminalize street art and graffiti, the organization also reports. At least nine activists and street artists have been charged with writing “hate” graffiti, a crime that can land them in jail for up to three years.

On March 18, Yekaterinburg street artist Leonid Chernyi was arrested for putting up stickers reading “Charge 200” – the official code word for military casualties – before being arrested for “public intoxication” and charged with “hooliganism”.

Dmitry Kozyrev, a resident of Tula, was arrested on March 20 for writing “War is a requiem for common sense” on the walls of the city’s Kremlin, a 16th-century fortress. On March 23, Nikolay Vorotnyov from Saint Petersburg was arrested for painting the Ukrainian flag on a World War II howitzer at an open-air war museum.