The Russian government has created a series of often ill-defined laws that threatened fines or even jail time for broad categories of banned content. The authorities have thrown the book at a few, seemingly randomly chosen individuals in far-flung provincial cities whose cases are widely publicized, The effect, rights groups say, has been self-censorship, as users become aware that they are being watched and can be punished for online speech, including re-posts, The New York Times reports:
The latest law, banning “obscene or demeaning” descriptions of state officials, took effect in March. A court in the Novgorod region in northwestern Russia published the first known ruling applying the law on Tuesday. Yuri D. Kartyzhev, the unemployed man, had posted on Vkontakte, a Russian social site similar to Facebook, that Mr. Putin was a dimwit, using a vulgarity. The court fined Mr. Kartyzhev $470. Lawyers for a human rights group, Agora, had represented Mr. Kartyzhev. One of his defenses was that he had used dots instead of letters in a portion of his post, though the offending word could be easily inferred.
The law, said Svetlana Gannushkina (right), the director of the Civil Assistance Committee, only underscored the thin-skinned nature of authoritarian governments. “These are people who put themselves in the public space and exposed themselves to criticism,” by becoming public officials, she said. “Why do we need this law?”
“It’s the 21st century. You can make people fear you for a time, but not for long,” she told the Times.
The Russian government uses laws against ‘undesirable organizations’ to target activists from a single human rights group – Open Russia, Maxim Litavrin writes for Medusa. Previous targets included the National Endowment for Democracy and George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, he adds.
Representatives James P. McGovern and Christopher H. Smith, Co-Chairs of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, would like to bring to your attention a briefing titled The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: Advancing a Political Agenda by Crushing Dissent (above) on Wednesday, May 1 at 2:30 PM in 2255 Rayburn House Office Building. Click here to register.