FSB vs. bloggers
Below is my latest column for RobertAmsterdam.com dedicated to Dmitry Soloviev’s case and attempts of the FSB to crack down on bloggers.
FSB: a Final Solution for Bloggers
Dmitry Soloviev, a leader of the Oborona youth movement in Kemerovo region, faces criminal charges for criticizing the “siloviki” in a LiveJournal blog. He is accused by the regional prosecutor of posting information that “incites hatred, hostility and degrades a social group of people—the police and FSB”. According to the anti-extremist legislation introduced in 2006 (more specifically, the infamous paragraph 282 of the Criminal Code), he may face up to two years imprisonment if convicted.
The case was initiated on August 11th and was based on an expert study conducted by an anonymous FSB “specialist”. The next morning, detectives and FSB officers conducted a search in Dmitry’s home and office, confiscated his computers and disks as well as Oborona printed materials, and questioned the activist.
The entries that the FSB considered “extremist” in actuality contain no sign of incitement to violence nor even a strong word. Most of them are in fact reposts from other blogs or from Internet media. Here they are (in Russian):
This is not the first such case. A month ago, another blogger, Savva Terentyev, received a suspended sentence for 1 year’s imprisonment on similar charges. He was found guilty of “inciting hatred” against the police in a LiveJournal comment he had left. The difference is that Terentyev’s comment was in fact quite insulting (he suggested organizing the regular burning of corrupt policemen on the central squares of cities, not literally, of course), while Soloviev is only charged with posting already well-known facts about FSB and police activities.
This news has alarmed the Russian Internet community. Information about the new criminal case was reposted by hundreds of bloggers. Hundreds more signed a petition in support of Dmitry within a few hours after it appeared. This case has remained one of the top subjects for discussion for over a week. In fact, millions of Russian Internet users feel in danger now.
The police are extremely unpopular in Russia because of human rights abuses, brutality, corruption, invention of criminal cases, inefficiency, and lack of consideration for citizens. Unsurprisingly, blogs have probably been the most important media where people could discuss these problems. Even a simple query on [the popular Russian search engine] Yandex reveals that bloggers use the sarcastic term “ment” [similar to “fuzz” in the 1960s USA—Ed.] for a police officer almost twice as often as the more proper synonym “militsioner”. So, the strong reaction of Russian Internet users is understandable: nobody wants to be next.
A Committee in Support of Dmitry Soloviev has been created by popular bloggers, civil and political activists. They have begun to plan a campaign to help Dmitry and the Russian Internet community in general. Many bloggers have reposted Dmitry’s disputed entries on their own blogs, in order to put a dilemma before the police—who will not have to either arrest everyone or turn a blind eye to this “distribution of extremist information”. Donations are also welcome, because Dmitry will need to pay for lawyers and independent experts. The Committee asks for donations through PayPal to Oborona (please specify that this is for Dmitry Soloviev) or directly to Dmitry using Yandex Money (account # 41001167818533). More actions in support of Dmitry are planned for upcoming weeks.
The freedom of expression that Internet users enjoy is unseen on television or in newspapers in contemporary Russia. Those who have started this new campaign of harassment have a clear goal: to diminish this freedom. Any blogger now ought to think twice before posting anything that the police, special services or any other government body may find offensive or unpleasant. If Soloviev is found guilty, almost any kind of such criticism effectively becomes a crime.