Staunton, June 14 – In just over the year that it has been in force, the Russian powers that be have used the criminal law against fake news to open more than 200 cases against those who express a different view than does the government, according to a new report by the Agora International Human Rights Group.
In a new report entitled “An Epidemic of Fakes: The Battle with the Coronavirus as a Threat to Freedom of Speech,” Agora says that these cases resulted in fines of “more than one million rubles (15,000 US dollars) and are rapidly increasing in number as the regime seeks to silence its critics (agora.legal/articles/Doklad-Mezhdunarodnoi-Agory-%C2%ABEpidemiya-feikov-borba-s-koronavirusom-kak/30).
One of the authors of the report, lawyer Stanislav Seleznev says that “from the beginning of the epidemic, the state has openly proclaimed its monopoly on truth, something it used earlier as well but not so baldly,” and it is deploying the fake news law to go after anyone who says anything at odds with the official line.
Just how serious a problem is this has been concealed by the government itself, the Agora report says, because the regime doesn’t publish data on the number of cases, many of which arise not in the major cities but in regions far from Moscow. That presents a challenge to those who try to identify the problems with the way the law is being applied.
Agora has collected information on more than 450 such cases, and Seleznev says that an examination of them shows the political character of the application of this law, a trend that has only intensified during the pandemic with the explosive growth in the number of cases being brought.
The Agora report recommends that the authorities change their approach, end their assumption that what the powers that be say is always correct, restrict the application of the law to those who may report incorrect information without any evil intent, reduce punishments meted out, and consider eliminating criminal responsibility in this area altogether.
The Kremlin is likely to ignore all such calls, but the Agora report is important not only because it is challenging the Putin regime’s assumption that it has a monopoly on truth but also because it has assembled an impressive collection of data on where and when this most unfortunate law is now being applied.