Staunton, February 11 – Last Monday, the Agora Human Rights Group released its annual report on official repression of the Russian segment of the Internet which showed that on average officials blocked 244 pages each day and that every eight days, the courts imposed a real jail sentence (meduza.io/static/0001/Agora_Internet_Freedom_2017_RU.pdf).
One reason Russian officials focus on the Internet is that they have conflated the struggle against freedom of speech on it with the struggle against extremism as such. But because of that confusion, they appear to be sending messages to Russians and the West that are very different from what they intend.
That possibility is suggested by MBK journalist Sabina Balishyan who reviews five Russian court cases against extremism this week and finds that using that as a measure “Nazism is everywhere” in Russia today, a pattern that will encourage extremists as well as give the regime a black eye (mbk.media/suzhet/vsyudu-nacizm/).
According to Balishyan, during the past week “there were an especially large number of cases against those who have displayed Nazi symbols – and those who do are not helped even if they have the most deeply felt hatred of the Third Reich.” For Russian officials and judges, such “context” isn’t of any concern.
The first such case was in Chita where a local resident was fined 1,000 rubles (17 US dollars) for posting on line a picture of “Blogger X in a Nazi uniform.” The defendant claimed that he was trying to show the heroic Soviet agent Stirlitz who went undercover as a Nazi to fight Hitler’s regime. But that didn’t save him.
The second involved a Cheboksary resident who got in trouble for posting a cartoon of Hitler that he had taken from the Orthodoxy and the World page. Despite the negative view of the German fuehrer the caricature suggests, the court found him guilty of “Nazi propaganda” (tass.ru/obschestvo/4929934 and sova-center.ru/misuse/news/persecution/2018/02/d38780/).
The third focused on a Krasnodar kray pensioner who was convicted of Nazi-inspired extremism for a discussion and a video clip about the sentences handed down to others for her 1400 friends on her VKontakte page (ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/02/05/pensionerku-iz-krasnodarskogo-kraya-dvazhdy-arestovali-za-rolik-vo-vkontakte).
The fourth featured a Navalny activist who was found guilty because there was a swastika on a car that was pictured on an online post entitled “We can repeat!” the past (ovdinfo.org/express-news/2018/02/05/volontera-shtaba-navalnogo-oshtrafovali-za-post-s-kartinkoy-mozhem-povtorit).
And the fifth, Balishyan says, involved a store in Chelyabinsk that was selling iron-on patches featuring swastikas in a white circle on a red background for 50 rubles (80 US cents). The police raided the store, but the local news agency reports that the owner is currently abroad (http://www.amur.info/news/2018/02/06/134580).