Staunton, February 11 – Despite decriminalization of Article 282 and a reduction in the number of people detained for violating it, experts at a meeting organized by RosKomSvoboda and the Committee on Civic Initiatives say, the number of individuals actually charged has declined far more slowly.
In part, they suggest, this is because the authorities have intimidated Russian bloggers into engaging in self-censorship given how difficult it is for anyone to predict what will result in arrests or charges, a development that makes the otherwise encouraging statistics less hopeful than they might be (roskomsvoboda.org/55274/).
Artem Kozlyuk, the head of RosKomSvoboda, said there are “no objective data” indicating that Russians going online are engaging in self-censorship; but his experience and that of other experts certainly suggests that many are becoming more careful lest they run afoul of officialdom.
Yekaterina Abashina, a lawyer for the group, agrees, adding that Russians who go online frequently don’t post things that would not get them in trouble because they have no way of knowing which ones will. And Sarkis Darbinyan, another lawyer for the group, says that this self-censorship is especially bad and increasing.
Their comments follow their presentations about the Black Screen Report (blackscreen.report/) which found that the number of cases brought under the anti-extremism provisions of the administrative code had fallen from 384 in 2018 to 200 in 2019 but that those actually punished by imprisonment had fallen far more slowly, from 45 to 38.
The experts said that increasingly, officials are charging those investigated under the provisions of this article with other crimes thus making it easier to incarcerate them, and that unfortunately, the government has increased the list of violations in this area for which administrative punishments are possible.
Aleksandr Verkhovsky of the SOVA Information and Analysis Center, provided somewhat different data. He said the number of extremist charges under Article 282 and also Article 205.2 were 1650 over the course of 2018, while there were 1390 such charges in the first half of 2019.
His figures suggest that the number of charges may in fact be going up with officials now using the ban on propaganda supposedly supporting terrorism as their preferred means of going after opponents. That opens the way to greater punishments and makes posting online an increasingly dangerous activity.
Despite that, Verkhovsky pointed to one piece of “good” news in this area, the government’s list of extremist materials did in fact grow “more slowly” in 2019 than in 2018.