Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Kremlin action quelled opposition to war, from benign to bold

A former police officer who discussed the Russian invasion over the phone. A priest who preached to his congregation about the suffering of Ukrainians. A student holding a banner without words—just an asterisk.

Hundreds of Russians are facing charges of speaking out against the war in Ukraine since a repressive law was passed last month that prevents the spread of “false information” about the invasion and humiliating the military.

Human rights groups say the action has led to criminal trials and possible prison sentences for at least 23 people charged with “misinformation”, with more than 500 others facing misdemeanor charges of defaming the military. which has either resulted in heavy fines or is expected to result.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Damir Genutdinov, head of the Net Freedom legal aid group that focuses on free speech matters, said “this is a huge amount, an unprecedentedly large amount”.

The Kremlin has sought to control the war narrative from the time its troops rolled into Ukraine. It dubbed the attack a “special military operation” and increased pressure on independent Russian media, which called it a “war” or “invasion”, blocking access to several news sites whose coverage deviated from the official line.

Widespread arrests stifled anti-war protests, turning them from a daily event in large cities such as Moscow and St.

Nevertheless, there are reports of single picketers being detained by the police in various Russian cities almost daily.

Even actions that seem benign have led to arrests.

A man was detained in Moscow after standing next to a World War II memorial that says “Kyiv” for the city’s heroic stand against Nazi Germany and a copy of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” keeps. Another was reportedly detained for possessing a package of sliced ​​ham from meat producer Miratorg, after the second part of the name was crossed out, so it read: “Mir” – “peace” in Russian. .

A law against spreading “fake news” about war or humiliating the military was passed by parliament in one day and came into force immediately, effectively punishing any person critical of the struggle for fines and prison sentences. effectively exposed.

The first publicly known criminal cases on “fake” targeted public figures such as Veronika Belotserkovskaya, a Russian-language cookbook author and popular blogger living abroad, and Alexander Nevzorov, a TV journalist, film director, and former MP.

Both were accused of posting “false information” about Russian attacks on civilian infrastructure in Ukraine on their widely used social media pages – a vehement denial by Moscow, insisting that The Russian army hits only targeted military targets.

But then the scope of action increased, the police caught anyone.

Former police officer Sergei Klokov was detained and held in pre-trial custody after discussing the war with his friends over the phone. His wife told the Meduza news site that in casual conversation at home, Klokov, who was born in Irpin near Kyiv and whose father still lived in Ukraine when Russian troops invaded, denounced the invasion.

Klokov was accused of spreading false information about the Russian Armed Forces and facing up to 10 years in prison.

Petersburg artist Sasha Skolichenko faces up to 10 years in prison on the same charge: He replaced the price tag in the grocery store with an Antiwar flyer. On Wednesday, a court ordered Skolichenko’s pre-trial detention for 1 1/2 months.

A Russian Orthodox priest in a village about 300 kilometers (about 185 miles) northeast of Moscow, Rev. Ioan Burdin was fined 35,000 rubles ($432) for “defaming the Russian armed forces” after posting an anti-war statement on his church’s website. Speaking to a dozen congregations during a service, he spoke about the pain of those dying in Ukrainian.

Burdine told the Associated Press that there were mixed reactions to his speech. “A woman made a scene at the fact that I was talking about (it) when she came to pray,” he said, adding that he believed it was in those who heard the sermon. was the one who reported him to the police.

Marat Grachev, the director of a shop that repairs Apple products in Moscow, had similar trouble when he displayed a link to an online petition titled “No to War” on a screen in the shop. Several customers expressed support after seeing it, but an elderly man demanded it be taken down, threatening to report Grachev to the authorities.

The police soon appeared, and Grachev was accused of defaming the army. A court ordered him to pay a fine of 100,000 rubles ($1,236).

Another court ruled against Moscow student Dmitry Reznikov for displaying a blank piece of paper with eight asterisks that could be interpreted in Russian as “not for war” – a popular chant by protesters . The court found him guilty of defaming the armed forces and fined him 50,000 rubles ($618) for holding a sign in central Moscow at a demonstration in mid-March that lasted seconds before he was detained by police.

“This is theater of the absurd,” his lawyer, Oleg Filatchev, told the Associated Press.

A St Petersburg court last week fined Artur Dmitriev for quoting President Vladimir Putin – albeit with some words omitted for brevity – from last year’s Victory Day parade marking the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II. Imposed.

“The war brought so many unbearable challenges, sorrow and tears that it is impossible to forget. According to the Kremlin website, Putin said that there is no apology and justification for those who are once again harboring aggressive plans.

Dmitriev was fined 30,000 rubles for defaming the Russian army. This prompted him to post on Facebook on Friday: “Phrase by Vladimir Putin, and he himself arrogantly … defames the goals of the Russian armed forces. From this moment on, to (internet and media regulator) Roskomnadzor.” All Putin’s speeches must stop, and true patriots – take down their pictures in their offices.”

Genutdinov of Net Freedoms said that anything about the military or Ukraine can target an individual. The lawyer said that even the blue and gold cap or green ribbon of Ukraine’s flag, which is considered a symbol of peace, has been found to defame the army.

Reznikov, who is appealing his sentence for posters with an asterisk, said he found the action scary. Following his first misdemeanor conviction, a second strike would result in criminal prosecution and a possible prison sentence of up to three years.

Both Burdin and Grachev, who are also appealing, received donations in excess of their fines.

“I realized how important it is, how valuable it is to have support,” Grachev said.

Burdine said the publicity about his case spread his message to the more than a dozen people who had initially heard his sermon – which was intended to be fined by the authorities.

The priest said, “It is impossible to say anything other than God’s prediction. The words I had spoken reached a very large number of people.”


Follow Associated Press’s coverage of the war

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