Prison terms for reposts and likes

Prison terms for reposts and likes

In 2016, about 500 people were convicted for extremist statements. Of these, 85% of the cases were initiated for publications on the Internet. The practice of prosecuting for posts in social networks is expanding every year.

The State Duma in the third reading passed laws on the regulation of the work of instant messengers and the prohibition of bypassing of blocked websites. In accordance with the first document, the administration of messengers will be obliged to establish the identity of users by the phone number, as well as to limit the transmission of messages. The second law provides for the blocking of anonymizers and VPNs which provide access to websites blocked by Roskomnadzor (Russian Communications Watchdog). At the same time, the deputies adopted in the third reading a law on the strengthening of criminal responsibility for the incitement to suicide.

In addition, a group of parliamentarians from United Russia introduced a bill to the State Duma, which obliges social networks to remove illegal and inaccurate information upon application by the users. For unscrupulous moderation of websites the fines of up to 50 million rubles are to be set out. However, it turned out that the document was practically written off from the decision of the German Bundestag adopted in late June 2017. The bill was withdrawn from consideration and will be reintroduced to the State Duma in a new edition.

This is not the first time that Russian deputies refer to foreign experience. Often, the statements of the deputies, pro-government media and bloggers sound in the spirit of "they are even worse there." The correspondent of Rosbalt researched the western experience and found out why both sides, to put it mildly, are cunning.

Threats to the President and arrest for likes

Quite often, supporters of harsh measures against the Internet, use the argument that in the United States an innocent citizen can be imprisoned for an ordinary like in a social network. Such precedents indeed existed, but all these stories are not as unambiguous as it might seem at first glance.

So, in 2014, a popular radio host from Memphis was arrested liking his ex-girlfriend’s post on Facebook. In reality, the girl had a so-called "protective warrant," which forbade the ex-boyfriend to make attempts to communicate and approach her for a certain distance. In the same year, the media reported that "the US police kept a teenager in prison for 19 months for a like." However, in the same news it was pointed out that the young man was suspected of having been associated with one of the Harlem gangs. The reason for that was once again a like, as well as the fact that the suspect’s brother was arrested for illegal possession of weapons.

In general, in the United States back in 2013, the court equated the likes on Facebook to the expression of freedom of speech. Thus, the right to like in the USA is protected by the first amendment to the Constitution.

Also, the media repeatedly reported about the arrests of American citizens for unflattering statements about the American president. However, there is no law in the United States to protect the honor and dignity of the head of state. Moreover, unlike Russia, the federal legislation of the United States does not treat such things as a criminal offense. At the same time, in several states, one can really go under arrest for slander. And in this case Russia obviously looks more free and democratic. The Criminal Code provides for punishment of up to 5 million rubles or compulsory work for up to 480 hours. And no prison terms.

A slightly different situation may occur with the so-called "hate speech". And once again, the article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code can be applied. Counting how many people received punishment for inciting hatred at least within a year is not possible – the Russian e-justice system does not provide such statistics. However, according to experts, in recent years, the number of sentences on cases involving publications on the Internet has been constantly increasing.

"Today, there are more and more cases are under Art. 282 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation in connection with the incitement of hatred or enmity towards a social group. The problem is that as such, the concept of a "social group" is not defined in the legislation, which makes it possible to apply this article to any publications that contain criticism of law enforcement officers and so on. The same with separatism: any public opinion on the return of the territory or on the separation of the regions of the Russian Federation leads to criminal prosecution, and not in all these statements one can really see appeals for any actions," the chairman of the Arbitration Court of Moscow and Moscow Region, lawyer Oleg Sukhov, told Rosbalt.

There are a lot of examples of people being put in jail for reposts, as well as posts or comments in social networks. Judges handed down guilty verdicts with different arguments: from "animus toward citizens living in the territory of the People's Republic of Lugansk and the People's Republic of Donetsk", to equating the statements that Crimea is part of Ukraine to extremism.

The apotheosis of this practice was the Stavropol case for the phrase "There is no God." Subsequently, fortunately, this case was terminated due to the expiration of the statute of limitations.

But in the West one can also easily go to prison for a repost. However, for an absolutely certain one: related to the justification of terrorism. Thus, in 2015, a 25-year-old man was arrested in the US state of Ohio for reposting a GIF with ISIS (the organization banned in the Russian Federation). He was accused of trying to achieve the killing of the US military.

In Europe, the Criminal Code of Germany is one of the most stringent. The document provides for responsibility for libel, denial of the Holocaust, blasphemy, propaganda of anti-constitutional organizations and so on. For insulting the church there, one can go to prison for three years. In the EU, blasphemy is also prohibited in Italy, Spain, Poland, Norway and a number of other countries.

According to Oleg Sukhov, in Europe the incitement of hatred towards representatives of any community is considered a serious crime.

"The legislation of the most European countries contains rules that prohibit the so-called "hate speech", that is, inciting national, racial, religious enmity and so on. The approach to suppress such statements is very strict. In the US, the approach to such statements is different: the first amendment to the Constitution which protects freedom of speech is a priority. However, crimes committed in the USA for similar reasons are punished more severely," Sukhov said.

"The machine is just starting to spin"

Just over a year ago, Vladimir Putin signed a set of "anti-terrorism" bills, which expanded the powers of law enforcement agencies, obliged telecom operators to store calls and messages from subscribers, imposed responsibility for failure to report a crime, and increased the prison term for extremism. The media called these amendments "Yarovaya’s package" after the name of one of the initiators of the bill – State Duma deputy Irina Yarovaya. The bill became a subject of massive criticism. In March, even Vladimir Zhirinovsky could not stand it, calling the law "extrafoolish".

It happened after a teacher, Evgenia Chudnovets, was sentenced to six months in prison for reposting on the Russian social network VKontakte.

However, the case of Chudnovets is not directly related to the "Yarovaya’s package", says Alexander Verkhovsky, director of the analytical center Sova.

Meanwhile, according to him, the practice of persecuting people for statements and publications (including reposts) in social networks is expanding every year.

"The amount of such law enforcement is really amazing. As well as its quality. When a person makes a repost to his page, he actually cites the statement. But then the court must assess the purpose for which the repost was made. Unfortunately, the courts assess very poorly: they do not look at the context at all. Also, there were cases when people were prosecuted for a comment. But it is generally against the law, because the individual user is not responsible for someone else's statement. This is a constant machine that has just started spinning," Verkhovsky said.

According to the Sova center, in 2016 alone, about 500 people were convicted for extremist statements. Of these, 85% of the cases were initiated for publications on the Internet. Almost all of the latter were posted on VKontakte.

"Russian users are mainly tried for the publications in this social network, because the security services, even according to statistics, especially monitor this website. The rest of the social networks do not get that much attention. Therefore, my advice will be very simple: in order to protect yourself completely, it is better not to use VKontakte," Verkhovsky concluded.

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