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Published in Stream:
Russia Update: March 3, 2016
Press by
The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
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Two Russian bloggers have been arrested in recent weeks, illustrating the Kremlin's worsening crackdown on free expression -- but also revealing both intervention from the Russian Orthodox Church and a possible wish to curb the backlash at home from Russia's support of separatists in Ukraine.

The first case is of Viktor Krasnov, who is on trial for allegedly "offending the sentiments of Russian Orthodox believers" in online chat, the Guardian reported:

Viktor Krasnov, 38, who appeared in court Wednesday, is being prosecuted under a controversial 2013 law that was introduced after punk art group Pussy Riots was jailed for a performance in Moscow’s main cathedral, his lawyer Andrei Sabinin told AFP.

The charges – which carry a maximum one-year jail sentence – centre on an internet exchange that Krasnov was involved in in 2014 on a humorous local website in his hometown of Stavropol.

“If I say that the collection of Jewish fairytales entitled the Bible is complete bullshit, that is that. At least for me,” Krasnov wrote, adding later “there is no God!”

Krasnov was forced to undergo a psychiatric evaluation for a month for saying he didn't believe in God, but ultimately was declared fit to stand trial.

The case has received a lot of international as well as Russian attention, even covered in the fashion magazine Cosmo.ru.

In an interview with Open Russia, Andrei Sabinin, Krasnov's lawyer from the legal defense organization Agora (itself recently closed by court order in Tatarstan) explained that the people who originally complained about his client have dropped out of the case. He dubbed them "disposable people," used by the prosecutors to collect a denunciation and then discarded. Both of them were anonymous to the defendant, and because the text of the conversation was removed, it could not be presented in court, said Cosmo.

One of the petitioners never adequately explained why he felt Krasnov should be prosecuted if he also advocated forgiveness and another, a soldier never confirmed that he was even a religious believer and there was no independent confirmation he had attended church services, said Sabinin. Nevertheless, on the strength of these two vague testimonies, Krasnov could serve time in labor colony.

The next hearing in Krasnov's case will take place March 15; he has pleaded not guilty and protested the pressure placed on him by investigators.

The second case concerns a locally popular blogger, Aleksei Kungurov of Tyumen, who was just arrested today, Radio Svoboda reported.


Translation: Aleksei Kungurov was detained by agents after search of his home, now he is being taken to investigation-isolation prison. 

Kungurov's wife said on her LiveJournal page that their apartment was searched but law-enforcers didn't inform her husband of the articles of the criminal code under which he was arrested. She said one of the policeman said "You're not allowed to write everything."

A fellow blogger, Yevgeny Sergeyev, said on his LiveJournal page that he had learned Kungurov was being charged under an article concerning "terrorist acts." A pro-separatist blogger M_Kalashnikov has written that Col. Igor Strelkov (Girkin), the former commander of the self-proclaimed "Donetsk People's Republic" forces, and now co-chair of the January 25 Committee, said Kungurov was being tried "on an entire five articles of the Criminal Code." 

The January 25 committee was announced on that date this year by Strelkov and other radical nationalists and Stalinists including National-Bolshevik Party leader Eduard Limonov and Yegor Prosvirnin,  editor of the ultranationalist web site Sputnik & Pogrom, Gazeta.ru reported. The goal is the "in-gathering of Russian lands" extending to Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan -- a particularly ambitious "Novorossiya" concept. 

But Strelkov condemned Kungurov and said in recent days, the January 25 Committee had discussed expelling him because he had called Strelkov and another leader, Stepan Sulashkin, "conditional" and said that out of political and economic expediency, if they came to power they would be "surrendered" to Ukraine. Now that he is arrested, Strelkov said the suspension should be put off until he is free and he will be supported.

Statements by Strelkov are often challenged because there are many imitators, but in this case, the blogger linked to Strelkov's verified "secret" forum on Antikvariat.ru.

Other forum participants said the arrest of Kungurov and charges related to terrorism were a negative development for the committee and prospects of creating a "Novorossiya" party.

Kungurov has 20,000 subscribers to his blog, which classifies him as "mass media" under the Russian "bloggers' law" setting the threshold at 3,000. His traffic is even greater, ranging from 60,000 to 200,00 per day and 7 million unique visitors per year, according to Znak.com.

The Interior Ministry refused to comment on the case when they received an inquiry from Znak, saying it was "outside our competency" -- a reference to the likelihood that the FSB is handling it as it does all article 205 cases which are punishable by fines up to 500,000 rubles ($6,389) or up to 3 to 5 years of compulsory labor or imprisonment. Recently a young Siberian woman was sentenced to community service for uploading the ISIS flag.

More research is needed -- as well as official explanations -- to understand why Kungurov is being charged with terrorism. Under Russian law, "public calls to commit terrorist activity or public justification of terrorism" can be prosecuted under Art. 205-2, the terrorism statute. The Kremlin has never called their subsidized "volunteer" war in the Donbass "terrorism," unlike the Ukrainian government which forthrightly fights Russian intervention with its "Anti-Terrorist Operation."

The trend in the last 18 months since Strelkov and other Russian leaders of "Novorossiya" were removed was to generally leave them alone, but curb them on some occasions so they do not pose a threat. Last year, Gazeta.ru reported that another organization of former fighters, "Union of Donbass Volunteers" was founded by former "prime minister" of the "Donetsk People's Republic" Aleksandr Boroday, who is believed to cooperate with the Kremlin, in an effort to control former fighters.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick