Roughly half of the 233 people convicted of “hate speech” last year in Russia were using the popular Facebook clone VKontakte. But “hate speech” isn’t always hate speech. Sometimes you could go to jail for two years for sharing a meme about toothpaste and Crimea to your twelve online friends, the AP reports.
Russia’s 2002 extremely vague anti-extremism law has really been keeping up with the times. The law forbids glorifying or promoting terrorism, racism (which is why this fucker is in jail) and also this enigmatic doozy—“any activities that undermine the nation’s security or constitutional order.” (That last bit also lets Kremlin block across all Russian ISPs Facebook—all of Facebook—for some synthetic weed ads, or LiveJournal—all of LiveJournal—because of someone’s post planning a protest.)
In July of that year, three months after Russia had annexed the Crimean Peninsula, he signed a bill making calls “to destroy” Russia’s territorial integrity a criminal offense punishable by up to five years in prison. The new amendment makes the denial of Russia’s claims on Crimea an even greater offense if the statement is made in the press or online, even on a private social media account.
And that’s how 40-year-old small-town electrician Andrei Bubeyev was sentenced to more than two years in prison after a SWAT team raided his house and terrorized his four-year-old kid, all for sharing things on VKontakte—specifically a picture of some toothpaste with the caption “Squeeze Russia out of yourself!” and articles about Russian soldiers who died aiding the separatists in Ukraine.
So how did the government get word of Andrei Bubeyev’s “extremist” friends-only posts to his twelve friends? What a mystery. VKontakte founder Pavel Durov sold the site in 2014 and exiled himself. The site is now owned by the Kremlin-friendly billionaire Alisher Usmanov. Maybe it has something to do with that.
Most of the 52 people sent to prison for “hate speech” last year were convicted for sharing things online. Moscow-based Sova group which studies xenophobia, nationalism and misuses of the anti-extremism laws told the AP that’s five times as much as five years ago:
“These cases are very arbitrary because they are lots more people out there who have done the same thing. Such enforcement of the law does not address or combat radical activities. No one knows where the red line is: It’s like roulette.”