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The Real Russia. Today. Mail.ru Group wants a sweeping decriminalization, Putin demands more ‘positivity,’ and a Moscow investigator surprises

Meduza

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

This day in history. On August 15, 1990, Soviet rock legend Viktor Tsoi died in a traffic collision in Latvia. He was 28 years old.
  • Vkontake's parent company asks Russian officials to decriminalize harmless Internet content
  • Putin says Russia needs more ‘positivity’ on social media
  • Vkontakte says it will reveal statistics about government requests for user data
  • Russian officials reportedly explore possibility of preserving some retirement benefits, as pension age is set to rise
  • State investigator will ask court to release two teenagers accused of extremism
  • St. Petersburg Union of Scientists wants Putin to help free a rocket scientist accused of treason
  • Former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky unveils new ‘Justice for Journalists’ foundation
  • Russia's movie theaters have a lousy summer
  • Meduza issues a correction on Open Skies

Ban the police! 👮

Mail.ru Group, the parent company that owns Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki, has officially appealed to Russian state officials, requesting the decriminalization of harmless Internet content (including posts, reposts, “likes,” and comments). According to the website TJournal, the company addressed a letter to Russia's State Duma, Supreme Court, Justice Ministry, Human Rights Commission, Interior Ministry, and Federal Investigative Committee.

Mail.ru is also asking state officials to amnesty Internet users convicted of nonviolent crimes under Criminal Code articles 282 (extremist hate speech) and 148 (offending religious sensitivities). The company wants Russia’s Supreme Court to clarify proper judicial practices in criminal cases against Internet users, and it says the Justice Ministry must standardize the methodology used by specialists consulted in cases involving extremist and offensive speech. “It’s necessary because experts in different regions are evaluating [case] materials in different ways,” Mail.ru Group explains.

The company is also asking Russia’s Constitutional Court to review whether Criminal Code Article 282 (which outlaws extremist hate speech) violates the Constitution’s Article 29 (which ensures the freedom of thought and speech).

😬 Putin demands more smiles

Amid growing concerns about absurd criminal prosecutions against Russian Internet users, Vladimir Putin visited an educational forum on Wednesday and told the team behind an online animation studio that they’re giving the Web something it gravely needs: “positivity.” “Social networks need 100 percent positive [content], which it often lacks,” the president said.

🎱 Vkontakte promises more transparency

Russia's biggest social network has come under fire for collaborating with police in a ramped-up crackdown on irreverent Internet memes. After promising to introduce new privacy settings that will supposedly make it harder for law enforcement to monitor accounts and reposts, Vkontakte now says it will publish a transparency report about the Russian government's requests for user data. Representatives for the company outlined the plan to the BBC.

Retirement benefits to remain untouched? 🧓

The Russian authorities are reportedly exploring the possibility of preserving retirement benefits (not retirement payments) at the country’s current pension ages (55 for women and 60 for men). Sources in the government and the political party United Russia told the magazine RBC that the policy could be added as an amendment to legislation to raise the retirement age. RBC’s sources claim that additional funding would not be necessary to maintain existing pension benefits.

Russian pensioners are exempt from several taxes on real estate, transportation, and land. Senior citizens also enjoy regional benefits on public transportation and subsidies on housing and other bills.

📊 Russia's coming pension reforms

In mid-July, carried by the political party United Russia, the State Duma voted to adopt the first reading of legislation that would raise the country’s retirement age from 60 to 65 for men by 2028, and from 55 to 63 for women by 2034. The final vote tally was 328 in favor and 104 opposed. Deliberations on amendments to the legislation are scheduled to conclude by September 24. According to sociological studies, roughly 89 percent of Russia’s population opposes the pension reform plan.

Russian federal election officials have approved the wording of five separate national referendum proposals on legislation that would raise the country’s retirement age. A referendum on pension reform will be triggered as soon as one of these groups registers 43 regional divisions and then collects two million signatures in support of the initiative (with no more than 50,000 endorsements in a single region).

Mercy for the New Greatness teens? 🙏

The investigator in the case against Anna Pavlikova and Maria Dubovik, two of the teenagers arrested in March for allegedly belonging to the “Novoe Velichie” (New Greatness) extremist movement, has asked a judge to transfer the women from jail to house arrest. Moscow’s Dorogomilovsky Court will consider the request on Thursday, August 16, a day after an unpermitted “Mothers’ March” is planned in Moscow, where Pavlikova and Dubovik’s supporters are expected to rally on their behalf. At the time of this writing, however, a spokesperson for the court told Mskagency that it hadn’t yet received a formal petition to move the two suspects to house arrest.

City officials have warned demonstrators against staging the protest without a permit. Ahead of the scheduled march, at least two organizers — journalist Anna Narinskaya and actress Yana Troyanova — received warnings from Moscow prosecutors about going ahead with the rally.

Since being jailed, Pavlikova and Dubovik have reportedly become seriously ill, leading Russian Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova and Presidential Human Rights Council Chairman Mikhail Fedotov to call for their release, though a court recently ignored these requests.

Let the old man go 🚀

The St. Petersburg Union of Scientists has addressed an open letter to President Putin, citing “humanitarian reasons” for the release of Viktor Kudryatsev, the 74-year-old senior researcher at the Central Research Institute of Machine Building (TsNIIMash) recently arrested on treason charges. The group says Kudryatsev suffers from several chronic illnesses (including type 2 diabetes), arguing that pretrial detention puts his life at risk. Kudryatsev’s lawyer has said his client has also been denied necessary medical assistance in jail.

Formed in 1989, the St. Petersburg Union of Scientists is an independent non-governmental organization comprising more than 900 scientists. The group regularly expresses the scientific community’s views on Russia’s contemporary social issues.

The head research organization of Roscosmos, TsNIIMash is a Russian rocket and spacecraft scientific center. The institute includes a mission control center that supports Russia’s work on the International Space Station. TsNIIMash also works closely with the Tactical Missiles Corporation, which develops Russia’s hypersonic rockets.

MBK unveils another project 📰

The former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his past business partner Leonid Nezvlin have unveiled a new foundation called “Justice for Journalists,” which will “organize and coordinate international investigations into violent crimes committed against journalists.”

According to the group’s website, Khodorkovsky and Nezvlin have pledged an “initial sum” of $5 million to fund the organization, which is run by an advisory board that includes Khodorkovsky, Nezvlin, American journalist David Satter, British journalist Luke Harding, former RFE/RL president and think tank scholar Jeffrey Gedmin, and Novaya Gazeta founder Dmitry Muratov. The foundation also says it is “open for cooperation with international media, human rights activists, and investigative organizations,” without listing any existing partners.

On July 30, reporter Orkhan Dzhemal, director Alexander Rastorguyev, and cameraman Kirill Radchenko were murdered in the Central African Republic, while collecting documentary evidence of Russian mercenaries’ activities in the country. Khodorkovsky financed the expedition, as well as a follow-up trip by journalists to investigate how the three reporters died.

A note to readers: Mikhail Khodorkovsky was initially a passive investor in Meduza, but he left the project after failing to come to mutual terms with Meduza’s management.

Box office woes 🎟️

In the first six months of 2018, the number of movie screens operating in Russia fell for the first time since 2014. Revenues in June and July dropped 15.9 percent, to 7.4 billion rubles ($110.4 million). The head of Teterin Films told the newspaper Kommersant that this summer’s box office has been the worst in several years because of competition from the World Cup and continued fallout from a fire at a cinema in Kemerovo that killed dozens of children in March.

Our bad 🤦‍♂️

Correction: Meduza apologizes for an inaccurate report included in yesterday’s newsletter (“White House defunds U.S. cooperation with Russia under the Treaty on Open Skies”). The 2019 U.S. National Defense Authorization Act suspends upgrades to OC-135B Open Skies USAF observation aircraft and suspends Open Skies Consultative Commission work on infra-red or synthetic aperture radar sensors, while requiring some reports to Congress on the security and utility of the Open Skies Treaty, but it does not stop, suspend, or freeze the agreement.

Yours, Meduza