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The Real Russia. Today. Grudinin's woes continue, Chikov on the future of Russia's free speech crackdown, and how lawmakers justify Internet isolation

Meduza

Wednesday, March 21, 2019

This day in history: five years ago today, on March 21, 2014, Vladimir Putin signed legislation “admitting the Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol to the Russian Federation.”
  • Despite his Swiss bank accounts, Pavel Grudinin was allowed to participate in Vladimir Putin’s reelection last year, but now he’s being kept from the parliament. Here’s why.
  • A human rights advocate explains Russia’s new limits on free speech
  • Better than March Madness: 10 miracles from the history of Russian sports
  • Next month, Russia's parliament will vote again on sweeping ‘Internet isolation’ legislation. Here’s how one lawmaker justifies the initiative.

Pavel and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day 🗳️

On March 18, 2018, Pavel Grudnin took part in Russia’s presidential election. He lost the race, obviously, but he took second place with 11.77 percent of the vote. During the campaign, the public learned that Grudinin had failed to close his Swiss bank accounts before submitting his candidacy registration documents on December 28, 2017, as required by the law.

According to Russia’s laws, presidential candidates with foreign bank accounts are permitted to compete, only if they manage to close the accounts before the Central Election Commission finishes reviewing their registration documents. In February 2018, a month after they formally registered Grudinin’s presidential candidacy, Russian election officials learned about his bank accounts in Switzerland.

With records from Russia’s Federal Tax Service about the foreign accounts, election officials say they declined to remove Grudinin from the race because they trusted him when he said he’d closed these accounts before his candidacy was registered on January 12, 2018. “We take him at his word,” Deputy Election Commissioner Nikolai Bulaev said at the time.

Grudinin can't win at parliament, either

On March 1, 2019, physicist and politician Zhores Alferov died, vacating a seat in the State Duma controlled by the Communist Party (KPRF). In 2016, Alferov kept his spot in the parliament as a name on the party’s federal electoral list, which means KPRF can now give his mandate to anyone else named on that ticket for whom the party didn’t have enough votes to bring to the legislature three years ago. The Communists decided to fill the vacant seat with Pavel Grudinin, who was the ninth name listed on the party’s group list in the Moscow region.

The Central Election Commission refused to admit Grudinin to the State Duma, however, citing the same foreign bank accounts it overlooked before Putin’s reelection. Officials have offered the following logic: as of late 2017, Grudinin had foreign bank accounts that were still open, which means he competed in parliamentary elections a year earlier with these same accounts. Consequently, Grudinin violated election law in 2016, which no one realized at the time. “The documents we have on file can't be ignored by members of the Central Election Commission, insofar as the law is unambiguous: someone with foreign financial resources at the moment of registration cannot be a deputy,” explained Deputy Election Commissioner Nikolai Bulaev.

It’s true that State Duma candidates are prohibited from having foreign bank accounts, but revoking candidates from a political party’s federal list (the Communist Party’s list was verified on August 1, 2016) requires a decision by the Supreme Court (Article 99, Part 11, Clause 6). Additionally, it’s unclear if this procedure can even be invoked after elections are over.

The Communist Party has vowed to challenge the Central Election Commission’s rejection in Russia’s Supreme Court.

Fear the online 👮

On March 18, Vladimir Putin signed two new laws penalizing Internet users who publish fake news or posts that show disrespect to the Russian government. Users who violate the new regulations would not face a criminal sentence, but they would be made to pay administrative fines. The two laws were approved two and a half months after the partial decriminalization of Article 282 of Russia’s Criminal Code. Certain parts of that law, which penalizes “inciting hate and enmity,” were shifted from their original, criminal status to become administrative regulations after a series of criminal charges were brought against social media users in response to provocative posts. Pavel Chikov, who leads the international human rights group Agora, told Meduza about the consequences of Article 282’s partial decriminalization and discussed the laws the Russian government may now use to limit freedom of speech.

Read the interview here: “A human rights advocate explains Russia’s new limits on free speech”

Forget the college sportsball 🏀

In the next 10 days, many of Meduza’s American readers will be embroiled in a world of brackets and three-pointers as the NCAA men’s basketball tournament reaches its peak. To compliment — or distract from — those March Madness festivities, Meduza presents 10 gripping stories from the history of Soviet and Russian sports as selected and retold by sports journalist Ivan Kalashnikov.

Read about soccer, Olympic biathlons, figure skating, chess, tennis, gymnastics, hockey, volleyball, and okay some basketball, too

People power

Next month, the State Duma will likely vote on a second reading of legislation drafted by Senator Andrey Klishas that would guard against and simultaneously facilitate the isolation of the Russian Internet. In mid-February, the bill’s first reading passed with support from 334 of the Duma’s 450 deputies; 69 lawmakers didn’t vote at all, and just 47 voted against the legislation. Meduza recently attended a town hall meeting with Nikolai Gonchar, one of the deputies who voted for the bill. When we asked him about Internet isolation, Gonchar offered several questionable justifications for the legislation. Here's how they hold up against fact checking.

Read Meduza's report here: “Next month, Russia's parliament will vote again on sweeping ‘Internet isolation’ legislation. Here’s how one lawmaker justifies the initiative.”

Yours, Meduza