news

Sent to psychiatrists and taken to court for trolling Christians Why a Russian Internet user faces a year behind bars for saying there is no God

Meduza
16:42, 3 march 2016

Viktor Krasnov

Photo: Viktor Krasnov / Vkontakte

Last month, Viktor Krasnov, a man living in Stavropol, went on trial for offending the sentiments of religious people. Krasnov faces criminal charges for writing “There is no God” and calling the Bible a “collection of Jewish fairy tales” in an online argument. As it happens, he isn't the only person in Russia being targeted under the relatively new statute against upsetting “believers.” Meduza looks at Krasnov's story and the predicaments of others in Russia like him.

Charges against Viktor Krasnov were brought in early 2015. He learned about the case in April 2015, when police showed up at his home with a search warrant. Officers seized his computer and mobile phone. The reason for the case was a discussion on the online community “Overhead in Stavropol” about the existence of God. You can still read what Krasnov (whose name on Vkontakte is Viktor Kolosov) wrote about the deity—it hasn't been erased. (The people who complained to law enforcement, however, have deleted their comments from the argument.) Krasnov's now infamous remark about God's nonexistence reads as follows: “Ooh-la-la :-) Lotta you braindead preachy Orthodox types here! There's no Gawd! :-)” As it happens, Krasnov's activity on Vkontakte didn't target only Russian Orthodox Christians. Look over his posts, and you can find a lot more, including his many remarks concerning Jews. (You can read some fragments of the expert report here, in Russian, which serves as the basis for the criminal charges against him.)

Viktor Krasnov was forced to spend a month in a psychiatric clinic, so doctors could observe his mental state. “They took me straight there from the investigators' office. Right away, they put me under guard, without asking for my permission. All my relatives came running, but nobody could do anything for me,” Krasnov told the news agency MediaZona. He says he didn't think religious people on Vkontakte had it in them to go to the police, adding that he sees no reason to apologize for anything he wrote online. 

The law prohibiting public insults to the feelings of religious people has been on the books in Russia since July 1, 2013. Lawmakers cooked up the ban after the infamous Pussy Riot trial. Persons convicted of this criminal offense can go to prison for up to a year. In 2014, Russian courts issued their first (and so far only) sentence against a person found guilty of insulting religious people: a 24-year-old man from Izhevsk, who posted online a picture that upset some Muslim individuals. He was sentenced to 200 hours of community service. In the first half of 2015, courts didn't hand down a single sentence against anyone for insulting religious people, though one person charged with the crime was declared mentally unfit to stand trial. 

There are several ongoing investigations in Russia against individuals suspected of insulting religious people. In Chechnya, an Internet user posted a an allegedly upsetting video; in Kirov, two people hung a scarecrow from an Orthodox crucifix; in Khanty, someone spoke obscenities in a church and attacked a parishioner; and in Yekaterinburg, police are looking into a “voodoo master” who beheaded a rooster and sprinkled its blood onto Orthodox religious items (in an effort to inflict magical harm on Ukraine's president, no less).

Russia's Criminal Code has another article under which people can be prosecuted for offending religious people. Article 282 forbids “inciting hatred or hostility" and outlaws the “abasement of human dignity.” Russian courts are far more familiar with prosecutions under this statute; in the first six months of 2015 alone, judges handed down more than 150 verdicts against people convicted of hate speech under Article 282. 

Russia isn't the only country to criminalize blasphemy. According to the BBC, similar prohibitions exist in 48 nations around the world, including the European states Ireland, Denmark, Germany, Poland, Greece, and Malta. The last time a Danish court used its anti-blasphemy law was in 1938, when a judge convicted a Nazi member of anti-Semitic propaganda. As recently as last month, however, a German court fined a retired schoolteacher 500 euros ($547) for putting anti-Christian bumper stickers on his car. In 2006, another German citizen was sentenced to a year of probation for printing the Koran on toilet paper. In 2014, meanwhile, Maltese officials rendered 99 convictions for “public blasphemy.” 

Vladimir Tsybulsky

Riga