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Russian libertarian activist is jailed for 10 days over a ‘fascist offense’ he says he didn't commit

Meduza
Mikhail Svetov
Mikhail Svetov
SVTV / YouTube

A 33-year-old blogger and member of Russia’s Libertarian Party, Mikhail Svetov hosts a YouTube channel where he discusses libertarian ideas with guests, including oppositionist Ildar Dadin, Barnaul resident Maria Motuznaya (now on trial for sharing supposedly extremist online memes), former Yekaterinburg Mayor Evgeny Roizman, and former Deputy Energy Minister Vladimir Milov. At the time of this writing, Svetov’s YouTube channel has amassed more than 102,100 subscribers and 7.1 million views.

On Sunday, September 9, Svetov joined a protest in St. Petersburg promoted by anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny against the government’s plan to raise Russia’s retirement age. City officials initially granted and later withdrew a rally permit, claiming that a burst water pipe made the original venue unsafe for a mass protest. Several thousand people turned out, nonetheless, and police ultimately detained more than 450 demonstrators.

On Sunday, Svetov appeared on Alexey Navalny’s live YouTube broadcast and “live tweeted” photos from on the ground in St. Petersburg. At 6 p.m., two police officers grabbed Svetov and escorted him into a police van, charging him with the misdemeanor offense of violating regulations on public assemblies.

Svetov spent the night in jail. On Monday, September 10, his case went before St. Petersburg’s Kirov District Court, which returned his mobile phone during the hearing, allowing him to live-tweet his own trial. The judge refused to let him or his lawyer call any witnesses, and his attorney was given just five minutes to read over the case materials.

Svetov was ultimately sentenced to 10 days in jail — twice as long as the punishment for Anastasia Orlova, the activist who actually organized the protest in St. Petersburg. The aggravating circumstance in Svetov’s case was an unpaid 2,000-ruble ($30) fine imposed in June 2018 for supposedly displaying Nazi symbols in public in Moscow in June 2017 at 25 Polikarpova Street. Svetov denies any knowledge of this case, saying he hadn’t heard about the conviction, the fine, or the address in question until his hearing on Monday.

Speaking in court, Svetov suggested that the case might have been launched in May 2018, after he helped organize a demonstration in Moscow on April 30, 2018, in support of Internet freedom and the censored instant messenger Telegram. Twitter users were quick to point out that one of Svetov’s YouTube videos does in fact partially show a swastika, but the video was posted well after June 2017, when he supposedly broke the law.

Libertarian Party spokesperson “Sonya Blade” tweeted a screenshot from the St. Petersburg public database of administrative offenses, showing that the records for the “Swastika incident” don’t match Mikhail Svetov’s patronymic or home address.

“I wish I knew what’s actually at this address,” Mikhail Svetov managed to tweet from court, before the judge ordered his arrest and confiscated his phone once again.

Text by Valeria Kabanova, translation by Kevin Rothrock