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Vladislav Sinitsa in court on September 3, 2019, in Moscow

‘It’s disgusting to realize this country is still in the Middle Ages’ Sentenced to five years in prison, Russia's most ‘dangerous’ Twitter user speaks in court

Source: Meduza
Vladislav Sinitsa in court on September 3, 2019, in Moscow
Vladislav Sinitsa in court on September 3, 2019, in Moscow
Vitaly Belousov / Sputnik / Scanpix / LETA

On October 3 and 4, the Moscow City Court’s judicial chamber considered an appeal filed by Vladislav Sinitsa, the 30-year-old blogger sentenced last month to five years in prison for tweeting about police officers’ children. Sinitsa maintains his innocence, and defense attorneys say his conviction was based “solely on the court’s speculations.” His lawyers say the prosecution’s psycho-linguistic analysis from the Center for Sociocultural Expertise and experts at Russia’s Federal Security Service was low-quality, and they question case testimony from National Guard members who apparently have children but no Twitter accounts. Meduza is publishing a translation of Sinitsa’s courtroom speech, which he gave on Friday before the judicial chamber rejected his appeal.

First, I’d like to express my regret that I’m being made out to be not just an extremist here, but also some kind of idiot. Because the acts attributed to me are in principle unverified [inaudible] by my subscribers, and despite their rudeness and cynicism they can’t be considered a crime.

Once again, I want to extend my enormous thanks for all the letters that I got from both my [Twitter] subscribers and from everyone who’s taken an interest in my case. Thank you for the important public events you’ve been staging every weekend. In practically every letter, I’ve read the idea: “Nobody should go to prison for speech.” I honestly want to thank the people who still believe in free speech and the freedom of the press. I’m extremely grateful to those who have offered me… or rather to supporters of the initiative to publicize materials from my case, and to help my case get to the Supreme Court chairman for consideration to Mr. [Vyacheslav] Lebedev, like Mr. [Pavel] Ustinov’s case.

I’m also grateful to the news media for the initiative to bring this issue to the attention of Twitter itself. Because, as far as I understand, this service’s policies against hate-speech content are far more stringent than the legislation both in Russia and many other countries. Accordingly, the fact that nobody submitted any complaints against my tweet, and administrators never deleted it, and it’s still published now, says a great deal about the fact that it doesn’t incite hatred.

I’d also like to draw the court’s attention to the fact that the full text of my tweet — all 128 characters — has been quoted by almost every media outlet, and not one outlet has been held accountable for spreading or inciting any kind of hate speech in all this time. A whole audience has seen it. A country of 140 million people has seen it, and Twitter users abroad have seen it, too. And everyone thinks it’s nuts, looking at the way a person who distinguishes between suggestions and judgements, including people who are just offering their opinions, can be prosecuted, let alone imprisoned.

And I’d like to thank the people covering this hearing right now. I hope very much that they’ll also write about all the horrors that exist in this criminal case. All these phony police reports, all the speeches by so-called experts, whose expertise… who might be excellent shoemakers or confectioners, but certainly not linguists. And the testimony from supposedly insulted witnesses who are directly dependent on those persons who want to shut me up.

Foremost, I hope that, in addition to this court, this comes before the court of conscience, and God, which will actually give… They’ll have to live with this, in any case. I hope society properly assesses all these events. I hope Twitter’s administrators will draw far-reaching conclusions about the state of the independent courts in this country, when thinking about transferring Russians’ personal data to Russia’s territory. 

I hope the judges of even higher courts will notice this case. I hope our conversation here will reach the international plane, and come before the European Court of Human Rights. Because the kind of public response I’m getting — dozens of letters a day — I think this is a very socially significant topic, and it needs immediate public attention. Once again, we’ll address what constitutes extremism, and who qualifies as a [protected] social group. And how a 128-character tweet by someone with fewer than 500 followers can be regarded as some kind of especially dangerous, terrorist, aggressive act aimed at undermining the constitutional system and various social ties.

I’d like very much for the independent media outlets and independent experts to analyze all the case materials again. I’ll gladly provide them for review through my legal-defense website, so everyone can familiarize themselves with the evidence and realize what the authorities are using to lock people up. 

Again, I want to express my sincere thanks to all the people who write to me, and who write about me, including those who continue to develop this story and draw more attention to it. I completely agree with the argument that no one in this country should go to prison for speech, and even more so for thoughts. I’m categorically against the interpretations ascribed to me by the prosecution and some dishonest media outlets that say I supposedly acted with some kind of malice. [I’m against] how they’re making subjective judgements. And about how an ordinary opinion, a simple response (maybe not the most correct response), can be interpreted to be some kind of monstrous, aggressive act.

I’m actually disgusted to realize that this country is basically still living in the Middle Ages, where you have… It’s not even the Stalinist late 1930s, we’re talking about a real witch hunt, probably like the 13th century with brainwashing. I believe the very idea of pressuring the media and pressuring the blogosphere is what’s inciting [the authorities’] hatred — hatred of the social group that speaks the truth.

I hope very much that this issue will be reviewed soon both by higher courts in Russia and higher courts internationally. I once again declare to everyone that I do not plead guilty to the crime with which I am charged. I do not recognize either the motive, the composition, or even the fact that a crime was committed. 

Separately, I want to thank my family and my friends, of course, who know perfectly well that I’m being imprisoned with pretty active civic beliefs, and I didn’t end up here randomly. I’d like each of my [Twitter] followers and every Internet user to draw far-reaching conclusions about the fact that, under the current conditions developing in this country, it turns out that they can come for any and every innocent person. They can subject anyone to this kind of prosecution. Like last year in a series of cases in the Altai Territory with the first section of Criminal Code Article 282 [hate speech], which was later decriminalized, thanks to public backlash. I believe that my case is just a direct continuation, including a certain payback for the protection of those people from last year. It’s revenge for our victory last year. And it’s basically just some kind of convulsion, I guess, by the people who failed to make up for infringing on civil rights last year. 

Keep talking about me. Keep talking a lot. Just keep spreading the idea that nobody should be imprisoned for speech. Many thanks to everyone. I will hope in this case that the Moscow City Court in its deliberation room will be guided by conscience, the materials presented by independent experts and the defense, and simply the elementary arguments that have been reported directly for months in the independent media and blogosphere. I believe justice will prevail, and free speech will never again be trampled. Thank you for your time and attention!

Transcribed by Kristina Safonova

Translated by Kevin Rothrock

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