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Russian journalist charged with ‘insulting the government’ for a single sentence posted on Telegram

Source: Meduza
Vova Zhabrikov / URA.RU / TASS

On October 21, journalist and political scientist Fyodor Krasheninnikov found out that he was facing administrative charges for insulting the government. For what appears to be the first time in the history of Russia’s 2019 law against offensive anti-government statements published online, the charges against Krasheninnikov stemmed from a post on the social site Telegram. Telegram is officially banned in the Russian Federation, but it is widely used nonetheless.

In the offending post, Krasheninnikov used profanity to express his frustration with the fact that opposition activist Leonid Volkov had been ordered to continue awaiting trial in jail. Volkov is a former campaign manager for leading opposition politician Alexey Navalny and an old family friend of Krasheninnikov’s. When the journalist posted a link to an article about his friend’s renewed detention, he added the phrase “These Putinist judges are such whores.”

Krasheninnikov told Meduza that he was charged after a complaint about his post was submitted to the local authorities. The complaint was written by one Salavat Flyurovich Khaziev, whom Krasheninnikov and his attorney believe is a tire shop owner with no obvious political affiliation.

By the time the journalist arrived at a Yekaterinburg police station to examine the evidence against him, he found that the prosecution’s case was already complete with an expert opinion composed by a Federal Security Service employee. That expert concluded that Krasheninnikov’s use of the word “whores” expressed the argument that judges are bought and sold, while the word “Putinist” expanded that claim to every judge in Russia. Krasheninnikov said he disagreed on both counts, arguing that he meant “whores” as a generalized response to behavior of which he disapproved and “Putinist” as a label for judges who write rulings only to satisfy their superiors.

“The main thing I have to say about the expert investigation that was conducted is that they didn’t consider the context at all. They took a specific comment on a specific news item that has a specific personal significance for me, and now they’re pretending that I just went out there for no reason and yelled some profanity about the entire judicial system. I don’t agree with that in the least because I believe that this was a specific comment on a specific news item. And I’m not ashamed of it,” Krasheninnikov said.

The journalist added that he suspected the new charges against him to be part of a pattern of harassment he has encountered since he began writing for local Yekaterinburg-area news outlets in the late 1990s. More recently, that harassment has expanded into threats of prosecution, and Krasheninnikov told Meduza that he sees the action against his Telegram post as a move to follow up on those threats for the first time.

The journalist added that he was also recently targeted in a wave of searches related to Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) despite having only a distant connection to the group: Krasheninnikov indicated that his ex-wife took a job at the FBK after the pair was already divorced. He argued that the police have seen him as a troublesome figure for so long that they included him in their searches anyway.

Despite his escalating trouble with the law, Krasheninnikov did not express any regrets in his interview with Meduza. “If you take into account that I know Volkov personally and I know that he’s a young father, he has a baby, then the news that they’re going to keep him in a temporary holding cell for a whole month […] I was downright mild-mannered in the way I commented on it. Even now, I don’t see anything insulting for the government in that post,” he said.

While the journalist and his attorney are not certain that their case will go to trial, Krasheninnikov said he has “no particular hopes or illusions” about what that process will be like if it does. “We live in Russia, so we understand beautifully that everything depends on […] whether [the judge] will decide to take our arguments into account or whether he won’t want to take any arguments into account at all.”

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Interview by Kristina Safonova

Summary by Hilah Kohen