The ‘certain nuances’ of prosecuting journalists The Kremlin’s spokesman explains why policing ‘justifications of terrorism’ isn’t an assault on free speech
On Monday, July 6, a military court in Pskov convicted journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva of “justifying terrorism” in an article where she argued that Russia’s federal authorities are partly to blame for a suicide bombing against an FSB building in Arkhangelsk. Though prosecutors wanted her imprisoned for six years, the court only fined her 500,000 rubles (almost $7,000). At a press conference hours after the verdict was announced, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov fielded questions from reporters about the case.
Svetlana Prokopyeva’s conviction has enormous social significance for journalism and anti-terrorism policies in Russia. Does the Kremlin see any legitimacy in public conversations that hold government policy at all responsible for domestic terrorism against Russia’s supposed police state? Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, refused to answer this question at a press conference on Monday, July 6, arguing that it’s the Kremlin’s policy not to comment on court decisions.
A reporter from Kommersant FM tried to tease an answer from Peskov about how the Kremlin views its responsibility for the Arkhangelsk FSB attack by tying the suicide bomber’s age (he was a teenager) to President Putin’s longstanding commitment to support and education programs for young people in Russia. “[Improving youth education] is obviously the responsibility of both the state and families,” Peskov said, but he refused to discuss the issue in connection with Prokopyeva’s allegations.
Peskov did say, however, that the prosecutors who requested a six-year prison sentence for Prokopyeva were not acting on President Putin’s orders. “The law, not presidential orders, guide the prosecutor’s office. It’s an oversight agency. In this case, the position of the prosecutor’s office was completely independent,” explained Putin’s press secretary.
But what about the freedom of speech? As the guarantor of Russia’s inalienable rights, does Vladimir Putin have a duty to weigh on cases like Svetlana Prokopyeva’s? Dmitry Peskov says the trial already addressed the “certain nuances” involved in matters related to terrorism. He insisted to the radio station Ekho Moskvy, however, that her verdict does not constitute a “signal” to other journalists about a prohibition on public discussions about why terrorist attacks are committed. “The issue here concerns the observance or nonobservance of the Russian Federation’s laws on fighting terrorism,” said the Kremlin’s spokesman.