Mail.ru, the parent company of Vkontakte (Russia’s most popular social network), has issued a public statement condemning the country’s growing propensity to press criminal charges against Internet users for reposting or even liking supposedly “extremist” content. The company is also calling on officials to amnesty everyone “unjustly convicted” and decriminalize this behavior, so more innocents aren’t prosecuted.
The vast majority of criminal cases against Russian social-media users are filed against users of Vkontakte, which surrenders virtually all personal data, whenever requested by law enforcement, according to human rights activists. In early July, Vladimir Makarov — the deputy director of the Interior Ministry’s anti-extremism police unit — spoke out against prosecuting people for “likes” online. The number of “extremism” prosecutions rose from 149 in 2011 to more than 600 in 2017.
In the past month, officials in Barnaul have charged three Internet users with extremism for sharing memes that mock the Russian Orthodox Church. One of the pictures featured a meme about Jon Snow’s resurrection on Game of Thrones.
On August 6, a spokesperson for the Russian Orthodox Church said that criminal punishment is unnecessary whenever a suspect confesses and repents speech that offends religious people. “We call on investigators, judges, and plaintiffs who consider themselves to be Orthodox believers to ensure that most, and preferably all, legal proceedings involving insults to religious people end in reconciliation between the parties,” the spokesman said.