Russia’s Prosecutor General’s Office has reportedly applied a new law that penalizes disrespecting the Russian government online for the first time. The occasion for the move was a news story about graffiti that used offensive language to describe President Vladimir Putin, according to TJournal.
On March 31 and April 1, the story circulated among several media outlets in the city of Yaroslavl after graffiti appeared on the columns lining the regional Internal Affairs Ministry building there. Yarcube reported that the graffiti read Putin pidor, or “Putin is a fag.”
A source told TJournal that the Prosecutor General’s Office asked Russia’s censorship agency, Roskomnadzor, to demand that online stories about the graffiti be deleted. A letter one media outlet received from the agency argued that the story expressed “obvious disrespect to actors that hold government authority” and therefore violated the new law.
At least five news outlets in Yaroslavl then deleted their coverage of the graffiti. Yarcube also received a request to delete its story, but its journalists saw Roskomnadzor’s message as unnecessary censorship and did not comply with its demands.
Roskomnadzor did not respond to requests for comment. The new law penalizing expressions of “disrespect toward the government” went into effect on March 29.
Update: Roskomnadzor press secretary Vadim Ampelonsky explained to TJournal that the agency contacted the news outlets involved in order to test potential enforcement mechanisms for the new online speech laws. Ampelonsky described Roskomnadzor’s communication with the outlets as “preventative work” that took place outside the agency’s typical modes of communication with regional media sources.