The Russian authorities have launched nearly 200 prosecutions for the illegal distribution of “fake news” since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, says a new report from the human rights organization “Agora.”
All total, this includes 33 criminal cases and 157 administrative proceedings. In this context, practically any data that differs from the government’s official position could be labeled “false information.”
Agora noted that unlike previous campaigns cracking down on freedom of speech, the enforcement practices in cases concerning fake news differ because they mainly target the authorities’ critics, such as journalists, activists, and politicians, rather than regular Russian citizens.
“New cases about fake news appear every two days. At this rate, by the end of the year it will be the new [Article] 282,” wrote the head of Agora, Pavel Chikov, referring to an often-used article of the Russian Criminal Code, which outlaws statements inciting “extremism,” including in social media posts.
The aforementioned cases were opened under Article 207.1 of the Russian Criminal Code and Article 13.15 of Russia’s Code of Administrative Offenses. Article 207.1 was added to the criminal code at the beginning of April. It outlines punishments for disseminating false information “about circumstances that pose a threat to the lives and safety of citizens.”
Article 13.15 of Russia’s Code of Administrative Offenses, related to the abuse of press freedom, appeared in the spring of 2019. Before the start of the coronavirus pandemic, a relatively small number of cases were opened under this article.