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How Russia's law against insulting the government online has been enforced in its first half year
12:57 pm, September 30, 2019
On March 29, 2019, a new law took effect in Russia to punish those who express “disrespect toward the government on the Internet.” A fine for that offense was added to Russia’s existing list of administrative penalties for small-time disorderly conduct. The human rights group Agora compiled a report on the first 180 days of the new law’s enforcement (available in full in Russian
). In that time, 45 cases on “insulting the government” have been opened, and the sum of the fines judges have assigned in those cases has reached 845,000 rubles ($13,009, though only $10,395 in fines have already taken effect). In more than half of all the cases reported (58 percent), the “insulting” speech in question was about Russian President Vladimir Putin. Those cases also had the highest chance of resulting in a fine: 78 percent of fines were assigned in those cases. A significant portion of the charges brought under the online disrespect law didn’t actually result in a sentence: Eight were dropped in court, four were sent back to police for further investigation, and five never made it to trial. Human rights analyst Stanislav Seleznev of Agora suggested that officials initially opened cases under the new law in areas far from Moscow and even regional centers so as to develop judicial norms for the statute unnoticed before applying them nationwide. The vast majority (almost 70 percent) of “insults” targeted in the law’s enforcement were posted on the social media site VKontakte. Seleznev noted that it is hard to say whether the practice of fining Internet users for what they say about Putin will continue: The president himself has asked for such cases to be monitored. “If statements about the president were to be excluded from the law’s sphere of activity, then the statute would practically stop being enforced,” Agora’s report concludes.
Cover photo: Mikhail Tereshchenko / TASS / Scanpix / LETA
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