Russia: Shop Assistant facing trial for criticizing government
Russia, action created 4.11.2015, petition is active
Yekaterina Vologzheninova stood trial on October 27th before court for the first time due to alleged "hatred and inciting hatred against Russia and against the Russians fighting in the east of Ukraine". The allegations are based on her posts criticizing the Russian government on social media. She criticized the Russian annexation of the Crimea and Russia's involvement in the conflict in Donbass, eastern Ukraine.
Yekaterina Vologzheninova, a shop assistant from Yekaterinburg, published on Vkontakte during 2014 a number of posts with links to publications, films, texts, and images in connection with the conflict in Ukraine. Some were critical of the Russian annexation of the Crimea (annexation is violative of international law), others of the participation of Russia in the conflict in Donbass, eastern Ukraine. Her account is available only to confirmed friends. On December 12th, 2014, police took Yekaterina Vologzheninova from her apartment for questioning. She was accused of "public incitement of hatred or enmity and spotting human dignity" (Article 282 Part I of the Russian Criminal Code). If convicted, she would face up to five years of imprisonment.
During the investigation of the case, state authorities solicited psycholinguistic expertise to analyze her posts and questioned her colleagues and other acquaintances, attempting to prove that her motivation was specifically to incite hatred. The investigation concluded that Yekaterina Vologzheninova's intention had been to publicly and deliberately criticize government policies and incite hatred against the Russian government and the Russians fighting in eastern Ukraine. In late September 2015, the case was handed over to the court in Zheleznodorozhnyi Court in Yekaterinburg. The first hearing was held on October 27th.
Since the annexation of Crimea by Russia and the outbreak of conflict in the spring of 2014 between Ukrainian forces and armed groups backed by Russia in Donbass in eastern Ukraine, several people in Russia have been convicted for allegedly inciting hatred and enmity on the Internet. These people have criticized Russia's policy towards Ukraine and the annexation of the Crimea. The number of Internet users who are facing prosecution for opinions critical of the current policy of Russia is growing. Article 280 (public calls to commit extremist activities) and Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code, which relate to the dissemination of ethnic or religious hatred, are increasingly being used to silence dissenting voice and intimidate those who question the official policy of the Russian government to Ukraine.
General opinion no. 34 of the UN Committee on Human Rights on the right to freedom of expression "includes expressions that can be considered deeply offensive." In any case, criminal penalties for private messages on social media, according to international standards of human rights sanctions, violate the right to the freedom of expression.
Posts of Yekaterina Vologzheninova also contained Ukrainian sources, including the satirical drawing with a man like President Vladimir Putin, with a knife in his hand over a map of Donbass. His hand is being stopped by another hand and the picture is accompanied by the text: "Stop pest!" Yekaterina also published some poems and declarations in which the Russians are portrayed as "eternal slaves - body and soul", having "chicken brains" and states that those who fight in Donbass followed a "bloody contract".
Yekaterina Vologzheninova told Amnesty International that her account on Yekaterina was not public and was accessible only to friends. She watched the Ukrainian media because the she was seeking alternative information to that provided by state-controlled TV stations and other Russian media. She also shared several Ukrainian publications on her personal page. Investigators contend that the "likes" under some of her postings suggest that she did incite hatred. Yekaterina was also accused of being a member of Pravy Sektor, an organization banned in Russia in November 2014 as extremist.
Russian authorities continue to deny, despite ample evidence to the contrary, their direct involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. National Television and other state-controlled media portrayed the conflict in the Donbass as an attack under the command of a "fascist" government in Kiev against peaceful Russian-speaking population.