Russia has been imprisoning people who post and/or share anti-government messages on social media. Late last year Russia moved to limit people's internet activity by banning Pornhub and other porn sites calling them illegal under federal law. And now the AP reports the Kremlin is going after social media users who post anti-government content.
This content is deemed as hate speech or extremism defined, under Russia's 2002 law as activities that may threaten national security, encourage terrorism or racism, in addition to inciting others to do the same. Because the law is worded broadly, a court ultimately decides if a social media post is in fact a national threat.
233 people were convicted for hate speech in Russia last year—up from 92 convictions in 2010. Citing the Sova group, a human rights group in Moscow, the AP reported at least 54 people were imprisoned for hate speech last year. Out of those 54, most people were reportedly imprisoned for posting and sharing things online, which is said to be five times as many people as it was in 2010.
One man imprisoned is Andrei Bubeyev, a 40-year-old electrician from Tver. His wife Anastasia showed the AP a screenshot of a picture of a picture of a toothpaste tube captioned "Squeeze Russia out of yourself!" Bubeyev was sentenced to more than two years in prison for sharing that picture on social media site VKontakte with his 12 friends.
Bubeyev was listed as an extremism suspect when investigators couldn't get in touch with him over the phone. One day last spring, a SWAT team raided his house and arrested him when he visited his wife and son during a work lunch break.
"Andrei Bubeyev thinks that he was charged as an example so that other ordinary citizens would be discouraged from expressing their opinion," said Svetlana Sidorkina, Bubeyev's lawyer.
Another incident includes a man from Astrakhan who was sentenced to two years in prison for telling Ukrainians to fight "Putin's occupying forces" in social media posts. The AP reported a political activist was sentenced to two years in prison for being critical of Russian president Vladimir Putin on social media and for an unlawful picket.
VKontakte is reportedly Russia's largest social media network with 270 million users. Director of the Sova Alexander Verkhovsky group says about half of the hate speech convictions stem from posts on VKontakte. Verkhovsky thinks this is because VKontakte is now owned by Alisher Usmanov, who is friendly with the Russian government—possibly making for an easier relationship between it and Russian law enforcement versus social media owned by foreign countries.
Bubeyev's page was reportedly private. Bubeyev's lawyer Sidorkina said she doesn't know how her client's posts were found unless Vkontakte provided his information.