Russian deputy charged with incitement to hatred after criticizing Putin
Kursk deputy Olga Li has had two criminal prosecutions brought against her just weeks after she publicly accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of bringing the country to ruin, of propaganda of violence on Russian government-controlled television and of ‘a criminal conspiracy against his own people’. She also reported that in the Kursk region Putin’s popularity rating is in fact 25%. Russia’s Investigative Committee makes no mention of the Putin address, but does come perilously close to asserting that allegations of corruption are ‘extremist’ and incite the population to hate a ‘social group (as in the authorities!).
The Investigative Committee’s grounds for charging Li under Article 282 § 1 of the Criminal Code [incitement to enmity and denigration of dignity] are truly incredible. They claim that a ‘linguistic assessment’ found that statements on the social network VKontakte “are aimed at denigrating the dignity of a group of people through their membership of the social group of representatives of the authorities, including employees of the law enforcement bodies and judiciary. Assertions contained in the suspect’s addresses are linked with accusations against staff of the prosecutor’s office and judges of having committed grave crimes. The information circulated is aimed at inciting hatred and enmity to the activity of all officials of the above-mentioned institutions of state power as criminal and harmful for society and the state.”
She had already been charged under Article 298 § 1 (defamation of a judge, prosecutor, investigator, etc.). The cases have now been combined into one, with 182 § 1 carrying a possible sentence of
Both as the only independent deputy on the Kursk Regional Council and through her People’s Journalist newspaper which investigates allegations of corruption and miscarriages of justice, Li encounters grave abuses by the authorities on a daily basis. She says that innocent people end up sentenced to terms of imprisonment because the judges do what the prosecutor wants, and all is controlled by the governor of the Kursk region Alexander Filimonov. Since he was appointed by Putin, Li wrote to the President outlining the corruption and lawlessness in Kursk under Filimonov. She received a fob-off reply, and that was when she decided to tape an open address.
It was shortly afterwards that the first criminal proceedings were initiated. It should be stressed that Olga Li may make general statements, but they are based on specific allegations against particular people. If these are false, then those individuals need only bring a defamation suit against her and prove that they are untrue. Instead of this, or proper investigations into the allegations, Russia’s Investigative Committee has brought criminal charges against her for purportedly trying to ‘incite’ people to hate all judges or all prosecutors.
The following is just one of the examples of corruption which were doubtless set out in her written report to Putin. The city authorities moved people from old and dangerous buildings in the centre of Kursk. The buildings were to be knocked down and the much sought-after land sold on the open market, with the money going to the city coffers. Instead, however, the city administration gave the land to their own people, and no money was received. Li and her colleagues at People’s Journalist managed to force the initiation of a criminal investigation over this. That was terminated, supposedly because the land had been returned to the city, but this in fact did not happen. The prosecutor’s office has simply not reacted to such lawlessness, she says, adding that she believes that they are providing cover for the city administration’s dodgy activities.
Another aspect of the March 4 taped address to Putin would not have gone down well, given the constant reports that Putin’s popularity is well over 80%. Olga Li and her colleagues carried out their own survey of 1 thousand people, with no taping and face to face. They found that only 25% support him.
Li has faced constant harassment at the newspaper, and has also been attacked three times. She was recently sent a chilling threat: a photo of Boris Nemtsov slain with the words “You’re next”.
Olga Li is bringing up two small children together with her mother. She calls her daughters’ future the thing of greatest importance to her, and she is willing to do everything in her power so that they have a chance to grow up in a free democratic country.
Russia’s Investigative Committee has now joined forces with the local authorities in trying to silence this courageous woman. According to her lawyer Roman Lyzlov, she has been summoned for interrogation on April 6 over the charges of defamation and extremism.
Olga Li has made a second appeal. Sounding obviously shaken, she calls the criminal charges “a stark example of our the Russian authorities destroy anybody who dares to express his or her opinion”. She goes on to stress that in her case, it is not only her own views that she is expressing. Both as deputy and as Chief Editor of People’s Journalist, members of the public constantly approach her seeking protection against corruption and lawlessness from the authorities.
She had hoped that the facts that she set out in her written appeal to Putin would be investigated.
Instead criminal investigations have been launched against her.
Olga Li believes that if they succeed in carrying out this prosecution (and in preventing her from standing for election in the parliamentary elections), it will be even more unlikely that anybody else will dare express their views. She calls for maximum circulation of information about the case, in Russia and abroad, and clearly understands that her physical safety is also in danger.
Russia has already used the norm on incitement against political criticism. Rafis Kashapov, for example, received a 3-year sentence for so-called incitement to enmity and calls to action aimed at violating Russia’s territorial integrity. This they found in his criticism of Russia’s annexation of Crimea to be to prison terms
If this prosecution goes ahead, then any criticism of the authorities will become a potentially criminal offence.