Russian charged with ’extremism’ for reposting video condemning Russia’s war against Ukraine
"War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength" (Screenshot from the video)
Russia’s Investigative Committee has brought criminal charges against Roman Grishin for merely reposting a video clip back in 2014. The Russian investigators claim that the clip, a biting attack on Russia’s excuses for its aggression against Ukraine, contains utterances that fall under Russia’s anti-extremism law. It contains plenty that would not please Russian President Vladimir Putin, but none that justify ‘extremism’ charges. The Investigative Committee is also ignoring recent instructions from Russia’s Supreme Court aimed against criminal prosecutions for a mere reposting of material.
33-year-old Grishin, who works as a copy-editor in Kaluga, is not an activist in any way. He assumes that the FSB’s unhealthy interest in his person arose from his trips to Ukraine where he has a friend with whom he has travelled around the country and the fact that he did not conceal his opposition to the Russian authorities’ behaviour with respect to Ukraine.
FSB officers in balaclavas turned up at his work on Nov 17 and took him to the Investigative Committee offices where he was shown the video clip that he had reposted, and asked why he had posted it, why he travels to Ukraine so often and “why he calls for Jews to be killed”.
He was then show screenshot images from his VKontakte social network page and the opinion of an ‘expert’ who claimed that he calls for the killing of Jews.
No charges were laid and he was released. He told Open Russia that he had not sought a lawyer or spoken with the press since he hoped that the interrogation was the end of the matter.
Then on Dec 16, he was informed of criminal charges and presented with a new, “fatter” linguistic assessment.
“It contained the same conclusion – that by posting his video, I was spreading enmity, inciting hatred, and so forth.” There was no interrogation as such, unless one counts the investigator’s question as to whether he was willing to go to prison. There was a state-appointed lawyer who simply burbled something about how he shouldn’t argue with the state, that no good would come of it.
It was then, he says, that he understood the need for a proper lawyer. He has been forced to give an undertaking not to leave Kaluga and appear in 10 days’ time.
His home has not been searched, however at the time of the first visitation, the friend whose home he was at when he reposted the video has faced a search and had his router taken away.
The lawyer Grishin has found is not yet formally included in the case, and so identified himself only as Alexander. He believes that the FSB visit was aimed at intimidating Grishin, and is appalled, among other things, by the fact that Grishin has not been presented with any documents. He has only the summons on Dec 16 and his signed undertaking. From Grishin’s account, however, he notes that the author of the ‘linguistic assessment’ was clearly aware of the Supreme Court instructions and specifically points out that Grishin did not make any comment about the video, just reposted it.
Without the actual document, it must remain a mystery where the so-called linguistic expert found a call to kill Jews in Boris Sevastyanov’s “New hit from Kharkiv: This, baby, is Rushism”. The term merges ‘Russian’ and ‘fascism’ and refers to Russian ideas about their ‘special mission’, the ‘Russian world’ which they claim includes Ukraine, and the use of the Russian Orthodox Church to claim moral authority for acts of aggression. The refrain, in fact, says: “That, baby, is rashism, Orthodox fascism. We’ll seize and appropriate, and hold a referendum”
The lyrics note, for example, that “fascists shout about fascists louder than anybody else” and says that Putin’s favourite occupation is looking for enemies, that they hate Americans, Ukrainians and Jews (offensive terms are used for all three of the latter, but in context that is clearly criticism of the search for ‘enemies’ only).
Both the images and the lyrics are a devastating attack on Russia’s claims that Ukraine is a ‘brother nation’ (If we’re brothers, then you are Cain, we are Abel), and on Russian propaganda. “Journalists don’t know how to lie more monstrously, and are willing to kiss Putin’s arse for honours”.
The Sova Centre, which monitors Russia’s use and abuse of extremism legislation notes the sharp criticism in the song, while stressing that there are no calls to aggression. There are certainly Nazi symbols, as well as that of the banned Movement against Illegal Migration, but these are not, the Sova Centre writes, aimed at promoting Nazi ideology.
Russia has already used the Nazi symbols as a pretext for administrative proceedings. Political prisoner Darya Polyudova was jailed for 4 days in September 2015 for posting the clip, and in April 2016 Nina Solovyova, another Krasnodar activist received a 10-day sentence.
It has now stepped up the repressive measures, with criminal charges laid for the first time. If convicted – and courts in Russia virtually never hand down acquittals in so-called ‘extremism’ cases, Grishin could face a 5-year prison term for reposting a video clip aimed solely at condemning Russia’s military aggression against its supposed ‘brothers’ in Ukraine.