New draconian Russian laws inhibit free speech

Maria Motuznaya, a [tweeit]Russian citizen, has been put on trial on charges of “insulting” religious believers[/tweetit] along with “inciting” racial hatred when she posted memes on a popular social media site. The 23-year-old living in the Siberian metropolis of Barnaul was arrested after two women complained about the images she uploaded on Vkontakte, Russia's premier social media networking site. Police searched her residence in May.

Russian authorities include meme making in the list of “extremist crimes,” having tagged 762 in this category. Authorities are so bold in imposing the law that they make minimal effort to conceal the fact that they use a few specific laws to inhibit free expression. If Motuznaya gets convicted, she may spend five years of her life inside a jail cell.

Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, signed in 2013 a controversial legislation which criminalized all "public actions" which "disrespected society" and done with the intention to mock the religious feelings of believers. The result is that many Russians have faced felony charges when their actions were found to disrespect religion. These could extend from the benign to the bizarre. Cases leading to incarceration include lighting cigarettes by using a candle and playing Pokemon Go inside a church and paint using religious icons.

Motuznaya is not alone in such a horrific predicament. Daniil Markin, a 19-year-old man, also faces five-year incarceration after he shared memes which compared Jesus Christ to Jon Snow, a principal character in the novel and television series Game of Thrones.  Markin, who also hails from Barnaul, told a Western European media house that Russia's notorious Federal Financial Monitoring Service has already placed him in their blacklist category of extremists and terrorists. This has made it impossible for him to enjoy banking services. Markin also said that such government intervention has also made him unemployable. Since he has no banking facility, he has to depend on cash for daily survival.

Other similar cases exist. Andrei Shasherin, a 38-year-old Siberian, was also put under the scanner for a number of images he posted on social media. Those were deemed to be offensive to people who believed in religion. Shasherin has also criticized Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill when the latter wore a pricey wristwatch and then did a bad Photoshop job of editing it out of the image.

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