The news that LiveJournal blogger Savva Terentyev, a young man resident in Syktyvkar, is being charged for allegedly “inciting hate” against police officers on his blog, is a serious and frightening development in Russia’s crackdown on freedom of speech. As Kommersant reports, the blogger, who mostly writes about his favorite music, will face either a $4,000 fine or up to two years in prison. All of us who maintain blogs on Russia should be extremely concerned by this case, regardless of perspective or political position.
It would be naive to pretend that we didn’t all see this coming, especially after the government watchdog groups Rosokhrankultura and Rossvyaznadzor were merged to exert greater control and establish monitoring body to censure. It is furthermore not encouraging that Russia’s new extremism laws are particularly flexible, and can be interpreted in many ways so as to eliminate political opponents – the major examples include preventing Rodina from participating in elections, and the subsequent branding of Andrei Piontkovsky as an extremist. And lastly, Russia’s record on its treatment of journalists, even excluding the high-profile murders of Anna Politkovskaya and the suspected murder of Ivan Safronov, has been widely recognized as among the worst in the world (see the recent testimony before the Helsinki Commission from CPJ). A government that cannot tolerate a free press is not likely to tolerate a free internet for much longer either. Lastly, the absurd persecution of this blogger once again makes a mockery out of the Russian procuracy, and further diminishes whatever lingering credibility the state prosecutors had been clinging to.