Can criminal punishment for blogging be possible in Russia?

The issue of freedom of speech on the Internet, more specifically, the boundaries of that freedom, has been discussed for many years. Reporters Without Borders hold annual actions in defense of the right to say whatever comes to one's mind - without looking back at ranks, so to speak. A look back may always come in handy, though.

A look back may have come in handy for American blogger Daniel Brewington. He was sentenced to five years in jail for harsh words addressed to the judge, prosecutor and a witness in the case of divorce and child custody (Brewington acted as one of the parties to the proceedings). The man cracked down on the psychologist too, who conducted the psychological examination of the blogger.

Brewington expressed his attitude to the above-mentioned people on a special website. Prosecutors used these facts against the man and sentenced the blogger to several years in prison. The man has been staying in prison for more than one year already.

It is clear that nuances in the divorce case can be plentiful. It is also clear that the authorities could not but respond to the threats against the judge and others involved in the process. But in fact, Brewington received quite a real and not a very short prison sentence for what he said.

Russia also has seen cases of insults expressed on the Internet. The most famous one of them is the trial of Savva Terentyev from Syktyvkar, who posted insulting comments about law enforcement officers on the net.

The process received an extensive coverage in the Russian media. Many were outraged about the fact that the man wrote a few sentences on a website and would have to go to jail for that. However, Terentyev was sentenced to one year on probation.

This story did not stop on that, though. The Russian blogger filed a lawsuit in the European Court of Human Rights. Moreover, he was granted a political asylum in Estonia as an individual, who was persecuted on political grounds.

Noteworthy, there was not too much controversy about Brewington in U.S. media not to mention the fact that he was not represented as a victim of political persecution.

But let us return again to the Russian reality. One may recall the story of the publication of the personal data of several Russian judges on the Internet. State Duma deputy from Just Russia, Ilya Ponomarev, published the home address of judge Olga Borovkova on his blog. However, as it turned out, the address was not true to fact. However, the very fact of such arbitrary behavior of a lawmaker says a lot ...

Judge Borovkova got the most. In early 2011, opposition activists plastered photos of the judge near her house and her work place. As it was explained, it was done to "end the practice of" convictions of their counterparts.

Judge Olga Zaitseva, who once sentenced Russia's infamous writer and opposition activist Eduard Limonov to ten years for disobeying police, had to go through the same experience.

The stories are quite controversial indeed. However, no one has ever been punished for it.

So, in the United States, a person can be sentenced to a real prison term for threatening or insulting the authorities on the Internet. In Russia, both criminal and administrative liability is provided for similar offense. However, the trials that have taken place on this issue in the country ended up with conditional sentences. 

This is not the matter about the case of Brewington. This story clearly shows that the question of responsibility for insults on the Internet is not related solely to Russia. Presenting any initiatives in this regard as attempts to limit freedom of speech in Russia, is nothing more than manipulation.

Oleg Artyukov


Read the original in Russian


Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov