Why Russian Teens Were Jailed for Chatting Online | The Russia Desk | NowThis World

People in Russia are literally facing years of jail time right now for sharing and even liking memes on social media Have you ever shared or simply liked an emotionally charged political meme on Facebook because you thought it was funny or relevant? Maria Motuznaya and Daniil Markin, two teenagers in Russia are facing up to 5 years in prison because they shared memes online

They were arrested on charges of “inciting extremism” and “insulting religious sensitivities” You can be charged with “intent” simply by STORING content in your computer, without having shared it with anyone yet The memes featured nuns smoking with the caption While another one shows Jon Snow from HBO’s Game of Thrones with the caption But to understand why two teenagers sharing memes online is considered “inciting extremism” and “insulting religious sensitivities,” we have to back up and first examine Russia’s extremism laws In 2002, Russia’s Duma — which is the equivalent to the United States’s House of Representatives — passed anti-extremism laws, or in response to terrorism in the North Caucasus The purpose of the laws – initially – was to stop any religious groups from claiming they were better than any others

But the laws have since snowballed into broad vagueness In 2014, after language was added to the law to include internet activity, the Duma’s jurisdiction expanded into the blogosphere and any social media site where “extremists” could be sharing or even liking memes or other content that the Duma considers to be extremist Yes, you can be arrested for just clicking ‘like’ on something the Duma thinks goes too far And as the years went on, the language of the laws kept expanding, which eventually led to more arrests, giving authorities more power to conduct intrusive surveillance The laws also required IT companies to store content of users’ online communications – like texts, photos, and videos – for six months and meta data for three years

The maximum punishment for sharing or liking content like – say – a photo depicting Jon Snow as Jesus is 5 years in jail Even just the opening of one such criminal case can land you on an “Extremist list” monitored by the Federal Financial Monitoring Service People on this list are restricted from certain professions, and their bank accounts can be frozen – EVEN IF THEY HAVEN'T BEEN CONVICTED In the past year, 604 people have been arrested, most of whom are under the age of 25 In Russia today, it is illegal through these laws to express feelings of political opposition online without possibly facing serious consequences

And the Russian government — believe it or not — is getting even more draconian with extremist arrests– which brings us to the “New Greatness” case Ten protesters have been detained since March, in a Moscow jail, for using social media to organize what the government has called an “extremist community” This opposition movement was hatched on the app Telegram- which is Russia’s equivalent of Facebook Messenger Two best friends, Anna Pavlikova, 17, and Maria Dubovik, 19, started venting about the things young people in Russia talk about: life, politics, school, and the Putin regime They discussed these things in a small group chat on Telegram called “New Chat”

Members of the group chat included mostly unemployed men in their 20s and early 30s Unbeknownst to the members of the group, a man who introduced himself as “Ruslan D” was monitoring the whole thing before being formally invited to join the group Within months of Ruslan’s arrival to the group chat, what was mostly talk about everyday life quickly turned into a chat about extremism and organizing a political revolution And before long, Ruslan had pushed the group beyond just talking

He organized meetings and fully funded the operation And before he joined the group, there was no indication that they ever had any intention to ever meet in person But Ruslan changed all of that He persuaded the teens to start an actual opposition group The members settled on calling the group, “New Greatness” and even came up with a logo

According to members of the organization, Ruslan authored the manifesto that called for Putin to face a court of justice for his actions Ruslan also divied up the group into separate departments which in turn would qualify them as “extremist” under Russian law And when the group became a little intense, leaving certain members to feel like they wanted out, Ruslan was the one who encouraged them to stay All ten members of this so called group were arrested Four were under house arrest and six – including Anna and Maria – were taken into police custody

The only member that remained free was Ruslan D When he was questioned as a witness during the trial, he said he came across the group chat when he was admittedly lurking online looking for government critics But when the group’s defense attorneys read the transcript from Ruslan’s testimony, it was obvious something was fishy Normally the witness includes identifying details such as an address, a birthdate, phone number, job… All of that information was missing The only thing uncovered was his ‘real’ name: Alexander Konstantinov

Because he didn’t provide any identifying details, defense attorneys believe ‘Alexander Konstantinov’ is a made up name in order to cover for the real ‘Alexander’ who is an undercover FSB agent cracking down on political opposition Members of the New Greatness face up to ten years in prison on extremism charges After hearing both sides of the story, thousands took to the streets of central Moscow in protest of the arrests As a result of the protests, the next day, the court transferred Anna Pavlikova and Maria Dubovik to house arrest until September 13th Pavlikova has asked all charges against her be dropped because they are based on hearsay provided by Rusland D, the alleged undercover FSB agent

She plans on suing him Because 99% of all cases in Russia end in a conviction, Pavlikova’s parents are losing hope Russia’s extremism laws have gone from attacking free speech to entrapping teenagers who are expressing dismay over the direction of Russian politics The precedent this sets for the future of Russia life is terrifying But many Russians have acknowledged the absurdities of the laws

Social media companies, politicians, and human rights activists have had enough MailRu, the parent company of VK, which is Russia’s Facebook, is asking the government to change legislation on social media ‘hate speech’ and pardon those who’ve been unjustly convicted And VK itself has recently promised to introduce new privacy settings which will make it harder for law enforcement to monitor user’s accounts Three members of the Human Rights Council under the the Russian President are also trying to combat this

They have presented proposals to be approved in September They denounced conflicts of interest within the FSB and asked to replace jail time with fines and supervision instead Russians are clearly waking up to the laws and there are a lot of debates surrounding them today The Kremlin’s effort to mute views that may be politically different are actually backfiring… Because Russian citizens are fighting back Hey, guys

It’s Versha, Please subscribe to NowThis World for more from the Russia Desk And let us know in the comments what you want us to cover And maybe give this video a thumbs up if you like it Thank you for watching

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