Russians are now being fined for reposting content from “undesirable” news media. Most penalties are linked to Meduza
Russians are now being fined for reposting content from “undesirable” news media. Most penalties are linked to Meduza
26 April 2024, 17:56

Art: Mila Grabowski / Mediazona

Since the beginning of 2024, Russian courts have received 19 reports of “participation” in the activities of an “undesirable” organization, all related to independent Russian media outlets. Prosecutors interpret “participation” to include not only working for a publication or providing comments for an article but also the mere act of reposting—meaning ordinary readers are being fined.

Penalties for “participation” (engaging in activities) in an organization deemed “undesirable” by Russian authorities were introduced in 2015. It works as follows: the first “violation” incurs a fine of 5,000–15,000 rubles, while a second report within a year can lead to criminal charges and a sentence of up to four years in prison.

As of April 2024, there are already 158 “undesirable” organizations, with the list growing almost weekly. According to Verstka, most of these are NGOs involved in politics and cultural or educational activities (64 at the end of 2023). The second-largest category is religious organizations (19), followed by independent Russian and foreign media outlets (14).

Mediazona examined published court decisions on reports related to “undesirable” organizations and discovered that religious organizations such as New Generation, Falun Gong, and others have consistently remained the most “popular” targets for law enforcement agencies over many years. However, in 2024, independent media outlets took the lead in the number of reports for the first time, with readers—rather than employees—being punished in most cases.

Meduza and Others

Meduza currently tops the list in terms of the number of cases submitted to courts. In the first three months of 2024, at least 12 reports were filed against the publication’s readers and employees—the same number as in the previous two years for all “undesirable” media combined.

Пока лидером по числу поступивших в суды протоколов остается «Медуза». За первые три месяца 2024 года против читателей и сотрудников издания составили минимум 12 протоколов — это как за два предыдущих года против всех «нежелательных» медиа.

The first person fined for “participating” in Meduza’s activities in 2024 was Bashkir activist Ruslan Gabbasov. In February, he was fined 10,000 rubles for a post featuring a Meduza article from May 16, 2023, which, according to the court decision, was discovered as early as May 18, 2023. It is unclear from the case materials why the Bashkir police waited six months before filing a report and submitting the case to court.

A month after Gabbasov, a resident of Chuvashia was fined 5,000 rubles for “knowingly posting a repost of a record with six photographs from the official Medusa Project page in the Stories section of her Instagram account.” The stories in question were posted in December 2023 and, as the woman was told by the prosecutor’s office, were flagged in an FSB monitoring operation.

In April, the first reports were filed against Meduza authors Dmitry Kuznets and Anastasia Zhvik. The grounds for the report against Kuznets was his participation in the daily podcast “What Happened?” (“Chto Sluchilos?”) in a recent episode from February 2024, while the case against Zhvik has not yet been considered. Dmitry Kuznets was fined 10,000 rubles.

That same month, the Yakutsk City Court received eight reports at once against Vitaly Obedin, which was noted by OVD-Info. As Obedin himself recounted on Telegram, he was summoned to the prosecutor’s office the day before the cases were submitted to court: “It turns out that the day before, vigilant employees of Center E were losing sleep, digging through my posts from as far back as 2019–2020, in order to scrape together [from nothing] at least something. Well, now there’s a shortage of opposition members, enemies of the regime, just journalists who haven’t been hit over the head. We need to search!”

As a result, eight separate reports were filed against Obedin for reposting Meduza content, which, as in Gabbasov’s case, had been posted long ago but for some reason only caught the attention of Center E in early 2024.

Meduza is not the only publication whose readers are being persecuted for reposting articles. Also in Chuvashia, two reports were filed against local politician Valerian Viktorov after Center E operatives found posts from Open Russia dating back to 2017. In April 2024, a judge issued a warning to Yakut journalist Irina Kurilova for reposting a year-old article from IStories.

In addition to readers, reports are being filed against employees of publications and those who, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, participated in the preparation of their materials. Earlier this year, Buryat human rights activist Nadezhda Nizovkina was fined 5,000 rubles for being featured in a TV Rain broadcast to provide commentary. Writer Dmitry Bykov was fined 10,000 rubles for an interview with Boris Grebenshchikov, a rock star (both are also declared “foreign agents”), that was published in Novaya Gazeta Europe.

The actual number of reports being filed by law enforcement in 2024 may be higher, as a person is first formally summoned to the prosecutor’s office to complete documents, and only then (even if the person does not appear) is the case sent to court.

It does not matter to Russian law enforcement agencies how long ago a repost, link, or quote from a publication deemed “undesirable” in Russia was made. If the post is accessible at the time when an operative decides to conduct an inspection, they can file a report. And it is likely not a matter of a live person specifically checking social media—keyword searches have long been automated in various government agencies.

Editor: Dmitry Treschanin

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