RFE/RL – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Author)
Lyubov Kalugina, a 31-year-old blogger in the Siberian city of Omsk, said this week that investigators have opened a preliminary probe into material dating back to 2013 that she posted on the Russian social-networking site VKontakte.
The probe comes amid a mounting public debate in Russia about a broad crackdown on online speech in recent years -- including reposts and likes on social media sites such as Facebook -- that critics say authorities are using to stymie dissent and boost conviction rates.
It was first disclosed on August 22 by the SOVA Center, a respected Moscow-based extremism watchdog, which said it was informed by Kalugina that she could face hate speech charges punishable by up to five years in prison.
Kalugina, who describes herself as a "radical feminist" and supports "separating women from men at all levels," told RFE/RL by telephone that the probe was launched last year and that she met with investigators earlier this month. She has yet to be formally charged.
"They told me that a criminal case is in the works. I declined to give testimony because I understood that my testimony in this situation would in any case be twisted and used against me," she said.
'Little Real Threat'
Kalugina said that neither she nor her attorney have been informed specifically which posts investigators are currently examining. In an August 23 VKontakte post, she published screenshots of some materials that she said were cited by investigators when the probe was opened last year.
One meme shows a woman wielding a frying pan with the caption: "Beat up a brute, save Russia!" Other materials include texts featuring profanity and violent imagery.
Kalugina told RFE/RL she does not believe any of her VKontakte posts constitute hate speech or would incite violence.
"I don't think there is any reason whatsoever to charge me with hate speech toward anyone," she said, adding that "90 percent of the content consists of jokes or infighting with other feminists."
Kalugina says the individual who filed a complaint against her with prosecutors "clearly just didn't understand what or who was being discussed."
The SOVA Center said that while some of Kalugina's content could be seen as calling for violence against men, it poses little real threat and should not result in criminal charges.
The press office of the federal Investigative Committee's regional branch in Omsk did not respond to an e-mailed request for comment, and several calls to the office went unanswered.
Spate Of Cases
The state-run RIA Novosti news agency cited the regional Investigative Committee as saying that the probe, which Kalugina said was opened in August 2017, would be wrapped up next week. Investigators would then decide whether to open a formal criminal investigation.
Rights groups have tracked a spike in the number of extremism and hate-speech cases in Russia over social-media posts in recent years, including content critical of the Russian government and the Russian Orthodox Church that rights watchdogs say is constitutionally protected speech.
A spate of recently disclosed cases -- including that of a 19-year-old charged in part for a meme likening Jesus Christ to the Game of Thrones character Jon Snow -- has generated nationwide attention to the issue in Russia.
Amid criticism of VKontakte's cooperation with authorities in these cases, the social-media network's owner -- Mail.ru Group -- called on authorities to change hate-speech legislation and grant amnesty to individuals "unjustly convicted" of such crimes.
The Kremlin's Council for Civil Society and Human Rights on August 22 recommended revisions to Russia's counterextremism laws, including decriminalizing a statute used to convict social-media users of hate speech -- the same statute Kalugina will potentially be accused of violating.It also recommended decriminalizing a controversial 2013 law signed by President Vladimir Putin allowing for up to one year in prison for those convicted of "public actions" aimed at "insulting believers' religious sensibilities."
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