On December 19 the State Duma, the lower chamber of parliament, adopted amendments to the criminal code article that represses “the provocation to hatred or enmity” and “offence to human dignity.” The amendments partially decriminalise the code’s Article 282, which has been widely used for such offences involving social media content.
As reported by online publication Meduza, first-time offenders will now face only misdemeanour charges, risking a RUB20,000 fine ($287 at the current exchange rate) or a 15-day jail sentence, instead of felony charges and a prison sentence. However, repeated violations within a 12-month period can still lead to a felony charge.
Since the amendments are retroactive, the police can either close their investigations or reclassify them as misdemeanour cases, Meduza quoted Pavel Krasheninnikov, Duma committee chairman, as saying.
Protests from rappers to the Kremlin
From 2011 to 2017, the number of prosecutions for “provocation to hatred,” “offence to human dignity” and “extremism” – both online and in other contexts – rose from 149 to 604, according to official data.
As reported this past summer by East West Digital News, a number of cases of prosecution were groundless or excessive, targeting social media users for just posting, reposting, commenting on or liking supposedly unlawful content.
Such prosecutions have raised protests in Russia, attracting attention from such public figures as popular rapper Oxxxymiron, who tweeted in support of “hundreds” of prosecuted social media users.
Mail.Ru Group, the owner of major local social networks Vkontakte (VK) and Odnoklassniki (OK), stated firmly its opposition to these “unjustifiably harsh” prosecutions, while Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov conceded that “there [were] still cases [of prosecution] that can challenge common sense.”