Putin’s latest crackdown on dissent and information

(State Dept./M. Gregory)
(State Dept./M. Gregory)

Russians who dare to speak out publicly against the war in Ukraine face long prison terms.

Alexei Gorinov, a municipal deputy in Moscow, received a seven-year prison sentence July 8 for “spreading false information” about the Russian military. His crime? Gorinov called for “stopping the war and withdrawing Russian troops from Ukraine’s territory” during a March council meeting, the New York Times reported.

Gorinov was the first person to receive a major prison term sentence under a new law that Russia enacted after its full-scale invasion of Ukraine making it a crime to criticize the war or the Russian military.

Private citizens who voice opposition could suffer the same fate. Alexandra Skochilenko, a musician in St. Petersburg, sits in jail facing a 10-year prison sentence for taping stickers with anti-war messages on products in a grocery store.

Authorities arrested Skochilenko for “spreading disinformation” about the Russian military, the Washington Post reported. A court ordered that she undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

Alexandra Skochilenko appears May 17 on a screen set up by the St. Petersburg City Court. She was arrested for putting tiny anti-war slogans on supermarket products. (© Joint press service of the courts of St. Petersburg/AP Images)

The Kremlin has slammed shut the door to independent media and political dissent.

Two laws Vladimir Putin signed into law in March further enable the government to crack down on freedom of expression. The laws make factual war reporting and anti-war protests punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

The government detains individuals who publicly oppose the war and censors online sources that provide unbiased information.

The Kremlin is demanding that Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, remove entries related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Wikipedia is resisting. It argues that people have a right to know the facts.

The Wikipedia entry for the “2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine” begins “On 24 February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine in a major escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian War that began in 2014.” The entry notes that the invasion created Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II.

A court in Moscow fined Wikipedia $88,000 for refusing to remove the information and other posts about atrocities and potential war crimes in Ukraine, including the killing of civilians in Bucha. The Russian government accuses the site of “spreading disinformation” and failing to delete banned information. Wikipedia is appealing the fine.

Sergei Besov, a Moscow-based print artist, risks arrest for protesting against the war. Above, he holds a poster that reads “everyone needs peace” in his Moscow workshop July 5. (© Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP Images)

Konstantin Gamershmidt, a university student in Tyumen, posted a “no to war” message on a Russian social media platform and recorded YouTube videos supporting Ukraine. Interior ministry officials called him in for questioning and went to his home. He was fined $1,200 for his actions, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported.

It could get worse. Legislators introduced a bill that would impose additional restrictions on rallies near official buildings, vital infrastructure, universities, hospitals, and religious and pilgrimage sites. It also prohibits protests by groups or individuals labeled as “foreign agents.”

The bill, which amends an existing law on mass gatherings, follows several protests held in Moscow and other cities against the invasion of Ukraine.

People walk along the Crimean (Krymsky) Bridge June 11, which is lined with flags to mark Russia Day. (© Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Russia also uses surveillance technology to stifle political dissent and detain activists.

Moscow police detained dozens of journalists and activists using facial recognition software in the city’s metro to identify them, RFE/RL reported. They were detained June 12, which celebrates Russia’s declaration of state sovereignty in 1990. Journalists said police told them they were picked up as “potential protesters” on Russia Day.