Vkontakte, Banks, and Government Act Together to Put Russians in Prison
Vkontakte, the most popular Russian social network, together with banks and law enforcement, continue to put socially progressive thinkers in prison. The government’s intention to control its citizens is seeing monstrous consequences.
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Since 2015, Vkontakte Dumps “Extremists” to Local FSB Agents
For people who do not share the love of the President, orthodox Christianity, or patriotic values, there’s always a punishment, due to Articles 280 and 282 of the Russian law. VK management tend to let FSB agents sneak into open and closed photo albums of citizens to identify extremists, terrorists, and sometimes those demonstrating acts of “religious outrage”.
Back in 2015, 119 people were accused of different extremism crimes. Since 2016, such cases appeared almost daily. One thing that connects all the targets has been Vkontakte, a site where people have posted or reposted questionable content. Many people have been seized because of church-related jokes, which they didn’t necessarily create themselves.
Banks and Regulators Involved In Blocking Accounts of Web Extremists
In the Republic of Khakassia, Lydia Bainova had her bank accounts blocked. She also made it into the Rosfinmonitoring blacklist almost immediately. Rosfinmonitoring will prevent private financial companies from lending her money.
“She cannot use her bank account or any other account,” her lawyer said to online Russian press. Bainova became a suspect in July of 2018, when shady figures accused her of calling for acts of extremism on the internet.
Back in July of 2017, she wrote a post saying that ”in times like these, there is the temptation for a revolution, fight for our land and power, reconquer it”. Though the prosecution was inconclusive, FSB specialists insisted that Bainova was trying to convince Khakassians to kill Russians.
The Rosfinmonitoring website also added a 38 year-old builder from Barnaul, Andrey Shasherin, to its terrorist list. According to his criminal case, even before the court decision, Shasherin was restricted in the use of his bank accounts and electronic money. A father of a five year-old and a husband of a shocked wife, Shasherin is now awaiting sentencing. He was suspected of reposting extremist content. That content included:
-A picture with a perfectly built church with shiny cupolas and an old culture and science house nearby that is falling apart
-A photo where Patriarch Kirill is consecrating the police computer center with a label “The patriarch has brought a new antivirus to the police.”
-A picture where someone looking like Jesus is asking the patriarch “What time is it?” (This is an old meme created by web trolls regarding the infamous patriarch’s disappearing Breguet watch.)
No Way to Mount a Defense
The man says he has no money to hire a good lawyer because last month he made only 10,000 rubles (around $150 USD) on a construction site. He may face up to six years in prison.
”Right after they opened the case, I had received SMS messages saying my bank cards are locked, and my credit account is locked too. While I was with agents, the bank imposed a fee on a missed credit payment. I think, the 115 article of law is written in the way that prevents people accused in extremism to have the opportunity to pay for defence. Just imagine: I can’t take some money from the credit card to buy a lawyer anymore.”
Vkontakte Completely Ignores GDPR Despite Falling Under the E.U. Jurisdiction
Vkontakte, a commercial entity, operates in the territory of the European Union. This fact is not mentioned within the Russian-language version of its User Agreement. The English-language version says the company has offices in Cyprus. The social network has long had a dubious history.
While under suspicion of online terrorism in late 2018, a Russian activist from Ivanovo, Nikolai Dyachkov, had to ask the social network admins for his personal data. The social network had recently given his information to police officers so they could prosecute him. But VK claims it is impossible to give users their personal data.
Long List of Victims
Vkontakte is located in Russia, which means its admins and its servers are 100 percent available for special service requests. While Facebook or Google will pass orders to internal lawyers and will likely refuse to hand over personal user data, VK is much more compliant in identifying the victims of the FSB regime.
Back in 2016 in Prykamie, a 16 year-old student was taken from school to the police station by FSB agents for interrogation. On the social network, he called on people to “burn down churches”.
On December 23rd, 2016, kindergarten teacher Eugenia Chudnovetz was sentenced to five months in a colony for reposting a video showing angry children.
In April this year, a nurse from Krasnoyarsk, Oksana Pokhodun, was accused of extremism because of pictures related to Putin, the war in Ukraine, and the Christian church. She held them in a private album, making the pictures inaccessible to the public.
But those measures didn’t help much. The court found that in 2012 Pokhodun had created a page under a fake name, and in 2015 she uploaded pictures to the closed album. The court said the pictures were a risk to the public and sent her to a settlement colony for one-and-a-half years.
In the city of Toropets, 51 year-old electrician Vladimir Egorov was taken to court because he reposted a VK text of an author saying the Russian president was not a good person. Egorov didn’t attend the interrogation at the FSB office on June 27th, 2016. Instead, he fled to the Belarusian border.
Despite the desperate measures, on July 31st, he was arrested by agents while crossing the border, and brought back to face charges of “promoting extremism in a public place”.
A 38 year-old Perm citizen, Vladimir Luzgin, will have to pay a fee of 200,000 rubles ($3,225) to the government for reposting an article called “15 facts about Banderite or What the Kremlin Hides”. Luzgin made the post on December 24th, 2014, and since that moment only 20 people have seen it.
How far will the Russian government go to silence its critics? Sound off in the comments section below.
Image by Jeff Fawkes, Pixabay