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No Freedom of Speech: Russian Blogger Given Suspended Jail Sentence

In Bloggers, Censorship, Russia on July 7, 2008 at 10:54 pm

Bloggers beware in Russia: fellow blogger Savva Terentiev has been convicted on charges of “inciting hatred or enmity” and given a one-year suspended jail sentence.

From Reuters:

A Russian man who described local police as “scum” in an Internet posting was given a suspended jail sentence on Monday for extremism, prompting bloggers to warn of a crackdown on free speech online.

Savva Terentiev, a 28-year-old musician from Syktyvkar, 1,515 kilometres (940 miles) north of Moscow, wrote in a blog last year that the police force should be cleaned up by ceremonially burning officers twice a day in a town square.

“This was an absolutely unjustified verdict,” Alexander Verkhovsky, director of the SOVA centre in Moscow, a non-governmental group that monitors extremism, told Reuters. “Savva for sure wrote a rude comment … but this verdict means it will be impossible to make rude comments about anybody.”

The verdict was discussed in Russian blogs on Monday. “I don’t know now if I should be writing here or not,” blogger Likershassi posted on one website.

“The fact that Terentiev got a conditional sentence is unimportant. What’s important is the precedent,” a blogger named Puffinus wrote.

BONFIRE

Contacted by Reuters on Monday, Terentiev confirmed the sentence but said he was unable to make further comment.

The blog entry for which he was prosecuted has been removed from the Internet. Russia’s Kommersant newspaper quoted him as saying in the post: “Those who become cops are scum,” and calling for officers to be put on a bonfire.

After the prosecution was launched, Terentiev wrote an open letter to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev protesting his innocence.

“It is our duty to take responsibility for words on the Internet but … I did not call for the inflaming of social hatred towards the employees of the police department,” he wrote in the letter, posted at one of his sites, www.zasavva.ru.

Most Russians receive their news and information from television stations and newspapers controlled by the state or by businessmen with links to the Kremlin, with opposition voices confined largely to the Internet, talk radio and low-circulation publications.

Medvedev has said he views freedom of speech and a flourishing civil society as essential and that Russia should use a light touch when policing the Internet.

“Thank God we live in a free society,” Medvedev said last month in an interview with Reuters.

“It’s possible to go on to the Internet and get basically anything you want. In that regard, there are no problems of closed access to information in Russia today, there weren’t any yesterday and there won’t be any tomorrow,” he said.

Just chalk Russia up on the same list as other tyrannical countries who insist on suppressing speech on the Internet. 😦

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