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The Associated Press (AP) reports an alarming rise in convictions under hate speech laws in Russia. Many commenters on social media are imprisoned for inciting hatred after criticizing Russian policy, including the annexation of Crimea. The Kremlin is reluctant to share exact numbers when it comes to hate speech convictions, but AP claims there have been at least 233 people convicted of hate speech in Russia in the last year, up from 92 in 2010. At least 54 people have been imprisoned for hate speech in the last year, while others may have received lighter sentences.

The vagueness of the law gives investigators, prosecutors and judges a large degree of freedom to determine what constitutes hate speech. A law from 2002 outlaws extremism, which includes acts that undermine the security of the nation as well as acts which glorify terrorism or racism. While violent acts are covered by the law against extremism, non-violent acts like hate speech are considered extremism as well.

In 2014, the same year Russia annexed Crimea, Putin signed into law multiple amendments which tightened the restrictions against extremism. One amendment increased the penalty for non-violent acts of extremism, such as hate speech. The other amendment criminalized speech which undermines Russia’s territorial integrity, which makes it illegal to deny Russia’s claim on Crimea.

Andrie Bubeyev was one man who was convicted of hate speech. Bubeyev shared articles, photos and videos from Ukrainian nationalist groups on the Russian social media site VKontakte. The content was critical of Russia, including videos which referred to Russia as a fascist aggressor. After being brought to trial, Bubeyev pleaded guilty to inciting hatred against Russians and was sentenced to a year in prison. Weeks after that conviction, Bubeyev was charged with undermining Russia’s territorial integrity because he shared an article titled “Crimea is Ukraine.”

Bubeyev was surprised to be charged over his shares on social media. The content on his account was not viewable by the general public, but could only be seen by 12 friends because of his privacy settings. Bubeyev’s lawyer suggests that Russian authorities could only have become aware of his posts because they were tipped off by VKontakte.

Human rights groups in the country report that about half of all convictions for online hate speech are related to posts on VKontakte, and that the site may be more cooperative with Russian police than foreign-owned social media. VKontakte founder Pavel Durov sold the site and left the country in 2014, after coming under pressure from Russian police to share the personal details of users who were connected to a protest group in the Ukraine. VKontakte is now controlled by Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov, who is said to be close to Putin.

Has Russia gone too far in censoring speech, or is it just taking reasonable actions to deal with extremism? Leave your comments below.

Max Michael

Senior Writer

I’m a technology reporter located near the Innovation District of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.

  • lunaticFortune

    This comes as little-to-no surprise whatsoever.

    Wonder how long it’s going to take before it migrates West?

  • Tleno

    I’m pretty sure it’s more used as a tool to silence dissent than protect any group. Russian government in general has a pretty exploitative approach to pretty much any social issue.

  • Elilla Shadowheart

    It’s already starting to happen in the EU. See the “EU wants to force everyone to use government ID to use the internet” BS, that’s the first step towards removing anonymous and pseudo-anonymous speech.

  • Rurik

    Too be honest as a Russian is article is little misleading, one sided and not accurate at all. Not going comment on my government which has problems like anywhere else on the world. But there is more to story like Andrie Bubeyev who gets funding from U.S government organizations. I don’t want our government to intervene in U.S politics. and frankly would like to same from you but you do sponsor people in our country. I don’t like this law and way it’s heading but reason it come apart is to deal with people who wish to exploit otherwise.

  • Megamatics

    I think many people need to hear about how enforcing hate speech laws can be a detriment to freedom. People are not the only ones benefited by this law, corrupt officials looking to cover up criticism of their misdeeds will absolutely abuse it. The Government should not have power over public discourse and criticism. Hate speech itself is self indemnifying as it wafts the foul stench of racism/sexism/class-ism for all to see, and publicly criticize. We don’t need to curb hate speech, we need more hate speech so we know where the bad eggs lie.

  • reaVer

    Except the reasons are completely opposite. USA is starting its war on Russia and Russia is convicting these agents. There’s really nothing to see here; just move along.

  • Elilla Shadowheart

    Too bad that conspiracy theory doesn’t line up with reality huh? So crushing for you.

  • reaVer

    You mean besides it being the same strategy used in Ukraine and Syria?

  • Elilla Shadowheart

    So how did the US start a war in the Ukraine by Russia’s own actions again?

  • reaVer

    They destabilized the nation, had local news station put out anti government propaganda up until the government was at breaking point. They did the same with Syria, except the Syrians on the whole still support their government. That is why a simple revolution in Syria’s case has turned into a ‘civil’ war or more accurately a mercenary war.

  • Elilla Shadowheart

    That should be easy for you to prove. FYI /pol/ versions of truth won’t be accepted.

  • reaVer

    It’s been all over the internet as it happened. I’m not going to dig for hours to satisfy you. Though there’s even official footage there of MEPs going to Ukraine to encourage the revolution. ISIS has been linked with the western governments because they are directly or indirectly selling them oil. Those are the two easiest ones. There’s also MH17 which just doesn’t get resolved, eventhough anyone with any common sense knows it should never have been flying there.

  • Elilla Shadowheart

    Makes claim, can’t back it up. Pretty typical.

  • discusser

    That’s right, Putineers. Your “savior of the white race” believes in retarded censorship laws, too.

  • discusser

    “USA is starting its war on Russia”

    Only if Hillary wins.

  • reaVer

    True. Though essentially this news post confirms that the war has already begun.