“The case of a young woman facing jail for sharing memes on social media has prompted a major debate about abuse of law and censorship in Russia. Maria Motuznaya, a 23-year-old from the city of Barnaul in Siberia, came to public attention in late July, when she explained on Twitter, why she is on Russia’s official list of extremists and terrorists.
“‘Hi everyone, my name is Masha, I’m 23 years old and I’m an extremist,’ she wrote in Russian… In the 20 tweets that followed, Maria detailed how, in May the police accused her of ‘insulting people’ by posting satirical memes on her profile page on VKontakte or VK, Russia’s largest social media network…
“Maria is facing up to six years in prison on charges of hate speech and offending religious believers’ feelings – both criminal offences in Russia.
“‘There were several memes – just some religious-themed pictures – that are about the Russian Orthodox Church in particular,” she [said]. One of the offending memes shows women dressed as nuns smoking cigarettes and urging each other to be quick ‘while God isn’t looking.’
“‘There was no genocide or anything – simply some funny pictures,’ Maria explained… When Maria discovered that she was under police investigation, her first reaction was disbelief. ‘Honestly, the first time – when I was shown the [search] warrant – I laughed and asked: ‘Are you serious?’ I thought it was a joke of some kind, maybe it’s my friends playing a trick on me.’
“At least two more people are now facing potential prison terms on identical charges. Details of their cases are so similar to Maria’s that it is hard not to get a sense of déjà vu: both used VKontakte, shared around a dozen memes there, and were later accused of extremism.
“‘[It has been] a year since I started to be afraid to fall asleep, thinking that they are going to come for me in the morning,” wrote Daniil Markin, one of the accused, on VK. ‘Russia is slowly, but surely killing me, as an undesirable citizen,’ he concluded.
“It has emerged that the investigations into both Daniil and Maria were prompted by complaints made to police by the same two female students. The women – who said their religious feelings had been insulted – have since deleted their social media accounts.
“Another defendant, Andrei Shasherin, 38, has been accused of extremism over memes satirising priests and Patriarch Kirill, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. Police accused Andrei of ‘discrediting the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church.’”
In an interview with the independent Dozhd TV channel, Andrei said: “I did not want to go to prison, I was afraid of it, as I think anyone would be after a two hour talk with these guys. I signed a confession and a statement of sorts.”
“Andrei has also been put on the Russian government’s list of extremists. This designation places severe restrictions on how he is allowed to use a bank account. He can only withdraw a maximum of 10,000 roubles (about £117) a month.
“Some commentators warn that the cases of Maria, Daniil and Andrei, are part of a national trend. Over the past few years, Russians have been increasingly prosecuted for their activity on social media, according to statistics released by international human rights group Agora. According to Agora, 411 criminal cases were brought against Internet users in Russia in 2017. This compares to 298 cases in the previous year.
In most cases users are accused of extremism. It is an offence that may include; inciting hatred and animosity, rehabilitation of Nazism, calls to separatism, insulting believers’ feelings. “Pavel Chikov, the head of Agora, said that because the official definition of “extremism” in Russian legislation is so broad, police can take issue with practically anything. This can range from the ‘politically incorrect’ wording of someone’s post, to online content that allegedly humiliates a certain religious, ethnic group or government officials, and even the police themselves.
“Indeed, in recent years Russian law-enforcers have found violations of the so-called “extremist” laws in all kinds of online content: from memes, reposts and historical photographs to composite images, comments and even “likes” for a particular post.
“Ilya Varlamov, one of Russia’s top bloggers, says at least one of the laws covering extremism – Article 282 on inciting hatred – was originally adopted ‘in order to give the authorities the pretext to persecute people for their beliefs.’ He believes it allows for authorities to have a “very free interpretation” of what breaks the law, so that it catches much of what anyone might do while communicating with others.
“Maria, who is facing up to six years in prison, is skeptical about her chances of acquittal: ‘In principle here in Russia the percentage of acquittals is at 0.2 per cent. I doubt I will be so lucky to be among those.’ However, if she is acquitted she plans to leave Russia. ‘I will try to get out of here, because there’s no way I’m going to have a normal life here anymore.’”
Many countries are increasingly enacting and enforcing laws that criminalize offenses to someone’s religious feelings or beliefs. Imagine how that will play out against God’s people when they have to expose the global religious control system imposed on the planet – namely, a universal Sunday law. There is no place to go. Russia is a classic example and could easily be used as a model for the new world order.
The enemy wants to restrict the presentation of the everlasting gospel under the power of the latter rain. Censorship flies in the face of the direct command of Jesus to “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” Mark 16:15.