Rus­sia’s Cen­ter E Sup­presses So­cial Me­dia

Newsweek International - - CONTENTS - by MARC BEN­NETTS @mar­cben­netts1

It was just be­fore 6 a.m. when po­lice of­fi­cers raided Daniil Markin’s apart­ment in Bar­naul, a small Rus­sian city some 2,000 miles from Moscow. Markin, a film stu­dent who was 18 at the time of the July 2017 raid, had no idea why po­lice had burst into his home. The of­fi­cers, he says, were in no hurry to ex­plain. In­stead, they re­moved his com­put­ers, smart­phone and other elec­tronic de­vices, then drove him to the lo­cal branch of the Cen­ter for Com­bat­ing Ex­trem­ism, a po­lice de­part­ment within Rus­sia’s pow­er­ful In­te­rior Min­istry.

Of­fi­cers from the so-called Cen­ter E then in­formed Markin that he was be­ing charged with hate speech against Chris­tians over a hand­ful of im­ages that he had ei­ther re­posted or saved to his ac­count on Vkon­takte, Rus­sia’s ver­sion of Face­book, which is also known as VK. The ear­li­est dated from 2013, when he was just 13. Markin did not cre­ate any of the im­ages, most of which had al­ready been widely cir­cu­lated on­line, but he now faces up to five years in prison over the charges, if found guilty.

The on­line memes that landed Markin in le­gal trou­ble may have been of­fen­sive to some Chris­tians, but Alexan­der Yere­menko, his lawyer, says there are no grounds on which to clas­sify them as hate speech. One fea­tured Jon Snow, a char­ac­ter from

Game of Thrones, with a halo and the words “Jon Snow is risen! Truly he is risen!” The cap­tion, a ref­er­ence to Snow’s mag­i­cal res­ur­rec­tion in the pop­u­lar HBO series, was a par­ody of the words that Rus­sian Ortho­dox Chris­tians tra­di­tion­ally use to greet each other at Easter. An­other de­picted three an­gels smok­ing mar­i­juana from a bong. In­ves­ti­ga­tors, Markin says, laughed at the pic­tures as they scrolled through his Vkon­takte ac­count.

“To say I was shocked when they told me what I was be­ing charged with would be putting it mildly,” says Markin, whose on­go­ing trial be­gan in June. On top of the crim­i­nal charges, the Rus­sian govern­ment has added him to its list of ex­trem­ists and ter­ror­ists, which in­cludes neo-nazis and sup­port­ers of the Is­lamic State mil­i­tant group (ISIS). The sta­tus means he is barred from us­ing a bank card. Other fi­nan­cial re­stric­tions, which ap­ply to ev­ery­one on the list, limit him to with­draw­ing a max­i­mum of 10,000 rubles ($150) from his bank ac­count a month. “I saved

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