Written by Alexey Sidorenko
The first criminal case against a blogger Dmitri Soloviev in Russia with a happy ending unfolded over a long period of time. After two years of investigation and three socio-linguistic assessments, experts didn’t find any evidence of “incitement hatred against police and Russian Security Service officers.”
Soloviev’s victory, however, is rather an exception than a rule. It was not the court that found Soloviev not guilty, but the prosecutor’s office. It stopped the prosecution process after realizing that the case against the blogger would fail anyway. But the precedent has been established. The blogger has been found “not guilty” and, more importantly, the Federal Security Service (FSB) and police workers could not be defined as “social groups.”
On March 25, 2008, Dmitri Soloviev (aka LJ user dimon77), an opposition blogger from Kemerovo [EN] (an industrial city in Siberia), has been accused of “inciting hatred, animosity and disgrace towards police and FSB workers” (infamous part 1 of Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code [EN]). The basis for the accusations turned out to be Soloviev’s blog posts critical of political situation in the country. Although his posts are currently available only to Soloviev’s friends, they are still widely cited [RUS] online.
The troubles started four years ago when Soloviev was summoned to the regional FSB office “for a conversation.” After that, Soloviev’s friends warned him that he had been placed on some sort of an FSB “watch list.” Soloviev is sure that the reason for criminal prosecution wasn’t his blog posts, but his active civil position. He believes that his blog became his “Achilles’ heel.”
In one of the posts that later was cited as an evidence of his “hatred,” Soloviev wrote:
Are you sure that the best way to treat a citizen is when the citizen’s mouth is shut. Very well, you shut his mouth, you tied his hands and tied his legs to a chair. What did you get? And you call it a sovereign democracy? And this is what you promote at different international forums as the achievement of stability? No, you are afraid. You are afraid that everyone will find out what did you do to a free country during the last eight years. How many innocent people are in jails, waiting for years for his sentences. How many people are killed in police stations because they were beaten to force them to admit something they had not done. And all that has been done to increase monthly data of the fight with crime. […] Here is your success in fighting extremists: 37 murders based on national hatred since the beginning of this year. That is what you have been trying to achieve: it is easy to ensure people that you are irreplaceable by increasing their fear.
The criminal case against Soloviev started on August 11, 2008 after official accusations passed bureaucratic process in the prosecutor’s office. The police searched his apartment and confiscated a laptop, mobile phones and stickers of “Oborona” [EN] movement, which he was a member of (later these items were returned, except Soloviev’s office computer). On August 20, a group of bloggers organized an online campaign [RUS] claiming that the accusations had no legal base and were anti-constitutional. Livejournal post in Dmitri’s defense gathered more than 600 comments. Soloviev convinced that making the case public was exactly what helped him at the end.
Further process of the criminal case is described in a judicial resolution published on December 31, 2009, a year later after the events. Blogger Oleg Kozlovsky published [RUS] its scanned copy online. The resolution shows the mechanisms of the blogger’s prosecution, which can be used against every critic of the Russian authorities. The evidence of “incitement of hatred against FSB and policemen” was first found with the help of socio-linguistic assessment.
The first assessment defined Soloviev’s postings as propaganda. The experts, however, were not sure if policemen and FSB officers represented distinctive social groups and they requested additional sociological assessment.
The additional assessment, performed on December 1, 2008, claimed that policemen and FSB officers could count as social groups. The assessment report proposed ‘scientific’ explanation of policemen being a social group:
Policemen and FSB officers are social groups because they possess distinctive signs of social groups: they execute socially significant function, they’re united by alike knowledge and skills, as well as by a feeling of identity with their profession and with other representatives of the group. There is a negative image of these social groups in the text of the posts.
However, Soloviev’s advocates requested third assessment. It was was performed on September 2009 by the experts of the Federal Center of the Legal Medicine in Moscow and Tomsk University. The third assessment report had two important conclusions. First, those experts found that the previous assessments were wrong and there were no such social group as “policemen” or “FSB officers.” Second, there were no negative images of them in any of Soloviev’s posts. The experts also found that his posts were not did not incite hatred towards the authorities. On that basis, the prosecutor’s office found Dmitri not guilty and stopped the prosecution process.
Answering GV question if he is going to continue his posts on Livejournal after all that, Soloviev said:
Answering GV question if he will be practicing self-censorship, Dmitri said:
In a certain way, self-censorship is always present and is only limited by moral and ethical constraints. But, as time showed, there’s also life experience and the real life time load. I will state that I have more experience and less free time now. But my life principles and views on the society didn’t change. I always considered and I still consider that civil and human rights written in the constitution are inalienable values and that democracy is the most civilized of government.I hope that in future not only I will grow old but also our civil society will grow [and will become – GV] the main deterrent to the uncontrolled power.
Bloggers enthusiastically welcomed the news of the ending of the case. Most of the bloggers were just forwarding news about the case closure. Some were more elaborate:
Good news. One more good news would be cancellation of the Article 282.
There are still experts with conscience and judges with honor
The role of anonymous experts in Soloviev’s case was critical. The vagueness of the Russian laws usually works to the authorities’ benefits who use terms like “extremism” or “social group” in their widest definitions in order to justify accusations. As Soloviev’s case shows, local experts tend to cooperate with the prosecutor’s office and are more likely to pronounce accusatory results after a socio-linguistic assessment. Federal experts who are less dependent from the regional police or the prosecutor’s office in this case presented a more reasonable verdict.
Another important feature of the case is that it was not the court that found Dmitri Soloviev not guilty but the local prosecutor’s office that stopped the blogger’s prosecution. Since FSB and police officers were proved not be social groups, this was not a judicial verdict but an assessment result that can be appealed.
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Photo credit: Istockphoto.com