Thursday 25 April 2019

Man fined £365 for calling Putin ‘fantastical f***head’ in first use of new censorship law

But Kremlin in dangerous territory as phrase becomes a nationwide meme

A 34-year-old man has become the first Russian to fall foul of new legislation banning “disrespect” of government officials after labelling President Vladimir Putin a “fantastical f***head”.

The controversial law had been in place for just two days before a regional judge fined the equivalent of £365 for a post criticising the country’s leader.

Unfortunately for the Kremlin, the offending phrase has now become the only thing people are talking about.

Within a day of Monday’s decision, an online flashmob had broken out in support of the offender, Yuri Kartyzhev, who is a resident of a small town in the Novgorod region.

Within a day of Monday’s decision, an online flashmob had broken out in support of the offender, Yuri Kartyzhev, who is a resident of a small town in the Novgorod region.

By Wednesday afternoon, a tweet introducing the #Putinisafantasticalf***head hashtag was trending, with over 5,000 engagements. As some pointed out, its 2,400 retweets amounted to a potential £870,000 in fines.

The collective Russian internet’s quicker wits said they were interested to know where Kartyzhev had gone wrong: perhaps Putin was not a fantastical f***head, but a real one?

Leonid Volkov, a prominent aide to opposition leader Alexei Navalny, led the charge on Twitter: “If the phrase fantastical f***head is offensive, how can we say it without offending government?,” he wrote.

“I consider this a question of national importance,” wrote another user. “We need to clarify this matter … at the very highest instance.”

Perhaps there was more to things than met the eye? Kartyzhev might have been fined not for his offensive words, joked a user called Vladimir Maksimov, but because he disclosed “a state secret about Putin”.

Later, the satirical cartoonist Sergei Yolkin reflected on the trolling. It was at times like these that Russian leaders earned their epitaphs, he said: “Ivan – the Terrible, Catherine – the Great, and now Vladimir – the Fantastical!”

Speaking with The Independent, Mr Volkov said that the authorities had set themselves up for ridicule. First, they passed the much-criticised law, and then they allowed it to be first applied in relation to Mr Putin.

“I’m certain the Streisand effect will be so big that they won’t forget what they have done in a hurry,” he said, referring to the unintended publicity effect of an attempt to censor information, made famous by the singer Barbra Streisand in 2003.

“They should instead have gone after some fool inciting people to go out and do physical harm to politicians,” he added.

The new law, signed into law by Putin last month, outlaws any offensive expression of disrespect of public officials. First offences are punishable by fines of up to 300,000 roubles (£3,600), approximately 8 times the average monthly wage in Russia. Repeat offenders risk jail.

Coming at the tail of two decades of increasing censorship, the law has been widely interpreted as an attempt to stem public criticism amid a downturn in the economy and the president’s ratings.

But in declaring war on Russian satirists, the Kremlin has arguably made its most dangerous move yet.

“The actions of Russian authorities in recent times are difficult to explain rationally, and clearly they have not thought out the consequences,” said Pavel Chikov, director of the Agora international human rights group.

The lawyer predicts the new legal norms will be reviewed in Russia’s highest courts and the European Court of Human Rights.

“Whether Russian authorities decide to revisit the law is too early to say, but it’s clear that many people will suffer before this happens,” he said.

In a parallel development, state regulators issued a warning to, the Yekaterinburg-based internet newspaper that first reported the show of online solidarity and satire in support of Kartyzhev.

Dmitry Kolezev, the publication’s deputy editor, described the news simply – “a coincidence”.

(Source: Independent)

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