Freedom of Speech: The Russian Charad
Russia is amid a massive crackdown on freedom of speech. The country has not seen such dismal levels of political dissent since the fall of the Soviet Union. Under the rule of Vladimir Putin, who was first elected in the year 1999, Russia has turned into an authoritarian state. Here to bring you more information about this pressing issue is Perspectoverse’s Ishana Kandhari.
In January 2021, Russia saw their biggest protest in a decade. Tens of thousands of Russians gathered to protest on the streets of over 130 cities, enduring freezing temperatures. 11,000 citizens were detained. They were encouraged to raise their voices by a political leader named Alexei Navalny.
Alexei Navalny is the leader of the ‘Russia of the Future’ political party, formed in 2012. Navalny has been the most significant and resilient opposition force to Putin’s Government. He has performed and exposed extensive research on the corruption of the Kremlin, stimulating a large percentage of the Russian people, especially younger citizens, into questioning their current government. Navalny was poisoned in August 2020. He was taken to Germany for medical assistance until he returned after his recovery in January. He was thrown into jail as soon as he landed. During this time, Navalny’s organization released a documentary, exposing Putin’s alleged Billion Dollar Palace in the Black Sea. He was then imprisoned and continues to be in this situation. Navalny’s ‘Anti-Corruption Foundation’ was labelled an extremist organization by the Russian court. It was equated with ISIS or the Taliban. A law stating that people associated with the organization will also be named ‘extremists was passed.
Violetta Grudina was in charge of Alexei Navalny’s offices in Murmansk. In 2021, she stood for the local elections as an independent candidate. Soon after her announcement, her headquarters was vandalized and members of her campaign were threatened. Despite testing negative for the coronavirus, she was sent to a COVID hospital, where she remained for weeks. Russian authorities tried to prevent her from signing the necessary documents for the election. She was released only after an eight-day hunger strike. Grudina was able to stay in the running. However, soon after, she attended a meeting with the Election Commission. The members voted on taking away Grudina’s position as a running candidate, due to her history of being part of an ‘extremist organization’.
During the January protests, Alla Gutnikova, a Russian student journalist, posted a two-minute video about human rights on Youtube along with three of her friends. It encouraged the youth of the country to utilise their right to dissent. The video was viewed by hardly 1000 people. Yet, their homes were raided and they were placed under house arrest.
According to a report by the World Justice Project, Russia has more governmental influence in their judiciary system than most other countries in the world. They have forcefully restricted any criticism against their endeavours, especially of their invasion of Crimea or any disrespect to the Russian Orthodox Church. A boy was arrested for posting a video of him playing Pokemon Go in the church. Critics of Russia are labelled ‘extremists’ by the Government. In 2015, 216 social media users were imprisoned for acts of ‘extremism’.
Putin has also placed a close watch on social media platforms. In 2016, Russia enforced a law stating that all telecommunications and internet service providers had to retain all the activity of users for a period of six months and their personal data for three years. This would make it easier for Russian authorities to access this information. LinkedIn was blocked in the nation for failing to comply with their law.
In 2013, Russia passed a law that prohibited any information that allied with the LGBTQ+ community. Any entity which portrays same-sex relationships as normal is completely unaccepted. The Russian Government claims that this law has been passed to ‘protect children’ from ‘harmful’ content.
Freedom of speech is the vital element that builds the foundation of democracy. Although change does not seem to be occurring anytime soon, Russia’s youth could be the glimmer of hope. Younger citizens of the country are increasingly beginning to challenge and question Putin’s authority. In order to win their vote and uphold it's already crippled democracy, the Russian government needs to make an active effort to respect human rights and allow its people to openly spread information and express their views. If it fails to do so, it's difficult to say just how severe the consequences may be.
Written by Ishana Kandhari
Illustrated by Anushka Doshi
“Online and On All Fronts: Russia’s Assault on Freedom of Expression.” Human Rights Watch, July 18, 2017. https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/07/18/online-and-all-fronts/russias-assault-freedom-expression.
“Russia Officially Declares Alexey Navalny’s Movement, the Biggest Opposition Force, an ‘Extremist’ Group.” Accessed November 25, 2021. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/russia-alexei-navalny-opposition-foundation-extremist-vladimir-putin/.
The Economist. Russia: How Putin Is Silencing His Opponents | The Economist, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_NrV0UegeuM.
Vox. From Spy to President: The Rise of Vladimir Putin, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lxMWSmKieuc.