Russia’s crackdowns on free speech used to garner global headlines. Now they are noticed less and less. One reason is the sheer scale: On each of the 530 days of the war for which we have near-complete data, an average of 13 cases were heard in court involving people opposing the war — and that’s just under the discreditation law. The indignities of the crackdown, and the long arm of the Russia law, is being lost in the numbers.
In villages and far-flung regions, in schools and hospitals, in chat groups and local news outlets, and in a prison and on a military base, people were accused of speaking out against the war.
The analysis challenges the notion that opposition sentiment in Russia is concentrated among the elite in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other major cities. The documents show that two-thirds of the cases were heard in courts located in cities and towns with a population of less than a million.
In the small town of Iglino in western Russia, a retired train driver named Zaynulla Gadzhiyev, now 76, predicted on his social media page: “Nothing will save Russia now from collapse.”
Mr. Bespokoyev, 22, the private school tutor, walked through a St. Petersburg subway station wearing the overcoat his grandfather wore in World War II, on which Mr. Bespokoyev had written: “I’m hurting and afraid. I don’t want war.”
In Novosibirsk in Siberia, Marina Tsurmast, a local journalist, scrawled “Bucha” in red on a piece of paper and pasted it over an exhibition stand celebrating the anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Police officers detained her on the spot.
In dry legalese, the court documents recount the Russian state’s case against these statements and protests.
The judge in the case of Ms. Tsurmast, the journalist, ruled that she had “distorted the true goals” of Mr. Putin’s war. A St. Petersburg judge ruled that Mr. Bespokoyev, the tutor, had undermined “the authority, image and trust in the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.” And Mr. Gadzhiyev, the retired train driver, was cited for “undermining trust in the decisions of the state authorities of the Russian Federation on the conduct of the special military operation.”
All three were fined 30,000 rubles, about $500 at the time. In those first three months of the war, the data shows that at least 1,662 other Russians faced prosecution for antiwar speech. [Continue reading…]