Legal Case of the Week: Viktor Krasnov

posted 7 Mar 2016, 10:22 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 7 Mar 2016, 11:37 ]
On 2 March 2016 Viktor Krasnov appeared in a court in his hometown of Stavropol, facing charges of insulting the feelings of religious believers over posting ‘there is no God’ in an online exchange. The charges are based on a law adopted in 2013 following the jailing of the Pussy Riot protestors for hooliganism. The Guardian, citing Agence France-Presse, reports that the charges carry a maximum one-year jail sentence. In October 2014 Viktor Krasnov took part in an exchange on the social network VKontakte. The Guardian reports that at one point he wrote: “If I say that the collection of Jewish fairytales entitled the Bible is complete bullshit, that is that. At least for me,” adding later “there is no God!” [misspelling the word 'God']. Tom Balmforth, writing for RFE/RL, adds that Krasnov also denounced the Bible with a crude epithet, and 'appeared to conflate Orthodox Christian holidays with Jewish ones while using wording that is widely seen as denigrating Jews.' After one of the people involved in the online dispute with Krasnov lodged a complaint with the police against him for 'offending the sentiments of Orthodox believers,' RFE/RL reports that the Stavropol branch of the Investigative Committee found Krasnov's comments to be 'of an offensive character against a religion and aimed at insulting the religious feelings of believers,' and opened a criminal case. Krasnov was held in a psychiatric hospital for one month last year. As a result of the tests he underwent, the hospital staff concluded he was 'sane'. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for 15 March 2016.

Tom Balmforth in RFE/RL reports that 'Putin has frequently touted what he calls traditional values and has held out the dominant Russian Orthodox Church as a moral authority for the country during his third presidential term. Passage of the [2013] legislation deepened the concerns of liberals, Kremlin opponents, rights activists, and representatives of other religions who fear relations between church and state are too tight. Russia’s constitution says it is a secular state.'

In a report published in 2015, 'Misuse of Anti-Extremism Legislation in October 2015,' the Moscow-based Sova Center wrote: 'We consider this prosecution inappropriate, since we don’t see anything that can be qualified under Article 148 in Krasnov’s actions. In addition, the experts have no right to make judgments on whether the statements have been offensive or aimed at insulting the feelings of believers, since such matters should be decided in court. We regard the prosecution against Krasnov as a violation of his right to freedom of conscience.'

Tanya Lokshina, Russia Program Director at Human Rights Watch, has written about the case of Viktor Krasnov: 'This absurd trial, however, fits well within the increasingly aggressive campaign by the Russian government to stifle free expression online with the use of numerous restrictive laws pushed through parliament since Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin. The law on “offending religious feelings of believers” appears to be one of the tools created by the authorities specifically for the purpose of narrowing the space for free expression in Russia.'

Photo: RFE/RL

'Russian atheist faces year in jail for denying existence of God during webchat,' The Guardian, 3 March 2016
Tom Balmforth, 'Russian Man Could Be Jailed For Saying God Doesn't Exist,' RFE/RL, 2 March 2016
Misuse of Anti-Extremism in October 2015, Sova Centre, 13 November 2015
Tanya Lokshina, 'Dispatches: Prosecuted in Russia for Lack of Faith,' Human Rights Watch, 3 March 2016