Russian feminist charged with ‘inciting hatred’ against men online
A Russian feminist is facing criminal charges and up to five years in prison for “inciting hatred” against men online. The prosecution of 31-year-old Lyubov Kalugina for her posts on Russian social media website VKonkate, is just one example of how the Kremlin is using anti-extremism legislation to crack down on political dissent, according to human rights groups and activists familiar with the issue.
Kalugina has been charged under an article of the Russian Criminal Code that prohibits the “incitement of hatred or enmity on the basis of sex, race, nationality, language, origin, attitude to religion, as well as affiliation to any social group.” The country’s “counter-extremism” law exists to frighten people, Russian feminist Olga Lipovskaya told Russian news outlet MBKh. “Now the authorities are simply expanding their possibilities for repression.”
In August, Kalugina reached out to the Moscow-based SOVA Center for Information Analysis, a nonprofit think tank that monitors the improper application of anti-extremism legislation in Russian courts, to inform them that she was being investigated for social media posts she published between 2013 and 2016. According to SOVA, the Russian authorities cited 12 specific blog posts as problematic, some in which Kalugina addressed divisions internal to the feminist movement, and some in which she expressed her desire for men to suffer (for example, saying she wished some men would die from cancer). The activist has previously described herself as “radical feminist of the separatist breed.”
Concerns about the political misuse of Article 282 are not new. According to international human rights groups, the Russian government has frequently used the law to silence political dissent, especially when it comes to potentially unpopular domestic or foreign policies.
“[T]he authorities have vigorously enforced older laws [like Article 282] to prosecute online speech,” said Human Rights Watch in a 2017 report. “In doing so they have increasingly conflated criticism of the government with ‘extremism,’ especially on certain topics such as the occupation of Crimea, criticism or satire regarding the Russian Orthodox Church, or Russia’s armed intervention in Syria.” The Committee to Protect Journalists has long warned that Russia’s anti-extremist laws could be used to repress press freedom in the country.
Until recently, it was rare for individuals to be prosecuted under Article 282 for inciting hatred on the basis of sex, according to MBKh. The site identified several cases in which both feminists and “misogynists” had faced criminal charges for online posts. One man was apparently prosecuted after posting an image of a man striking a woman, alongside text in which the author expressed his opinions about women and their inherent qualities.
SOVA has publicly opposed the criminal prosecution of Kalugina. The aggressive rhetoric in her posts are typical of the radical feminist movement, said the organization in August, but that doesn’t mean the posts pose a real danger, since feminists have rarely resorted to violence in the real world.
In an August interview with U.S. government–funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Kalugina resolutely denied that she was guilty of the alleged crime. “I don’t think there is any reason whatsoever to charge me with hate speech toward anyone,” she said. “[Ninety] percent of the content consists of jokes or infighting with other feminists.”
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