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Russia: Blogger Detained for Spreading Bombing Rumors

Internet Access

Internet Access, by whurleyvision

Russian maritime region of Primorsky krai seems to be too far (some 8,944 km) from Moscow to notice what is going on in the capital. This is why Vladivostok, center of Primorie, often has a very different agenda: local news and traffic jams are more interesting for its netizens than, let's say, nationalistic riots in the Moscow's center. This is why the detention of a 20-year old Ilya Korol, IT student and an blogger from Ussuriysk (satellite of Vladivostok), became an important event in the regional blogosphere.

On January 26, two days following the Domodedovo bombings, Korol allegedly (the blog post is currently not available) wrote in his Mail.ru microblog:

Следующий теракт проведем в Пулково, с тротиллом и шахидками.

We will carry out the next terroristic act in Pulkovo, with TNT and shahidki (Islamist female suicide bombers).

The last part of the phrase can be interpreted as a reference to the popular RuNet meme “with blackjack and hookers” borrowed from Futurama cartoon series, the detail that underscores a black humor intonation of the posting. Still there's no evidence it was just a joke.

Wherever it was joke or not, police's reaction was straightforward. It took three days for security services to find Korol and arrest him. News portals informed [RUS] that blogger has already confessed and repented. Moreover, the representative of Pulkovo airport security demanded [RUS] a show trial:

Очень жаль, что находятся люди, способные на такие жестокие шутки. Судить этого шутника надо показательно, освещать во всех СМИ, чтобы другим в следующий раз неповадно было

That's a pity that there are people capable of making such cruel jokes. There should be a show trial over this joker, the trial covered by all the mass media, so that others won't do the same again.

The crackdown on blogger can be explained by the will of Security Services to regain the trust from the society and the government after the bombings. After the suicide bombings, a lot of people raised a question that, despite increasing financing of security the terroristic acts, keeps repeating. Netizens pointed out that this security enthusiasm was in need before the attack. Nim exclaimed [RUS]:

Лучше бы так реальных террористов искали. А то поймали шутника и все: какие мы крутые! Где был этот ваш […] “комплекс оперативно- розыскных мероприятий с применением специальных технических средств” , когда террористы взрывали бомбы в метро, в Домодедово? В Википедии за один только 2010- й года перечислено 25 террористических актов. Гже была тогда ваша бдительность, уважаемые спецы? Обидно.

You’d better be looking for the real terrorists. Or they caught the joker and that’s it: we are so cool! Where was this your […] “complex of search operations with the use of the special technical means” when terrorists bombed the subway and Domodedovo? Wikipedia listed 25 terrorist attacks in 2010 only. Where was your vigilance then, dear professionals? It's a shame.

Another blogger matvienko_vlc pointed out [RUS] that “residents simply think that the ‘robust security regime’ is the only ‘necessary measure aimed at preventing terrorist act,’ but in fact these ‘measures’ start only after a ‘call from Ussuriysk’ and do not apply to the ‘robust security regime.'”

Now, Korol is waiting for his prosecution under the Article 207 of the Criminal Code “Consciously false report of a terrorist act.” Depending on the verdict, he will either have to pay the fine (about $6,800) or would have to spend around 200 hours at corrective works. As a maximum penalty, he may be imprisoned for three years. But it's highly unlikely given the fact that he confessed.

It is clear that these types of jokes are not appropriate under any circumstances. Yet there are several questions raised in this regard. Since Korol didn't advertise it, how did security services found out a short message in the other hemisphere? Does that mean there's a secret content surveillance system? Finally, why it took three days for the security services to find the blogger?

If such content surveillance system exists, it will be reinforced starting from February 7, 2011. “League of Internet Safety,” as Radio Free Europe reported in a detailed article, “a heavyweight organization … [aiming] to fight against child pornography and … police other ‘negative” content'” just had its launch. As an important part of the initiative, Press and Communications Minister Shchyogolev proposed forming cybersquads (groups of cyber volunteers, suspiciously reminding China's “50 cent party”) that would report “dangerous” content.

Besides content monitoring, netizens are concerned that this measure will be used as a tool to silence the oppositional voices. At the same time, some people are concerned that the budget money dedicated for that project will be stolen. As blogger nil_desperadum put it [RUS]:

Под эгидой борьбы с детской порнографией, что совершенно необходимо, нам втюхивают политическую цензуру. […] Призыв на митинг будут трактовать как экстремизм. Видимо, испугались скорости сбора протестующих на демонстрации в Египте.

Under the auspices of combating child pornography, which is absolutely necessary, we are being sold a political censorship. […] The call for a protest will be treated as extremism. Apparently they are frightened by the speed of the protesters gathered at the demonstrations in Egypt.

Hopefully, Russia will not follow China in its enthusiasm to regulate the Internet. It seems, however, that Kremlin realized all the power of social networks and blogging in the process of mass mobilization. Not a surprise, but the news about the “League of Internet Safety” made Russia netizens feel neither more secure nor safer in their blogging.

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