Growing pains despite Putin

Putin's Crackdown on Dissent and Democracy continues

Public outcry followed the controversial decision and consequential election to reinstate Vladimir Putin as the Russian Premier. Although thousands protested in the streets, government forces predictably cracked down on them. In June of this year, security laws were subsequently updated. New allowances for law enforcement make it not only a crime to participate in unauthorized protests, but organisers can also be held responsible for any damage or violence that takes place during a protest.

The Duma has also introduced legislation which would attempt to censor the internet by creating a specialised federal agency. The new organisation would be tasked with shutting down "infringing" websites and criminalising "defamation" on the internet, which would be punishable by up to five years imprisonment and $160,000 in fines. Internet service providers would additionally be responsible for installing expensive censoring equipment, which would be arranged by the agency, intended to filter illegal content. Effectively, this means that dissent and protest are to become increasingly more difficult, and the government has a large "grey-zone" in which "illegal content" may be defined.

There have also been several arrests accompanying the protests.

Currently the most famous case is that of the "Pussy Riot" punkband. The feminist musicians stormed the Altar area of a Cathedral of the Russian Orthodox Church and performed a "punk rock prayer". This action came in reaction to the patriarch of the church calling for followers to vote for Putin. Russia does have a formal separation of Church and State, which makes this action very controversial.

Three members of the Band have been imprisoned since February and are still awaiting Trial, while being presented with a formal charge totaling 2,800 pages. Their defense has claimed several setbacks by the courts and the prisoners have been reported to be severely deprived of sleep and food. Several prominent politicians and human rights groups have campaigned for their release, and even the jury reportedly wanted to release them of their charges, before it was disbanded by the courts. The three women are charged with "hooliganism" and may face up to 7 years in prison for their short performance. Two of the three artists have small children.

Another famous case is that of opposition leader and blogger Alexei Navalny being charged with Theft while he was a regional adviser in 2009. He has publicly dismissed the charges as both "absurd" and "strange", as he was previously charged with a different crime on the same case. The change in the charge may carry up to ten years in prison if he is convicted. Until then, he has been conveniently placed under house-arrest by the Russian authorities and may not leave his town without explicit police permission.

Alexei Navalny first gained public attention in the protests last December, when Putin's Russia United Party won under allegations of fraud. He acted as a centerpiece in many of the protests and managed to organize up to 100,000 people in the streets of Moscow. He was also charged with several crimes then and received short periods of jail-time, though never anything as serious as this.

This comes at a time when Russia is also defending Syria's "right" to crack down on dissent and deny its citizens free speech in a public forum.


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