On July 7, 2016, Vladimir Putin signed into law the so-called Yarovaya Amendment to Russia’s anti-extremism laws. The amendment assigns sweeping new powers to security forces, beefs up controls of social media and telephone calls, and broadens the definition of extremism crimes. Paraded before the public as an anti-terrorism measure, its real purpose is to shield the Putin regime from internal dissent and unrest, especially with parliamentary elections forthcoming on September 18.
Among its more onerous provisions is the threat of criminal penalties for re-posting or “liking” articles on social media that the regime considers hostile. All the Russian government would need to do is claim that a writer was a terrorist inciting his naïve Russian puppets to commit “extremist acts” through his disgraceful publications, and the Yarovaya Amendment would apply to his writings. The Russian state has no choice, it says, but to defend itself against the “information war” launched by the United States and its “support of radical Islamist and other radical ideological trends.”
It makes the failure to report a crime a crime itself, requires communications providers to store calls and emails for six months and provide encryption keys, and it extends the new list of extremism crimes to minors. (Minors are after all likely demonstrators). The new law also stiffens penalties for re-posting information deemed extremist. A Facebook user can now be prosecuted for clicking a “like” on an offensive posting.
John McCain’s International Republican Institute (IRI ) has been ordered shut down as “a threat to the basic constitutional order of the Russian Federation and its state security.” The Kremlin shows good timing. Both Golos and IRI would have served as election monitors for the parliamentary election coming up in three weeks.
Russia’s expanded anti-extremism laws are, it seems, especially obsessed with protecting the Kremlin’s Ukraine narrative. The definition of extremism now includes “providing false information about historical facts and events.” Recent convictions are of “extremists,” who question the legality of the Crimean annexation and who believe that Donbass “separatists” are directed by the Russian state. Condemned extremists include a 46-year-old single mother sentenced to 320 hours of corrective labor for reposting an “insulting and degrading” Putin look-alike, holding a knife over a map of Ukraine’s Donbas region. An engineer was sentenced to 27 months in prison for reposting “Crimea is Ukraine.” The director of a Library of Ukrainian Literature was charged with extremism after “anti-Russian” books were allegedly discovered in its collection.
Insofar as my published accounts of the Russo-Ukraine War are diametrically opposed to the Kremlin’s version, a corrupt Russian court could accuse me of “providing false” (i.e., true) “information about historical facts and events.”
Crimean election results, found buried in a Crimean assimilation report by Putin’s own Human Rights Council. The Council reported that the turnout was between 30 and 50 percent. Of these, between 50 to 60 percent voted for annexation. If we take mid points, less than half of voters cast ballots, a slim majority of these voted in favor, meaning only 22 percent of Crimean voters actually voted for annexation. The lackluster support of the Crimean people, likely Ukraine’s strongest advocates of joining Russia, is remarkable in the face of threats of Russian Kalashnikovs, the disenfranchisement of Crimean Tatars, and other forms of voter manipulation and intimidation.
Although my piece was read by a third of a million readers and was picked up in major press reports, the Russian version of “historical facts and events” prevails. Putin’s propaganda machine, both at home and abroad, has overwhelmed what I consider to be the real story of the Crimean annexation with its repeated lies. The first change of postwar boundaries by military force was therefore justified on the basis of one out of five voters voting for annexation and a turnout below fifty percent.
Under the Yarovaya Amendment, it’s entirely conceivable that my Russian readers could go to jail for reading and liking my writings. Because the official Russian line on Crimea and Ukraine differs from the truth, any writer who describes the truth, under Russian law, is now an “extremist.” Putin’s “parallel universe” of “alternate reality” that has shocked world leaders does not reflect the truth, but the Russian people must accept it as truth, or face punishment.