Russia’s Supreme Court has sharply narrowed when people can be charged under the country’s extremism laws, saying that simply “liking” or reposting material on social media does not alone constitute a crime.
The September 20 ruling follows a string of recent cases in which Russians have been charged for publishing materials, sometimes satirical, to social-media platforms such as VKontakte and Facebook.
Kremlin critics say that the cases are part of an ongoing government crackdown on online speech and that the authorities have used extremism laws to stifle dissent.
Vladimir Davydov, a deputy chairman of the court, told reporters on September 20 that merely reposting material on social media doesn’t automatically mean it’s a crime.
Authorities must prove there was intent to foment hatred or ethnic hostility, he said.
“Judges…should check not the actual fact of publication, not the ‘repost,’ not the ‘like,’ but they should check the actual motives,” he said.
He said the court would also review earlier convictions on extremism-related charges.
A growing number of Russians have been caught up by authorities’ strict -- and some say overly broad --interpretation of the country’s extremism laws.
Last year, a 27-year-old man in the city of Cheboksary was found guilty of "mass distribution of extremist materials" when he reposted a news item about his earlier conviction for reposting "extremist" content.
Authorities have also taken a dim view of satirical material and online publications, such as Internet memes, that poke fun at religious figures and beliefs.
In August, a 38-year-old man in the city of Barnaul was charged for a social-media posting that lampooned the head of the Russian Orthodox Church for wearing a pricey wristwatch.