NOVGOROD, Russia — A court in Russia’s northwestern region of Novgorod has fined a pensioner for an “insulting” social media post because a person in the picture “looked like” President Vladimir Putin, the latest example of Moscow’s harsh crackdown on dissent.
Nikolai Pylayev told RFE/RL on February 9 that the Novgorod district court had ordered him to pay 15,000 rubles ($200) — 4,000 rubles more than his monthly pension — for posting a photo on social media in 2012 that showed a man urinating on a poster, which depicted “a person who looked like” President Putin. The poster was glued onto the lower part of an electrical pole on a street.
Pylayev was found guilty of “insulting authorities,” an offense added to the Criminal Code in 2019, while, according to the 63-year-old retiree, the picture first appeared on the Internet a decade ago.
“I told them, please prove that it is Putin. Because they clearly say, it’s a ‘person who looks like Putin,'” he said.
“They asked me where I got the picture. I said the posters were hanging on each pole before the election [in 2012]. One was hanging on the upper part of a pole. Somebody put it to the lower part and peed on it. I told them, what is the big deal? There were dogs peeing on it, too. Are you going to catch the dogs as well?” Pylayev said, adding that he does not plan to pay the fine.
Many opposition activists and politicians have left Russia in recent years amid an increasing crackdown on opposition groups and independent media that has lately targeted regular citizens as well.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in December that Russian authorities have “redoubled their efforts” over the past year to repress online freedoms, citing the blocking of tools used to circumvent censorship, expanding “oppressive” Internet laws, and pressure on tech companies to comply with “increasingly stifling regulations.”