A Russian court on Tuesday sentenced a blogger to five years in a penal colony for a tweet calling for attacks on the children of police, a ruling his lawyer said was unprecedented.
Vladislav Sinitsa, 30, posted the tweet in the wake of a police crackdown against protesters who have called for free elections.
‘It's an act of intimidation,’ said lawyer Denis Tikhonov after a Moscow district court found Sinitsa guilty of inciting hatred.
The charges fall under Russia's harsh anti-extremism legislation. Tikhonov told AFP the sentence was ‘without precedent in its severity’.
The ruling also comes in the context of an ongoing squeeze on internet freedoms in Russia, where social media remain among few outlets offering relative freedom of communication for the opposition.
Sinitsa, who regularly posted on Twitter under the pseudonym Max_Steklov, was detained last month over a tweet he wrote on July 31.
Sinitsa, who is from a town outside Moscow, posted about attending several opposition protests and urged others to go to them.
In one tweet, a reply to a pro-Kremlin blogger, he imagined a situation in which people found the homes of law enforcement officers to kidnap and kill their children.
The post was picked up and reported on by pro-Kremlin media.
Russian investigators said ‘the criminal intent of the defendant was aimed at arousing enmity and hatred towards all law enforcement officers and their family members’.
- 'Dumb post' -
Sinitsa's lawyer said his client admitted to writing ‘this controversial post’ but rejected charges of extremism.
‘He said this post was not a call to anyone, it was a conversation with a political opponent,’ Tikhonov said.
Opposition leader Alexei Navalny said in response to the verdict: ‘Sinitsa wrote a really dumb post about taking revenge on the children of police. Millions of such dumb posts are written every day.’
Navalny said he was constantly receiving such messages via social networks and called the Russian state ‘an idiot’ for giving such a verdict.
Rights lawyer Pavel Chikov wrote on Telegram messenger: ‘Five years in prison for words on the internet. If you really think this is OK, get ready to be next.’
But some public figures praised the verdict.
‘If you open your mouth, you're responsible,’ wrote state media journalist Anna Shafran on Twitter. ‘If you call for killing, you'll go down.’
Popular historian Nikolai Svanidze, who sits on Putin's rights council, criticised Sinitsa's ‘irresponsible statement’ on Echo of Moscow radio station, while calling the verdict ‘pretty tough.’
Sinitsa's case was rushed through in a way his lawyer said was highly unusual and deprived him of a fair trial.
Prosecutors had asked for the maximum possible sentence of six years.
‘It would have been fair to acquit him, at least not to put him in jail,’ his mother told the independent channel TV Rain.
Russia has in recent years increasingly criminalised online content, frequently jailing people for sharing or publishing information deemed extremist or illegal.
The law currently forbids the sharing of content judged extremist, though rights groups say this label is also applied to opposition material.
In July a court jailed a blogger from the industrial city of Tolyatti for one year for making ‘public calls for terrorism’ with a tweet about a suicide bomb attack on the offices of the FSB security agency.
In 2017, a video blogger was convicted of inciting hatred against believers by posting videos showing him chasing Pokemons in a church, but received only a suspended sentence.
Also on Tuesday, a court sentenced an opposition protester to three years in prison after he pleaded guilty to attacking a policeman.