Russia: Extortionate fine for airing drug legalization interview a repressive act of censorship

Reacting to the huge fine levied on independent Russian online newspaper 7x7 for broadcasting an interview in which a politician expressed support for the legalization of drugs, Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said:

“The extortionate fine imposed on 7x7 is ridiculous. This is an act of censorship and a blatant violation of freedom of expression that must be reversed immediately.

“The Russian authorities seem to believe that they can address topical societal issues by shutting down any public debate about them – on this occasion, by using draconian laws to persecute an independent media outlet.

“The government has already banned public discussion of various topics, such as LGBTI rights, and has labelled peaceful political dissent as ‘extremism’. The fine against 7x7 is, without doubt, a message to all Russian media that there will be severe consequences for discussing subjects of public interest that are uncomfortable for the government.”

The fine against 7x7 is, without doubt, a message to all Russian media that there will be severe consequences for discussing subjects of public interest that are uncomfortable for the government
Marie Struthers, Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International

Background

Well-known online newspaper 7x7 is one of the few independent media outlets in Russia. It regularly covers topical human rights issues and provides a platform to people with views that are critical of the government. It is one of Amnesty International’s media partners for the #TeamBrave campaign.

On 20 June, the Krasnozatonsky Court in Syktyvkar, Komi Republic, northern Russia, fined the media outlet 800,000 roubles (US$ 13,000) under Article 6.13 of the Code of Administrative Offences (“propaganda of narcotic substances”).

The judicial proceedings were instigated by the Russian media regulator, Roskomnadzor, after the broadcast of an interview in March 2018 with one of the leaders of the Libertarian Party, Mikhail Svetov, in which he discussed the legalization of cannabis.

The expert commissioned by Roskomnadzor concluded that a number of Svetov’s statements amounted to propaganda of drug use. The expert focused on phrases such as, “synthetic drugs ... kill people much more effectively than heroin.” According to the expert, these words present heroin “in a more attractive light.”

The editor-in-chief of 7x7 Sofya Krapotkina was additionally fined 40,000 roubles (US$ 670).

The Russian Union of Journalists and Media Workers has called the case an act of censorship.