Leonid Nikitinsky: 15 years. That’s what’s “fake” [1/2]

3 March 2022

by Leonid Nikitinsky, Novaya gazeta correspondent 

Source: Novaya gazeta

Let me explain Article 207.3 of th Russian Criminal Code, which will appear any day now and will make journalists’ work even more dangerous

On the backdrop of everything going on (let’s put it that way), the State Duma is predictably toughening the Criminal Code by laying mines in the information space. According to a TASS report, a high-profile committee has already approved a bill to add Article 207.3  to the Russian Criminal Code: “The public dissemination of information known to be false regarding the use of the Russian Armed Forces.” There is no doubt that these amendments will be approved in three readings any day now.

Spreading fake news (for brevity’s sake) without extenuating circumstances will be punishable by a fine of up to 1.5 million roubles or imprisonment for a term of up to three years. But if it is done for mercenary motives or with the use of an official position, the fine increases to 5 million roubles and the term of imprisonment from five to ten years. If the spreading of fake news entails serious consequences, the term served will be 10-15 years.

The ordinal numeral “207.3” is being conferred based on the “proximity” principle: Article 207 of the Criminal Code applies to any report known to be false about an act of terrorism, while 207.1 and 207.2 were added in the Criminal Code in April 2020 in connection with the pandemic. For “the public spread of publicly significant information known to be false in the guise of reliable reports,” the latter, in particular, stipulates, depending on the severity of the consequences, a penalty from a 700,000-rouble fine to imprisonment for a term of up to five years. 

In principle, this formulation also covers actions that the Duma has decided henceforth to punish with a special article, but its Part 3 (severe consequences), because of its term of punishment, immediately puts this formulation in the “especially severe” category. That means this is a so-called “imprisonment” article, whereby confinement is possible on the basis of the mere severity of the crime alone (such is judicial practice). Severe consequences will be considered to be — again based on practice – people’s death, for instance.

It’s gratifying that the bill preserves in its statement of Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code the feature of information “known to be” false, although, unlike its older sister (207.2), it does not specify its spread “in the guise of reliable reports.” This somewhat eases the investigation’s work, although theoretically it’s not easy to prove a “known” lie either.

This is if we follow the law, but the ambush is that in the current situation no one is going to pay any particular attention to it.

Not so much even judicial as investigative practice will interpret extenuating signs as well. It might turn out that a journalist receiving a salary at an editorial office constitutes a mercenary motive, and a media post becomes “use of official position.”

If the law is followed, the most difficult thing will be proving the causal link between the publication of news “known to be” fake and the consequences, especially if they are “severe.” It’s very difficult to imagine such a link being direct, so no one is going to be bothered with it. They’ll arrest people, put them into custody, and then make the “consequences” fit according to the principle: “this came after, which means as a result of this.”

The danger of journalistic work is mounting, but not especially seriously: the information field is already heavily mined. 

We can reassure ourselves that no one is going to serve 15 years under the new article, and even five is unlikely. The country and the world have begun changing so rapidly that anyone still alive then will get therir freedom, I think, before that.

Translated by Marian Schwartz

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