16 June 2022
Olga Smirnova has been remanded in custody on charges of spreading ‘fake news’ about the Russian army for posts on the VKontakte social media site
Source: Human Rights Project ‘Support for Political Prisoners. Memorial’
The Human Rights Project ‘Support for Political Prisoners. Memorial,’ in accordance with international criteria, considers the St. Petersburg activist Olga Smirnova a political prisoner. She is being prosecuted for her anti-war publications on social media. Smirnova’s prosecution violates the right to freedom of expression and is intended to intimidate all Russian opponents of the war against Ukraine.
We demand that Olga Smirnova be released immediately from custody and that all charges against her be dropped.
Who is Olga Smirnova and what are the charges against her?
Olga Smirnova is an architect and artist, an activist and a participant in the initiative group ‘Peaceful Resistance – St. Petersburg‘.
On 5 May 2022 officers of the St. Petersburg police Centre for Combating Extremism conducted searches of the homes of five activists – Olga Smirnova, Tatyana Sichkareva, Asan Mumdzhi, Vlad Shipitsyn and Ilya Tkachenko.
After the searches, Olga Smirnova was charged under Article 207.3, Part 2, of the Russian Criminal Code. She was accused of publishing posts online about the war in Ukraine and about anti-war protests in St. Petersburg in early March 2022, as well as organizing a protest on 6 March 2022. Smirnova does not deny that she published the posts in question on social media but categorically denies that they constitute a crime. The other activists were questioned as witnesses after the searches and were released.
On 6 May 2022, Olga Smirnova was remanded in custody.
Why do we consider Olga Smirnova a political prisoner?
We are certain that Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code concerning dissemination of information known to be false about the actions of the Russian army contradicts the Russian Constitution, Russia’s international obligations, and fundamental principles of law.
Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states: ‘Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression.’ Restrictions on the exercise of these rights ‘shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary: (a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; (b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.’ It is clear to us that the restrictions on freedom of expression introduced by Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code do not serve any of the aforementioned purposes and are a form of censorship.
Article 207.3 criminalizes any statements about the actions of the Russian armed forces and the activities of Russian state bodies abroad. In the course of an armed conflict, it is often not possible to establish the accuracy of information disseminated by various sources. Still less is it possible to establish whether or not it is known that information is false. These deficiencies determine the unlawful nature of Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code.
The timing and context of the introduction of Article 207.3 into the Russian Criminal Code – after the beginning of large-scale Russian military aggression against Ukraine – allow us to assert that this article was created specifically as a means to prosecute critics of the Russian authorities, of whom Olga Smirnova is one.
We particularly note that the systematic persecution of Smirnova for her civil society activities has been going on for a number of years. Previously, she had been repeatedly arrested for holding single-person protests and in October 2021 an attempt was made to institute criminal proceedings against here for justifying terrorism (Article. 205.2 of the Russian Criminal Code) when she held single-person protests against the prosecution of Crimean Muslims on suspicion of involvement in the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir.
More information about the case of Olga Smirnova and the position of the Human Rights Project are available on our Telegram channel.
Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner or as a victim of a politically motivated prosecution does not imply the Human Rights Project ‘Support for Political Prisoners. Memorial,’ agrees with, or approves of, their views, statements, or actions.
How can you help?
You can write to Olga Smirnova at the following address:
In Russian: 195009, Санкт-Петербург, ул. Арсенальная, д. 11, ФКУ СИЗО-5 УФСИН России по Санкт-Петербургу и Ленинградской области, Смирновой Ольге Борисовне 1968 г.р.
In English: Olga Borisovna Smirnova (born 1968), Remand Centre No. 5 of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service for St. Petersburg and Leningrad region, 11 Arsenalnaya Street, St. Petersburg, 195009
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Translated by Rights in Russia