Human Rights Project ‘Support for Political Prisoners. Memorial’: Smolensk-based bloggers Ruslan Bobiev and Anastasia Chistova are political prisoners

18 April 2022

In October 2021 Bobiev and Chistova were sentenced to 10 months in prison for a photograph of simulated oral sex in front of St Basil’s Cathedral

Source: Human Rights Project ‘Support for Political Prisoners. Memorial’

The Human Rights Project ‘Support for Political Prisoners. Memorial’ considers the bloggers Ruslan Bobiev (real name Ruslani Murodzhonzod) and Anastasia Chistova political prisoners in line with international criteria. They have been deprived of liberty solely for the non-violent exercise of freedom of expression in violation of rights guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and in the absence of evidence of a crime.

We believe their prosecution has been unlawful, both in terms of the merits of the case and because of the particular circumstances. The harsh sentence for insulting the feelings of believers under Article 148 of the Russian Criminal Code, an article which directly contradicts the Russian Constitution, demonstrates the Russian authorities’ inability to accept any form of critical reinterpretation of symbols that have come to have a sacred meaning in Russian public discourse.

We demand that the wrongful convictions of Bobiev and Chistova be quashed and that they be released immediately.

What are the charges against the bloggers?

On 29 September 2021 Ruslan Bobiev (Ruslani Murodzhonzod), a blogger from Tajikistan, posted on his Instagram page a photo of himself with model Anastasia Chistova in front of St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. In the picture, the blogger and the woman, the latter wearing a jacket with the word ‘police’ on it, simulated oral sex. The caption of the photo read: ‘The Labour Code is not the Criminal Code, you can also violate it.’ 

On 2 October 2021 it became known a criminal case had been filed regarding the Instagram publication for the offence of insulting religious feelings (Article 148, Part 1, of the Russian Criminal Code).

On 29 October 2021 a court sentenced Bobiev and Chistova to 10 months in a general regime penal colony. The bloggers were immediately taken into custody in the courtroom.

Why do we consider them political prisoners?

Having studied the materials of the case against the bloggers, we conclude the criminal prosecution of Ruslan Bobiev (Ruslani Murodzhonzod) and Anastasia Chistova has been politically motivated.

We believe there is no evidence of a crime in the bloggers’ actions. Not only is Article 148 of the Russian Criminal Code regarding insulting the feelings of believers itself unlawful, but the actions of the bloggers have been intentionally misclassified.

Article 148 not only fails to meet the requirements of legal certainty, clarity and unambiguity, but also contradicts several articles of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, namely Article 14, that asserts the secular nature of the Russian state, and Articles 28 and 29, that provide for freedom of conscience and speech. 

Bobiev and Chistova took the photograph in a public place which has no relation to a religious site. No person claimed to have had their religious feelings insulted or that there were other violations of public order during the photo shoot.

The essence of the charges amounts to a charge of blasphemy, which clearly contradicts the secular nature of the Russian state.

The bloggers’ prosecution falls within the logic of a return to ‘traditional values’ in line with which Russian authorities act repressively against those who, in their opinion, encroach on sacred symbols of state or religion.

At the same time, it is also important to note the logic of the prosecution for actions interpreted as offensive to the Russian security forces: Chistova was wearing a police uniform jacket during the photo shoot. In other words, once again, the state is trying to impose on society the idea of a special, higher status for law enforcement officers.

A more detailed description of the case and the position of the Human Rights Project are set out on our Telegram channel.  

Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner or a victim of 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 you can help

You can donate to support political prisoners via the YooMoney account of the Union of Solidarity with Political Prisoners

Translated by Rights in Russia

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