20 October 2022
Gregory Vinter, prosecuted for ‘fake news’ about the Russian army, was initially remanded in custody but is now under house arrest
The human rights project ‘Political Prisoners. Memorial’ considers Gregory Vinter a political prisoner in accordance with international criteria. His criminal prosecution violates the constitutional right to freedom of expression. The purpose of the prosecution is to silence the voices of those in Russia opposed to the war against Ukraine and to intimidate Russian civil society.
We demand the immediate release of Gregory Vinter and that all criminal charges against him be dropped.
Who is Gregory Winter and why is he being prosecuted?
Gregory Vinter (formerly Grigory Vinter) is a human rights activist from Cherepovets, for many years coordinator of the Vologda branch of the movement For Human Rights.
Vinter has previously been prosecuted under criminal law for his public activities. In 2018 for criticism of deforestation he was charged with insulting the mayor of Cherepovets; in 2020 he spent a month behind bars on charges of spreading allegedly ‘false’ information about a pandemic among prisoners and insulting government officials during a search.
On 4 April 2022 Vinter commented on a report about the killing of civilians by Russian soldiers in Bucha and Irpen near Kiev, writing a number of emotional comments on one of the groups on the VK social media site.
On 24 August the Vologda regional division of the Investigative Committee opened a criminal investigation against Vinter for spreading ‘fake news’ about the Russian army (Article 207.3, Part 2[e] of the Russian Criminal Code).
That same day Vinter was detained, and the next day Cherepovets district court remanded him in custody for the duration of the investigation.
It was not until 19 October that Vinter was released from the remand prison and placed under house arrest.
While held on remand, the human rights defender, who suffers from diabetes, repeatedly complained about problems with his health.
Why do we consider Vinter a political prisoner?
Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code, that criminalises dissemination of information known to be false about the actions of the Russian army, contradicts the Russian Constitution, Russia’s international obligations and basic legal principles.
In particular, according to Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ’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: for respect of the rights or reputations of others; for the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.’ Similar norms are to be found in Article 29 of the Russian Constitution. The restrictions on freedom of expression introduced by Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code do not serve any of the above purposes and are a form of censorship.
Article 207.3 criminalises any statements about the use of the Russian armed forces and the activities of Russia’s government agencies abroad. In the course of an armed conflict, it is not always possible to establish the accuracy of information disseminated by various sources. It is even less possible to establish whether or not the person who spread information considered it to be false. As a result of all these defects, Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code is unlawful in nature.
The timing and context of the adoption of this article – after the start of large-scale Russian military aggression against Ukraine – allow us to assert that it was deliberately created as a means to prosecute those who criticise the Russian authorities. This also applies in full measure to the prosecution of Gregory Vinter.
We note that, the emotional nature of Vinter’s commentaries aside, at that time there had already been considerable confirmation of the massacres of civilians in the occupied towns of Bucha and Irpen to which he referred. The war crimes against civilians that he cites perpetrated during the Chechen war and the siege of Aleppo have been even more thoroughly substantiated and documented by international organisations. As a result, it is not possible to consider Vinter’s published remarks ‘fake news,’ even within the meaning of the above-mentioned unlawful article of the Criminal Code.
More information about the case of Gregory Vinter and the position of the ‘Political Prisoners. Memorial’ project is available on our publishing platform on Telegram.
An up-to-date list of political prisoners in Russia is available on our temporary website.
Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner does not imply the ‘Political Prisoners. Memorial’ project agrees with, or approves of, their views, statements, or actions.
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Translated by Simon Cosgrove