11 April 2020
Hi. It’s Tanya Torocheshnikova, and this is my letter to you from Moscow, which may soon be shut down – or it won’t. And then the contents of this letter will be fake news – or they won’t.
Where am I going with this? Well, the thing is that last week, as coronavirus figures in Russia shot up, the government finally mobilised… but not against the virus at all, it seems.
For some reason, it started to fight the people.
Primarily, those who break self-isolation rules. No one has really been able to understand what’s off limits. There hasn’t been a word about quarantine, either in regulations laid down by St Petersburg Governor Beglov or in decrees by Moscow Mayor Sobyanin. Everything that’s happening in Moscow, Petersburg, and the regions has come to resemble some sort of game: whoever utters the forbidden words ‘emergency situation’ or ‘quarantine’ loses. Instead, the authorities are adopting incremental amendments, closing a park here, restricting movement there, and issuing fine after fine to people who find themselves out on the streets.
Secondly, the protective measures have affected people who write about the coronavirus. You don’t even necessarily have to go out for that to happen. A law was passed on 1 April that increased fines and made it a crime to spread fake news. A few days later, a cracking report on the identification of such ‘fake news’ showed up on the website of the General Prosecutor’s Office. The best thing in it was this comment below the post where someone started a thread asking whether he could come to St Petersburg’s Murino district, “Everything is shut. The place is crawling with the Federal Russian Guard and the military. Today, running at full pelt and going low, I somehow made it out of Murino. I was injured in the leg.”
In actual fact, things are quiet in Murino – don’t worry! Together with our lawyers, we delved into what fake news is, on what grounds you can be fined for it, and how to behave on social media now (spoiler alert: it’s best to avoid VKontakte).
You can understand people who write things like that. When everything is changing day by day, and the government, instead of explaining what’s happening using normal language, broadcasts some stuff about Pechenegs and Polovtsy, it can be hard to remain calm and collected. Especially given the fact that rumours about cities being shut down or penalties being toughened later turn out to be true.
I mean, in Moscow they’re going to bring in a permit system regardless, but what isn’t clear is how it’s going to work and who is going to collect our data. Likewise, no one knows if this is legal and if it will leave us with a permanent digital trail afterwards. Next week, we and our lawyers will talk a little about how the system for video surveillance of Moscow’s citizens is set up – keep an eye on our social media pages!
Meanwhile, our advice remains as it was: stay at home wherever possible, be careful when it comes to posting news on social media (especially on VKontakte), and don’t panic!
Tanya & Team 29
Translated by Lindsay Munford