In Yekaterina Vologzheninova’s opinion, the only things she might be guilty of are her daughter’s messy bedroom and unwashed dishes.
Authorities in Russia, however, believe otherwise, and have charged the single mom with inciting ethnic hatred for sharing links related to the Ukraine conflict on social media.
Vologzheninova faces up to four years in prison depending on the outcome of her trial, which began earlier this month at a Yekaterinburg court.
In the summer of 2014, Vologzheninova tells RFE/RL’s Current Time, she sought to learn more about the crisis in Ukraine and found material on the Internet that was not in line with the Russian government’s narrative. In order to share the material with online acquaintances, she posted links to her page on the Russian social-media site VKontakte.
Among the links she posted were to the film The Winter That Changed Us, a film depicting the pro-Western demonstrations that ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich in February 2014.
Another was to the Ukrainian TV show Brave Hearts, which centers on Ukrainian government forces and volunteers fighting against Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
What the 46-year-old shop assistant didn’t know was that her 52 virtual “friends” were not the only ones following her page; Russia’s special services were also aware of her online activity.
In December, she says, police searched the apartment she shares with her 12-year-old daughter, and her laptop, a tablet, a digital camera, and several CDs were confiscated.
Only recently did she receive a letter explaining the charges against her: “Inciting hatred against social groups, against militiamen-volunteers from Russia, who fight on the side of the militia, against authorities in modern Russia.”
She reads from the indictment, which singles out six publications she is alleged to have referred to on her VKontakte page.
Russia’s Investigative Committee reportedly carried out the raid and believes the postings are in violation of Russia’s policy with respect to Ukraine. Specifically, she has been charged under Article 282 of the Criminal Code, pertaining to the incitement of ethnic hatred and denigrating human dignity.
Vologzheninova says that she did not understand the accusations, and had held out hope that the charges would be dropped. But just days before her case’s first preliminary hearing was to be held on October 13, her bank accounts and cards were blocked.
“So that I don’t send financial help to any terrorist organizations,” Vologzheninova explains jokingly to RFE/RL’s Current Time. “I don’t know what they meant — [the Islamic State extremist group] or the [Ukrainian ultranationalist group] Right Sector, maybe.”
Russian authorities have also included Vologzheninova’s name on the list of terrorist supporters published on the home page of the Federal Service for Financial and Budgetary Supervision.
Vologzheninova’s lawyer has filed a counterclaim, saying he wonders why she deserves such an “honor.”
“Our legislators couldn’t care less about the presumption of innocence, which implies that a person is considered innocent until the court’s decision comes into force,” says Roman Kachanov, who is representing Vologzheninova.
“She was included on the list during the preliminary investigation,” the lawyer adds. “We are not satisfied with this, we consider this to be procedural pressure on the court.”
The defense has objected to the preliminary hearing being held held behind closed doors, and requested that the court send the case back to the prosecution on the basis that the charges are unfounded. The request was rejected, however.
“Simply copying or sharing links to [extremist] posts is already a crime,” Sverdlovsk region Senior Attorney Assistant Marina Kanatova tells Current Time. “Therefore, for committing this crime, the woman is being prosecuted.”
The next hearing is scheduled for October 27.
Vologzheninova warns that the case against her shows that politics and social media in today’s Russia are incompatible
It is not the first time Russia has prosecuted a social media user for posting material related to the Ukraine crisis.
In September, a court in Tatarstan found the chairman of the Tatar Public Center — an NGO that campaigns to preserve Tatars’ national identity, language, and culture — guilty of calling for separatism and inciting ethnic hatred. Rafis Kashapov was sentenced to three years in prison.
Kashapov had placed articles on the Internet harshly criticizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014 and Moscow’s involvement in the Ukraine conflict.
More than 7,900 people have been killed in the conflict between Ukrainian government forces and the Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine since April 2014.
By Yekaterina Ponomaryova, RFE/RL