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Russian activist charged over Facebook post amid ‘crackdown’ on social media

Facebook on a laptop. (PxHere/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the Russian authorities to drop the case against an opposition activist who is facing administrative charges for posting an infographic from a news outlet backed by former oil tycoon and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

The charges against Aleksandr Korovainy are “consistent with the authorities’ wider crackdown on online expression,” the New York-based human rights watchdog said in a statement on March 22, urging the authorities to “stop exploiting vaguely worded laws to go after critics.”

Korovainy, 34, lives in the town of Yeysk in the southern region of Krasnodar.

He is a member of the Yabloko opposition party and a deputy of Yeysk’s municipal council.

On March 14, Korovainy was informed by the prosecutor’s office that charges had been filed against him under a 2015 law against “undesirable organizations,” according to the HRW statement.

It added that the move came after Korovainy last month shared on his Facebook page a graphic from MBK Media comparing prices of household items in 2009 and 2019.

The prosecutor alleged that the post was related to Open Russia, a civic movement also established by Khodorkovsky, HRW said.

The legislation on “undesirable organizations,” which critics say is designed to prevent nongovernmental organizations from promoting democratic institutions in Russia, enables the government to ban the groups and prosecute those who work with them.

In 2017, the Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office declared Open Russia “undesirable,” and those who support the group have come under “increasing pressure” from the authorities, HRW said.

However, MBK Media, which is blocked in Russia, has not been designated as “undesirable.”

But the prosecutor said that MBK Media and Open Russia were “the same thing because MBK stands for Mikhail Borisovich Khordokovsky.”

Korovainy, who faces a maximum 15,000 ruble fine ($233) if convicted, said he believed the case against him was “intended to pressure me to stop my protest activities,” according to HRW.

In 2017, Korovainy spent 10 days in jail and was fired from his teaching job after taking part in a protest against corruption.