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Russia is putting people who post memes on trial for extremism

Memes are a human right

Meme culture is so pervasive that we’ve all begun to think in memes. However, the Russian government does not find them funny at all. In regions around the country young people are being labelled extremists and facing prison time for sharing the humorous images online.

Russia has been cracking down on so-called extremism for a number of years. A Kremlin human rights council said recently that convictions under extremism laws had quadrupled since 2011. There were over 600 cases last year. Teenager Daniil Markin is one such case, having posted a meme of a Game of Thrones character’s face superimposed on the body of Jesus that said: “Jon Snow is risen!” When anti-extremism police came to Markin’s home with a search warrant last July, they took his electronic devices and brought him in for interrogation. After they found the meme they interpreted as mocking Christianity, they added him to Russia’s registry of extremists – the same list that will also include suspected terrorists.

Meanwhile, 24-year-old Maria Motuznaya who lives in the Siberian city of Barnaul might have to spend six years in prison after a trial sparked by her reposting of a nun meme. The image showed a group of nuns lighting cigarettes in a huddle captioned: “quick, while there’s no God”. The post means she is now also an extremist in the eyes of the law. The move blocks her from making financial transactions or working for many companies. Speaking to The Guardian the teen said: “At least I’m still free and haven’t been locked up yet.”

Not all sections of government agree with the heavy-handed response. The Ministry of Communications recently came out in favour of a proposed law change to eliminate criminal liability for reposting content online. However, this is just one element of the government inflicting control over the online sphere. Recently, Maria Alyokhina of Pussy Riot and a number of supporters were arrested for protesting the ban of encrypted messenger app Telegram.