Blogger threatened with libel case over election law violation claim
17 Jan 12

Popular Russian blogger Oleg Kozyrev has been threatened with a defamation lawsuit by Moscow Region Election Committee for filing a complaint on alleged election law violations.

“Clearly this is an example of pressure against bloggers who succeeded on election law violations reporting,” Kozyrev told Index. “This may be regarded as a part of the Central Election Committee policy which is likely to take vengeance on bloggers by initiating show trials”, he concluded.

Two months ago Kozyrev filed a complaint to the Central Election Committee in the time leading up to Russia’s parliamentary elections on 4 December. He complained that the posters used by Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party were far too similar to those used by the committee to remind citizens to vote.

The blogger said that it was likely that the posters could confuse voters by leading them to believe that the state supported one party — United Russia. According to Kozyrev, this could compromise the impartiality of the election commission, and place political parties on different footing, which is against the law. Kozyrev used Russian election statutes to support his allegations, and asked that the Central Election Committee take down the confusing posters, and investigate whether or not United Russia also violated the law with their campaign materials.

Moscow mayor and secretary of the local chapter of United Russia, Sergey Sobyanin, slammed Kozyrev’s complaint, claiming that the resemblance between the posters did not  violate the law. Sobyanin told Itogi magazine two weeks before the election that there was no use in “stretching the truth” and that when talking about United Russia in Moscow, they “imply that the party and city superiors are in fact, the same unit.”

After the elections, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) filed a report reiterating the concerns of activists, stating that the parliamentary elections were “marked by the convergence of the State and the governing party.”

In late December Oleg Kozyrev received two replies to his concerns—one from Moscow Election Committee, the other from Moscow Region Committee. Both committees refuted his claims, and said that the United Russia posters did not violate the law. Moscow Region Committee head Irek Vildanov added that Kozyrev’s complaints had “no proper proof, do not meet reality and are slanderous, undermining the Committee’s reputation.” The blogger’s complaint was then forwarded to the local prosecution office, and the Ministry of Interior department as well as Investigative committee are both seeking an investigation of Kozyrev for slander.

Kozyrev remains optimistic, as he thinks that Vildanov’s attempt to prosecute him will not be pursued, as prosecution of citizens for their complaints is against the law in Russia. The State Duma also amended the Criminal Code to  decriminalise defamation. Still, he is concerned, as bloggers who actively monitored the recent parliamentary elections have been threatened with prosecution. As Russian general prosecutor Yuri Chaika said in January, the administrative punishment for slander “is still quite sensible financially”. On his blog, Kozyrev wrote that such threats are merely “the authorities’ attempt not only to punish bloggers for their successful coverage of election fraud, but also to smooth out the information field on the eve of presidential elections.”