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Facebook Post Spells Legal Trouble for Russian Charity

Judge Putin. Images remixed by Andrey Tselikov.

Judge Putin. Images remixed by Andrey Tselikov.

A Facebook post that got one Russian journalist fired last month continues to make trouble on the RuNet. Earlier, RuNet Echo reported [Global Voices report] that Alexander Erenko of Perm was canned after he re-posted a tongue-in-cheek status update calling for Putin to invade his city, just like he did with Crimea, in order to improve living conditions there. Ironically, at the time, Roman Romaneko, the author of the original post [ru], was not affected. However, this soon changed.

Two weeks later, on March 17, 2014, Romanenko reported [ru] that no less than the governor of Vologodsk (Romananenko's home town) had filed a complaint against him with the local prosecutor's office because of the jocular post. Romanenko also said that because of the complaint he was quizzed by an investigator from the prosecutor's office, who asked him if he had proof that living conditions in the region were as deplorable as his post suggested:

Вопросы были такого плана: есть ли у вас факты и документы, свидетельствующие о развале сельского хозяйства? Ответы были такого рода – отъедьте на десять километров от Вологды и сами посмотрите.

The questions were of this sort: do you have facts and documents that show that local agriculture is breaking down? The answers were of this sort — take a trip ten kilometers away from Vologda and take a look yourself.

Romanenko seemed to deal with the inconvenience in good spirits, although he did note that “a sense of humor isn't a bad quality for a politician to have.” This type of harassment, he continued, might give the region a reputation of a place where people are “persecuted for jokes.”

The powers that be apparently did not heed this gentle warning — two weeks later, on April 4, a local healthcare charity that Romanenko helms ran into legal trouble, which he says [ru] is politically motivated:

Сегодня четыре сотрудника отдела областного УВД из отдела по борьбе с экономическими преступлениями начали оперативно-розыскные действия в отношении благотворительного фонда «Хорошие люди», который я возглавляю. Изъяты и вывезены все бухгалтерские документы. [...] в стадию обострения все перешло после моего шуточного обращения к президенту о вводе войск в Вологодскую область.

Today four members of the regional Internal Affairs department for economic crime began investigating the charity fund “Good People,” which I am the head of. They have confiscated all accounting records. [...] the whole thing entered an acute stage after my jocular entreaty to the president to invade the Vologodsk region.

After Novaya Gazeta covered [ru] this story a few days later, it began to spread through social networks, including the popular VKontakte news community Lentach [ru] (formerly run by Lenta.ru, but given over to the users when the old editorial team left the newspaper). Novaya Gazeta later reported [ru] that this led to an attack on Lentach by a team of bots, after Kuvshinnikov, the governor of Vologodsk, demonstratively left the community.

It seems that Romanenko's troubles might be just starting. Yulia Arsenieva, another person associated with the “Good People” charity, wrote [ru] on April 9 that investigators began interviewing sick people who were helped by the fund in the past. For now, she says, they are summoning people with hematological disorders, “those who can walk on their own.”

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