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Russia's Latest Human Rights Celebrity Is a Nut Case

The author is an academic specialising in Russian and Ukrainian affairs, currently professor of political science at the University of Rhode Island

As a rule, I do not favor punitive measures for hate speech, since they tend to have a chilling effect on public discourse. In line with most Western countries, however, Russia has laws that restrict speech that incites to violence.

<figcaption>Off with their heads!  He wants to execute all current government members by firing squad.  US government media outlets sympathize.</figcaption>
Off with their heads! He wants to execute all current government members by firing squad. US government media outlets sympathize.

This week one "radical  blogger," as he calls himself, Vadim Tyumentsev, was sentenced to five years in prison and restrictions on internet access under these laws, after a trial that lasted nearly a year.

Based on two videos, and his postings on social media, Tyumentsev was accused of violating Articles 282 and 280 of the Russian Criminal Code. The first refers to "incitement to hatred or enmity, as well as the degradation of human dignity." The latter refers to "public calls to extremist action."  In the U.S., much of the former is protected by the free speech provisions of the U.S. constitution, while the latter can fall under the category of "criminal threat" or "terroristic threat."

According to a Radio Liberty report, "A Russian court has sentenced a blogger to five years in a Siberian penal colony for 'inciting hatred and extremism' after he criticized Russian intervention in Ukraine and, separately, accused local authorities of corruption and incompetence."

Given this interpretation, it is not surprising to learn that the verdict against Tyumentsev was condemned by human rights groups in Russia, like Sova and Memorial, and by Freedom House. Unfortunately, while technically accurate, this description omits so much that it is essentially misinformation.

While Tyumentsev's videos do accuse local authorities of corruption, and criticize Russia for having anything to do with Ukraine, that is not their main thrust. The main point, which is impossible to miss if you watch the videos, is to urge violence against refugees and the Russian officials that offer them shelter.  

In one video, aptly entitled "Get out of Tomsk," Tyumentsev complains that refugees are being "herded from Ukraine to Tomsk" and calls for their immediate expulsion. Local authorities he complains are treating "our people like Negroes," bending over backward for these refugees, who have abandoned their own country are now coming to "piss away [prosrat'] ours."

Calling the local government's support of refugees "criminal," Tyumentsev calls upon "people who have any sense of personal self-worth" to "make the only possible decision--to expel these unfortunates from our land. . . they have nothing to do here. . . First these people betrayed the Soviet Union and now they betray their own country--Ukraine."

"Got the hell out of here, please. If not, we'll help you to do so," he pointedly tells refugees. Twice.

Tomsk residents must band together to oppose the current "pro-American authorities who are so deeply rooted in Russia" and who "under the pretext of patriotism are continuing their policy of genocide." He ends this brief video shouting: "Russia for Russians! Enough bringing us this trash."

His other video, "Day of National Anger," shows a more sedate Tyumentsev against the stirring backdrop of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, calling for an "uprising against local authorities" on January 15, 2015. His calm however degenerates by the fourth minute of his monologue.

"This regime must fall," he insists. Either the mayor and governor will be arrested for corruption, or "we the people" will detain them, as well as the entire Russian government, and "put them up against the wall;" i.e., have them shot. 

Interestingly, at this point in the video (4:50) he specifically includes the president of Russia among those that will have to be executed. In the United States a threat against the president falls under 18 U.S. Code § 871, and is punishable by up to five years imprisonment.

"If they do not observe the law, then why should we," he asks his audience (4:30)? Moreover, Tyumentsev warns that if arrested, not only the authorities, but "their children, and their families will pay. There will be no other option." (5:10)

Apparently anticipating arrest, he vows to continue his fight in prison, and "after the regime falls I will ensure that everyone who opposed the interests of the people and the nation will be put up against the wall." (5:45)

If the Russian government does not remove the Tomsk mayor and governor, he concludes, "then we will simply demolish this whole federal center on January 15, 2015 the Day of National Anger. Wishing you all the best, this was Vadim Tyumentsev." (6:30) 

After watching these videos, I think most people would conclude that this is not so much a human rights issue, as it is a mental health issue for the unfortunate Mr. Tyumentsev.

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