How a Social Media Post in Russia Can Land You in Jail

A little-known police agency known as Center E is cracking down on dissent.
Opposition activists have begun referring to Center E officers as oshranka, which was a czarist-era secret police force.
PER_Russia_01 Source: Illustration by Alex Fine

It was just before 6 a.m. when police officers raided Daniil Markin’s apartment in Barnaul, a small Russian city some 2,000 miles from Moscow. Markin, a film student who was 18 at the time of the July 2017 raid, had no idea why police had burst into his home. The officers, he says, were in no hurry to explain. Instead, they removed his computers, smartphone and other electronic devices, then drove him to the local branch of the Center for Combating Extremism, a police department within Russia’s powerful Interior Ministry.

Officers from the so-called Center E then informed Markin that he was being charged with hate speech against Christians over a handful of images that he had either reposted or saved to his account on VKontakte, Russia’s version of Facebook, which is also known as VK. The earliest dated from 2013, when he was just 13. Markin did not create any of the images, most of which had already been widely circulated online, but he now faces up to five years in prison over the

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