An atheist in Russia, Viktor Krasnov (38) faces the threat of jail time for saying online that, “There is no god” and the Bible is “fairy stories”.
Two men that Krasnov was arguing with, Dmitry Burnyashev and Aleksandr Kravstov, pressed charges last year for the supposed “insult” to their “religious convictions” during an argument which started with a discussion of the notion of family structures (Burnyashev and Kravstov were defending advocating a conservative religious idea of “the family”). The posts date back to October 2014 and were made on the social network VKontakte. The charges were heard in Stavropol city, 2 March 2016.
Before the trial began, Krasnov was assessed on a psychiatric ward, apparently for no reason other than the “insult” caused by his atheism. He was detained for a month before being released, without any psychiatric condition or symptom being identified.
Krasnov faces up to a year in prison if convicted of “insult the religious convictions or feelings of citizens”, a crime created in 2013 in the wake of the Pussy Riot case. Though some outlets have reported that Krasnov allegedly used language that could be interpreted as anti-Semitic (without saying what it was), Krasnov’s lawyer, Andrei Sabinin, said that it was the “remarks about God” which were central to Tuesday’s closed-door hearing. Sabinin is quoted as saying his client is “simply an atheist”, who had taken aim at both “Halloween and Yiddish holidays”.
Krasnov reports being threatened by “Orthodox Christian fundamentalists” who have warned that “they will get me, my family, and do all sorts of bad things.” But despite reporting death threats to the police, the only criminal charges in connection with the case are against Kasnov himself, for disputing the truth of religion. The next hearing is scheduled for March 15.
President of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) Andrew Copson said:
To go running to the police just because you think ‘someone is wrong on the internet’ is pathetic enough on an individual level. But for police to heed the accusation, and for a new law to be ready to crush non-religious criticism of social dogmas, can only be a sign of outright totalitarianism at a national level.
This is part of a deeply worrying trend in which state officials and social conservatives use the rhetoric of ‘traditional values’, pandering to the Russian Orthodox Church, marginalizing or explicitly demonizing minorities, including sexual minorities, religious and non-religious minorities, as well as proponents of secularism, and political critics.
That Viktor Krasnov was not only charged but faced detention on supposed suspicion of psychiatric illness is especially damning, evocative as it is of the execrable Soviet era abuse of psychiatry, apparently alive and well in Russia today as a tool of intimidation and oppression.
Krasnov has called the case “nonsense”, but fears that “Knowing our Russian reality, I can’t say how this will end… If we take into account that courts are required to come out with guilty verdicts 99 percent of the time, there’s nothing I can say.”
Local campaigners and liberals have decried the prosecution, including Moscow-based Sova Center which wrote in a 2015 report that the Krasnov prosecution is “a violation of his right to freedom of conscience”. Sova has said that even under the controversial 2013 law against “insulting” religious feelings this prosecution is illegitimate.
The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) condemns absolutely the presumption of a psychiatric condition in relation to the mere expression of non-religious views, deplores the detention as psychiatric patients of those advocating atheism, and calls for an end to the detention and prosecution of those who criticise religious beliefs and conservative social norms. IHEU calls for the reform or abolition of any law under which this can happen.
IHEU publishes the annual Freedom of Thought Report on discrimination and persecution against the non-religious, and is a founding partner in the International Coalition Against Blasphemy Laws running the End Blasphemy Laws campaign.