A court in Russia has sentenced Alexei Kungurov, a 38-year-old blogger from Tyumen, Western Siberia, to two-and-a-half years in prison for "justification of terrorism" over a blog post he wrote in October 2015, after Moscow launched its military intervention in Syria. In the post, Kungurov vehemently criticized Russia's intervention, saying he sought to "debunk" several "myths" created by "Putin's regime" and delivered to the public through the "zombie-boxes" of pro-Kremlin media. Rather than fighting terrorists in Syria, Kungurov argued, Russia was "helping them."
During pretrial investigation, the regional department of the Federal Security Service (FSB) sent requests to journalists and media outlets in Tyumen asking for information on any other "defamatory" or "extremist" materials published by Kungurov. This fall, his family received anonymous threats and his LiveJournal account was hacked.
Human Rights Watch researcher Yulia Gorbunova writes: "One can agree or disagree with Kungurov’s opinion. His post, however, contains no calls for violence but is a criticism of Russia’s Syria policy. It is a case of officials attempting to shut down public debate on an important foreign policy issue under the pretext of 'combating terrorism.' It is also part and parcel of Russia’s ongoing crackdown on free speech, especially online." (HRW, Dec. 22)