A 19-year-old film student from Siberia is facing up to five years in prison for a meme that compared Jesus Christ to Jon Snow, a character in Game of Thrones.
This isn’t the first time the Russian government has punished someone for allegedly blaspheming against Christianity — just last year a Russian YouTuber was arrested for playing Pokémon Go in church. This time the victim is Daniil Markin, from the Siberian city of Barnaul, and he chose to speak out only after seeing another resident complain of a similar charge for her memes.
Markin was actually accused of inciting hate speech over several images that includes jokes about Christianity, which were on his account with a social media networking site. That same site, VKontakte (VK), has been cited in the similar case against the other Barnaul memer.
The charges against Markin, which he publicly revealed this week for the first time, come amid a broadening Russian crackdown on online speech in recent years that rights advocates say is being used to stifle dissent and help law enforcement officials rack up convictions.
He disclosed the case after a fellow Barnaul resident, 23-year-old Maria Motuznaya, drew national attention this week by revealing on Twitter that she is facing hate-speech charges for memes on her VKontakte account that authorities say are racist and denigrate religion.
According to case materials reviewed by RFE/RL, Markin is accused of “inciting hatred” against religious believers for a series of satirical images on his VKontakte account between December 2013 and January 2017.
The Russian government said it had a problem with several images on Markin’s VKontakte account, but the one that stands out to me is a Game of Thrones/Jesus mashup meme that says, “Jon Snow is risen! Truly he is risen!”
19-year-old Russian charged with hate speech — punishable by up to 5 years in prison — for posting this Game Of Thrones/Jesus meme (& other satirical images) on his VK account. https://t.co/f0l0ZaWytJ pic.twitter.com/eXDH8ta4R8
— Carl Schreck (კარლ შრეკი) (@CarlSchreck) July 27, 2018
According to a reporter for RFE/RL, Russia’s financial watchdog also placed Markin on a list of “terrorists and extremists,” meaning he can’t access his bank cards or any of his accounts (despite not being convicted of anything at this time). The reporter also proclaimed Markin’s images to be among the tamest seen in similar cases.
Overall, the images in Markin’s case are among the tamest I’ve ever seen in Russian prosecutions on grounds of hate speech or “insulting sensibilities” of religious believers.
Whether the images are “tame” or not ought to be irrelevant, much less the deciding factor for a prison sentence. This is exactly why it’s wrong for governments to get in the business of religion, and why our own Founding Fathers did everything they could to prevent something similar from happening here. Unfortunately, actions like this don’t seem as implausible as they once did.
(Thanks to Sebastian for the link)