Russian couple fined for expressing anti-war opinions during private conversation in café
A married couple was detained and fined for sharing pro-Ukrainian personal opinions during a private conversation in a Russian cafe. This is the first case of its kind.
Alexey and Olesya Ovchinnikov were having lunch with a friend in Krasnodar, in southern Russia, when another visitor overheard them talking about Ukraine.
The client approached the table and expressed outrage at the unspecified pro-Ukrainian remarks, the couple’s lawyer Aleksey Avanesyan told Russian media.
The cafe owner then called the police, which resulted in an arrest and a fine.
Suppression of free speech
The incident is one of the clearest examples of Russia’s crackdown on free speech and censorship of references to what President Vladimir Putin is calling a “special operation” in Ukraine.
In a video released by local media, policemen can be seen handcuffing a couple with their wife, who is sitting on the floor, laughing and saying: “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes!”
Court documents showed the woman was fined the equivalent of £12 and the man jailed for 15 days in the first known case of anti-war Russians being prosecuted by authorities for making personal statements.
Prosecutors are also bringing charges against Ovchinnikova of “discrediting the Russian armed forces,” which could result in a fine or imprisonment of up to 10 years.
It comes at a time when one of Russia’s most famous museums is faced with the need to update its exhibits to reflect the conservative values promoted by the Kremlin.
The Minister of Culture of Russia has sent an official letter to the director of the Tretyakov Gallery, one of the most visited galleries in Russia, urging him to review his collection of Russian art from the late 20th century.
The letter, first reported by The Moscow Times, cites a complaint from a Russian citizen who argued that some of Tretyakov’s artwork “does not fully correspond to Russia’s moral and spiritual values,” referring to Putin’s decree last year defining “the values his government must promote.”
The complaint specifically concerned works depicting scenes of funerals and drunkenness.
Private galleries and state-funded museums such as the Tretyakovskaya have faced little to no censorship since the fall of the Soviet Union, as the Kremlin showed little interest in the art world.
On Friday, a court in Western Siberia sentenced a 20-year-old man to 12 years in a strict regime colony for setting fire to a military registration and enlistment office, which prosecutors qualified as terrorism.
In May last year, Vladislav Borisenko reportedly threw several Molotov cocktails at a military enlistment office in the oil city of Nizhnevartovsk.
For several months last year, there were daily reports of military recruiting stations being set on fire across the country, as the offices were largely seen as a symbol of the Russian invasion.
If caught, the attackers were usually charged with a misdemeanor and fined in the past. However, at the end of last year, Russian human rights activists noted that the authorities began to classify attacks on recruiting stations as terrorism, for which you can get a long prison term.