We demand his immediate release.
Civil society activist Valentin Sokolov, well-known in Kolomna and Voskresensk, has been sentenced under Article 282 (Section 1) of the Russian Criminal Code (inciting hatred on grounds of ethnicity via the Internet) to eight months in a prison colony. According to the FSB, Valentin Sokolov published xenophobic statements on social networks.
On the social media website, Odnoklassniki, Sokolov reposted an image with a pro-Ukrainian text, containing calls to killing Russian citizens, and added his own commentary: “Just how crazy do you have to be to say such gibberish. Or they’re whipping up emotions on purpose. It makes for scary reading.”
The investigation and the court “failed to notice” that Sokol reposted the text, not for the purposes of propaganda of the ideas it contained, but, on the contrary, in order to discredit these ideas. They only noticed that the image in question had been saved in the folder “Photos/Various” on Sokolov’s page without the commentary. However, on Odnoklassniki, all published photographs are automatically saved in this folder without commentaries. For this reason, there are no grounds for the charges against Sokolov.
Publications on the Facebook page, “Valentin Sokolov,” are of a racist nature. However, Sokolov contends that the page where illegal statements were found does not belong to him and is a fabrication.
Indeed, the materials of the case contain an answer from the Bureau of Special Technical Measures of the Moscow region department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs to a question by investigators to the effect that it is not possible to establish the ownership of a Facebook account since the Internet resource is registered and located outside Russia.
The records of the internet provider show that the times the posts were made to the page “Valentin Sokolov” (the surname has now been changed to “Solokov”) do not coincide with the times user No. 3652 (the real Valentin Sokolov) visited Facebook. The videos and commentaries, with which Sokolov has been charged, were posted on days Sokolov did not connect with this social network at all, although there is evidence that at those times he visited the sites VKontakte and Odnoklassniki.
For many years Valentin Sokolov has been active in public life in Kolomna and Voskresensk, working on issues related to the environment and local government. He has stood as a candidate for Moscow region legislative assembly, criticised United Russia and officials, and opposed actions of the authorities. He took part in a campaign against the construction of a waste incinerator, opposed expansion of the Volovichi landfill near Kolomna, and called for transparency on the part of the local authorities.
Sokolov’s video report “9 May 2016 Kolomna. The Public Face and the Dark Side of the Celebrations,” published in his blog, “My Kolomna,” on YouTube generated a strong public reaction. In the video Sokolov, asking questions of those who took part in the Immortal Regiment event holding up flags of United Russia and United Russia’s Young Guard, showed that United Russia inappropriately and “unconscionably” used the memory of the victims of the Great Fatherland War for purposes of its own publicity. The video has had about 15,000 views and dozens of comments highly critical of the authorities.
Following this publication, on 25 May 2016 FSB officers visited Valentin Sokolov at his home. They searched his home and then took him to a Kolomna police station where, according to Sokolov, the head of the police station, Aleksandr Filatov, “explained that in my statements I mustn’t mention the United Russia party, mustn’t take part in the upcoming United Russia primaries, in no circumstances mention in my articles candidate for the State Duma Elena Serova, and take no part whatsoever in elections to the Moscow region legislative assembly, or else he would jail me for four years and send me to Magadan. He pointed out that, if there were to be one more phone call (pointing to a phone with a dial), he would jail me immediately.”
After this, Sokolov, according to his public statement, removed from his social network pages materials critical of the authorities and did not make public in any way the search or the threats he had received.
However, he did stand in the elections as a candidate from the Rodina party to be a deputy, both in a single mandate constituency and on the party’s list. Several days later, and, as Sokolov believes, as a consequence of this, the prosecution against him was launched.
There has also been a conflict between Valentin Sokolov and the head of Kolomna district, Andrei Vaulin (who now heads the Council of Deputies of Kolomna town district). The judgment in Sokolov’s case cites testimony from an FSB officer that in 2013 Valentin Sokolov was charged with defamation of Vaulin, but in 2015 the case was closed for lack of evidence. In the video “Head of municipality Vaulin evicts family with many children,” Sokolov accuses the head of the district of attempting to confiscate from his family a plot of land on which stood an almost finished house they had built. According to Sokolov, the moves to confiscate the property began at the same time as the prosecution in 2016, and were also part of the pressure put on him for criticising the authorities.
Memorial Human Rights Centre believes that the prosecution of Sokolov is related to his active, nonviolent, public activities and his criticism of the authorities. Valentin Sokolov is a political prisoner. We demand his immediate release.
Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner, or of a prosecution as politically motivated, does not imply that Memorial Human Rights Centre shares or approves the individual’s views, statements or actions.
For more information about this case, see here.
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