May 5, 2021
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Hit the journalists, save Russia!

In the photo: law enforcement officers and media representatives during an unauthorized rally of Navalny's supporters in Moscow

In the photo: law enforcement officers and media representatives during an unauthorized rally of Navalny’s supporters in Moscow (Photo: Valery Sharifulin / TASS)

One of the biggest threats to public safety in modern Russia is the exit of people to unauthorized public events, or even an indirect allusion to this. Such a conclusion can be made if we carry out even a superficial analysis of the efforts that the state is making to identify citizens who, sometimes quite by accident, found themselves “at the wrong time and in the wrong place.”

On the morning of the day after Easter, the doorbell rings. It turns out that it was the district police officer who came to me. What happened? Through the door I say that only a couple of days I left for self-isolation: I was unexpectedly knocked down by an evil covid with accompanying pneumonia and lung damage. But the minister of law and order is relentless, demands to open the door and go out to the platform for a conversation. Well, I put on a mask, I ask you to communicate at a social distance of two meters – I don’t want to infect a servant of the law. I am standing on the staircase, and I myself am shaking from chills – the high temperature affects. The representative of the authorities took this as my fear and asked me not to worry. Like, so far nothing terrible has happened.

As it turned out, the policeman was going to call me to give explanations at the strong point. The reason – cameras recorded my presence in the center of Moscow on the evening of April 21. Let us remind you that at this time there was an action in support of an opposition politician serving a sentence in a colony. Alexey Navalny… The district police officer called this event a “meeting”, and, therefore, I am suspected of participating in this very “meeting”.

I noticed that there was no meeting that day, but there was some incomprehensible action in the form of people walking along the numerous streets of the center of the capital. But I didn’t deny it, because I was really in the city center on the evening of April 21 and broadcast an online broadcast about what was happening around on the instructions of the editorial office. He told the district police officer about this and even threw him a link to the published material in WhatsApp.

The law enforcement officer also asked to send him an editorial assignment and accreditation received from the Main Directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Moscow. The requirement, it should be noted, is rather dubious. First, accreditation is usually obtained for coverage of official events. It is hardly possible to call such an unauthorized and amorphous action by Navalny’s supporters. And in accordance with Article 8 “Openness and Publicity” of the Federal Law “On Police”, the lack of accreditation does not in any way infringe upon the rights of press workers to receive information of interest to them about the work of law enforcement agencies. Although, I will note that on that day I did not set myself the task of even covering the activities of law enforcement officers, my goal was only to describe what was happening on the streets.

The question even raises the need for an editorial assignment to cover such an event. Let’s say a journalist is walking down the street, saw something interesting, decided to look, fix what he saw, write a note. In fact, I worked in this format on April 21, which is well read in the aforementioned material. People go about their business, now the clusters have begun, now they began to shout something. What he saw, he photographed and wrote the volume. Itself, of course, did not shout anything and did not call anyone to anything. However, we understand that reality is different from the abstract ideal. So I had an editorial assignment just in case. Like, such and such was sent by the editors at that time and there to illuminate what he sees around him.

As it is now known, precinct officers made similar visits to many journalists who were in the center of Moscow on April 21. Head of the Human Rights Council under the President of the Russian Federation Valery Fadeev even sent a letter to the Ministry of Internal Affairs asking for clarification. The press secretary of the head of state also reacted Dmitry Peskov… According to him, the visits of police officers to media workers may be due to the fact that people with editorial certificates could be present at the action, although they do not work there. “We do not know exactly what this work of the Department of Internal Affairs and the police is connected with. I can guess in the same place we had a case when a non-journalist was at an illegal rally with a journalist’s ID, that is, not being a journalist, he received a journalist’s ID ”, – noted Peskov.

It was agreed with the district police officer that I would come to give explanations when the self-isolation regime would end. At the same time, he said that he was ready to summon me officially with a summons, if I so wish. So far, within the framework of some kind of verification.

Now let’s try to look at the situation more broadly. According to the district police officer, about 4 thousand people who were in the center of Moscow on the evening of April 21 were tracked by cameras in Moscow. According to the Moscow Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, about 6 thousand took part in the unauthorized action. It turns out that two-thirds should be questioned and given an explanation.

But this is how to count. During the so-called “action”, the police constantly called through loudspeakers “not to interfere with the passage of citizens.” That is, in itself, finding people on the street is not an offense. But how to separate those who are walking with thoughts of protest from those who just walked down the street?

It was an ordinary weekday evening. People left the offices, walked to the subway, someone decided to go to the store, and someone went to dinner. There were, in all likelihood, those who simply decided to take a walk after a hard day. Surely there were those who deliberately went from home to the center. And now these people have to give explanations? Show a receipt from a store or cafe, a theater ticket. And if you just decided to take a walk, did not hear anything about the action and accidentally ended up in the crowd? Or did you throw away that check or ticket long ago? Does this mean a court, a fine, a day of administrative arrest? Even if these extreme measures are excluded, then giving explanations in itself for a respectable citizen is a stressful situation. And most importantly, for what to be explained?

This, not to mention the colossal costs of identifying the “unreliable”. The capital spent 60.8 billion rubles in 2019 alone on a video surveillance system with the ability to recognize faces, in 2020 – about 68 billion, and in the current 2021 it is planned to spend 70.8 billion.It is clear that cameras are also used for social monitoring patients with covid, and to track offenses. But, as we can see, considerable efforts are also spent on establishing the identity of those walking along the streets for different purposes.

At the same time, it cannot be said that absolutely respectable citizens can feel safe. If they are not caught for a walk, they may well leak their data into the public domain. For example, in December last year, a scandal erupted when data on almost 100 thousand Muscovites who had had coronavirus leaked to the network. In addition to their names, registration addresses and passport numbers, information constituting a medical secret also appeared on the Internet.

And of course, a natural question arises, do not the police spend their time on identifying, polling and drawing up protocols on people recorded next to unauthorized actions to the detriment of other duties?

I remember one sunny day, the last winter is gone. Went to have a bite to eat at a cafe near the house. From the window of the institution I had a chance to observe a picture of how two obviously drunk characters at the bus stop were in conflict with each other. They exchanged kicks and teeth for a long time, much to the horror of the people waiting for the transport. And there was no police. But I had to communicate with her after half an hour in a park nearby. I have a completely peaceful hobby – I like to photograph. And that day I took a stale loaf with me in order to lure the ducks floating in the river to the shore and take it on camera. As soon as I began to implement my plan, a patrol drove up to me. “What are you doing here?”. He replied: like all ordinary people on Sunday in the park, I just walk. “Your documents! Are there any prohibited items? Why are you taking pictures, why are you feeding the birds? ” Saved by the local registration.

Yes, I didn’t have an editorial assignment then.

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