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Six Years in a Russian Prison for Sharing Porn?

One of the photos found on Everest Cafe's website. Screenshot from YouTube.

Photo found on Everest Cafe website. YouTube screenshot.

While the Internet's affinity for pornography is an established meme of the blogosphere, Omsk resident Anton Ilyushchenko, known on LiveJournal as snaf-omsk [ru], is learning that Russian law enforcement isn't always willing to embrace the Web's seedy underbelly.

In April 2013, browsing the social networking page of a local nightclub called Everest, Ilyushchenko discovered photo albums of heavily inebriated and half-naked patrons engaged in what appeared to be amateur striptease contests and public sex acts. Writing on his LiveJournal, Ilyushchenko posted 20 of the pictures from a particularly tawdry, bacchanalian evening at Everest, which he described as “one of the seediest places in our city.” The post went viral, generating thousands of comments, hundreds of shares, and as many reposts across various social media platforms. The post even crossed over into English-speaking media, appearing on Reddit and in translated English [NSFW] on russiaSlam, a site that specializes in popular stories from the RuNet.

While the post generated massive publicity for Ilyushchenko's blog, it also attracted the attention of the local Omsk authorities. As Ilyushchenko explained [ru] on April 10.

Вчера вечером поступил звонок от представителей полиции с просьбой явиться в ленинское отделение г. Омска. Предлогом послужило распространение наркотических веществ в сети Интернет от моего имени. Естественно ничем подобным я никогда не занимался. Когда я явился на допрос, дознаватель задавала вопросы только про нашумевшую историю об “Эвересте”. Про тему с наркотиками они впервые слышат и развели руками.

Last night I got a call from the police with a request to present myself at Omsk's Lenin Police Station. The pretext was the distribution of narcotic substances online. Naturally I've never done anything like this. When I appeared at their request, the investigator only asked me questions about the tumultuous story of “Everest.” As for the drug issue, this was the first they'd heard of it and they simply shrugged.

Five days later, on April 15, Ilyushchenko again posted [ru] about the investigation, explaining himself and asking for his readers’ support.

В определениях слова порнография, которые приводятся в авторитетных источниках, говорится об извращенно-похотливых желаниях. Лично у меня, при просмотре подобных фотографий, таких желаний не возникает. И уж тем более я не хотел вызвать таких желаний у своих читателей. Я вижу здесь только грязь и быдлоту.…

Я разместил в своем блоге ссылки на уже имеющиеся фотографии в интернете. Почему наши правоохранительные органы не хотят заняться поиском автора этих фотографий и организаторов мероприятия? А хотят обвинить человека, который показал пальцем на беспредел, творящийся в течение двух лет у них под носом.

Я считаю, что это абсолютно неприкрытый произвол и провокация со стороны властей.

In definitions of the word “pornography,” which exist in authoritative sources, they talk about the arousal of lustful desires. Personally, while viewing these sort of photos, I experience no such desires. And I didn't want to cause such desires in my readers. I see in these only filth and trashiness.

I posted on my blog only links to photos that already exist online. Why don't our authorities want to bother looking for the author of these photographs or the organizers of these events? Rather they want to accuse the person who pointed a finger at the lawlessness taking place over two years right under their noses.

I think this is absolutely judicial arbitrariness and a provocation on the part of the authorities.

Ilyushchenko went on to delete the orginal post (though copies of it and its controversial pictures abound elsewhere online), explaining that the investigation was ongoing. Though Ilyushchenko didn't draw attention to the fact, other bloggers and commenters were quick to point out that the owner of the Everest cafe is a former police officer.

Following Ilyushchenko's deletion of the post, the furor surrounding it died down. On July 23 however, the Omsk branch of the Ministry of Internal Affairs issued a press release [ru] announcing a criminal case against Ilyushchenko under Article 242 of the Russian criminal code—for “Illegal distribution [and] public demonstration of pornographic materials made with the use of information-communicational Internet sites.” The MVD explained that the pictures had been sent to an expert in Yekaterinburg:

Согласно заключению эксперта, все изображения полуодетых и обнаженных молодых людей мужского и женского пола являются вульгарными и сверхвульгарными. Три фотографии признаны порнографической продукцией.

According to the conclusion of an expert, all representations of half-clothed and naked young people of male and female genders are vulgar and highly vulgar. Three photos were declared a pornographic production.

There is no exact definition of pornography in the Russian criminal code, and in this case it appears the Ministry's expert went with US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stuart's famous definition. The charges against Ilyushchenko threaten a prison term of 2-6 years. Many netizens rushed to Ilyushchenko's defense, such as fellow Omsk blogger Vasiliy Neverov, who argued [ru] that it is unjust to single out Ilyushchenko for what happened at Everest.

Интересно, специалисты МВД понимают, что такие Эвересты есть в каждом городе? Думаю, да. Но, как правило, нужно найти виноватого. Одного человека. Хотя в собственных пресс-релизах УВД указано: снимки сделаны участниками вечиринки три года назад на мобильные телефоны и фотоаппараты. Причем тут Антон Илющенко? В чем его обвиняют? Он распространял… Ну конечно! В 21 веке есть кнопочка “репоста”… Есть свободно открытые открытые группы ВКонтакте, где лежат разные фотки и видео.

Do the specialists from the Ministry of Internal Affairs understand that there are “Everests” in every city? I think yes. But, as a rule, you need to find a guilty party. A single individual. Yet even in their own press releases, the police say that the pictures were taken by participants at a party three years ago on mobile telephones and cameras. So why Anton Ilyushchenko? What's his crime? He distributed… Well of course he did! In the 21st century, there's a “repost” button… There are freely open groups on [the popular Russian social network] VKontakte, where there are various [highly explicit] photos and videos.

Support wasn't isolated to Omsk's netizens. St. Petersburg-based blogger Corpuscula [ru] complained that the authorities were railroading Ilyushchenko for uncovering a nasty truth about life in the city.

Что по идее должна была сделать администрация? По обычной логике, притон к черту закрыть, в городе открыть какие-нибудь молодежные центры… а жж-юзеру сказать спасибо за то, что обратил внимание на проблему…

Но Россия – страна победившей социопатии… Юзера Снафа стали таскать в милицию под разными предлогами. Снимки “проверяют на порнографию”, чтобы выяснить, не распространял ли её Снаф. Пресса винит его в том, что он “выставил Омск в дурном свете”

What should the authorities have done? According to normal logic: close the den of inequity, open new youth centres… and thank the blogger for drawing attention to this problem…

But Russia is a country of rampant psychopathy… The user Snaf [Ilyushchenko] was dragged off to the police on various pretexts. The pictures were “checked for pornography” to see if Snaf had distributed any. The press blames him for “putting Omsk in a bad light.”

Screen Shot 2013-07-31 at 10.16.30 PM

Photo found on Everest Cafe website. YouTube screenshot.

Though RuNet support for Ilyushchenko appears to be the norm, there are of course some Internet users who have little sympathy for him. One commenter on the omskinform [ru] newsportal accused Ilyushchenko of attempting to reinvent himself as a “truth-teller,” when the actual motive for the original post was a cynical effort to increase his own blog's traffic.

Никакого отношения к “борьбе с быдлотой” это не имеет. Паренёк лукавит и это он теперь выработал такую позицию. А изначально это было просто выпендрёжное желание нагнать трафик в своём ЖЖ любыми путями… Распространение – оно и есть распространение. Думать надо было головой сначала хоть немножко-то. Органы настроены решительно, солидным людям уже порядком поднадоела вся эта идиотская вакханалия в омском интернете.

This isn't any sort of “fight against trashiness.” The lad is being disingenuous and now trying to take this position. But this started as a simple attention-seeking wish to attract traffic to his blog by any means… Distribution is still distribution. He should have used his brain a bit at the start. The authorities are inclined to act decisively as decent people are already sick of all this idiotic bacchanalia on Omsk's Internet.

Ilyushechnko's legal difficulties show the problems that arise when laws developed for the pre-Internet age are applied to the online world. Arresting and prosecuting everyone who reposted or linked to Ilyushchenko's pictures (or finding the original photographer) would be nearly impossible, leading to arbitrary accusations against only the most prominent offenders. Unfortunately for Ilyushchenko, the courts are unlikely to show him much sympathy, given the Russian legal system's growing hostility for upstart netizen activity [GV]. Ilyushchenko is currently visiting Kazakhstan, where he might remain, if it becomes his only way to stay out of prison.

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