Dmitry Bogatov was arrested on April 6th, in Moscow, charged with “inciting terrorist activities”. The basis of these allegations was that Bogatov had posted a still image from rapper Jay-Z’s “No Church in the Wild” music video. Yes, that’s right. Bogatov was arrested for supposedly posting an American music video. Granted, the still image was one of a gang of masked men armed and throwing molotov cocktails. There was much doubt surrounding his imprisonment, as the poster of that video was actually a man named Airat Bashirov, who had been using a VPN to post that video. The VPN’s IP Address happened to coincide with Bogatov’s IP Address, and Bogatov was arrested. Bogatov was a math lecturer of the Moscow University of Finance and Law. But more importantly, he ran a Tor, an anonymous web and deep web browser, exit node from his house. Running an exit node from your house in the United States has never resulted in equipment seizures, but many other countries are cracking down on anonymization software, and Russia is on the forefront of this effort. The general consensus is that the Russian authorities are using this video posting allegation as a front for its crackdown on privacy activists.
On July 23rd, about 3,000 people marched in Moscow to protest Russia’s tight control over the internet and to show their support for Bogatov. Over 60 cities in Russia and many European countries have announced their support for the freedom of Dmitry Bogatov.
On July 24th, Judge Yevgeny Naidyonov, ruling from Moscow’s Presnensky Court, granted Bogatov partial freedom. Bogatov’s lawyers petitioned for him to be freed due to medical concerns, and the judge placed him under house arrest. He is not allowed to use any form of the Internet and had been barred from communicating with the press. However, he retains the right to leave his house every three days if he follows all the rules of his house arrest.
Although this may seem like a victory for the freedom-loving people of Russia, the government has not backed down. Bogatov is still under investigation and faces a 19-year sentence if convicted of “inciting riots in the Red Square.” There is no deadline for his retrial, as authorities are still trying to determine his culpability. A report stating his involvement with these posts were due by the end of June, but have not been released yet. All signs point to the conclusion that he is innocent, as even during his detainment with no internet connection, the poster of that video continued to post more inflammatory media, proving Bogatov does not have access or control over that account.
The only hard evidence the authorities have as of now is an IP Address linking Bogatov with those posts. However, IP Addresses can be easily manipulated and hidden. In countries with more internet freedom, such as the United States, judges have ruled that IP Addresses are not valid identifiers of a person. This statement was made by New York judge Gary Brown, in response to a case over piracy and torrenting.
Russia is notorious for internet censorship and has been leading the crackdown on privacy and freedom activists. On the 21st of July, The Russian Parliament unanimously passed a bill which required all Russian internet service providers to block access to VPN websites and their corresponding services. It still needs to be signed off by President Vladimir Putin, but there is a very good chance this ordinance will come into effect.
Dmitry Bogatov’s case is not an unique one, and hundreds, if not thousands, of people have been caught in Russia’s war against anonymity. However, the support for Bogatov from not just citizens, but cities and countries as a whole, lends support to the fact that the people of Russia will not give in to the government’s demand for censorship. Bogatov’s release was a victory, albeit temporary, but now the real fight beings. The Russian government will build a stronger case and will undoubtedly be back, and the world needs to stand with Bogatov and push for his freedom, and ultimately complete Internet freedom in Russia.