PEN America is greatly concerned that the trial of blogger Alexey Kungurov, which began today, has been closed to the public at its outset. Kungurov, a blogger from Tyumen, Russian Siberia, is charged with making a public call to terrorism in a blog post about Syria.
 
Kungurov will be tried behind closed doors at the request of the public prosecutor, on the grounds that Vladimir Lysov, a professor of journalism from Tyumen State University who prepared the analysis of the blog post for the trial, and who acknowledged in his material the existence of extremism, had recently started receiving anonymous threats. The prosecutor also requested that Kungurov remain in detention until the end of February 2017 based on the assumption that the blogger might abscond or his writings be used influence the course of the investigation.
 
While Kungurov has been in detention, his wife Asiya Bayshikhina continues publishing blogposts under his handle @kungurov. According to her, four witnesses who were speaking at the hearings today do not know Kungurov and could not possibly “witness the crime,” and some of them did not even read his post. She also questioned the ability of Vladimir Lysov to provide “linguistic expertise” of the blogpost. 
 
“We are extremely worried that this trial, which appears to be politically motivated, is being conducted in a shroud of secrecy,” noted Polina Kovaleva, Free Expression Program Coordinator for Eurasia at PEN America. “Alexey Kungurov deserves an open and fair hearing that can be attended and monitored by journalists and human rights groups to ensure that he receives justice.”
 
Kungurov has been charged with public calls to and justification of terrorism (Part 1, Article 205.2 of the Criminal Code) for a blog post in LiveJournal titled “Who are Putin’s Falcons Really Bombing”, where he criticized Russian military operations in Syria. In his blog, Kungurov strongly criticized the domestic and foreign policy of the Russian authorities. Russian human rights organization Memorial, which has listed Kungurov as a political prisoner, has noted that he doesn’t support ISIS, which is banned in Russia, or any other terrorist groups in Syria, and, in his post, only presented his analysis of the situation in the Middle East. The criminal case against him fits into the overall trend of the persecution of independent journalists and bloggers, as documented in the PEN report Discourse in Danger: Attacks on Free Expression in Putin’s Russia.
 
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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

 

CONTACT:

Polina Kovaleva, Free Expression Programs Coordinator, Eurasia: pkovaleva@pen.org, +1.212.334.1660