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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Posting Lands an Internet User in Court

A former journalist in the Vladimir region could face a year of prison labor for purportedly insulting the governor in an online forum.

The case against Dmitry Tashlykov, now the spokesman for the mayor of Kovrov, is the latest chapter in the government's fitful effort to regulate cyberspace.

Tashlykov, 34, denies having posted the comments in question on the web site Kovrov.ru on the night of Jan. 19, 2006. He calls the case political retribution by Vladimir Governor Nikolai Vinogradov for critical newspaper articles that Tashlykov wrote for the newspaper Vladimirsky Krai.

A number of cases of online insults, libel and hate speech have reached the courts in recent years, and many have proven tricky to adjudicate.

A court in Khakassia last month ordered the confiscation of a web site where a local journalist had posted articles critical of regional officials.

Earlier this month, the judge in the case puzzled over the issue of how a web site could be confiscated, given that the site's owner could restore its content from a backup disc.

The case against Tashlykov, however, is the first involving statements posted on an Internet forum, which are filled with anonymous participants and often indecipherable jabber, slang and abbreviations.

In February 2006, Vinogradov filed a complaint with regional authorities accusing five participants in a discussion forum on the web site Kovrov.ru of posting libelous statements about him in a discussion of the possibility of a contract hit being ordered against Kovrov Mayor Irina Tabatskova.

Tabatskova, now Tashlykov's employer, is a former member of the unregistered National Bolshevik Party. She later joined the Party of Life and served on the Kovrov city council.

She has had several run-ins with local and regional officials in recent years.

The libel allegations went nowhere, but Tashlykov -- one of the five accused by Vinogradov -- was eventually charged with publicly insulting the governor while posting under the nickname Myshkin.

Tashlykov was accused of calling Vinogradov a "beast" that is "capable of anything," and has been "harassing the entire region for almost 10 years," according to a copy of the police report obtained by The Moscow Times.

Tashlykov said by telephone on Wednesday that he "completely denies" posting under the name Myshkin.

"This is a political hit," Tashlykov said. "It is because of my work with Vladimirsky Krai. Over the years, the newspaper has not been terribly friendly with the regional government."

Vinogradov's office, meanwhile, insists that freedom of speech is not at issue.

"This is about words that any self-respecting person would consider insulting," said Vinogradov's spokesman, Andrei Rumantsev.

Natalya Chikova, a justice of the peace in Kovrov, the Vladimir region's second-largest city, is presiding over the case, which stands in recess until Feb. 14.

If convicted, Tashlykov could face a fine of 40,000 rubles ($1,500) or one year of penal labor.

After being convicted on the same charge in October, Vladimir Rakhmankov, editor of the Internet magazine Kursiv, was fined 20,000 rubles ($750) for referring to President Vladimir Putin as "a phallic symbol."

The case against Tashlykov has certain ominous overtones for Internet users who value protection of their privacy.

Kovrov.ru administrator Mikhail Godovitsin provided authorities with archived files of the site's forum as well as access to the contents of the private mailboxes and IP address of the five forum participants, Regnum.ru reported.

Godovitsin could not be reached for comment, and an e-mail sent to the Kovrov.ru webmaster had not been answered by late Wednesday evening.

Anton Nosik, founder of web portals Lenta.ru and Gazeta.ru, said it was "immoral" for Godovitsin to hand over confidential information about the site's users without a court order.

"But if someone shows up in a uniform demanding information or else, people in the regions would often rather comply than call a lawyer," Nosik said.

Large mail-hosting services typically require a stamped original court order before they release such information, Nosik said.

Sergei Mikheyev, a regional analyst at the Center for Political Technologies, said trying to catch and convict someone of insulting an official on the Internet was an unsustainable exercise.

"It would be equivalent to sending spies out in the streets to listen to what drunk people in the gutters say and catch them," Mikheyev said.