Russian journalist Viktor Korb. 

© 2017 Evgeniya Lifantyeva

In the early hours of May 18, a team of police and security officials raided the apartment of Viktor Korb, a journalist from Omsk. One of the agents shoved a search warrant in Korb’s face and the team conducted a 10-hour search, turning his home upside down. They seized all electronic devices, documents, and archives belonging to Korb and his family. This was how Korb learned that on May 16, the Omsk Investigative Committee had opened a criminal case against him. Two and half weeks later, he found out the charges: incitement to terrorism, justification of terrorism, or terrorist propaganda.

The charges stem from an excerpt of a court transcript posted on April 21, 2015 on Korb's web-site, Patriofil, which he has been running and moderating for eight years. It’s a fragment of the closing speech made by a controversial Russian blogger, Boris Stomakhin, at his trial in April 2015. The court found Stomakhin guilty of justifying terrorism and sentenced him to five years in prison for his publication about the December 2013 Volgograd bombings. Stomakhin, who ran his own publication, titled Radical Politics, had two prior criminal extremism convictions, from 2006 and 2014, also connected to his writing.

Stomakhin’s closing speech indeed contains odious, offensive views. The transcript posted on Patriofil is based on a publicly available YouTube video of Stomakhin’s court speech. Nowhere in the publication does Korb express support of what Stomakhin said in his speech.

This is not the first time the authorities have gone after Korb. In 2015, they fined him for “disseminating extremist materials” after he posted on Patriofil a cover of Radical Politics. In 2014, a hosting provider unexpectedly shut down Patriofil without warning or notification. After Korb moved his site to another hosting platform, the site has been functioning with no problems.

Korb told me that at no point in the past three years did the authorities issue him any warning about the posting of Stomakhin’s closing speech, or any other activities.

Now, Korb faces similar criminal charges as Stomakhin, and up to seven years in jail. On May 20, police detained Korb at the airport as he was about to leave Omsk for Moscow. Officials kept him in custody until the plane departed without him. Korb said that when the police released him they “politely but firmly” told him he was not allowed to leave Omsk due to an ongoing criminal investigation.

Human Rights Watch has documented a number of cases of Russian authorities bringing groundless charges for online speech, including for reposting alleged “extremist” information. Now there is one more. The charges against Korb should be dropped.