An Atheist in southern Russia is facing up to a year in jail for denying the existence of God in an angry Internet exchange on a local website.
Viktor Kransov, 38, of Stavropol, appeared in court Wednesday, more than 16 months after he wrote "there is no God!" online in October 2014.
"If I say that the collection of Jewish fairy tales entitled the Bible is complete bullshit, that is that. At least for me," Krasnov wrote.
Following a complaint from one of the people involved in the online exchange, Russia's Investigative Committee charged Krasnov with "insulting the religious convictions or feelings of citizens." The controversial law was passed after the Russian anarcho-punk feminist band Pussy Riot was arrested and imprisoned in 2012 for a performance in Moscow's main cathedral.
The anti-government news website Grani.ru reported Tuesday that Krasnov was also forcibly subjected to spend a month in a psychiatric ward last year before he was finally declared as "sane." Krasnov's lawyer told AFP that this client was "simply an atheist" and that Halloween and Yiddish holidays were also targeted in the exchange.
Internet freedom in Russia has steadily deteriorated in recent years. In 2012, authorities passed a law allowing its federal communications agency to blacklist sites without a court order. Legislation passed last year created a registry of popular bloggers, who are now subject to the same regulations as mass media — a move that has been criticized as a way to threaten opposition voices with criminal prosecution.
In the past year, the Russian government has also passed amendments to significantly increase the penalties for online incitements to separatism, extremism, or hatred. Such offenses carry prison terms of between five and six years.
At least four people were arrested and sentenced for violating these laws in Russia in 2015, according to Human rights advocacy group Freedom House, which monitors Internet freedom across the world and ranks countries based on Internet access and violations of users' rights. The organization gave Russia an overall score of 62 in its 2015 report, labelling the country as "not free" for Netizens.
VICE News' Alec Luhn contributed to this report.