Italy’s much-criticized calumny laws can be ruinous: Amanda Knox was convicted of calumny after Perugian cops had asked her to “imagine” being present at the scene of crime with her employer and she had dutifully complied. Although Italy’s supreme court recognized the lawyerless interrogation as irregular and suppressed the statements she had signed, it later ordered Knox’s calumny conviction to be used as evidence of her guilt in the murder trial. Welcome to Italy.
Russia has a similar legal system but it works, or rather malfunctions, in a more straightforward, un-Jesuitic way. Russia has recently re-criminalized calumny, or slander. This week, Alexey Navalny was found guilty of that unspeakably horrible crime and fined RUB300,000 ($8,400). Not much, but he might be jailed as a result. Here’s why. Navalny has been under house arrest following his suspended sentence for “fraud” and a new indictment on a similarly absurd charge. He is not allowed to access the internet but his wife and supporters keep updating his blog and twitter feed. Earlier this year, they discussed a Moscow municipal deputy who had proposed some absurdly draconian Internet regulation. On Alexey’s behalf, his team called the man “a dopehead deputy” [депутат-наркоман, literally a “deputy and drug addict”], probably referring to the idiocy of his proposal, as if drug-induced. The councilman took it literally. He obtained a statement from a hospital certifying him a non-addict, and petitioned prosecutors to open a criminal case against Navalny.
The opposition leader was found guilty, of course:
As he was reading the verdict, the judge uttered the expression “dopehead deputy” at least twenty times, each new mention evincing louder giggling [from the audience].
It will be no laughing matter if Navalny is ordered to jail for violating the conditions of his suspended sentence and house arrest.