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PYATOGORSK, March 2. /TASS/. A local blogger in Russia’s southern city of Stavropol is standing trial on charges of abusing believers’ feelings. In what appears to be the first-ever such case in Russia the court is to rule whether the defendant’s comments posted in a social network constituted an offense. The plaintiffs, who had to be compelled to show up in the courtroom, refused to attend further hearings.
"The court sustained the plaintiffs’ request for considering the case in absentia. Neither the prosecution, nor the defense had any questions to ask," the court’s press-service said.
As the defendant’s lawyer, Andrey Sabinin, has told TASS, two young men, both former law students, had to be forced to come to the court room.
"For the first time the plaintiffs managed to be brought to court. They refuse to attend further hearings. All proceedings will be carried out on the basis of their written statement," he explained.
Sabinin said his client was standing trial under an article of the Criminal Code that had never been used in Russia before. "This is the first time it has been used in the Stavropol Territory and, possibly, for the first time in the whole of Russia," he said.
A local office of the Investigative Committee in Stavropol said that in October 2015 it launched criminal proceedings against a 37-year-old local resident under the Criminal Code’s article Violation of the Right to the Freedom of Conscience and Faith, envisaging a maximum punishment of one year in a penitentiary.
The investigators say that according to their findings the defendant in October and November 2014 published comments in a community in the social network VKontakte (In Contact) containing insults against one of the religions and the religious feelings of believers.
Local media say the defendant’s comments concerned Halloween celebrations. A number of phrases, for instance There is no God, might look insulting to believers. Two participants in the online discussion went to the police and filed a complaint.
The social network involved said there was no chance of obtaining the full version of the verbal exchanges that might confirm the religious feelings of believers were really insulted.
"There has been a reply from the social network VKonkte to the query regarding the full text of the correspondence participants in the Internet community concerned exchanged on October 11-31, 2014. The correspondence is not available anymore. It has been deleted by the group’s members," the court’s press-service said.
The next court session is due on March 15.