As some people are now finding out, the Russians have just convicted the members of a (rather silly) politically-oriented feminist punk rock group, "Pussy Riot," and may sentence them to years in prison. Their crime? Carrying out a "punk prayer" against Putin the Poisoner at a Moscow cathedral.
It's no surprise that Putin would use any excuse to imprison his critics, but some people are missing the key significance of this event.
From Dylan Stableford, Yahoo! News "Russian punk band found guilty of hooliganism"
Three members of Pussy Riot -- a Russian punk band and feminist collective that mocked Russian president Vladamir Putin during a "punk prayer" in a Moscow cathedral--have been found guilty of hooliganism driven by religious hatred and offending religious believers a judge ruled.
Note the key clauses here: "driven by religious hatred" and "offending religious belief."
This is not mere verbal decoration: it is the reason (in law) why the members of Pussy Riot are looking at years (rather than a few days or weeks) in prison for what would normally be considered the equivalent of "disorderly conduct," an infraction or misdemeanor in most sane legal codes. Their "hooliganism" is judged worse because it's "driven by religious hatred," and it is in itself a crime to "offend religious believers." And it is these vaprous "crimes" which enable the judge to impose much harsher sentences.
When one makes it possible to outlaw an opinion or makes it illegal to merely offend others, there is no guarantee that only the opinions or the others in the minds of the advocates or legislators will be those the State chooses to condemn or protect. Any time one makes this possible, one hands the State a weapon with which to suppress dissent -- and punish dissenters -- of which it chooses to disapprove. And, since it is always in the last analysis the State, which is in turn driven by the interests of a majority or at least significant plurality of the citizens, who decides how to interpret and enforce these laws, the State will inevitably orient their power to support its own Establishment.
Laws which in the minds of those who passed them were meant to protect minorities and non-conformists will therefore inevitably be used to persecute them. This should have been obvious from the moment of their proposition -- it was to me -- but then many people think in terms of (claimed) intentions rather than in terms of (likely) institutional consequences.
And so we watch, as a little more of Russia's hardwon freedom dies. We shouldn't feel so superior: "hate speech" laws are already in force in Europe, and Putin's just shown the European Establishments how to use them. Right now they may condemn him, but soon they'll copy him.
Let's hope that the First Amendment to the US Constitution continues to keep us safe from such legislation.