Dmitry Bogatov was arrested in Russia on April 6, accused of inciting terrorist activity by posting "extremist" materials online. There is significant doubt surrounding the legitimacy of the charges that led to Bogatov's arrest, which primarily relate to his supposed sharing of the video for Kanye West and Jay-Z's 'No Church in the Wild'. Yet, if convicted he may face a 20-year sentence. Dmitry's supporters are calling for support from the international community, to join them in protesting his unjust detention on June 19 and 20.
I interviewed Raymond Johansen, a high profile writer and activist, who sits on the board of Pirate Parties International, about why he's supporting the protest for Impolitikal.
Who is Dmitry Bogatov, and why are you protesting on his behalf?
He is is what some might call a geek or a nerd. Other than that he is a software developer, math lecturer at Moscow’s Finance and Law University, free software supporter, Debian and GNU projects contributor, esperantist. He is also a supporter of privacy and was running a Tor exit node from his home.
Why was he arrested?
The prosecution believes that Bogatov posted extremist materials on the internet. He is accused of incitement of terrorist activities or justifying terrorism via the internet and for arrangement of preparation of mass riots. To substantiate the need of Bogatov's arrest investigator pointed to video showing "mass riots and police disobedience". The only one video posted by Airat Bashirov is a music clip of hip-hop performers Kanye West and Jay-Z 'No Church in The Wild'.
And no, I am not even kidding. The video was posted by someone using 104 different IP addresses, among them where Dmitry's address. Its what we call spoofing. An American later confirmed to the courts that he did this. In addition there is video of Dmitry shopping at the time where the post was made. Of that we can only conclude that he was arrested for running an exit node. Putins Russia is waging a war on VPN, encrypted chat services and Tor. Dmitry is a casualty of that war. A war that is waged not only in Russia but in the US and UK too.
What is Tor Exit Node, and why was it considered a threat worth jailing him for?
An exit node is an essential part of the infrastructure that makes it possible for Tor users to remain anonymous. The more exit nodes run by people around the world the more secure Tor becomes. We have seen people being raided for runing nodes in other countries before. Twice in the US, for instance. Human rights activists, journalists and the persecuted all over the globe depend on Tor to protect themselves from government entities in both so called western democracies and where despots rule. Privacy and encryption threatens the states need to control their citizens. Governments and their corporate overlords now protect themselves from the people instead of protecting the people. We see this all over the world right now.
Theresa May's words during the UK election campaign are a fresh example of how the fight in Russia for Bogatov is not just about what happens in Putin's motherland. And thanks to Gregg Housh, today we learned that the same things are going on in Germany.
When and where will the protests take place?
On June 19 and 20 we ask people all over the world to find any Russian diplomatic mission and take a "selfie" or a photo with #freeBogatov on a piece of paper. If they are not close to any such we ask them to do the same in front of a local landmark. As an example, the Eiffel Tower in Paris. We will have descriptions of how to do this published in many languages shortly.
What will the consequences be if the charges against Dmitry aren't dropped, and he is not released?
Well, for Dmitry that means 20 years hard time. For Russians it will mean that they are sent a clear signal not to even think of running a Tor exit node or even using a Tor browser. It simply creates an atmosphere of fear not seen since the fall of the Wall. If proposals, just presented to the Duma, making encryption illegal becomes law the Russian government can simply arrest anyone they like at any time if they dear say anything that opposes Mr Putin and his ruling oligarch friends. Billionaires are the same all over the world. They are bad news whether they are on Wall Street or happen to have a Russian passport.
What motivates you to work as an activist, in support of others?
I survived torture and it has made me into a full time activist with friends in many camps. From Amnesty to Anonymous, from Bahrain to Scotland and from hacker spaces to newsrooms.
Why do you value privacy, and what are your personal concerns about increasing government surveillance and decreasing government transparency?
Privacy is a basic human right that has been established by laws of man and basic logic. A free man is free to think and express himself freely. A free man is creative and makes the world a better place. Take away my freedom and I will rebel. There is no need to explain what privacy is and nobody questions why there are curtains and doors in a house or a bedroom. In my country it is in the constitution that we have a right to privacy. Still our government is planning on introducing total surveillance on every man woman and child. I am a transparency activist and support hacktivism because it has become necessary. Transparency is for the government and privacy is for the citizens. If that needs to be explained, you either have evil intentions or a lack of understanding of basic logic.
A power shift needs to happen. The people must take the power back from the corporate corrupt governments or there will be a revolution where blood will run in the streets again. The main tools to facilitate that are encryption for the masses and transparency for governments and corporations. There is no other way to achieve a better balance.
Raymond Johansen sits on the Board of Directors of Pirate Parties International, and is International Coordinator of the Pirate Party of Norway. Find him at www.hacktivistculture.com and follow him on Twitter.