A Russian journalist has been fined for mocking the Orthodox church over its lack of Covid-19 safety measures.
Aleksandr Pichugin was charged with “public dissemination of knowingly false information that poses a threat to the life and safety of citizens” after publishing messages he alleged to be from the Russian Federal Security Service on his Telegram account, a platform similar to Whatsapp.
The messages, he alleged, said that the church's Palm Sunday services had been a "planned activity…with the aim to infect people with a deadly disease”.
Federal Security Service agents later arrested him, seizing his laptop and mobile phone. Pichugin insists that he was simply expressing outrage at the lack of preventative measures put in place by the church to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), prosecutors sought a sentence of two years and six months for the journalist. However, in its ruling, the court ordered Pichugin to pay a fine of 300,000 rubles (£2,960).
The CPJ urged the courts to scrap all the charges. "Russian authorities should not spend their time harassing and pursuing legal action against a blogger over a satirical post,” they said in a statement
Radio Free Europe reported that Pichugin's lawyer, Tumas Misakyan, is preparing to appeal the ruling.