Russia has been cracking down on its internal dissent, limiting speech that does not coincide with the government’s narrow and controversial policies. Last year, up to 54 people were sent to prison for hate speech, marking a dramatic five-fold increase from five years ago.
Take Anastasia Bubeyeva, for example. Bubeyeva now lives alone with her four-year-old son in a barely furnished first-story apartment because her husband, Andrei Bubeyev, was arrested and given a two-year prison sentence for “hate speech.”
In reality, Bubeyev shared a photo on social media, to a total of twelve followers, of a tube of toothpaste accompanied by the following phrase: “Squeeze Russia out of yourself!” This, in addition to other posts calling for greater attention to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, prompted his arrest and subsequent two-year sentence.
Forced to drop out of medical school because she could not find affordable child care for her son, Anastasia Bubeyeva serves as an extreme example of what limiting free expression could mean for society.
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Russia, under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, has initiated these increased restrictions on free speech in order to show a solid record for controlling extremism within its borders. However, through these incredibly strict limitations on free speech, specifically through social media, the Russian government promotes only its own agenda, without room for adverse opinions to be heard.
In essence, the government has initiated a battle against honest journalism. A disheartening new poll by the Levada Center discovered that only one percent of Russians receive international news daily. Eighty-seven percent of the nation’s citizens never do.
Turning the focus back to the United States, it is more important than ever to remind ourselves why free speech is so essential to liberty. While many Americans take their ability to express themselves for granted, free speech is being threatened on many college campuses, as school administrations and even some students fight to limit any expression that could potentially considered offensive.
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Allowing every citizen to voice their opinion is fundamental in achieving American freedom. Although restrictions in the United States do not compare with those in Russia, it is still vital to remember that placing any restrictions on free speech—even if it’s considered offensive—would be a limitation on the freedom we are naturally granted as Americans.
Letting all opinions be heard, after all, helps us formulate meaningful discussions about controversial issues and forces us to engage in serious, rational dialogue about our disagreements. And although debate about free speech has been prominent with regard to recent events on college campuses, the discussion is important for our entire society.
That’s because unlike Russia, the United States has a Bill of Rights which begins by protecting each American’s ability to express himself or herself without fear of being silenced.
Photo Credit: Made available by the Kremlin under CC by 4.0