For fear of imprisonment: Russians use emojis and codes to arrange demonstrations

Ukraine war

For fear of imprisonment: Russians use emojis and codes to arrange demonstrations


3/11/2022, 9:24 p.m

2 min reading time

While Putin's regime is cracking down on alleged "fake news" and anti-war demonstrations, the population is using encrypted messages to organize protests.

"The weather is great for a walk"

Encrypted codes have been used to mobilize protests in Russia for years. The authorities now also know the encrypted messages well enough that, according to the human rights organization OVD-Info, there can hardly be any talk of a code.
"Let's walk to the center" or "The weather is great for a walk" should be such phrases, a Russian tells BBC News. What was intended to circumvent state censorship almost became an inside joke or meme, she continues. However, the consequences of not coding are very serious.


Attack on Ukraine – Faces of War



Ukraine Faces War Woman Tea Subway

An old woman drinks tea while sheltering in a metro station from the Russian attack on Kyiv (March 8).


Why are codes necessary?

Since 2014, unauthorized demonstrations have been banned in Russia. A first violation can result in up to 15 days imprisonment, repeated violations can even lead to imprisonment of up to five years. Hence, since then it has been common to use encrypted messages and phrases to organize online.
Earlier this month, a law was passed in Russia to crack down on "fake news" involving the military. However, it is expected that this law will be used to crack down on anti-war protests even more – including imprisonment of up to 15 years, which would be significantly longer than the current sentences.

Many Russians are deleting their accounts

BBC News is aware of arrests based solely on social media activity. For example, one woman tweeted, "I haven't walked the center in a long time," citing another account's tweet that contained a more explicit call for a rally. Five days later, she was arrested by Russian police as she tried to board a train.
According to Leonid Drabkin, the coordinator of OVD-Info, the blocking of independent media and social media has resulted in important information channels being cut off. Many users have now deleted their social media profiles out of fear.
Sunflower emoji as a sign of solidarity with Ukraine
The walking emoji is the only one that got a new meaning from the Russian invasion. The sunflower emoji is being posted by users as a "global symbol of resistance, unity and hope," reports The Washington Post.





OWD info

Pushkin Square

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