Poland: 7-13 November 2016

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A Polish TV network airs unsubstantiated Russian propaganda report that an Austrian court acquitted an immigrant accused of raping a 10-year-old boy.

Event: On 11 November, the Polish online television network CW24TV reported that Austria’s Supreme Court overruled a lower court’s conviction of an Iraqi immigrant who had been accused of raping a 10-year-old boy in December 2015. Vladimir Putin himself retold the story on 31 October, during a conference dedicated to inter-ethnic relations in Russia.

The false fact or narrative: According to CW24TV, Austria’s Supreme Court allegedly took into account the fact that the rapist had acted “in a state of sexual necessity” and that there was no evidence the boy had not consented to sexual intercourse. CW24TV cited the Polish website PolsatNews as the source of that information—yet the original source appears to be the Russian state-owned television network First Channel.

Reality on the ground: On 24 October, Austria’s Supreme Court indeed reversed the sentence of an Iraqi man who in June 2015 had been sentenced by the lower Court of First Instance to six years in jail for raping a minor. According to Germany’s Deutsche Welle, the Supreme Court found that the lower court had made procedural failings in the original trial and lacked sufficient evidence to sustain the rape charge. However, the accused man remains behind bars, and the lower court will retry the case. 

Technique: 4
  • Denying facts.

Audience: Polish TV viewers worried about the influx of Mideastern immigrants to Europe.

Analysis: One of Russia’s favorite instruments of disinformation is sexual violence committed by immigrants and refugees in Europe. This theme is especially useful to the Kremlin because it arouses emotions in society and can be used to show the alleged helplessness and degeneration in overly permissive liberal democracies, which in the Kremlin’s view focus too much on defending the rights of minorities. It portrays such “weak, perverted, self-degrading” societies as inferior to Russian authoritarianism, which is “healthy and inflexible” and always acts in the majority’s interests. The message is simple: “If you support democracy, be prepared for a wave of rapes. Only authoritarianism can stop such behavior.” The Kremlin thus hopes to undermine Western societies by presenting Moscow as the only resolute defender of “normality.”