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How a silly Instagram photo sparked an investigation by Russia’s secret police

Russia's blasphemy law, pushed to the limit.


Darina Gribova


Posted on Aug 24, 2015   Updated on May 28, 2021, 2:46 am CDT

Anti-extremism police in Russia are investigating their most extreme case yet: whether it’s sacrilegious for a woman to wear a religious robe and fake beard in an Instagram photo.

It started in April, when journalist Ksenia Sobchak was working on a feature for Snob magazine about how different religions are practiced in Russia. The corresponding photo shoot included Sobchak dressing up in priestly vestments and sporting a long fake beard—you can still see her in the garb on the online version of the magazine. Naturally, she put a posted of herself all dressed up on Instagram.

Mikhailov has duly reported Sobchak again for that post, too. Once again Center E—this time the Moscow branch—is investigating, though its slowness in prosecuting the journalist may be a sign it’s not terribly concerned. Sobchak has so far refused to comment. Her Instagram account, however, remains as active as ever.

Illustration by Max Fleishman

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*First Published: Aug 24, 2015, 12:06 pm CDT