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Social distancing? No problem! Russian court hears case on WHATSAPP VIDEO CHAT for first time in history

Social distancing? No problem! Russian court hears case on WHATSAPP VIDEO CHAT for first time in history
Covid-19 may be a deadly and frightening virus, but it has also undoubtedly been a catalyst for a certain degree of innovation. Workers and students are suddenly finding that some traditional commuting could have been avoidable.

At the same time, conservative governments who claimed that certain social policies were financially impossible have finally discovered their own magic money-trees. But a court in Russia's Ural region has really set a unique precedent by conducting a trial via WhatsApp.

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“A judge of the Nevyansk city court of the Sverdlovsk Region heard an administrative violation case against a local entrepreneur whose cafe was functioning during quarantine, by means of a WhatsApp video call,” said Pavel Chikov, the head of human rights organization Agora. “As a punishment, the court banned the cafe from operating for 45 days.” The Sverdlovsk Oblast is about 1,400km east of Moscow.

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Restrictions on the operation of shopping centers, cafes, and restaurants have been in place in the whole of Russia since Saturday. From March 28 to April 5, food outlets must only function through delivery, and may not accept any visitors. Agora's lawyers provided legal assistance to one of the parties in the case.

WhatsApp, a phone-based messenger owned by social media giant Facebook, is by far the most-used communication app in Russia, according to a 2019 study by Mediascope, followed by YouTube and Russian social network VKontakte. The survey found that a whopping 69 percent of Russians have WhatsApp on their phone. By contrast, Facebook is only used by 14 percent, with the vast majority of them residing in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

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Although a first for WhatsApp, this is not the first time that the Russian justice system has held a hearing on a video call. On March 26, a court in Kazan used conferencing software to try a man for violating the law on rallies. The accused, Farit Zakiev, head of the All-Tatar Public Center, was fined 10,000 rubles ($127). Media reports claim that there was also a second trial conducted by the same court, in the same manner.

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On March 18, Russia's Supreme Court announced that courts around the country should limit their consideration of cases due to the Covid-19 pandemic, hearing only the most urgent. They also suggested, if technically possible, sessions should attempt to function through video-conferencing software.

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