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  Noose tightening on Internet freedom in Russia

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Join date : 2011-08-09

PostSubject: Noose tightening on Internet freedom in Russia   Sun Apr 27, 2014 1:29 pm


Noose tightening on Internet freedom in Russia


It’s been a bad week for Internet freedom in Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin set the mood music when asked about the Internet at a media forum in St. Petersburg.
Putin described the Internet as a "CIA project," developed in the US. The Russian president went on to say the Internet "is still developing as such." As a consequence, said Putin, Russia needs to "fight for its interests online."

As is often the case with many of the Russian president’s statements, there’s a grain of truth sufficient that some well-directed mud will always stick. The Internet can trace its lineage back to a US Department of Defense project, Advanced Research Projects Agency Network set up in the 1950s. But while the NSA might be able to take a peek at emails whenever it chooses, neither it, nor the CIA, can no more stop anyone publishing their two cents worth online than they can successfully advance porcine aerodynamics.

But in Russia, authorities in Moscow are putting in place a number of measures that, if the Internet is currently a CIA project, seem destined to rest executive control eastwards, making Russian prosecutors and Russia’s latter-day KGB, the Federal Security Service, the ultimate arbiters of what Russians can and cannot read, write or say online.

Last month, as Techcrunch reported, the Russian Prosecutor General’s office ordered Russian Internet service providers to sever access to a number of websites expressing anti-government views. One was that of prominent dissident and former world chess champion, Garry Kasparov, a longtime outspoken critic of Putin. The pretext given by the Prosecutor General’s office for blocking access to these websites was that, “these sites contain incitement to illegal activity and participation in public events held in violation of the established order.”

Earlier in the week, Russia, “fighting for its interests online,” had seen the departure for foreign lands of Pavel Durov, founder “Russia's Facebook,” Vkontate, or VK as it’s sometimes known.
Durov abandoned first his company, then his homeland, after being forced out as CEO of VK, to be replaced by two allies of Putin. He leaves behind a social media operation with an estimated 100 million Russian-speaking users.

But behind the blunt instruments of Durov’s ejection and the closedown of Kasparov’s web domain lie a series of measures being put in place by Moscow that will severely curtail the expression of contrary views online.

On April 22, Russia’s State Duma introduced amendments to counterterrorism legislation, one of which was a new law on “Internet users called bloggers,” reports Human Rights Watch.

The new law required bloggers with more than 3,000 daily online visitors to register with Russian state body, Roskomnadzor, which supervises Russian media. It puts Russian bloggers on the same legal playing field as major media outlets.

Among a range of obligations imposed on bloggers, which seem designed to discourage anyone from freely expressing an opinion, are requirements to verify sources for accuracy and restricting propaganda in support of electoral candidates. And if these requirements aren’t enough to persuade the ordinary Russian that blogging, Russia style, isn’t worth the risk of prosecution, bloggers can also be taken to task for third party comments posted on their website or social media page.

The Russian state’s move to rein in bloggers was criticized earlier this week by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović.
Mijatović called on the Russian Federation to veto the new legislation, commenting, “If enforced the proposed amendments would curb freedom of expression and freedom of social media, as well as seriously inhibit the right of citizens to freely receive and disseminate alternative information and express critical views.”

Quite so. And all this during a week when inspectors from the same OSCE — a German, Dane, Swede, Czech and Pole among them — were detained by pro-Russia militants in eastern Ukraine, with Denis Pushilin, the unelected head of the pro-Russia protesters’ self-declared Donetsk Republic, labelling them as “NATO spies.”

What chance any contrary explanation emerging in the Russian blogosphere?
Even if such contrary views were published, blogging advocates could find themselves addressing the digital-age equivalent of empty theatres; in Russia, where local search engine Yandex is market leader, the company has removed from search results the rankings of the most popular blogs, citing blogging having peaked and losing ground to social media.

So, just as traditional media has been the subject of ever greater control by Moscow, now the gaze of central government in Russia is fixed firmly on the Internet. The closedown of contrarian websites like Kasparov’s has been relatively well-publicized, as has the Kremlin’s influence being installed at VKontakte, but the ardor of micromanaging the free-flow of information goes much further.

Tonia Samsonova, sometime correspondent for TV Rain, a Russian media outlet that’s previously faced the plug being pulled, wasn’t optimistic there’d be any slackening of the noose tightening on Russian Internet freedoms anytime soon. Talking to Index on Censorship, Samsonova said many in Russia used to believe they lived in a free society or at least one on the road to freedom.
But with each whittling away of liberties, she said, [Russian] people think they’ve hit rock bottom, then “someone is knocking from the underground and we realize we can go lower and lower and lower in terms of freedom.”

Ominously, Samsonova added, “Their ultimate goal is to have no oppositional thinkers posting.”
Soon, it seems, on Russia’s Internet, no one will hear anyone scream.

Index on Censorship
Human Rights Watch

This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author.

Related article:
Dissing dissent: Putin allies put in charge of ‘Russia's Facebook'

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