Saturday, September 8, 2012

Russian Internet Blacklist Law

by Elena Vlasenko

Vladimir Putin says he doesn't use the internet very much. But he has definitely recognised its power. The biggest protest rallies in post-Soviet Russia, against Putin and his United Russia party, were organised online. No wonder that the parliamentary and presidential elections and Putin's inauguration were all marked by the hacking of independent media websites and LiveJournal, Russia's most popular blogging platform, via DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks.

Russian television is poisoned by censorship, and there are few offline platforms for public discussion. That is why social networks and blogs provide the space people from all over Russia use to share ideas and plans protests against Putin.

The precedent for persecuting bloggers to silence them was set in 2008. A year after blogger Savva Terentyev criticised police in a comment on a LiveJournal post he was given a one-year suspended sentence, under article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code, for "fomenting social hatred" towards police officers. Since then, article 282, which covers actions provoking animosity and hatred towards certain religious, social, gender or national groups, has been used to silence bloggers through the courts.

The other charge commonly used against internet users is "extremism". Throughout Putin's reign this charge has been used to target people who criticise the Kremlin - together with defamation and drug legislation. Russia's Department of Presidential Affairs won three defamation lawsuits against newspaper Novaya Gazeta in just one week last year. The newspaper's editor-in-chief, Dmitry Muratov, told Index on Censorship that the Kremlin has been using defamation suits as a censorship instrument.

In late August, Taisia Osipova, a The Other Russia activist, was sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of drug trafficking. Rights activists have called her a political prisoner and connect her prosecution with her political activism - her husband is a member of The Other Russia political council. No fingerprints were analysed with the drugs Osipova allegedly held in her flat, and the three witnesses in the case were pro-Kremlin youth movement members.

Starting on 1 November 2012 Russian authorities won't need a court ruling, like they did in the Terentyev case. Authorities will appeal to ISPs, create website blacklists and will be able to actually shut down anything they don't like. Previously, a court ruling could make a website or the URL for certain web content inaccessible in a specific region, while it stayed available in another.

Andrey Soldatov, an expert on Russian security services, notes that soon "the Kremlin will have at its disposal the facilities for blocking access to internet resources across the whole of Russia", including Skype and Facebook.

This is the result of the activities of the State Duma this summer. The period after Putin returned to Kremlin will stay in Russians' memory as a time of scandalous criminal prosecutions and controversial laws, which in spite of people's protests, were passed by the Duma.

The internet blacklist law, perhaps more than any of the other new laws - against rally organisers, NGOs which are financed from abroad, and the law which re-criminalised defamation - is likely to cause the saddest and the biggest consequences for Russian civil society.

Read the uncondensed version here.

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