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Russia cracks down on domestic political opposition

1:32pm | 17 March 2014 | by Jon Fox, Peter Bourgelais

Last week, Russian authorities moved to further tighten their control over the internet, clampdown on free speech, and silence those who dare voice ‘controversial’ views online. Leveraging broad internet censorship laws, the office of the Russian Attorney General requested that the country’s media regulator - Roskomnadzor - block access to opposition news portals Kasparov.ru, Grani.ru, and EJ.ru. In addition to blocking access to these news sites, system administrators were instructed to take down the servers providing access to the banned content.

Internet users trying to access the blocked websites were greeted by a message stating: “The said websites contain calls to illegal activity and participation in mass events that are conducted contrary to the established order.” Roskomnadzor’s official website announced that the news sites had been "entered into the single register of banned information," on the basis of calling "for participation in unauthorized rallies."

In 2012, the Russian Duma passed the Russian Internet Restriction Bill (Federal law #139-FZ), creating the country's’ first official internet “blacklist” of banned websites. This was followed by a 2013 law that authorized the Russian Prosecutor General and his deputies to issue emergency orders to block websites "promoting extremism" without a court order. At the time, Russian authorities claimed censorship power would primarily be used to combat child pornography, drug use, and material promoting suicide. However, today these broad censorship powers used are being used to shut down independent voices online.  

These two laws were followed in early February 2014 by the so-called “Lugovoi law,” known after its author, State Deputy Andrei Lugovoi. The law, which was passed at the same time as violent protests in Ukraine’s capital, “allows the Federal Mass Media Inspection Service to block sites ‘containing calls for unsanctioned acts of protest’ without a court injunction.”  The Lugovoi law provided further legal cover to block news sites offering sympathetic coverage to Ukrainian protesters, and was used most recently to quell protests planned in Russia against the Crimean secession referendum held over this past weekend.

Access strongly believes that political participation and the realization of human rights in the 21st century is increasingly dependent on access to the internet and other forms of technology. Actions such as these - including the broad censorship of news reporting online - severely undermines human rights and freedoms of all Russians. in the absence of meaningful legal review, Russian lawmakers must repeal laws that allow indiscriminate censorship both on and offline.