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Putin's Brave New Russia

Published: March 17, 2014 (Issue # 1801)


Trouble, even when expected, can come at unexpected times. For many months, Russians have expected that authorities would begin to block Internet sites that publish opinions from opposition leaders, activists and supporters. But when a number of sites were blocked on Thursday morning, it was like a bolt out of the blue.

The Federal Mass Media Inspection Service blocked access to the website of the Ekho Moskvy radio, the online publications Ej.ru, Grani.ru and Kasparov.ru, the homepage of world chess grandmaster Gary Kasparov. The legal justification was the so-called Lugovoi law, named after its author, State Duma Deputy Andrei Lugovoi. He is also the main suspect in the 2006 London murder of Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko. Even if Lugovoi's guilt as a murderer has not been proven in court, there is no doubt that he is a killer of freedom on Russia's Internet.

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This law entered into force on Feb. 1, during protests in Ukraine. The law allows the Federal Mass Media Inspection Service to block sites "containing calls for unsanctioned acts of protest" without a court injunction. As usual for repressive laws in Russia, it is applied rather loosely. The editors of Grani.ru were not told which of their hundreds of online pages contained "calls for unsanctioned acts of protest," if there were any at all. It goes without saying that the Lugovoi law violates the Russian Constitution, where Article 29 strictly prohibits any censorship.

While similar to the Chinese approach, the Russian law is technically applied in a different way. China has its centralized "great firewall." In Russia, individual providers block sites if they receive notice from the Federal Mass Media Inspection Service about a problem on their URL. This model is far from perfect. Some providers do not block access at all; others block some access. Online publishers can get around it easily by creating a mirror site that has a different URL. It is even easier for users to get around it by using proxy servers.

Also by this author: Russia’s Fertile Grounds for Homophobia

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