In July the Russian parliament approved a bill designed to increase the Kremlin’s control of the internet. The new laws grant the government sweeping powers to block access to internet resources.
Russian Wikipedia blacked out to protest the law claiming that it would “lead to the creation of a Russian analogue to China’s great firewall”. Campaigners fear the new rules will lead to widespread censorship. Even though the law doesn’t come into effect until November, Russian internet service providers are already coming under pressure to block internet resources and services.
Here, Andrei Soldatov tells us what Russia censored in September
Jehovah’s Witnesses jammed
On 28 September it was announced that a district court ordered internet providers to block access to the Jehovah’s Witnesses website www.jw.org. In 2009 Russia’s supreme court upheld a ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses gathering to worship or protlysising their beliefs.
In May 2012, the regional prosecutor’s office discovered the organisation’s website features the book What Does the Bible Really Teach? which included in the Federal List of Extremist Materials. Therefore, the prosecutor’s office filed a lawsuit in order to restrict access to this website. In December 2011 the same Soviet District Court banned access to www.watchtower.org, another website belonging to the organisation.
On 17 September the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation filed a lawsuit with Moscow Tver District Court requesting the film Innocence of Muslims be classified as “extremist”. On 19 September, despite the fact that the case had not even been brought to court, let alone received a verdict, the Deputy Prosecutor General Viktor Grin sent instructions to regional prosecutors’ offices, ordering them to block access to websites that posted the video.
On the same day the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor), addressed communication providers and the press in a letter that “strongly recommended” restricting access to the video and “not waiting for the court judgment”. The regulator, which operates on a regional basis, called on internet providers to block access to the anti-Muslim video in the regions of Altai, Perm, Primorye , Khakassia, Novosibirsk, Saratov, and Tomsk. A day later, Roskomnadzor branches in Kaliningrad, Kemerovo and Chelyabinsk made similar recommendations. The film has been blocked in all these regions.
On 28 September Leninsky District Court of Grozny issued a ruling banning the distribution of the video.
Meanwhile, on 27 September it was announced that three of the largest mobile and Internet service providers, MTS, Beeline and MegaFon, restricted access to Innocence of Muslims. Beeline is currently blocking access to the websites that posted the video, so in Chechnya, Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Ingushetia, Karachay-Cherkessia, North Ossetia and the Stavropol Region there is no access to .ru or .com versions of YouTube. MTS is blocking access only to the video itself, as is MegaFon.
On 21 September Roskomnadzor announced that a warning has been issued to Newsland.ru news website for an article titled “Muslims have shown that they are uncivilised”. The article contains insulting remarks against Muslims. Tests have since confirmed that that this website is no longer available in Moscow.
On 26 September it was announced that the City Prosecutor’s Office of Kirov found the pamphlet “The Russian Orthodox Church and the Modern Pre-Antichrist Era: The Religious Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church” online despite the fact it was added to the Federal List of Extremist Materials in 2009.
The Prosecutor’s Office filed charges with the Pervomaiskii District Court of Kirov and asked that the pamphlets web host be recognised as extremist. The court has granted the request. This name of the banned site has not being made public but the website Ispovednik.com was previously classified as extremist after publishing the same pamphlet.
Nazi books barred
On 6 September it became known that the Prosecutor’s Office of Khabarovsk Krai had filed eight lawsuits requesting providers restrict access to information. The formal reason was the prosecutor’s audit of compliance with the law on countering extremist activity. In the course of the inspection several items legally recognised as extremist materials were found to be publicly available.
The books in question were The Diaries of Joseph Goebbels, 1945, and SS Member and the Blood Question. The prosecutor’s office demanded that the provider, VimpelCom restrict access to the books. The Khabarovsk Central Court granted prosecutors request to require providers to restrict access to these books.
Similar claims were filed against internet providers Redkom-Internet, Prestige-Internet, and Vostoktelecom, and the books have now been blocked.
On 20 September it was reported that the Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian subject the Republic of Tatarstan issued a warning to the head of the VKontakte, Russia’s largest social network about violations of anti-extremist legislation. An inspection, jointly conducted by the Prosecutor’s office and Tatarstan’s Ministry of Interior, has revealed that the social network included the National Bolsheviks of Tatarstan user group and 157 of its members.
The Prosecutor’s office reminded that the National-Bolshevik Party of Russia was banned in Russia as extremist in 2007.
In compliance with the prosecutor’s office request the access to the “National Bolsheviks of Tatarstan” page has been blocked.
On 24 September it was reported that the Prosecutor’s Office of Asbest city in the Sverdlovsk Region discovered the video “Message from the Slavic Union soldiers to the Russian people” publicly accessible on the web. This video from the far-right organisation The Slavic Union (pictured) is included in the Federal List of Extremist Materials as containing information aimed at inciting hatred. The Prosecutor’s Office filed a claim with the Asbest City Court against the internet provider INTERSAT in order to block access to the video. The case was soon dismissed due to voluntary compliance with the Prosecutor’s request by the provider.
On 25 September it was announced that the City Prosecutor’s Office of Ramenskoe found the Islam DIN website, recognised as extremist in 2010, to be publicly available. The Prosecutor’s Office went to court to demand that the internet providers INTELSEK, AVIEL and Oscar Plus blocked access to the site. The case was dismissed after ISPs voluntary complied.
Herbal highs blocked in schools
On 4 September it was reported that the Prosecutor’s Оffice of Kungur in the Perm region discovered one of the city schools allowed unrestricted access to online resources, which contained information classified as war propaganda, incitement to religious and ethnic hatred, herbal high “smoking mixtures”, drugs and pornography.
The Prosecutor’s Office filed charges requesting restrictions against students’ access to these materials. The court has granted the request, and access to these sites is now blocked in schools across the region.
On 11 September it was reported that Nadym Municipal Court in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District District ordered the local branch of Rostelecom to restrict access to sites narod.ru and zhurnal.lib.ru. An inspection, conducted by the Prosecutor’s Office of Nadym revealed these sites contained materials included on the Federal List of Extremist Materials.
As a result, the local provider VKS-Internet blocked access to all the resources from the lib.ru and narod.ru domains, including the Samizdat magazine of Maksim Moshkov’s Library, the oldest Russian online library.
Suicide sites suspended
On 21 September it was reported that the Prosecutor’s office of the Stavropol Region discovered that major regional providers, including the branches of VimpelCom, Rostelecom and Ekvant companies, provided access to materials that promote suicide. According to the examination, conducted by the Bureau of linguistic expertise of Stavropol State University, several sites, with unspecified names contained suicide propaganda and detailed descriptions of the different ways to commit suicide.
The Prosecutor’s Office filed claims with Lenin District Court and the October District Court of Stavropol, requesting that the courts require providers to restrict access to these sites by utilising content filters on their border routers.
Andrei Soldatov is a Russian journalist, and together with Irina Borogan, co-founder of the Agentura.Ru web site. Last year, Soldatov and Borogan co-authored The New Nobility: The Restoration of Russia’s Security State and the Enduring Legacy of the KGB (PublicAffairs)