01 Nov 2012

Russian Law to Block `Harmful’ Websites, Raising Concerns for Freedom of Speech

The Russian government passed a law enabling authorities to blacklist and force web sites offline in a move it says is meant to protect children from unsuitable content but that has drawn accusations of censorship.

As an amendment to the Act for Information, the new law stipulates that Internet Service Providers need to block access to offending materials if the websites cannot be taken offline.

"Of course there are websites that should not be accessible to children, but I don't think it will be limited to that," said Yuri Vdovin, vice-president of Citizens' Watch, a human rights organization from St. Petersburg. "The government will start closing other sites - any democracy-oriented sites are at risk of being taken offline. It will be [an attack on] the freedom of speech on the internet."

Russian search engine Yandex and the Russian-language version of Wikipedia expressed their concerns about the new law as it “could lead to the creation of extra-judicial censorship of the entire internet in Russia, including banning access to Wikipedia in the Russian language.”

Human rights campaigners stress that other websites with potential damaging content, such as fascist sites, are already available and that the government isn’t concerned about those. When referring to LiveJournal, YouTube and Facebook, Telecom Minister Nikolai Nikiforov believes that as long as websites abide Russian law, it’s unlikely they’ll be blocked.

"The government is not aimed at enforcing censorship there. LiveJournal, YouTube and Facebook showcase socially responsible companies,” said Nikiforov. “That means that they will be blocked only if they refuse to follow Russian laws, which is unlikely, in my opinion.”