On Sunday, about 1000 protesters marched in the streets of Moscow,Russia with the authorization of the authorities in protest of government online surveillance and online restrictions. Protesters used phrases such as “No to censorship, no to dictatorship”. It even reached the extent that some were using, “down with the police state”. All this was to oppose all the new regulations placed by the government in Russia to tighten their control over the internet, whether it’s online restrictions or online surveillance.
Some protesters used a slogan that was very popularly used in the protests against the kremlin which was “Russia without Putin”, however they changed it to “Russia without censorship”.
According to police reports there was about 800 protesters, but according to AFP journalists that were on the spot, there was between 1000 to 1500 protesters that responded to the invitation of the Parnas Party which is led by the former Prime Minister, Mikhail Kasyanov, which happens to be the organizer of the event.
These protests came 2 days after a bill was passed in the lower house of parliament that would illegalize the use of any service to bypass blocked websites or to aid in the anonymity users’ online activities. These services include proxies and virtual private networks or VPNs.
Another bill was passed to ban online messaging services like WhatsApp and Telegram that encrypt the messages transmitted through them by the users to protect their online privacy.
Mr. Rassoudov, a 34-year old protester explained, “The authorities have realized that the Internet was a tool of mobilisation, as this would cause people to go out in the streets.”
Lyudmila Toporova, another 56-year old protester stated that we have to keep fighting for freedom because“freedom is the most important thing in life.”
OVD info stated that 3 protesters were arrested in the march, including one of them was passing out leaflets promoting the opposition leader, Aleksei Navalny. The other 2 were released later that day.
Sarkis Darbinyan, the head of the Center for the Defence of Digital Rights, an advocacy group based in Moscow, Russia, said that the strong turnout of the protests was driven merely by ”typical internet users” who are “tired of the volume of crazy laws.”
He specifically referred to the bill that would ban restriction bypassing services and online messaging services.
“This really does create problems for the connectivity of the Russian segment of the Internet and for access to services,” Darbinyan told RFE/RL. “I think this is why many citizens truly want to come out and openly state their opposition to such ham-fisted regulation of the Internet.”
Freedom House, a Washington-based rights group stated that internet freedom in Russia has continued falling last year and several other international watchdogs have criticized the way online speech is being treated in Russia.
Officials in Russia have repeatedly opposed these criticisms and the speaker of the lower house of parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, stated last year, in opposition to these criticisms, that the internet in Russia remains more free than in the United States.
In both cases, it seems to all internet users that Russia is gradually moving into a dark age regarding its internet freedom. All signs are directing Russia into becoming another China. This protest is a good start towards fighting for the human right of internet freedom and internet privacy but until this moment no one can tell if the protests are strong enough to make an impact in Russia.