It seems that Russia is following in China’s footsteps in censoring the internet and controlling all web content in an attempt to repress political dissent and muzzle the opposition. Last year, the Kremlin declared war on free speech by passing the infamous “law on bloggers”, which demands any website that has at least 3000 subscribers to publish its content under a real name and even register with the government if needed. Moreover, bloggers are prohibited from defaming other individuals or groups in their posts and those who own popular social media accounts will follow the same rules in removing any inaccurate information. Those who will not comply and violate this law will be fined up to 300,000 rubles (approx. $6000) or 500,000 rubles and a possible 30-day jail term if they continue breaking the law. Another law was passed giving the Russian prosecutor the absolute authority to block any website that publishes content related to political protests without acquiring a court order.
“This law is a step toward segmenting and nationalizing the Internet and putting it under the Kremlin’s control,” says Matthew Schaaf, a program officer at Freedom House, a research group in Washington. “It could have a serious chilling effect on online expression in Russia, making users stop to think how their Google searches and Facebook posts could be used against them.”
Few days ago, Roskomnadzor, Russia’s watchdog contacted Google, Facebook and Twitter threatening to block them for breaking Russia’s internet laws, unless they comply with the rules.
“In our letters we regularly remind (companies) of the consequences of violating the legislation,” said a spokesman for the organisation.
The three internet giants are required to hand over data on Russian bloggers with a minimum of 3000 hits per day and remove all information related to arranging protests and mass riots. This year, Google was forced to move some servers to Russia under a law that demands Russians users’ personal data to be stored on its territory.
If the companies did not take steps to delete from their sites “information containing calls to participate in mass rioting, extremist activities” or unsanctioned public events, the watchdog would “limit access to the information resource where that information is posted”, Ksenzov warned.
Facebook responded by saying that it complies with all government data requests about its users ‘that comply with company policies and local laws, and meet international standards of legal process.’
It remains unclear how far Russia is prepared to go with its stifling censorship agenda, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to expect more firm laws to come as the country’s relationship with the US is getting more shaky.