Russia struggles with censorship concerns

Apr 24, 2012

A showdown seems to be fast approaching in Russia, where state authorities are moving closer to widening Internet censorship. Claiming that Western influences are creating instability in Russia through the Internet, major political figures in Russia have invoked the experience of the Arab Spring to justify increased state intervention.

Federal Security Service (FSB) deputy director Sergei Smirnov has called for an Internet crackdown, arguing that society has to defend itself against “dirty technology.” Nikolai Patrushev, the head of the Russian security council, has cited China and the United States as models for regulating the Internet.  While Internet experts say it may be too late for Russia’s security services to institute a Chinese-style firewall, the FSB has begun to increase their harassment of opposition figures online.

President Dmitry Medvedev has dismissed these fears, claiming that online censorship is impossible. Despite these assurances, Russia has a mixed record on Internet freedom. Freedom House has raised concerns over the Russian government’s use of anti-extremism laws to target political opponents, most famously in the case of blogger and journalist Irek Murtazin, who was sentenced to nearly two years in jail for defamation. The “anti-extremism” law has been used to shut down nearly 1,000 websites already, ranging from actual extremist websites to websites critical of the government.

Russia, which is on Reporters Without Borders’ “under surveillance” list, is not the only country in the region to censor the Internet. Belarus, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are all listed as “enemies of the Internet” by Reporters Without Borders. Their activities include shutting down websites critical of the government, blocking social networks, and surveillance of their citizens.


(Image courtesy Freedom House)

About the Author

Ryan Isakow

Ryan Isakow is a TOL editorial intern.
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