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Wikipedia Russia Strikes for 24 Hours in Protest of Proposed Legislation to Create Internet Blacklist

BY Lisa Goldman | Wednesday, July 11 2012

The Russian Wikipedia went dark for 24 hours on Tuesday to protest proposed government legislation that opponents believe is a thinly disguised attempt to censor the Internet. Democracy activists and Internet freedom advocates say the legislation would give the government sweeping powers to censor the Internet. But the government denies harboring any intention to restrict Internet access, accusing its opponents of not having read the text of the proposed legislation, which they say is designed to protect children from predators and illegal content.

Bill  89417-6 is series of amendments a to the Law on Information, Information Technologies and Protection of Information. It calls for the creation of blacklist for internet sites containing content illegal in Russia – e.g., alleged child pornography, drug related material and content created by political extremists. Internet service providers would be required by law to restrict or block access to sites on the blacklist.

The people behind LiveJournal, by far the most popular blogging platform in Russia with an estimated 1.6 million users, publishedtheir reasonsfor opposing the bill in a Russian and English post.

In practice this means that a provider will be able to block a certain site on ministerial orders without a court's judgment. We believe that the amendments to the law can lead to censorship in the Russian segment of the Internet, creating a black list, stop-lists and blocking certain sites. Unfortunately, the practice of law in Russia indicates a high probability of the worst-case scenario.

V Kontakte, a Russian social media platform that looks and functions like Facebook, placed a banner on its homepage that reads, “There is a bill on internet censorship being discussed in the Russian Duma. Find out more about it,” with a link to the Russian Wikipedia page on the Bill. The banner has been viewed nearly 700,000 times as of this writing, with about 21,000 shares.

According to an article on the website of United Russia, Vladimir Putin’s party, the first Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Education, Vladimir Burmatov, claims that Wikipedia’s reaction to the Bill is “strange and overly politicized.” Burmatov added:

“I can’t assume that the representatives of Wikipedia failed to read the Bill. I don’t want to think of them as unprepared and incompetent, but the Bill deals exclusively with blocking access to sites that contain clearly inappropriate content. Again, it would be strange to assume that Wikipedia would act in cooperation with such sites."

In a television interview with the independent Russian television station TV Rain, Wikimedia Russia director Stanislav Kozlovski said:

Of course, [the bill] covers child pornography, yes. But apart from that there are very vaguely defined criteria. That is, aside from child pornography, there is a long enough list written in the most vague way possible. For example, some users of narcotic substances are prohibited from describing their use. That includes manganese, acetone, acetic acid. Their use is prohibited. It’s forbidden to describe suicide methods. That is, if we have an article on suicide, for example on what kinds of classifications there are— all of this is prohibited information. But really, what is censorship? It’s when the government tries to decide what the citizens can have, what they should know and what they shouldn’t. In fact, in this case, the parents don’t make the decision for their kids, the teachers don’t make the decision for their students…

In a possible acknowledgment of the fact that many Russians are now on summer vacation and perhaps less aware of current events than usual, Stanislavki called for debate of the Bill to be delayed until autumn, "so that all interested parties can discuss it and make the appropriate corrections."

with Nataliya Nedzhvetskaya.

Personal Democracy Media is thankful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.