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Russia Blocks Major Opposition Sites; Anonymous Russia Retaliates, Shuts Down Kremlin Site

BY Rebecca Chao | Friday, March 14 2014

Russia has blocked a handful of independent news sites, including those of renowned chess player and opposition leader Gary Kasparov and popular dissident blogger Alexei Nalvany. The block began Thursday with an announcement by Russia's general prosecutor's office that Kasparov's website and others would be shut down because they "contain calls for illegal activity and participation in mass events conducted in violation of the established order."

Kasparov tweeted shortly after the ban:

He explained further:

Alexei Nalvany's blog is also blocked in Russia. The Kremlin claims that it violates the terms of his recently imposed house arrest, which forbids him from using the Internet for two months. Nalvany was sentenced in February, convicted of violating a travel ban as part of an ongoing criminal fraud case that he argues was engineered by the Kremlin as an attempt to silence him.

Nalvany, however, has still been communicating via Twitter. He recently retweeted a post by one of his followers @Shoopy, which links to a blog post that explains in Russian possible avenues for circumventing the block, such as adjusting settings with the Opera browser. Supporters have commented on the blog that they have also been using Tor, hidem.ru and plug-ins -- ZenMate for Google Chrome and G proxy for Firefox. While the blog post did not explain precisely how Tor is used to unblock a blocked site in Russia, a number of instructional sites like this one explain:

Now when the Tor has successfully connected to the relay network it will automatically launch a portable version of Firefox that you can use to access any blocked content available on the net. The Firefox is preloaded with a few useful extensions like No-Script and HTTPS everywhere to protect your identity.

Websites are not only being banned but being restructured by the Kremlin. On Mar. 12, editor-in-chief Galina Timchenko of a popular news site Lenta.ru was fired for publishing an interview with a Ukranian nationalist. Alex Goreslavskii, of the pro-Kremlin site vzglyad.ru was appointed in her place. The following day, 39 staff members resigned in protest. Russia also shut down a Ukranian television channel in Crimea on Mar. 6, replacing it with a Russian broadcast called Rossiya. Russia's Internet and media crackdown comes amidst growing tensions with Ukraine as Crimea prepares to vote for independence in a referendum on Sunday.

Russian netizens are not sitting still, however. On Friday, the Kremlin website was temporarily taken down by cyber attacks, which have been attributed to Anonymous Russia. They noted the attack on their Twitter account and have made similar attacks in the past.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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