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What Russia censored in January

By Andrei Soldatov / 22 February 2013

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January saw a dramatic escalation of internet filtering in Russia. The League for Internet Safety, an organisation backed by the Kremlin, launched an experiment in the Kostroma region in central Russia in which 29 local internet service providers signed new contracts with users, giving them access only to a sanitised internet – in other words, websites included on a “white list”. Those wishing to surf beyond the confines of the white list are required to notify their provider explicitly.

At the start of the experiment the white list included about 500,000 sites; by the end of the experiment,  scheduled for April, it is expected to include up to 1 million.

The Ministry of Communications and Mass Media has stated that it does not support the experiment and considers it unnecessary in the light of existing legislation, in which Roskomnadzor, the Federal Agency for Supervision of Telecomms, Information Technologies and Mass Communications, plays a central role.

Communications minister Nikolai Nikiforov declared: “There is only one legitimate procedure for filtering of harmful content — the one operated by our subordinate agency Roskomnadzor. If operators impose restrictions, which are not covered by the law, they violate the rights of subscribers. Moreover, our country constitutes a single indivisible information space, and a specific region can not construct its citizens’ access to information under a different set of rules.”

But the League seems to have been unaffected by this comment. Its initiative was proudly presented at the Safe Internet Forum in Moscow on 8 February, attended by Russian MPs and high-placed officials, and mentioned by a Russian representative at the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe conference Internet 2013 — Shaping policies to advance media freedom held in Vienna on 14 and 15 February.

Extremism

On 22 January the central district court of Volgograd accepted a demand from the Volgograd regional prosecutor’s office to recognise as extremist two websites that published books by the Turkish theologian Said Nursi listed on the Federal List of Extremist Materials. Once the court’s decision comes into force, the websites will also be added to the list.

It was reported on 23 January that the Ordzhonikidze district prosecutor’s office of Yekaterinburg had found a publicly accessible website featuring the lyrics of the song “Every Day, Under the Sign of Death” by the Norwegian black metal band Zyklon B and the anti-Semitic tract Poisonous Fish: Zionists and Freemasons in Japan by A Klimov, recognised by courts as extremist. The site also included several other extremist items. The prosecutor’s office filed 15 writs against the ISP AKADO-Yekaterinburg, demanding that access to this website be limited. The proceedings came to an end because of the ISP’s voluntary compliance with the prosecutor’s demands.

The Arkhangelsk regional prosecutor’s office reported on 24 January that its audit of ISPs to check compliance with anti-extremist legislation had found a publicly accessible electronic translation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ tract What Does the Bible Really Teach?, declared extremist by the Rostov regional court. The prosecutor filed a writ against the regional branch of the ISP VimpelCom, demanding that access to this material be blocked. The ISP voluntarily complied with the request, and the case was dropped.

On 29 January it was reported that the Dolzhansky district prosecutor’s office in the Orel region had found that the regional branch of the ISP Rostelecom was providing access to a website listed on the Federal List of Extremist Materials, and to another that contained instructions on making explosives and drugs. The prosecutor’s office filed a writ demanding that access to the identified sites be restricted. Despite the ISP’s argument that the website’s owner should be responsible for monitoring content, the district court granted the prosecutor’s request.

Gambling and online casinos

It was reported on 18 January that the Voronezh city prosecutor’s office had identified a website that could be used for online gambling. It filed writs against several ISPs, including MegaFon, Tele2, MTS and Kodotel, demanding that they limit access. The court ordered the ISPs to comply.

The Omsk regional prosecutor’s office announced on 22 January that after an audit of ISPs’ compliance with the gambling ban, the central district prosecutor’s office in Omsk had sent several demands to ISPs that access to gambling sites be restricted.

On 22 January it was announced that the Chernovsky district prosecutor’s office in Chita had identified more than a dozen publicly accessible websites that provided online casino services. The prosecutor filed a writ with the district court demanding that the local ISP limit access to the identified websites. The ISP voluntarily blocked the sites.

The prosecutor’s office in Ivanovo reported on 24 January that the Teykovo interdistrict prosecutor’s office had filed five writs against the ISP Gorizont for providing access to gambling websites. The prosecutor’s office demanded that access to these sites be blocked.

On 1 February the Tula regional prosecutor’s office announced that the prosecutor’s office of the Sovetsky district had reviewed implementation of legislation on gambling. Four writs were filed against the ISP Altair Tula demanding restrictions of access to online casinos, which were accepted by the Sovetsky district court.

On 1 February the Pskov regional prosecutor’s office announced that it had decided that the regional branch of the ISP Rostelecom was responsible for blocking access to gambling sites.

Schools, students, and a beauty salon

The Tambov regional prosecutor’s office announced on 9 January that the Oktiabrsky district prosecutor’s office had found a computer located in a beauty salon that allowed access to websites containing extremist material. The salon’s ISP, Lanta, has been instructed to cease the violations and bring disciplinary charges against those responsible.

On 14 January it was announced that the Komi Republic had launched a content filtering system for computers that provide students with access to the internet. The system covers 285 educational institutions of the republic and 150 computers used for home-schooling of children with disabilities. The goal is to prevent schoolchildren from accessing online information that “is incompatible with the objectives of education and training”. Lists of acceptable and unacceptable sites will be maintained jointly by the republic’s government and staff of educational institutions. The content filtering system is to be extended to cover all the Komi Republic schools.

It was reported on 15 January that bailiffs had ordered the management of four schools in the Kurumkansky district of Buryatia (in Kurumkan, Baragkhan and Sakhuli) to comply with court decisions on limiting students’ access to banned sites. Content filters have been installed.

On 18 January it was reported that the ministry of education and science of the Volgograd region had signed an agreement with the local branch of Rostelecom for the ISP provider to assume responsibility for filtering students’ access to websites containing dangerous material. Rostelecom provides internet access for 85 per cent of the region’s schools.

The Moscow regional prosecutor’s office announced on 18 January that the Yegoryevsk town prosecutor’s office had conducted an audit of compliance with legislation by local schools. The audit had established that in three schools in the district installed filters did not provide sufficient protection from extremist material. The prosecutor’s office has demanded that the head of the local administration ends the violations and brings disciplinary charges against those responsible.

On 21 January it was announced that the department of information technology of the Moscow city government will provide all city schools with wireless internet access by the end of February. The company that won the contract for implementation of this programme, MGTS, must also provide content filtering in order to protect students from extremist, pornographic and other harmful material.

Drugs

It was announced on 8 January that the Pervomaisky district court of Kirov had accepted the demand of the Leninsky district prosecutor’s office that the regional branch of the ISP Rostelecom block access to a website that contained information about cultivation of hemp and producing a psychoactive substance from it.

On 10 January it was announced that the Simonovsky interdistrict prosecutor’s office in Moscow had identified several websites that contained information on illegal drug distribution. The prosecutor’s office filed three writs against the ISP AMT Group Telecom, demanding that access to these websites be restricted by adding an IP-address filter on its router. The Khamovniki district court dismissed them on the grounds that restricting access to the sites would also deprive users of access to other sites. The prosecutor’s office appealed the decision. The Moscow city court subsequently reversed the district court’s judgment and ordered the provider to restrict access to the sites.

On 14 January the Kirov regional prosecutor’s office reported that a court had granted a request by the Oktyabrsky district prosecutor’s office to order the ISP Rostelecom to limit access to a website containing information about drugs and psychotropic substances. The court’s decision has not yet come into force.

On 16 January it was reported that the Berezovsky district prosecutor’s office in the Khanty-Mansiysk autonomous area (also known as Yugra) had found several publicly accessible sites that promoted illegal drugs or contained extremist or pornographic material. The prosecutor’s office filed a writ against the ISP Rostelecom demanding that access to these websites be blocked.

It was reported on 22 January that the Nizhny Novgorod regional prosecutor’s office had identified several websites that promote distribution of illegal substances. The prosecutors of Nizhegorodsky and Sovetsky districts of Nizhny Novgorod and the city prosecutor’s offices of Arzamas and Vyksun filed writs against multiple service providers, demanding that the identified websites be blocked.

And the rest…

On 3 January Roskomnadzor added the blog kazantripreport, hosted on the portal lj.rossia.org, to its register of banned sites. The creator of lj.rossia.org had agreed to remove the page on 2 January, having discussed doing so since 28 December. The notification from Roskomnadzor arrived a week after the page had been removed. The management of lj.rossia.org accused the user kazantripreport of spamming and using the resource for commercial purposes. In addition, the blog had published reviews of an illegal substance, as well as Russian translations of Philip Greave’s book The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover’s Code of Conduct.

On 6 January Roskomnadzor notified the online encyclopedia lurkmore.to that the address for one of its articles had been included on the register of banned sites. The article discussed various ways to commit suicide in a satirical manner. The management of lurkmore.to has since removed the article and intends to appeal the ban in court. Roskomnadzor had taken similar measures against the online encyclopedia on previous occasions.

On 10 January Roskomnadzor notified Ilya Dronov, the manager of SUP Media’s LiveJournal Russia project, that the blog of Rustem Agadamov had been added to the register of banned sites. Propaganda for suicide was cited as the reason for the ban. The post in question was a photo report, dated March 2012. It depicted an attempted self-immolation of a Tibetan independence activist in protest against the visit of the president of China. Access to the page has been restricted. The administration of LiveJournal Russia intends to appeal Roskomnadzor’s decision.

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