Russia's government has escalated its use of its Internet censorship law to target news sites, bloggers, and politicians under the slimmest excuse of preventing unauthorized protests and enforcing house arrest regulations. Today, the country's ISPs have received orders to block a list of major news sites and system administrators have been instructed to take the servers providing the content offline.
The banned sites include the online newspaper Grani, Garry Kasparov's opposition information site kasparov.ru, the livejournal of popular anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny, and even the web pages of Ekho Moskvy, a radio station which is majority owned by the state-run Gazprom, and whose independent editor was ousted last month and replaced with a more government-friendly director.
The list of newly prohibited sites was published earlier today by Russia's Prosecutor General, which announced that the news sites had been "entered into the single register of banned information" after "calls for participation in unauthorized rallies." Navalny's livejournal was apparently added to the register in response to the conditions of his current house arrest, which include a personal prohibition on accessing the Internet.
Russia enacted its first law permitting official government censorship of the Internet in 2012, when it was claimed its register would primarily be used to combat child pornography, drug use, and material promoting suicide.
Opposition leader and former chess champion Garry Kasparov tweeted in response to the new crackdown:
These are huge news sites, not political groups. Giant Echo of Moscow site now just gone. Grani, EJ, Navalny's blog, all blocked in Russia.
Mig Greengard, assistant to Mr. Kasparov, reported that Kasparov.ru's administrators had been contacted by government officials via letter, requesting that they shut down their servers directly. Though it may not be reachable from some Russian ISPs, Kasparov's website is currently still up, as is Navalny's blog and Ekho Moskvy. Grani's site, at present, shows a single message stating the news site is "blocked at the request of the Prosecutor General."
EFF is profoundly opposed to government censorship of the Internet, which violates its citizens right to freedom of expression, guaranteed under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We are especially concerned about the censorship of independent news and opposing political views, which are essential to a thriving civil society. Russians who wish to circumvent government censorship can continue to read these websites via the Tor Browser, which they can install using the Tor Browser Bundle.