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Russia: how the Kremlin puts the Internet under its control

Local journalist Irina Slawina pays 70,000 rubles, the equivalent of almost 990 euros. For a post on Facebook. So far, it has been the highest fine imposed for "disrespectful" statements about the Russian state and society. The law came into force this year. It is one of many that limits freedom of expression in Russia even on the Internet.

In Nizhny Novgorod, a city of millions of kilometers east of Moscow, 990 euros is a lot of money, the monthly income is around 440 euros. Slavina writes on its Internet portal Kozapress of corrupt officials, members of parliament who fly in business class – he dares to write about what should not have place in the state news.

The journalist often writes on an emotional level, as in August, when the representatives of the communist party of the city of Shakhunya in the Nizhny Novgorod region published a commemorative plaque for the Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. Slawina was so indignant that she suggested on Facebook to change the letter of the place name so that it becomes an obscene dirty word. She was fined for this. "I spend more time in court now than in my job," he says. He has seen in recent years, with increasing pressure.

Strategically important for the Kremlin

Not just critical media journalists (Internet), but all citizens in Russia. In a 76-page study published by Reporters Without Borders on Thursday, authors Ulrike Gruska and Gemma Pörzgen paint a complete picture of how the Kremlin systematically tried to control virtual space for seven years. An effort that seemed difficult for a long time in a country where the network was free and just regulated unlike China, for example.

For the Kremlin, the Internet is now of strategic importance.

Protests in Moscow 2012: protesters demand Putin's resignation

Maxim Shemetov / REUTERS

Protests in Moscow 2012: protesters demand Putin's resignation

The authors of the study provide numerous examples, but eleven pages filled the overview of the laws. At the beginning it was only a matter of censoring the users, now the regime has the structures in view. The technical implementation is still slow, but the interventions are enormous. Reporters Without Borders speaks of a "Russian mass surveillance system":

  • user they are condemned because of online activities, in this way transmitted images transmitted and I like, approximately if it concerns the so-called offensive religious values ​​or as in the case of the journalist Slawina to alleged lack of respect towards the state. Moreover, from this year, the dissemination of alleged false information is punishable. However, this law, like many others, is spongy. The study stated that arbitrary application creates a climate of uncertainty and anxiety. The message: can meet anyone.
  • Foreign investors only 20% are authorized to hold Russian media companies. Foreign-funded media have had to register as "agents" since 2017. So far there are ten offers like the American station Voice of America and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty. They were forced by the authorities to carry the defamatory "Agent" label.
  • The president's signature is still missing under the legislative amendment just approved by the parliament, but is considered a formality. So you can do it too journalists be declared "foreign agents". Presumably, this should only concern those who work for media companies or NGOs that already have this label. Since this law is also inconsistently worded, it could affect almost anyone who receives money from abroad, says well-known blogger Ilya Varlamov.

President Vladimir Putin: Always new laws that limit the freedom of the Internet

Mikhail Klimentyev / RIA Novosti / Kremlin / REUTERS

President Vladimir Putin: Always new laws that limit the freedom of the Internet

  • Nearly 300,000 websites have been blocked by media regulator Roskomnadzor since 2012, often without a court order.
  • National provider of telecommunications services and the Internet From 2018, they were required to keep the connection data for three years, that is to say information on who communicated with whom and when ("Jarovaya Law"). Content such as news, videos, images or phone calls must be kept for six months. But not all companies have installed the necessary and expensive technology to date. Data on Russian citizens can generally only be stored on servers in the country. The securities were announced by the law, which came into force in November, according to which Russia wants to decouple its Internet traffic in the future, or channel it through the servers of its own country "in case of emergency". Furthermore, all vendors should install a special technology with which authorities can block pages. Although the tests are ongoing and many technical problems are unclear, Reporters Without Borders speaks of a "new level of censorship on the Internet".
  • messaging services should help intelligence agencies read coded messages and provide decryption keys. Telegram refuses to do so until today.
  • While the main Russian IT group Yandex, which offers a search engine among others, behaves cooperatively with the authorities, sees it in the international companies different. For a long time there have only been threats, Russia has raised fines for 2018 for viewing or linking to prohibited or unwanted content. The pressure has increased Google eliminates the content on a case by case basis, Facebook and Twitter so far refuse.

Reporters Without Borders criticizes Russia's leadership for blatantly violating human rights such as the right to privacy or freedom of the press. This is why it is unlikely that international companies will cooperate with Moscow, the organization appeals: "Otherwise they will become the censors' henchmen".