first_imgNews to go further Listed as a “foreign agent”, Russia’s most popular independent website risks disappearing RussiaEurope – Central Asia RSF_en News March 12, 2010 – Updated on January 20, 2016 Russia After the takeover by the Kremlin of the audiovisual media early in the Putin era, the Internet became the freest space for discussion and information-sharing in Russia. Yet its dependence is threatened by blogger arrests and prosecutions, and the blocking of independent websites labeled as “extremist.” The Web has also become a first-rate sphere of activity for government propaganda and could become a political control mechanism.Web access has spread extensively in the last few years, and with government support. The project to create a Russian Silicon Valley was launched by President Dimitri Medvedev’s decree of December 31, 2009. This plan unveils the country’s technological ambitions.The Internet is regulated by the Federal Service for Communications Supervision, whose Director is appointed by the Prime Minister. The government secured the means to carry out Web surveillance from the very start. In 2000, all Internet service providers were required to install “Sorm-2” software, “SORM” being the Russian acronym for “System for Operative Investigative Activities.” It enables the police and Federal Security Service (FSB) to have access to user surfing activity and email traffic. A 2007 law authorized the government to intercept Web data without a prior court order. Social networks such as Vkontakte and the blog platform Livejournal were bought out by oligarchs with close ties to the regime.“Troubling” websites blocked, prosecuted or hackedThe Internet is not subject to an automatic filtering system, but independent sites and those with close ties to the opposition have been rendered inaccessible in the last few months. In 2008, the website was blocked by several Internet service providers prior to the presidential elections, and later unblocked. In December 2009, Garry Kasparov’s websites ( and and, the National Bolshevik Party’s website, were blocked for Yota service provider users. Yota denied the allegations, citing technical problems, and the websites were finally unblocked. The management of the Skartel operator, which owns Yota, admitted that this company blocks websites that the Ministry of Justice classifies as “extremist.” The list of “extremist” content, issued by the Attorney General, includes nearly 500 terms and is constantly being updated under the watchful eye of the “e-Centers” responsible for eliminating extremism. Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code defines “extremism” as “xenophobia and incitement to hatred by means of a social group.” These are the justifications given for shutting down the website, the only news portal in the Ingush language. The website was then created. In the same context, in February 2010, Russian police opened an investigation into the portal, a platform for independent journalists and human rights activists. The same treatment was reserved for and The Moscow Post website, which had reported a violent dispute between intoxicated senior police officials.Often a call from authorities is all it takes to obtain permission to delete content, or to block a website. Aleksandr Ovchinnikov, Director of the Web hosting company Masterhost, admitted that this practice exists.Cyber-attacks are commonplace. In January 2010, the website was hacked just after it posted the last interview granted by Natalia Estemirova, the human rights activist murdered in July 2009. The same thing happened to the website of the Chechen magazine Dosh, just a few days after it was awarded the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Prize in December 2009. As for the Novaya Gazeta newspaper’s website, it was rendered inaccessible for more than a week at the end of January following a “highly organized and powerful” cyber-attack.”Propaganda and intimidationsVladimir Putin stated in January 2010 that “50% of Internet content is pornographic. Why, then, should we bother?” He denied Internet-relayed accusations that the October 2010 regional election results were falsified. Nonetheless, the government is omnipresent on the Web, and makes optimal use of the terrain. One of the star bloggers of RuNet – the Russian version of the Internet – is none other than President Dmitri Medvedev. In March 2008, local Ingush authorities created an Internet site with an address almost identical to that of the news site in order to present a different version of the news that it was delivering.Government supporters are quick to react to criticisms posted online, “drowning” the latter in a sea of positive comments. The most virulent among them formed a group called the “Brigade,” of which some of them are paid members. They notably infiltrate discussion forums and sometimes discuss matters very harshly, not even hesitating to use insults and threats. In June 2009, economist Evgeni Gontmakher disclosed in The Moscow Times that he had been the target of “massive attacks” by bloggers paid by the government, after he criticized Vladislav Surkov, the First Deputy Chief of the Presidential Staff. In his opinion, “The modern Russian propaganda machine permeates nearly every major media outlet and even extends to the blogosphere.”Bloggers increasingly persecutedIn July 2008, blogger Savva Terentyev was charged with “belittling the human dignity of a social group” (in this instance, the police) and given a one-year probation. Irek Murtazin got a 21-month prison term for “defamation and incitement to hatred” for having posted a message implying that Mintimer Shaimiev, who was Tatarstan’s chief executive at the time, had died. The case was appealed to the Russian Supreme Court.Blogger Dimitri Soloviev was investigated for having “inciting hatred against the police and the FSB.” Charges were dropped in January 2010 after two years of legal proceedings. On September 1, 2009, the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Khakassia (in southwest Siberia) dropped the charges against Mikhail Afanasyev, editor of the Novy Focus website, who was accused of spreading “false rumors.” He had published news about the fatal explosion of a turbine at the Sayano-Shushenskaya power plant, which led to the death of 73 employees, and relayed criticisms of the manner in which the authorities had handled this tragedy.In December 2009, blogger Ivan Peregorodiev was arrested and indicted for “disseminating false information related to an act of terrorism” because he had discussed rumors on his blog, according to which victims of the A (H1N1) virus had actually died of the plague. Blogger Dmitri Kirilin, on the other hand, was charged with calling for “the overthrow of the existing political order, and making disrespectful comments about incumbent officials, notably Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.Aleksey Dymovsky, a police officer who denounced police corruption in a video message distributed over the Internet, became the subject of a criminal investigation in December 2009 for “abuse of power and fraud,” according to the public prosecutor’s office. He faces up to six years in prison.Vadim Charushev – The creator of Vkontakte, one of the country’s most popular social networks – was confined against his will in a psychiatric hospital in March 2009.Online journalist killedMagomed Yevloyev, one of the creators and the owner of the Ingush news website,, was killed in August 2008 while detained by the Ministry of the Interior’s security agents. The journalist had been arrested at the Nazran airport shortly after landing there. The airplane he had flown was also carrying the then-President of the Republic of Ingushetia, Murat Zyazikov. A few hours later, Magomed Yevloyev, who had been shot in the head, was admitted to the hospital where he later died on the operating table. This murder remains unpunished.A dynamic blogosphereIn November 2009, bloggers Oleg Kozyrev and Viktor Korb launched a “bloggers’ union” to protect netizens’ rights and freedoms. They have also conducted campaigns on behalf of imprisoned or prosecuted bloggers.Sometimes the Internet can fill the void left by traditional media outlets. In 2008, a report on the demolition of historic Moscow buildings whose residents were displaced to make room for new offices and business centers was partially censored by the authorities, and confidentially broadcast on the NTV channel. The video, on the other hand, was posted on RuTube (a YouTube clone), where it became a huge success, receiving over 200,000 hits in just a few days.The Internet is also a space for political mobilization. Roman Dobrokhotov, leader of the young Russian democrats movement “My” (“We”), an opposition party, stated that all of his activities are performed over the Internet via a Google group. It is easier to mobilize people online than it is in the street.The Internet has become a space in which people can denounce the corruption of Russian officials. Marina Litvinovitch, one of the leaders of the Civic United Front (CUF), an opposition party, posted on her blog an article objecting to the impunity enjoyed by a civil servant’s daughter in the Irkutsk region. She had caused a fatal car accident in December 2009, but had been treated as if she were only a witness in the case. Marina Litvinovitch launched an appeal to other bloggers, asking them to distribute that information by creating a link to her article or by reposting it, which many Internet users agreed to do. This initiative had the merit of making the public aware of this tragedy, and the blogger believes that the courts will no longer be able to avoid taking this matter seriously.For the moment, the impact of these online mobilizations, blogs and new media on Russian society is still relatively limited. The authorities’ attitude in the months to come will determine if the acts of censorship or intimidation and arrests are, or are not, indicative of a deliberate attempt to gain complete control of the new media. The introduction of Internet censorship in Russia would be that much more harmful in that it would spread throughout the region, with negative consequences on the right to inform and be informed in the Caucasus as well as in Central Asia, where censored netizens sometimes have access to the Russian Internet.Russian version: Organisation News Related documents Chapter_Russia_2010PDF – 72.84 KB Receive email alerts May 21, 2021 Find out more Help by sharing this information News Follow the news on Russia Russian media boss drops the pretence and defends Belarus crackdown June 2, 2021 Find out more RussiaEurope – Central Asia Two Russian journalists persecuted for investigating police corruption May 5, 2021 Find out morelast_img read more