Shortly after two members of Russian punk rock group Pussy Riot were released from prison as part of a propaganda attempt to clean up Russia's public image ahead of the 2014 Sochi Games, comes news that a screening of a documentary about the group's
trial and subsequent imprisonment has been shut down by officials in Moscow. The U.S. made documentary is titled, Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer .
The theater where the documentary was to be screened received a letter from Sergei Kapkov, the head of
Moscow's cultural department, forcing a cancellation of the screening on the basis that theaters that accept public funding are not to screen films that provoke society:
Letter Kirill Serebrennikov, the director of the Gogol Center theater,
announced the move on his Facebook page and posted a copy of the letter:
Until recently, in all interviews, I would declare like a mantra: 'There's no censorship at the theater, there's no censorship at the theater.'
That's it, fuck, there's censorship at the theater! Cynical, pointless and stupid.
Schoolchildren in the city of Krasnodar will not be able to watch a puppet theater performance of Mozart's opera The Magic Flute this year. Censors at the Federal Mass Media Inspection Service put an 18+ label on the show. The reason: In the
opera, one of the heroines wants to kill herself.
Age restrictions on access to information, including Internet sites, have been in place for more than a year in the country. But until now they had not been applied to classical works of literature and
art. Soon this might change. On Dec. 4, the Federal Mass Media Inspection Service presented a project called The Concept of Informational Security for Children. Among its stipulations is a ban that would keep minors from watching on the Internet
classical works of art that include images of the nude body in any form, and anything that might be considered erotic.
Censorship would also extend to works of literature in which the characters use alcohol and drugs or commit crimes, or in works
where there are statements destructive to the social institution of the family.
A more radical proposal in the project forbids the depiction or description of mishaps, accidents or catastrophes in television and radio news shows
before 9 p.m. If this becomes law, daytime news shows will revert to the Soviet standard of all day, all good news.
The State Duma is considering a draft law that would allow more sites to be blocked without a court order. This would be
applied to Internet sites calling for mass unrest or participation in mass events conducted in violation of the established order. In normal language, this means that announcements of unsanctioned opposition rallies on social networks would be
Michelangelo's David and Venus de Milo may soon be required to don fig leaves in Russia, according to a new draft law proposing making erotic artworks inaccessible to young Russians.
Russia banned access for children to erotic and pornographic
content last year, though the country's legislation does not provide a clear legal definition of either. Up until now, content deemed as having significant historical, artistic or otherwise cultural value has been exempt from the ban.
rule has spared Russian museums, parks and websites from the need to censor works of antique, Renaissance and modern art that depict nude breasts or bottoms. Moscow's Pushkin Museum, which proudly displays a replica of Michelangelo's David with uncovered
genitalia, held an exhibition of nude art just earlier this year.
But a new draft law on information safety for minors, published by the state media and telecoms watchdog Roscomnadzor, proposes removing the exemption for works of art.
draft law is now for public discussion, for which no timeframe has been announced so far.
The Supreme Economic Court of Belarus has upheld a decision by the Ministry of Information to ban the Lohvinau Publishing House. The company, owned by Ihar Lohvinau is well-known for publishing independent Belarusian literature and promoting national
The reason for the ban was Lohvinau's publication of the Belarus Press Photo 2011 album, which was found to contain supposedly extremist material by a district court.
As well as pictures of cute animals, the album, printed to
accompany an exhibition of the best of press photography, featured images of bleeding protesters taken during a crackdown on an anti-government demonstration in Minsk after the presidential election of 2011.
Andrei Bastunets, a media lawyer and a
Vice Chairman of the Belarusian Association of Journalists said:
The Ministry of Information interprets the licensing law too broadly; the licensing regulations in Belarus contain no reference to any 'extremist
materials'. Besides, the photo album in question was published long before it was considered 'extremist', it was sold freely in book shops, and the publisher bares no responsibility for the content of it or any later court decisions.
Reporters Without Borders is appalled by a Moscow court's decision to grant a request by the Federal Agency for the Supervision of Communications, Roskomnadzor, for the withdrawal of the news agency Rosbalt s licence.
This grave decision sets an extremely dangerous precedent for freedom of information in Russia and we urge the judicial system to overturn it on appeal.
Rosbalt has fallen victim not only to a repressive law with disproportionate penalties but also to absurd and unfair judicial proceedings. It has been punished for content it did not produce on the basis of inadmissible evidence,
and before any court examined its appeals against the warning previously issued in this matter.
Rosbalt s CEO Larisa Afonina told Reporters Without Borders that the news agency would appeal against the closure order.
apparent reasons for such drastic censorship seems trivial indeed. Two offending videos cited in the lawsuit were posted during the past summer. One, about the punk group Pussy Riot entitled The girls have sung a new song was posted on the Rosbalt
site on 16 July. The other, entitled Krasnodar guy , shows a man with an axe being arrested.
Rosbalt said it took both videos from YouTube. The swearwords are uttered by the protagonists of the videos, not the news agency's staff. Rosbalt
complied immediately when Roskomnadzor requested the removal of the videos on 27 July.
The news agency was therefore amazed to learn at the start of October that Roskomnadzor had brought two complaints against it (one for each video) and was
seeking nothing less than its closure .
The Government of Russia has signaled it is about to take the broadest anti-piracy action seen anywhere on the planet. Russia's communications minister says the country will order local Internet service providers to completely censor around 160
identified pirate sites.
Just over two months ago Russia made some of its strongest steps yet against online piracy by introducing a formal system for rightsholders to have unauthorized content, or links to content, taken offline.
system, dubbed Russia's SOPA, forces sites to comply with copyright complaints in a swift manner or face their domains being added to a national blacklist. Being added to that register is a serious business, since all local ISPs are expected to blacklist
corresponding IP addresses so that local Internet users cannot gain access.
But according to comments coming out of the Government yesterday, Russia appears to be taking its anti-piracy initiative to the next level and beyond, fully living up to
its SOPA billing. Ministry of Communications deputy head Alexei Volin said that Russia now intends to compartmentalize sites that are dedicated to piracy. They will be treated completely differently from other sites. He said:
There are a conscientious and diligent owners of websites, to which some people upload illegal or dangerous content. When it comes to this sort of thing, we order blocks of URLs and individual pages.
there are some specialized and entirely pornographic sites that are entirely blocked by IP address. The same principle will be observed in respect of torrents and sites engaged in outright piracy. We will not block them for some particular things, we'll
close them entirely by IP address.
Russian Muslims are scrambling to challenge a Novorossiisk court ruling determining the Koran to be extremist , and ordering the destruction of the book, as translated into Russian by Azerbaijani scholar Elmir Kuliyev.
Forum 18 has found no
significant difference between Kuliyev's translation of the Koran and others, including one approved by people who have greeted the 17 September ruling.
Mufti Ravil Gainutdin of Russia's Council of Muftis wrote to President Vladimir Putin:
It is a provocational decision, to destroy, and not just confiscate, the Holy Book of Muslims (..) and the court case and decision took ten minutes?! Muslims are angered by this lawlessness.
Lawyer Ravil Tugushev has lodged an appeal.
Muslims' rights are being violated, he complained to Forum 18. Many Muslim, Jehovah's Witness and Falun Gong works have been banned as extremist, with punishments for those who distribute them.
Kuliyev's translation of the Koran was
ruled extremist and its destruction ordered by October District Court in the Black Sea port of Novorossiisk (Krasnodar Region). The port's Transport Prosecutor filed the case after the book was found in a parcel during a customs search at the main
post office, according to the decision, seen by Forum 18.
The case was decided in a single hearing lasting just ten minutes on the morning of 17 September. The written ruling -- produced the same afternoon - notes that no objections were
The ruling does not give any concrete examples of extremism from Kuliyev's translation. Yet it agrees with the investigative report that the work contains statements about the superiority of Muslims over non-Muslims on the
basis of attitude towards religion ; negative evaluation of persons who have nothing to do with the Muslim religion ; positive evaluation of hostile actions by Muslims against non-Muslims , and statements inciting Muslims to commit
hostile and violent acts against non-Muslims.
A song by a legendary Russian thrash metal band has been included on the federal list of materials classed as extremist, as announced by Russia's Justice Ministry on its website.
Beat the Demons , a song by the band Korroziya
Metalla, was declared extremist by a court on May 22.
The claim of extremism relates to the use of the word 'demon'. The Russian word for demon can also be used as a racial slur, though its meaning is contextual. Bandleader Sergei Spider Troitsky has publicly said that there was no provocation intended in the call to beat demons.
Troitsky is the sole remaining member of the legendary Korroziya Metalla thrash metal band. The band's first album, The Order of Satan , was released on the group's own label in 1988 after its no-holds-barred content proved too hot
even for Perestroika-era record companies. Korroziya's outlandish concerts also gained the band nationwide notoriety in the 1990s as Spider impersonated Hitler, used Satanist imagery and employed writhing naked women on stage.
later turned to politics. His controversial policies caused a stir during his mayoral campaign in Moscow's satellite city of Khimki. His proposed policies included semi-nude female city administration staff, a zoo filled with mechanical animals, and
Germans employed en masse, because they don't take bribes .
Russia's anti gay 'propaganda' law is having wide and chilling effects on gay film making.
Filmmakers of a film with the translated title of A Winter's Journey have found that the film has been effectively banned despite winning approval by
Russia's film censors and winning two prizes at separate film festivals. The film tells the story of a gay classical singer falling in love with a street-smart petty criminal.
Director Sergei Taramayev told AFP he was saddened it could not be
shown at the Kinotavr film festival after receiving such high critical acclaim. He said:
For the organisers of the festival it was uncomfortable, because there is such a law, so they thought it was better not to
At least people who were in the jury told us that this was the reason why we were not accepted for Kinotavr.
The film's co-writer Lyubov Lvova said festivals feared they could lose funding if they
showed the film:
At many festivals, Russian ones, this scared the organisers a lot. They were afraid of this law, that it could stop them getting financing for their festivals.
Taramayev said they did not even submit the film to Russia's main film forum, Moscow International Film Festival, because of its anti-gay organiser, Nikita Mikhalkov. He said:
He supports the
government's line and is a very political director and we realised that they would not take us.
Producer Mikhail Karasyov wrote in an email to AFP:
As for a cinema release, at the moment we are
holding talks, but so far there is nothing concrete.
Russia is now proposing even tougher measures against those who facilitate piracy. A new bill has been approved which allows for fines of up to $29,853 for service providers, search engines and users who fail to comply with a blacklist of sites already
subjected to copyright complaints.
Just over a month has passed since Russia introduced new legislation aimed at cracking down on online piracy. The law, which has become known as Russia's SOPA, takes a tough line with those offering or linking to
illicit content online.
Copyright complaints against a site or service can lead to that domain being added to a national blocklist, if their operators fail to render the illicit content inaccessible within a few days.
Just 34 days after the
initial law was implemented, the government is pushing through further punitive measures for pirates and those deemed to be assisting them.
According to Vesti.ru a parliamentary committee has approved a new bill which will allow a range of
Internet entities to be fined if they fail to block content and sites as dictated by the country's blacklist. The bill, which was approved in the first of three planned readings in the State Duma, introduces fines of up to one million rubles ($29,853) to
be levied against search engines, web hosts, ISPs, and even regular web users. The heaviest of fines will be reserved for companies failing to comply with the requirements of the blacklist, while punishments for regular users are expected to sit around
5,000 rubles ($149).
A painting depicting politicians Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev in women's underwear was one of the items Russian authorities have physically censored by raiding a newly-opened St. Petersburg art gallery that had shown solidarity with Russia's
The off-beat gallery, known as the Museum of Authority, opened with an inaugural exhibit called The Rulers that featured paintings by artist Konstantin Altunin of Russian and international public figures.
Much of the
inaugural exhibit was raunchy or politically-charged. One painting depicted St. Petersburg politician Vitaly Milonov, who spearheaded a local homophobic gay propaganda law that became the baseline for similar national legislation.
accompanied police at the gallery. Police seized the portrait of Mr. Milonov as well as the painting depicting Messrs. Putin and Medvedev in women's underwear.
Authorities also took two other works of art. One was a painting of Russian Orthodox
Patriarch Kirill with criminal-style tattoos mixing Soviet and religious iconography. The other was one of Yelena Mizulina, the Kremlin-allied Duma deputy and morality crusader who led the drive to pass Russia's gay propaganda law nationally. That
painting was entitled The Erotic Dreams of Deputy Mizulina.
The head of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) has personally ordered preparations for laws that would block the Tor anonymity network from the entire Russian sector of the Internet.
FSB director Aleksandr Bortnikov announced the initiative at a
recent session of the National Anti-Terrorism Committee, saying that his agency would develop the legislative drafts together with other Russian law enforcement and security bodies.
The FSB official said that the agency initiated the move as
internet anonymizers were used by weapon traffickers, drug dealers and credit card fraudsters.
At the same time, an unnamed source told the newspaper that not all Russian security specialists welcomed the idea, as various criminals often
overestimated the protection provided by the Undernet, acted recklessly and allowed themselves to get caught. The blocking would require the development of some new methods of search and control in new anonymity networks that would appear soon after the
Russian audience loses access to existing ones, the source noted.
Lower House MP Ilya Kostunov noted that the problem was important but doubted that it was technically executable. As far as I know, it is impossible to block Tor, Kostunov
said. The network re-tunes quickly, switches to different hubs and starts working again.
The Tor Project administration also said that the blocking of the system was extremely difficult, adding that even Tor's own specialists could not
control the information flowing through their servers or identify users.
A ruling by a court in the central Russian town of Ulyanovsk ordering a state-run Internet provider to block access to 15 websites, including those of two prominent national newspapers, has sparked fears of a broader campaign of Internet censorship in
Two of the blocked websites, Gazeta.ru and Komsomolskaya Pravda, are among the top 10 news websites in Russia.
Local prosecutors said in a statement that the ruling was based on the presence on the websites of articles
explaining the intricacies of giving a bribe in Russia and how to escape prosecution afterward.
Prosecutors emphasized that the court ruling had not ordered whole websites to be blocked but only specific pages containing the illicit information.
Internet provider Rostelecom made the decision to block the sites themselves, going beyond the court's instructions, they said.
The curator of a Russian museum says he was fired for refusing to censor an exhibition which criticises the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games.
Marat Guelman was dismissed as director of the Perm Museum of Contemporary Art after backing the
collection, which portrays a dark side of Russia. The work, entitled Welcome Sochi 2014 , was created by artist Vasily Slonov and features the Olympic rings as nooses and loops of barbed wire, bloody axes, grenades and a evil looking caricature of
Joseph Stalin in a polar bear suit.
Guelman said that he had been sacked by minister of culture Igor Gladnev:
Gladnev just called me and confirmed the fact of my dismissal. The Ministry of Culture, it seems, has
confused its role with that of the FSB [the former KGB].
I had hoped that censorship was impossible and illegal.
The new trend of Russian politics is to divide everyone into groups of 'us' and 'them' and
the small liberal islands are getting even smaller.
After numerous Russian Company of Heroes 2 players expressed issues with the game's portrayal of the Soviet Union in World War II, the game's distributor, 1C-SoftClub, has withdrawn the game from sale.
The game publisher Sega, has also
released a statement to GameSpot:
Sega and Relic are aware of the press stories circulating concerning Company of Heroes 2 and the historical context of the game from a Russian perspective.
this time we cannot offer any further comment, however we are taking this issue very seriously and are investigating these concerns thoroughly with all relevant partners.
Some gamers have taken issue with Company of Heroes 2 for
supposed Western bias. A Change.org petition has been launched calling on Valve to remove the game from Steam to protect the young people from that propaganda.
US rock group Bloodhound Gang has been banned from a Russian music festival in Odessa after a band member stuffed the Russian flag into his underpants on stage.
Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky described the band as idiots and added
I spoke to the Krasnodar region authorities. Bloodhound Gang is packing their suitcases,
Bass player Jared Hasselhoff was seen in a video pushing the flag into the front of his pants and
pulling them out of the back. Don't tell Putin, Hasselhoff said to applause as he grabbed a Russian flag from the wall behind and performed the stunt.
Local media reports later said that Hasselhoff had been questioned by police. The head of
Russia's Investigations Committee, Vladimir Markin, said his department was prepared to pursue criminal charges against all those involved if prosecutors decided there was a case.
Russia's internet censors, the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications has banned Japanese anime from the genre hentai . Censors claim it to be child pornography.
The censor department was not sure whether to define hentai as
child pornography and so consulted external analysts. One such analyst claimed that these animated films exploit interest to sex often in perverted form , as well as there is no storyline and any cultural or historical value . Also
according to experts all characters are presented as minors, who participate in pornographic scenes .
The internet censor will now demand that websites and web hosting companies remove all such content.
Hentai is a genre of the
Japanese animation (anime) containing erotic or pornographic scenes. Characters are typically drawn with few features and rather indeterminate ages.
Veteran Russian directors Karen Shakhnazarov and Marlen Khutsiyev have been included in a working group charged with developing a morality code for the Russian film industry, an idea originally suggested by President Vladimir Putin. The working group was
formed under the auspices of the Russian Union of Filmmakers.
Putin suggested that it could improve the quality of local films and curb violence on Russian screens. More recently, he gave the example of the US Hays code, the restrictive censorship
rules used by the U.S. film industry from 1930 to 1968. Rinat Davletyarov, head of the Russian guild of producers, supported his president claiming that the Hays Code coincided with Hollywood's Golden Age.
Meanwhile director Andrei
Proshkin, who heads KinoSoyuz, an alternative union of filmmakers, ridiculed the idea, adding that the existing legislation is sufficient to deal with ethical issues.
The deadline set by Putin for developing the morality code is Oct. 1, 2013.
Russia's lower house of parliament, the Duma, has passed a law imposing heavy fines for providing information about homosexuality to people under 18.
The measure was passed unanimously and will become law when approved by the upper house and
President Vladimir Putin, a virtual formality.
Under the new law, private individuals promoting homosexual behaviour among minors face fines of up to 5,000 roubles (£100; $155) while officials risk paying 10 times that amount.
Businesses and schools could be fined up to 500,000 roubles.
A recent poll found that nearly half of Russians believe that the gay and lesbian community should not enjoy the same rights as other citizens.
Russian state television has pulled a show over a joke about President Vladimir Putin's surprise divorce announcement..
The youth-oriented television show called The Social Network recorded a satirical item about Putin putting up a profile
on an online dating site. The programme's co-host Vladislav Sorokin wrote on Facebook:
We made a video item about photos of Putin for mamba.ru (dating site). They took the whole programme, all of it, off air entirely.
We'll work till our contract ends on June 30 and then so long.
The Russian Duma has passed a second reading of a repressive blasphemy law. The legislation has been softened, but still represents a significant ramping up of punishments compared to existing laws.
The second reading was approved overwhelmingly,
with 304 Duma deputies voting for, only 4 against and 1 abstention. Under the revised bill, Russians would face a year in jail for intentional and public displays that cause offense to religious sensibilities, down from three in the
previous draft; desecrating religious sites and paraphernalia would be punishable by up to three years in jail, down from five.
The bill covers offence to all of Russia's major religions, not just Orthodox Christianity. It could be passed in its
third and final reading as early as this week. It is expected to come into force sometime this year.
Communist deputy Oleg Smoli pointed out some of the dangers:
An offense to religious sensibilities is a term
that defies definition. A radical believer could find offense in expressions of other people's faith, or atheism.
Sergey Mironov said:
We are happy that the proposal has been scaled back from
covering all religious offense, to deliberate acts. But we are still not sure that it can be stretched to indict many Russians, even those who did not set out to offend anyone.
A test-case brought by Google to challenge Russian internet censorship has failed.
The case related to a video clip uploaded to Google-owned YouTube, which portrayed, using a blunt razorblade and fake blood, a woman cutting her wrists.
Russian regulators demanded the clip be removed, saying it provided information about how to kill oneself. Google complied, but filed an appeal, which has now been rejected by a Moscow court.
Google argued the clip was intended as entertainment rather than to promote actual suicide. In response to the ruling, Google said:
We do not believe the goal of the law was to limit access to videos that are
clearly intended to entertain viewers.
The clip, entitled Video lesson on how to cut your veins , was deemed by Russian regulators to break strict new rules on web content thought to be harmful to children.
Perhaps it is
relevant to note that the UK film censors of the BBFC used to cut sight of a particularly effective method of cutting veins when it was felt that not many people knew of this. The policy has now been adapted after the technique became more well known.
Russian MPs have given initial approval to an anti-blasphemy law with extreme jail terms or fines for anyone found guilty of offending religious feelings.
The bill was drafted last year after the punk band Pussy Riot performed a protest song
against President Vladimir Putin in Moscow's main cathedral.
The bill says blasphemy could incur up to three years in jail or a fine of up to 300,000 roubles ($9,700). It was passed by the Duma - Russia's lower house - in a first reading on
Tuesday. To become law it has to pass two more readings in the Duma, then a vote in the upper house.
The text refers to offences against religions that are an integral part of Russia's historical inheritance - implying that it covers
Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism.
Human rights activists and some critics of the new anti-blasphemy bill say its wording is too vague and could lead to unjustified prosecutions. Some human rights activists warned that insults to
believers might include the teaching of Darwin's theory of evolution or the Big Bang theory about the universe.
Russian media outlets now face fines of about $6,300 for strong language, the Kremlin announced.
The law also mandated individuals found distributing any media that contains 'obscene' language will be fined $95 while officials will be given fines
of $634, The Moscow Times reported.
However, the law does not say what words or phrases are banned. Sergei Zheleznyak, a deputy from the ruling United Russia party and a co-author of the bill, said adding such a list would have been senseless.
The bill, claimed to be about protecting children, faced little opposition in both the Duma and the Federation Council.
In what may be the first such instance in Kazakhstan, a court has ordered religious literature to be destroyed. A total of 121 books confiscated from a Baptist, Vyacheslav Cherkasov, were ordered destroyed in the northern Akmola Region, according to the
verdict seen by Forum 18 News Service. The books comprise Bibles, Children's Bibles, and other books and leaflets on the Christian faith, mainly in the Kazakh language.
Cherkasov was also fined one month's average wage. If he loses his appeal,
court executors will carry out the destruction. A Justice Ministry official in the capital Astana told Forum 18 that most likely the books would be burnt .
A state Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA) official told Forum 18 that I'm not
interested in whether court executors are bothered by having to destroy religious literature .
Local Council of Churches Baptists told Forum 18 that we were shocked - this is sacrilege and illegality .
Human rights defender
Yevgeni Zhovtis of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law sounded distressed, telling Forum 18 that this is terrible, terrible . Religious literature is frequently confiscated, and the state appears committed to
using censorship and other freedom of religion or belief violations as a means to control society.
Lawyers for three members of the feminist protest group Pussy Riot are contesting their convictions in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
The complaint filed on Wednesday alleges that the group's conviction violates four articles of
the European Convention on Human Rights guaranteeing freedom of speech, the right to liberty and security, the prohibition of torture and the right to a fair trial.
24th December 2013. From Amnesty
Late last week, Russia announced that a new Amnesty Law will see many prisoners of conscience released. Among those due to be reunited with their families are singers from the punk band, Pussy Riot, who have been serving a
two-year sentence for Hooliganism , and the Greenpeace Arctic 30 -- a group of environmental activists detained in September this year.
The Amnesty Law will not erase the criminal records of those wrongfully convicted, but is a step
in the right direction and will no doubt benefit many victims of injustice.
Russia's Safe Internet League is set to impose a walled garden of just half a million sites selected by the authorities on a trial set of internet users.
The Safe Internet League has announced that they had secured an agreement between itself, the
governor of the Kostroma Region and all 29 internet services' providers that work there to conduct the experiment dubbed Clean Internet .
The experiment will start in February once providers change their user agreements so that subscribers
will only have access to a so called white list of web-sites approved by the league's censors. Those who wish to venture beyond the 500,000 approved websites will have to sign an additional agreement stating that they are doing so at their own
The initiative would most likely bar Kostroma victims from visiting half of all Russian web-sites, and a far larger proportion of international sites.
League censors say that web-site owners would have to file requests to list their
resources among the safe content and such a move would happen only after censors check into the application. If they find pornography, violence, extremism or other illicit or illegal content on the site it will be excluded from the white list forever.
The head of the unregistered Pirate Party of Russia, Pavel Rassudov, said the Safe Internet experiment was pure censorship and violated the Russian Constitution that guarantees the right to information access. He also pointed out that the Safe
Internet League's monopoly on censorship decisions seemed strange and creating a broader panel for the purpose would be more appropriate.
An executive from the Foundation for Development of Internet Technologies and Infrastructure, Matvey
Alekseyev, also said that it was not clear who granted the league's experts the right to dictate their understanding of safety to ordinary internet users.
In principle, it proclaims freedom of expression and bans censorship but it has so far done nothing to narrow the gulf between the official discourse and the reality of one of the world's most closed
and repressive countries.
A new law in Moldova introduces punitive measures against media censorship and deliberate obstruction of mass-media activity.
The bill also makes a specific reference to a ban of public media censorship, involving forced distortion of a media
product, limitation to spreading information of public interest, and other illegal actions meant to restrict information dissemination.
The draft is intended to complement the law on freedom of expression, which came into effect in 2010 and bans
censorship but does not define any punitive measures.
According to the new regulations, which were given the green light last month and approved by the government, censorship fines up to 1,250 euros, and up to 600 euros for obstruction of media
activity, will be imposed. At the same time, those who hold public offices and break this law could lose the right to hold public positions for up to four years.
A report released on Friday by Index on Censorship details the harsh response of the authoritarian government in Belarus after it
realised its policy of promoting internet expansion had provided a platform for online dissent in Europe's last dictatorship. Belarus: Pulling the Plug identifies the ways President Lukashenko is now scrambling to restrict online freedom of expression in a country that has one of the worst human rights record in the world.
Andrei Aliaksandrau, Index's Belarus
programme manager, said:
Alexander Lukashenko has significantly expanded his government's control over the internet in the last two years. Few people in Belarus realise the level of state surveillance now being carried
out by Lukashenko's security services. This poses a huge threat to internet activists in Belarus. The threat of a three year prison sentence for libel against online journalist Andrzej Poczobut shows this threat is real.
The regime is
using sophisticated digital methods to curtail free speech made possible by new technologies including:
Web filters: Index on Censorship tested the WiFi at locations across Belarus including the Institute of Journalism of the Belarus State University in Minsk which filtered five of the major independent websites
Surveillance techniques which
allow the state to intercept all online traffic
The removal of secure access to particular websites including Facebook to potentially compromise users' logins during election periods
The creation of fake versions of independent websites
(zapraudu.info, nn.by, charter97.org) to create 'clone sites' with out of date news -- and DNS re-routing.
The threat to online freedom also comes from long-established methods the regime uses to chill free speech including: the restrictive media law of 2008, criminal libel laws and using unrelated laws such as 'petty hooliganism' to silence opinion with
The paper reports that the government of Belarus is one of the first to use distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS) to collapse the servers of opposition websites such as charter97.org.
Mike Harris, Head of Advocacy at Index
on Censorship said:
State surveillance is yet another way that Lukashenko is compromising freedom of expression in Belarus. Index calls on the government to end online surveillance, release political prisoners and
support its citizens' rights to free expression. The European Union must also act to stop the export of surveillance technology to places like Belarus.
The report recommends that the European Commission supports the parliamentary
motion tabled by Marietje Schaake MEP calling for a bar on the export of surveillance equipment to authoritarian states.