In a judgment handed down 17 July 2018, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) criticised Russia for its exceptionally severe
treatment of punk band Pussy Riot following the group's protest performance at a Moscow cathedral in 2012.
The court found Russia committed multiple violations of the European Convention on Human Rights when it detained, tried, convicted and jailed three Pussy Riot members--Mariya Alekhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich.
The trio was arrested after their performance on 21 February 2012 for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. They remained in pre-trial detention before being convicted and jailed six months' later.
The Russian trial court found that the women's actions had been offensive and insulting because they wore brightly coloured clothes and balaclavas, waved their arms, kicked their legs around and used obscene language.
Alekhina and Tolokonnikova spent one year and nine months behind bars, while Ms Samutsevich served approximately seven months in jail before her sentence was suspended.
The ECHR said in its judgment the band members had been subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment because of overcrowded conditions while being transported to and from the courtroom, and because they had to suffer the humiliation of being
exposed in a glass dock during their hearings.
Their right to freedom of expression was also violated, the court ruled, because of the band members' conviction and prison sentences, which were exceptionally severe. A further violation was committed by banning internet access to a video of the
band's performance, the judgment said.
The court also found Russia violated the right to liberty and security, and the right to a fair trial.
It ordered Russia pay damages of 16,000 euros each to Alekhina and Tolokonnikova and 5,000 euros to Samutsevich, as well as 11,760 euros for costs and expenses.
Russia's interior minister says he wants citizens to scour the internet for banned
The Russian internet censor Roskomnadzor, has an ever-expanding list of banned sites featuring material that Russian authorities don't like. The list takes in everything from LGBT sites to critics of the Kremlin and sites that allegedly carry
terrorist propaganda, the main justification for many of Russia's online censorship and surveillance laws.
Free-speech activists reckon the number of blocked websites now tops 100,000, but how best to keep adding to that list?
Russia's interior minister, Vladimir Kolokoltsev, says volunteers should step up to aid the search for banned information. Whilst speaking about the challenges faced by search and rescue volunteers, he said volunteers could help public authorities
in preventing drug abuse, combating juvenile delinquency, and monitoring the internet networks to search for banned information.
Lawmakers in Russia's State Duma have adopted a final draft of legislation that imposes fines on violations of Russia's ban on Internet
anonymizers that grant access to online content blocked by the state internet censor.
According to the bill, individuals who break the law will face fines of 5,000 rubles ($80), officials will face fines up to 50,000 rubles ($800), and legal entities could be fined up to 700,000 rubles ($11,230).
Internet search engines will also be required to connect to the Federal State Information System, which will list the websites banned in Russia. Failure to connect to this system can result in fines up to 300,000 rubles ($4,800).
Russia's law on VPN services and Internet anonymizers entered force on November 1, 2017. The Federal Security Agency and other law enforcement agencies are authorized to designate websites and online services that violate Russia's Internet
A demonstration in Moscow against the Russian government's effort to block the messaging app Telegram quickly morphed on Monday
into a protest against President Vladimir Putin, with thousands of participants chanting against the Kremlin's increasingly restrictive censorship regime.
The key demand of the rally, with the hashtag #DigitalResistance, was that the Russian internet remain free from government censorship.
One speaker, Sergei Smirnov, editor in chief of Mediazona, an online news service , asked the crowd. Is he to blame for blocking Telegram? The crowd responded with a resounding Yes!
Telegram is just the first step, Smirnov continued. If they block Telegram, it will be worse later. They will block everything. They want to block our future and the future of our children.
Russian authorities blocked Telegram after not being provided with decryption keys. The censors also briefly blocked thousands other websites sharing hosting facilities with Telegram in the hop of pressurising the hosts into taking down Telegram.
The censorship effort has provoked anger and frustration far beyond the habitual supporters of the political opposition, especially in the business sector, where the collateral damage continues to hurt the bottom line. There has been a flood of
complaints on Twitter and elsewhere that the government broke the internet.
Russia's Internet commissioner, Dmitry Marinichev, is calling on the Attorney General's Office to investigate the legality and validity of Roskomnadzor's actions against Telegram, arguing that the federal censor has caused undue harm to the
country's business interests, by blocking millions of IP addresses in its campaign against the instant messenger, and disrupting hundreds of other online services.
Marinichev's suggestion is mentioned in the annual report submitted to Vladimir Putin by Russian Entrepreneurs' Rights Commissioner Boris Titov.
Alexander Zharov, the head of Russia's state internet censor, Roskomnadzor, has said that the government's decision to
block the instant messenger Telegram is justified because federal agents have reliably established that all recent terrorist attacks in Russia and the near abroad were coordinated through Telegram.
Zharov also accused Telegram of using other online services as human shields by redirecting its traffic to their servers and forcing Roskomnadzor to disrupt a wide array of websites, when it cuts access to the new IP addresses Telegram adopts.
Zharov claimed that Telegram's functionality has degraded by 15 to 30% in Russia, due to Roskomnadzor's blocking efforts.
Zharov added that the Federal Security Service has expressed similar concerns about the push-to-talk walkie-talkie app Zello, which Roskomnadzor banned in April 2017.
Update: Apple asked to block Telegram from its app store
The secure messaging app Telegram was banned in Russia back in April, but so far, it's still available in the Russian version of
Apple's App Store. Russia is now asking Apple to remove the app from the App Store. In a supposedly legally binding letter to Apple, authorities say they're giving the company one month to comply before they enforce punishment for violations.
Despite Russian censorship efforts so far, the majority of users in Russia are still accessing the app, the Kremlin's censorship arm Roskomnadzor announced yesterday. Only 15 to 30% of Telegram's operations have been disrupted so far.
Russian internet censors also say they are in talks with Google to ban the app from Google Play.
A Russian gallery is considering removing a notable painting from display after it was vandalised by someone who took issue with the artist's take on a historical event.
'Alexander III receiving rural district elders in the yard of Petrovsky Palace in Moscow (1886)' by Illya Repin
Ilya Repin's 1986 portrayal of a highly contested historical scene depicts Tsar Ivan IV Vasilyevich allegedly getting into a fight with his son. As the tale goes, the Tsar's son died during the course of the alleged confrontation.
Many have questioned the historical veracity of this tale and even one of Repin's biggest supporters, Tsar Alexander III loathed the painting because of its apparent vulgar distortion of Russian history.
Last week, a homeless man called Igor Podporin visited the Tretyakov Gallery where the painting is displayed. According to an interview he gave to police, he looked at the painting before going to the gallery's canteen where he then drank copious
amounts of alcohol before returning to the painting and striking it. The attack has caused severe damage to the painting and its frame
This was not the first time the work was vandalised. In 1913, a gallery visitor slashed the painting with a knife while shouting no more blood. The incident led to the gallery's' curator committing suicide while the still living Repin was asked to
help restore his work.
A commentator from eurasiafuture.com called for the painting to be removed from public view saying:
With Russian history being insultingly distorted by racist regimes and bigoted media outlets throughout the world, the least a Russian gallery could do is not add fuel to this racially insensitive fire. .
Not a bad wind-up value for for a 19th century painting.
A Tbilisi City Court has fined Georgian condom company AIISA and banned four of its condoms from the
market for supposed unethical advertising. The condoms were said to have violated the morality and dignity of society.
The judge found the following imagery on the condom packaging unethical and offensive to the religious feelings of a particular group as well as national dignity:
Queen Tamar, a Medieval ruler of Georgia who has been sanctified by the Georgian Orthodox Church, with an inscription: Gate of Thrones in Tamar;
A left palm, with a condom on two fingers. The court considered this as representing the Blessing Right Hand by which the clergymen of the Orthodox Church depict the cross;
A photo of a panda with the text: Would Have a Wank but it's Epiphany . As the company itself explains, these are lyrics from a Georgian band's song;
Packaging that refers the 12th Century Battle of Didgori between King David the Builder and Seljuk Turk forces, which in Georgia is regarded as a historic turning point and respected both by the State and the Church.
The owner of AIISA company, Anania Gachechiladze, believes the court verdict contradicts freedom of expression and endangers the democratic state and society. She says she will appeal the court verdict and if the upper instance court upholds the
decision of Tbilisi City Court, she plans to address the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasburg. She said:
This is censorship and restriction of freedom of expression. I am not going to remove the production from sales until the case is considered by all instance courts.
The lawsuit against AIISA was filed by Tbilisi City Hall, after petitioning by the far-right and nationalist group, Georgian Idea, asking for an adequate reaction regarding the packaging of the condoms.
AIISA condoms also depict prints of various famous persons, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, Stalin, Adam and Eve and many quotes from Georgia's famous poem, The Knight in the Panther's Skin , written in the era of
We, the undersigned 26 international human rights, media and Internet freedom organisations, strongly condemn
the attempts by the Russian Federation to block the Internet messaging service Telegram, which have resulted in extensive violations of freedom of expression and access to information, including mass collateral website blocking.
We call on Russia to stop blocking Telegram and cease its relentless attacks on Internet freedom more broadly. We also call the United Nations (UN), the Council of Europe (CoE), the Organisation for Security and Cooperation
in Europe (OSCE), the European Union (EU), the United States and other concerned governments to challenge Russia's actions and uphold the fundamental rights to freedom of expression and privacy online as well as offline. Lastly, we call on
Internet companies to resist unfounded and extra-legal orders that violate their users' rights.
Massive Internet disruptions
On 13 April 2018, Moscow's Tagansky District Court granted Roskomnadzor, Russia's communications regulator, its request to block access to Telegram on the grounds that the company had not complied with a 2017 order to provide
decryption keys to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). Since then, the actions taken by the Russian authorities to restrict access to Telegram have caused mass Internet disruption, including:
Between 16-18 April 2018, almost 20 million Internet Protocol (IP) addresses were ordered to be blocked by Roskomnadzor as it attempted to restrict access to Telegram. The majority of the blocked addresses are owned by
international Internet companies, including Google, Amazon and Microsoft. Currently 14.6 remain blocked.
This mass blocking of IP addresses has had a detrimental effect on a wide range of web-based services that have nothing to do with Telegram, including, but not limited to, online banking and booking sites, shopping, and
Agora, the human rights and legal group, representing Telegram in Russia, has reported it has received requests for assistance with issues arising from the mass blocking from about 60 companies, including online stores,
delivery services, and software developers.
At least six online media outlets ( Petersburg Diary, Coda Story, FlashNord, FlashSiberia, Tayga.info , and 7x7 ) found access to their websites was temporarily blocked.
On 17 April 2018, Roskomnadzor requested that Google and Apple remove access to the Telegram app from their App stores, despite having no basis in Russian law to make this request. The app remains available, but Telegram
has not been able to provide upgrades that would allow better proxy access for users.
Virtual Private Network (VPN) providers -- such as TgVPN, Le VPN and VeeSecurity proxy - have also been targeted for providing alternative means to access Telegram. Federal Law 276-FZ bans VPNs and Internet anonymisers from
providing access to websites banned in Russia and authorises Roskomnadzor to order the blocking of any site explaining how to use these services.
Restrictive Internet laws
Over the past six years, Russia has adopted a huge raft of laws restricting freedom of expression and the right to privacy online. These include the creation in 2012 of a blacklist of Internet websites, managed by
Roskomnadzor, and the incremental extension of the grounds upon which websites can be blocked, including without a court order.
The 2016 so-called 'Yarovaya Law' , justified on the grounds of "countering extremism", requires all communications providers and Internet operators to store metadata about their users' communications activities, to
disclose decryption keys at the security services' request, and to use only encryption methods approved by the Russian government - in practical terms, to create a backdoor for Russia's security agents to access internet users' data, traffic, and
In October 2017, a magistrate found Telegram guilty of an administrative offense for failing to provide decryption keys to the Russian authorities -- which the company states it cannot do due to Telegram's use of end-to-end
encryption. The company was fined 800,000 rubles (approx. 11,000 EUR). Telegram lost an appeal against the administrative charge in March 2018, giving the Russian authorities formal grounds to block Telegram in Russia, under Article 15.4 of the
Federal Law "On Information, Information Technologies and Information Protection".
The Russian authorities' latest move against Telegram demonstrates the serious implications for people's freedom of expression and right to privacy online in Russia and worldwide:
For Russian users apps such as Telegram and similar services that seek to provide secure communications are crucial for users' safety. They provide an important source of information on critical issues of politics,
economics and social life, free of undue government interference. For media outlets and journalists based in and outside Russia, Telegram serves not only as a messaging platform for secure communication with sources, but also as a publishing
venue. Through its channels, Telegram acts as a carrier and distributor of content for entire media outlets as well as for individual journalists and bloggers. In light of direct and indirect state control over many traditional Russian media and
the self-censorship many other media outlets feel compelled to exercise, instant messaging channels like Telegram have become a crucial means of disseminating ideas and opinions.
Companies that comply with the requirements of the 'Yarovaya Law' by allowing the government a back-door key to their services jeopardise the security of the online communications of their Russian users and the people they
communicate with abroad. Journalists, in particular, fear that providing the FSB with access to their communications would jeopardise their sources, a cornerstone of press freedom. Company compliance would also signal that communication services
providers are willing to compromise their encryption standards and put the privacy and security of all their users at risk, as a cost of doing business.
Beginning in July 2018, other articles of the 'Yarovaya Law' will come into force requiring companies to store the content of all communications for six months and to make them accessible to the security services without a
court order. This would affect the communications of both people in Russia and abroad.
Such attempts by the Russian authorities to control online communications and invade privacy go far beyond what can be considered necessary and proportionate to countering terrorism and violate international law.
Blocking websites or apps is an extreme measure , analogous to banning a newspaper or revoking the license of a TV station. As such, it is highly likely to constitute a disproportionate interference with freedom of
expression and media freedom in the vast majority of cases, and must be subject to strict scrutiny. At a minimum, any blocking measures should be clearly laid down by law and require the courts to examine whether the wholesale blocking of access
to an online service is necessary and in line with the criteria established and applied by the European Court of Human Rights. Blocking Telegram and the accompanying actions clearly do not meet this standard.
Various requirements of the 'Yarovaya Law' are plainly incompatible with international standards on encryption and anonymity as set out in the 2015 report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression report (
A/HRC/29/32 ). The UN Special Rapporteur himself has written to the Russian government raising serious concerns that the 'Yarovaya Law' unduly restricts the rights to freedom of expression and privacy online. In the European Union, the Court of
Justice has ruled that similar data retention obligations were incompatible with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Although the European Court of Human Rights has not yet ruled on the compatibility of the Russian provisions for the
disclosure of decryption keys with the European Convention on Human Rights, it has found that Russia's legal framework governing interception of communications does not provide adequate and effective guarantees against the arbitrariness and the
risk of abuse inherent in any system of secret surveillance.
We, the undersigned organisations, call on:
The Russian authorities to guarantee internet users' right to publish and browse anonymously and ensure that any restrictions to online anonymity are subject to requirements of a court order, and comply fully with
Articles 17 and 19(3) of the ICCPR, and articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, by:
Desisting from blocking Telegram and refraining from requiring messaging services, such as Telegram, to provide decryption keys in order to access users private communications;
Repealing provisions in the 'Yarovaya Law' requiring Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to store all telecommunications data for six months and imposing mandatory cryptographic backdoors, and the 2014 Data Localisation law,
which grant security service easy access to users' data without sufficient safeguards.
Repealing Federal Law 241-FZ, which bans anonymity for users of online messaging applications; and Law 276-FZ which prohibits VPNs and Internet anonymisers from providing access to websites banned in Russia;
Amending Federal Law 149-FZ "On Information, IT Technologies and Protection of Information" so that the process of blocking websites meets international standards. Any decision to block access to a website or app
should be undertaken by an independent court and be limited by requirements of necessity and proportionality for a legitimate aim. In considering whether to grant a blocking order, the court or other independent body authorised to issue such an
order should consider its impact on lawful content and what technology may be used to prevent over-blocking.
Representatives of the United Nations (UN), the Council of Europe (CoE), the Organisation for the Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE), the European Union (EU), the United States and other concerned governments to scrutinise and publicly challenge Russia's actions in order to uphold the fundamental rights to freedom of expression and privacy both online and-offline, as stipulated in binding international agreements to which Russia is a party.
Internet companies to resist orders that violate international human rights law. Companies should follow the United Nations' Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights, which emphasise that the responsibility
to respect human rights applies throughout a company's global operations regardless of where its users are located and exists independently of whether the State meets its own human rights obligations.
Russian lawmakers have proposed a draft law that would impose new obligations on the owners of public networks. Such owners with no registered
presence in Russia would be required to set up a local representative office. Other obligations would include identifying users by their mobile phone numbers, deleting fake news, and preventing the posting of materials that promote violence or
pornography, contain strong language, or otherwise breach Russian laws governing content.
Ofcom has today opened seven new investigations into the due impartiality of news and current
affairs programmes on the RT news channel.
The investigations (PDF, 240.5 KB) form part of an Ofcom update, published today, into the licences held by TV Novosti, the company that broadcasts RT.
Until recently, TV Novosti's overall compliance record has not been materially out of line with other broadcasters.
However, since the events in Salisbury, we have observed a significant increase in the number of programmes on the RT service that warrant investigation as potential breaches of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code.
We will announce the outcome of these investigations as soon as possible. In relation to our fit and proper duty, we will consider all relevant new evidence, including the outcome of these investigations and the future conduct of the licensee.
Russia's new war room.
Putin decrees that Russians don't play games.
Maybe it was misunderstood.
The Russian internet censor Roskomnadzor, has blocked 1,882 sites with gambling content in just a week.
The latest statistics were published by Betting Business Russia (BBR), an independent online magazine focused on the gaming and betting industry. The magazine estimates that the censor blocked 806 platforms that represent online casinos,
online lotteries or Internet poker rooms.
A large number of the blocked sites during the past week include mirror sites trying to work around previous block. The most nirrored site, with 298 blocked domains, is Fonbet, the country's largest sportsbook operator.
Despite not offering gambling content, another 172 websites were blocked in the period April 8 to April 14. The magazine explains that these sites publish information on bookmakers, casinos, gambling machines, and sweepstakes.
Earlier in March 2018, the censor blocked 7398 sites with gambling content.
Russia has strict anti-gambling laws that prohibit almost any form of betting or real-money games.
Russia's internet censor Roskomnadzor has blocked an estimated 16 million IP addresses in a massive operation against the banned
Telegram messaging app.
Telegram is widely used by the Russian political establishment, and prominent politicians and officials have openly flouted or criticised the ban. Data from the app showed several Kremlin officials had continued to sign in on Tuesday evening, four
days after a court ordered the service to be blocked.
Backed by Russia's federal security service (FSB) and a court decision, Roskomnadzor has pushed forward, banning subnets, totalling millions of IP addresses, used by Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud, two hosting sites that Telegram switched to
over the weekend to help circumvent the ban.
Andrei Soldatov, the co-author of The Red Web, an authoritative account of internet surveillance in Russia, said the campaign showed a no-holds-barred approach unconcerned with political fallout. He said:
They've decided the political costs of blocking Telegram and millions and millions of IP addresses used by Amazon and Google are not that high, Soldatov said. Once you cross the line, you can do anything. I think it means that they could move on
from Telegram to big services like Facebook and Google.
The tactic of effectively blocking all websites using a hosting company has worked in the past and the hosting companies have dropped websites as ordered by repressive politicians.
Two members of veteran Greek extreme metal band Rotting Christ were detained on terrorism charges ahead of show in Georgia last Thursday, after authorities accused them of practising satanism, their record label has said.
According to a statement from Season of Mist, frontman Sakis Tolis was detained alongside his brother, drummer Themis, after being arrested on arrival in Tbilisi on charges allegedly relating to their band name. Sakis explains:
After the regular document check at the border, my brother and I were stopped by the police on our way out from the airport. After some minutes, we were ordered to follow police to another area of the airport under the pretence of further
questioning before entering the country. Instead, we had our passports and mobile phones taken away and were led into a prison cell.
When we demanded to be told the reason for this arrest, we were simply told this information would be 'confidential'. Our lawyers informed us later that we are on a list of unwanted persons [regarded a threat to] national security that branded us
as satanists and therefore suspects of terrorism.
Sakis says the pair were locked in a small and rather dirty cell, and without being permitted any contact to the outside world or legal representation or our embassy for 12 hours, before the promoters of the RedRum event , Sweden's Terror Crew
Promotions and Georgia's Locomotive Promotion, intervened and the band were released without charge.
Due to the hard work of the local promoter, who involved legal experts, journalists, and activists in Georgia, we were finally released, he explains. We are extremely grateful to everybody involved in this process. In the end, we were even able to
perform our show and it turned out to be a fantastic night.
As a Moscow court ordered the ban of messenger app Telegram on April 13, 2018, Deputy Communications Minister Alexey Volin tried
to sound reassuring: those who want to keep using it, he said, will look for ways to bypass the blocking. In a rare moment of consensus with the Russian authorities, many Telegram users agreed.
Though conceived as a messenger app similar to WhatsApp, Telegram earned its popularity in Russia thanks to its "channels," a blogging platform somewhere between Twitter and Facebook which quickly attracted political commentators,
journalists and officials. Telegram channels are a booming business, they are widely used in political and corporate wars. Last year Vedomosti, a business newspaper, claimed that political ads (or damaging leaks) on Telegram's most popular
channels could cost as much as 450,000 rubles ($7,500.)
But Telegram's CEO Pavel Durov has repeatedly and vocally refused to comply with the demand of Russian security services to give up the messenger's encryption keys . And as the year-long battle between Telegram and the Russian authorities seemed
to draw to a close with the decision to block the app, reaction to the announcement has been passionate and often derisive.
Kristina Potupchik, formerly a press officer for a pro-Kremlin youth movement, wrote:
Russia has finally become the world's second largest economy after China! At least in the field of permanently blocking Telegram.
Channels dedicated to Russian politics and the inner workings of the Kremlin --among the most popular on the platform-- also largely claimed they were not worried by the ban. About 85% of our users have installed one [a VPN] in the last 24
hours. If you haven't, here are the instructions, channel "Karaulny" (The Sentinel) told its 66,000+ followers.
So far, Telegram remains available in Russia, though sources have told the Interfax news agency that blocking could start as early as April 16.
Comment: Russia crosses another red line in online censorship
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns today's decision by a Moscow court to order the immediate blocking of the popular encrypted
messaging service Telegram after it refused to surrender its encryption keys to the Russian intelligence agencies. The decision represents yet another escalation in online censorship and an additional obstacle to journalism in Russia, RSF said.
Johann Bihr, the head of RSF's Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. said:
By blocking Telegram, the Russian authorities are crossing another red line in their control of the Internet. This is a major new blow to free speech in Russia. It also sends a strong intimidatory signal to the digital technology giants that are
battling with the Russian authorities. The authorities are targeting a tool that is essential for the work of journalists, especially for the confidentiality of their sources and data.
After Instagram removed a video detailing a corruption investigation into Russia's ruling elite, it's time to talk about
social networks and the Kremlin.
The one thing that compensates for the strictness of Russian laws is the lack of necessity to follow them. The Russian writer Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin may have penned this aphorism in the mid-19th century, but it's still relevant in
2018 -- especially when discussing the specifics of doing business in Russia and interacting with the Russian government.
A recent practical lesson in this reality emerged when president Putin signed the Personal Data Domestication Law (PDDL) in 2015. The PDDL, effective from 1 September 2015, demanded that every piece of personal data of Russian citizens operated by
any online service should be stored in a data warehouse within the Russian Federation's geographical borders.
This is a quite remarkable (and typical) piece of Russia's legislative absurdity. Imagine a small online store somewhere in France selling, for instance, carpets. It stores its customers' data on a cloud service without even knowing the
whereabouts of physical servers. In France? Iceland? Is the data somehow distributed throughout the globe by the hosting service provider? Even if the store managed to somehow separate its customers with Russian citizenship (and here don't forget
the homesick employees of the French embassy in Moscow ordering carpets from home, still not being subject to the PDDL), it is hard to imagine our hypothetical store would be capable to setup technical infrastructure to comply with the PDDL.
Of course, Russian legislators were not concerned with small online stores (though a verbatim reading of the PDDL leaves no chance of excluding them). The law is targeted at messaging services and social networks: Facebook, WhatsApp, Gmail, Skype
and so on. Roskomnadzor (the Russian government internet censorship agency) has been very clear -- Facebook and Google should move their servers to Russia, making their users data and, most important, messages subject to SORM, the
internet surveillance system created and run by the Russian security services.
An online petition addressed to Google, Facebook and Twitter urging them not to comply with the PDDL and thus to protect privacy and data of their customers from the FSB was launched in summer 2015. It quickly collected over 50,000 signatures, and
some of the best known Russian internet gurus among them. It's hard to say whether the petition was effective or that the internet companies calculated their expenses for fulfilment of the PDDL, but the fact is three years later, in 2018, none of
the major players (Viber being the only exception among messengers) agreed to follow the PDDL. No sanctions from Roskomnadzor followed, though it did threaten them on a number of occasions.
Why so? Dura lex, sed lex, surely? The legislation could be perfectly absurd, yet still it might be hard for a western reader to imagine how a corporation (with all its lawyers and compliance departments) could just disobey it and walk away. But
this is Russia -- not a democracy, but an authoritarian regime. And there is no rule of law, but the rule of political momentum.
Shutting down Twitter in Russia, where politicians loyal to Putin have accounts and enjoy tweeting, or including Instagram on Roskomnadzor's blacklist (which would imply an immediate block by any ISP in Russia), making million of young Instagram
users unhappy just before the parliamentary and presidential elections -- any decision of this kind has to be approved by the Russian president himself. No court and no other part of the regime would dare to take responsibility given
the possible political consequences. Anything that could make people unhappy and drive them to the streets is decided by Putin. This is the way an autocracy operates.
Once you realise this fact, it's easy to see why LinkedIn was selected by Roskomnadzor as the first victim of PDDL in summer 2016.
Indeed, LinkedIn is still the only victim. It was selected by Roskomnadzor carefully: sure, it's a big brand, with an even a bigger one behind it (Microsoft), but LinkedIn's popularity in Russia has been limited to a small part of the white-collar
audience working for or doing business with western companies. A rather small audience. And what's more important: this is not the kind of audience that would march on the streets against internet censorship. LinkedIn was chosen to scare off
larger players. On the technical and legal side, there was absolutely no difference between how LinkedIn and how Facebook stored and dealt with the personal data of their Russian users. The only thing that made a difference was politics.
This PDDL case has been an important lesson, and it's a pity that not everyone has learnt it for good. In February, Alexey Navalny, the Russian opposition leader unlawfully banned from the presidential election, but who remains Putin's most
prominent and feared critic, published a video proving that Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with close ties to US lobbyist Paul Manafort, secretly met with Sergey Prikhodko, deputy prime minister of Russian government who oversees foreign
policy. Indeed, the leaked conversation happened during a yacht trip off the Norwegian coast in August 2016. Several escort girls were also present.
This could be the missing link between Manafort and Putin -- and perhaps it was, judging from the Russian government's reaction. The day after Navalny's investigation was published online on YouTube and Instagram, a court in the small
southern Russian city of Ust'-Labinsk (which happens to be Deripaska's hometown) decided that Navalny's video violated the oligarch's and deputy prime minister right to a private life (!). It ordered every instance of the video to be blacklisted
by Roskomnadzor, effective immediately. This pace was record-breaking: usually any lawsuits relating to violation of an individual's right to a private life take years. For instance, in summer 2016, the FSB leaked footage of Navalny fishing with
his family on a lake. This surveillance video was included as part of a documentary on a state-owned TV-channel, and used as evidence that opposition leader spends his vacation in too chic a manner. The court is still due to set a hearing date.
But what does it mean when Roskomnadzor is required to block some video from the technical point of view? When a website is blacklisted, it is included on the registry of forbidden content, which Roskomnadzor updates several times a day and
distributes among all Russians ISPs. The latter face huge fines or the revocation of their license if they fail to restrict access their customers' access to every website included in the registry. If a website uses HTTPS, a secure connection
protocol, though, the ISP doesn't possess the information concerning which exact URL a user is trying to reach. Technically, in the Deripaska case, only two entries on Navalny's blog have been included in the blacklist registry, but all the ISPs
blocked the entire domain of Navalny.com (some of them even blocked all the subdomains, including the website of Navalny's presidential campaign). They simply had no choice. Similarly, should any single YouTube video be included in the registry,
YouTube will become inaccessible for customers of Russian ISPs on the same day. Should any Instagram story be put on the blacklist, millions of Instagram users will get angry. This is already politics.
Thus, having a valid (albeit speedy) court decision beforehand, Roskomnadzor immediately blacklisted navalny.com and a few dozen other websites which dared to publish Navalny's investigation -- but not the YouTube and Instagram videos
with exactly the same information and mentioned in the same court decision alongside other prohibited URLs. At the end of the day, Roskomnadzor are not fools: they are well aware of the risk of shutting down YouTube -- this kind of
action nearly led to a coup in Brazil recently. Instead, Roskomnadzor started sending emails. They informed YouTube and Instagram that Navalny's video is recognised as illegal in Russia and asked them to remove it voluntarily. YouTube contacted
Navalny's office and asked him to remove it. Navalny refused. Youtube refused also. Instagram took the video down without even attempting to contest Roskomnadzor's email. Roskomnadzor threatened Google with sanctions because of YouTube's
disobeyal. Google ignored it.
A month later, the video (which has over seven million views) is still freely accessible on the YouTube. No sanctions were applied to Google. After two weeks of threats, Roskomnadzor officially admitted it is not considering shutting down YouTube
in Russia. So Google, via YouTube, has outplayed internet censorship and once again, as in the case of PDDL, proven its readiness to put its customers' interests first. Meanwhile, Facebook, in the form of Instagram, should be considered a company
that is ready to help Putin clean up the Manafort mess by censoring material online.
Legal compliance shouldn't be the only way of doing business in authoritarian states, where the regime can easily undertake unlawful actions to pursue political goals. Politics is another consideration. So is protecting your customers.
Encrypted messaging app Telegram has lost an appeal before Russia's Supreme Court where it sought to
block the country's Federal Security Service (FSB) from gaining access to user data.
Last year, the FSB asked Telegram to share its encryption keys and the company declined, resulting in a $14,000 fine. Today, Supreme Court Judge Alla Nazarova upheld that ruling and denied Telegram's appeal. Telegram plans to appeal the latest
ruling as well.
If Telegram is found to be non-compliant, it could face another fine and even have the service blocked in Russia, one of its largest markets.
The Death of Stalin is a 2017 France / UK historical comedy biography by Armando Iannucci.
Starring Olga Kurylenko, Jason Isaacs and Steve Buscemi.
The internal political landscape of 1950's Soviet Russia takes on darkly comic form in a new film by Emmy award-winning and Oscar-nominated writer/director Armando Iannucci. In the days following Stalin's collapse, his core
team of ministers tussle for control; some want positive change in the Soviet Union, others have more sinister motives. Their one common trait? They're all just desperately trying to remain alive. A film that combines comedy, drama, pathos and
political manoeuvring, The Death of Stalin is a Quad and Main Journey production, directed by Armando Iannucci, and produced by Yann Zenou, Kevin Loader, Nicolas Duval Assakovsky, and Laurent Zeitoun. The script is written by Iannucci, David
Schneider and Ian Martin, with additional material by Peter Fellows.
The Russian release of British comedy film The Death of Stalin has been shelved following a screening before senior figures on Monday night. The Russian attendees complained that the satire contained ideological warfare and extremism. The
film's distribution certificate was withdrawn, effectively cancelling its planned Thursday release.
The screening was attended by members of parliament as well as representatives from Russian cinema. Yelena Drapeko, deputy head of the lower house of parliament's culture committee, told RBK news she had never seen anything so disgusting in my
The film, from director Armando Iannucci, is a satire of the power struggle in Moscow following Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin's death in 1953. Many of the main characters are real historical figures.
February is the anniversary of the Russian victory at the Battle of Stalingrad in 1943. It was led by Marshal Georgy Zhukov whose daughter was one of 21 signatories on an open letter to the culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky, complaining about
the film. The letter said:
The film insults the Russian people and even the Soviet Union's national anthem - heard in the trailer was used inappropriately.
Update: Cinema threatened after screening the banned film to an invited audience
The Russian Culture Ministry has warned cinemas in the country that they will face legal ramifications if they continue to show the banned film, The Death Of Stalin. The statement came after the Pioner (Pioneer) movie theater in Moscow defied the
government ban and screened the film to a packed audience.
Showing a movie without a license can bring a fine of up to 100,000 rubles ($1,800). A second violation could lead to a theater's closure. Police officers raided the Pioner theater along with what appeared to be plain-clothes officers on January
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov ludicrously claimed the banning of the film did not constitute censorship. He said: We disagree that it's a manifestation of censorship.
Military historian Anthony Beevor has had one of his books banned in Ukraine. The 1998 bestseller Stalingrad was barred for import last week alongside 24 other books for being anti-Ukrainian.
The accusation was levelled at Beevor's examination of the Second World War battle due to passages about Ukrainian militias slaughtering Jewish children on SS orders.
Serhiy Oliyinyk, the head of the Ukrainian State TV and Radio Broadcasting's licensing and distribution control department, alleges that the account hasn't been proven and was based on unreliable Soviet secret police material.
The author has responded that he used thoroughly reliable German sources; not Soviet sources, including a book by Helmut Groscurth, an anti-Nazi German officer, that was backed up by eyewitness accounts.
Beevor branded the ban preposterous and called the state's position completely unsustainable.
Paddington 2 is a 2017 UK / France / USA family animation comedy by Paul King.
Starring Ben Whishaw, Hugh Grant and Hugh Bonneville.
Paddington is happily settled with the Brown family in Windsor Gardens, where he has become a popular member of the community, spreading joy and marmalade wherever he goes. While searching for the perfect present for his beloved Aunt Lucy's 100th
birthday, Paddington spots a unique pop-up book in Mr. Gruber's antique shop, and embarks upon a series of odd jobs to buy it. But when the book is stolen, it's up to Paddington and the Browns to unmask the thief.
Paddington Bear 2, a comedy about a friendly bear has sparked an unlikely scandal over government discrimination against foreign films in Russia this week.
Russian cinemas were left dumbfounded after the Culture Ministry delayed issuing a screening license for Paddington 2, one day before it was scheduled to be released in theaters.
The ministry said it delayed the Jan. 18 screening until Feb. 1 because of another film scheduled to premiere on the same day. Russia's Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky said the decision was made in the interests of Russian films and not in the
interests of Hollywood..
Remarkably, the distributing company announced late on Friday that the ministry's decision had been overturned after public pressure and an official appeal to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Medinsky explained:
We have come to a consensus with the industry, and have decided to meet the Volgafilm company halfway and allow the release of the film tomorrow [Jan. 20],.
Matilda is a 2017 Russia historical biography by Aleksey Uchitel.
Starring Michalina Olszanska, Lars Eidinger and Luise Wolfram.
In the twilight of Imperial Russia, prima ballerina Matilda Kshesinskaya becomes the mistress of three Grand Dukes.
Ukrainian authorities have banned the release of the Russian film Matilda featuring the story of romance between Crown Prince Nicholas [would-be Czar Nicholas II] and the young etoile of the Imperial Ballet, Mathilde Kschessinska.
Dmitry Kapranov, a censor from the State Agency for Cinematography [Goskino], said on Wednesday the decision was taken because of participation in the film of a musician whom the Ukrainian authorities had put on the blacklist of unwanted
foreigners. He said:
Now we've denied permission for a release of the film 'Matilda' on the basis of formal criteria. Our spectators may say, of course, well he is just a musician and you ban the film but I can ask them in response, would you go to the
marketplace and buy the watermelons with nitrates there?
Such watermelons do contain some vitamins but they also contain the nitrates, Kapranov said. And these people on the blacklist are the very same nitrates and their produce is therefore poisoned.
Matilda, a film directed by Alexei Uchitel, was released in Russia in October 2017. It aroused a scandal in the wake of heated public debates stirred by the State Duma deputy Natalya Poklonskaya, who campaigned for banning it. Poklonskaya claimed
that Matilda supposedly insulted the memory of Nicholas II, who is canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church as a new holy martyr for faith, and the feelings of believers.